The Collected Letters, Volume 27


JWC TO LADY AIRLIE ; 22 August 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520822-JWC-LAI-01; CL 27: 242-244


5 Cheyne Row / Sunday [22 August 1852]

My dear Lady Airlie

I write to you out of “the belly of chaos”— Hence my delay in acknowledging the great boxful of grouse. Had Jonah, in the whale's belly, excellent man as he was, received a boxful of grouse from Lord Airlie, I question if he would have returned his thanks any sooner; and the whale's belly, I am sure, must have been a place of “ease with dignity”1 in comparison with this place of mine. “My Heavens!” (as Lord Ashburton says)— Whatever put it in Mr Carlyle's head to get his house what he calls “made habitable”? And whatever put it in MY head to constitute myself presiding genius over such process? For two unblessed months now have Bricklayers, Carpenters, plasterers, painters been tramping in and tramping out here, like “soldiers going to, and coming from the thirty years war”! I am driven into one end of the low room, my screen separating me from piles of beds, and tables and chairs, as if in convulsions, with their legs in the air! And then everything gets on so slowly that it feels like a nightmare dream!— But as one of the workmen said to me the other day, “You must have patience dear Madam indeed you must; it will all be done—sometime!” Besides, after all, a little, or even a good deal of material botheration is not bad for ones soul—I would rather have six months of this sort of thing than six hours of moral botheration. In fact I am not disinclined to believe that I must have been a Builder in some previous state of existence, or perhaps a beaver; I find it come so natural to me to live and move in this work—

For the rest, there is little to tell you. Hardly any one in London whom you would care to hear about— I had a letter from Lady Ashburton the other day announcing her arrival at Bath House next Wednesday, and inviting me to tea—also to Addiscombe for a week—but I doubt if I can be spared so long from home— Lord A is quite well now. Dr Weber who was abroad with them came here and gave me the most flourishing accounts of them both. Milnes is charming! I saw him in the first blush of his paternity, and he could not have looked more pleased if he had written an Epic taking the shine out of Homer and Milton. Thackeray had his pocket picked of a hundred pounds on a foreign railway!

The most exciting thing that has occurred for me individually, was seeing the other day a young, remarkably clever cousin of mine go up in Greens Balloon!—not for the fun of the thing, but to make observations on the Atmosphere. He went up from Vauxhall in the forenoon in the presence of some thirty or forty men of science &c and “honourable women not a few” and I confess I was extremely proud of the impression he made on every one present by his coolness and cleverness. Having never so much as seen a balloon go up in his life, and having never in his life been the centre of what might be called public attention he sat down on his knees before his dozen or two of little thermometers, and with Green standing on the edge of the car calling to “make haste” and scientific Gentlemen pressing him with last questions and suggestions, he examined his thermometers and wrote the results in a book, with as steady an eye and hand as if he had been in his own Observatory— Then; when the balloon had fairly shot up with him into the air, he took off his hat and saluted us all with a calm courtesy that was beautiful to see! I went home and wrote to his Mother, a widow; whose only son he is, that she might rest assured he would become a great man if he were spared alive. I am going off to dine with one of the best housewives,2 and most virtuous women in the world who nevertheless once underwent a trial by jury for criminal conduct with an equally virtuous man—to see the two people would make you die of laughing with such an idea of romantic impropriety attached to them—they were acquitted of course— It was a devilish scheme of the Lady's husband to raise the wind

But I shall be too late god bless you and thanks

Affectionately yours /

J W Carlyle