The Collected Letters, Volume 28


JWC TO LADY ASHBURTON ; 3 January 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530103-JWC-LA-01; CL 28: 3-5


5 Cheyne Row / Monday [3 January 1853]

Thank you dearest Lady for your letter, and thank you too in the name of Macall. 1 God knows but that ten pounds may be the saving of him from insanity and utter ruin! For when I posted off to Wandsworth2 after reading your letter, I found that tho' better, he was still too ill for any head-work and that this very morning he had been trying for the first time to write some newspaper-criticism—the thing by which he earns his bread. Tho he did not tell me so; I could easily see that he had been driven on this work by “cleanness of teeth” (as the bible calls it)3 and he could not have gone on with it yet, without aggravating his malady. Ten pounds in the hands of such a manager as his wife will keep them comfortably for as many weeks—and his poor head may rest itself a while longer. His illness is very horrid—what Esquirol4 calls, I think, suicidal mania. His reason is as clear as ever it was but for three weeks he durst not take a razor in his hand feeling irresistably tempted to cut his throat—and at the same time he had no wish to die—he told me this himself; that no agony he had ever dreamt of was to compare with this struggle he lived in against his temptation to turn every sharp instrument against himself, and even against his wife and child whom he loves intensely! Sometimes he had to beg them at dinner to go out of the room “Still,” he said today, “I dare not shave myself and make them keep away all knives”— I was sitting alone with him, and felt a little uncomfortable, he looked at me so strangely—

I wonder if any motive justifies one in telling a premeditated elaborate lie?—such a lie I told him, heaven forgive me— To a proud man “not obtruding his difficulties on others,” I could not say, “Lady Ashburton hearing of your illness sent you this money.” So I went “about it and about it” and gave him to understand that you knew of him by his writings—which however I told him jestingly you thought should be burnt by the hangman, and then I went on to say that I had happened to mention his indisposition to you; and what a nice little child he had got, and that you had kindly sent me ten pounds to buy a present for it, and that I not knowing what to buy would like they took the money and expended it themselves—Perhaps he saw thro' my fable at any rate he seemed much affected, and drawing his hand over his face which became very red—he said—“You judged rightly that money is indeed what is most needed here—at the same time we obtrude our difficulties on nobody—should try to do so to the last possible moment—I have heard of Lady Ashburton as a person very superior to ordinary fine Ladies—it is the spirit in which such a kindness is offered that makes it pleasant or painful— I accept Lady Ashburton's kindness gratefully since you vouch for the spirit in which it is offered and will you tell her that—that I thank her”— He was so much agitated that I ordered him to put on his hat and walk a part of the way home with me—and I am sure your charity and my chattering did him a world of good. he took leave of me, looking quite animated—

Here is a pincushion (to replace the dirty white one) which should have gone on new years morning, but for an unlucky accident—it is not yet “the coming pincushion” which has so long been haunting my head—THREE have tried themselves and been pronounced bad—this is neither good nor bad; but it is better than the old white one when I saw it last oh so dirty!

Just figure that good Charlotte Wynne coming here at nine o'clock on new years morning to be my “first foot”!5 in compliance with my scotch superstitions, in which herself does not participate. She must have risen at seven to get dressed and breakfasted and driven here by nine6—and she is in delicate health and has no longer a carriage— And Mr Newberg7 brought me a bouquet on new years day—white camelias myrtle blossoms violets and roses—and himself so unlike all that!

God bless you this year and all your years to come affectionately and gratefully J W C