1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO LADY ASHBURTON; 4 October 1854; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18541004-TC-LA-01; CL 29: 157-160


Chelsea, 4 Octr, 1854—

Dear Lady,

You have heard I had got the important State-Paper liberty: your Letter met me the morning after, on my sally forth into the cool sunshine in quest of heat after bathing;—the sight of your handwriting is not a phenomenon that greets one every morning, or passes out of one's head at once! A thousand thanks for your assiduous goodness;—and you may thank poor Lord Clarendon too, for doing blamelessly all that you asked him on my behalf. Yesterday I made my actual appearance in the State-Paper edifice; went thro' certain remaining formalities; and even read a great mass of Prussian Despatches,—with considerably more profit than I had expected from them. Tomorrow, and other days,—tho' I see it will cost me a headache daily,—I mean to go back. The Papers, I perceive, have never been read by any Prussian or English writer on that Period, and they tend very decidedly, especially our Ambassador Hotham's, to throw light on boisterous Old Friedrich Wilhelm and those “double marriage” businesses.1 I found this Hotham a distinct observer, a truly able kind of man;—he prophesied of young Frederic (then about 18) that he is likely to make a great figure in the world; I also discovered that Ranke (who indeed is a poor broken-backed creature, in spite of his reputation) has committed one gross mistake about this Hotham, and that the old King's “making a movement as if to kick him, on one occasion” &c is the merest moonshine, and even the reverse of the truth.—2 In short, I mean to persist a little in digging into this new vein of things: who knows but it may open me some kind of way out of this horrid imprisonment in the abysses of the Prussian chaos where I am so wretched for a long while past? Alas, I have tried many, and find them all naught:—some way or other, I must be out, or else choke in a very miserable manner.— Are the present Hothams3 known to you, or to anybody whom you know? If they have private Papers of that Sir Charles Hotham of 1730, as seems to me probable, these wd be far more interesting and profitable. Ld Ben4 appeared to know about them; I suppose they are Yorkshire people, descendants of that Hotham who got his head cut off in the Cromwell time:5 please make some inquiry, for my behoof, when the opportunity offers;—and forgive all the bother I give your noble Ladyship on the matter; especially with such a pen, which I must now try to mend before going farther.— There!

We suppose you are setting off for Dunrobin6 in a few days; after that, we hope the weather will so increase in coolness that you will be glad of Newcastle coals and southern shelter again. I can testify, Bath House still stands firm on its foundations (solid Hannah7 testifying by screens, window curtains, up or down, that she is awake within it); and indeed the mansion seems to long for you back, if fancy do not deceive me. The “November Session,” yes it will seem highly advisable to one humble individual, who otherwise is supremely indifferent to “sessions” or the want of them just now!8— Come; and you will see beautiful sunsets here too, tho' tinged a little with smoke. Smoke enough always, and copious descent of “the blacks”9 as heretofore: I cannot perceive that Lord Palmerston has made the least alteration in that particular;10 I suppose London smoke, like the Russian Czar in virtue of his very baseness, and near kindred to Chaos, is invincible to his Lordship,—taking a Sebastopol from him,11 cutting out a steeple-chimney or two, is as nothing; he merely retires a little, and has not the least notion of being “conquered” by the like of that! His Lordship is great, but not great enough, it would seem,—more power to his elbow.

We have never yet been to the Crystal Palace or anywhere; we are silent here as if we were already in Hades; as if these hard pavements were the Asphodel meadows, and the loud dirty tumult of Cremorne and other things were the mere raging of Ixion Tantalus and Company confined to the Stygian regions all round.12 I have not been so solitary for 20 years as since you went; hardly ever so sad of humour, but often far unhappier. Nay occasionally I feel as if this were the only sort of good now possible for me,—as if, in the heart of this black raging horror of an existence, there lay an element of blessedness for a man, stern as Death and stronger too, and worthier of the man. Let us be silent, then, if that is the order; for in that too there is profit that may be precious.

Unluckily I make no way at all, as above indicated, in getting thro' my Book; which must nevertheless be done, or at least ended, if this world is to continue habitable to me. Alas, alas, my heart is sad enough grim enough for writing a Purgatorio, if I had otherwise the talent; and in this generation there is no Purgatorio, Inferno or Paradiso,13—nothing but a poor withered sceptical warehouse of Voltaire's Frederics and other meanly “doleful creatures”; whom I could find in my heart to set a coal to, rather than write about! This probably is the very central impediment in the subject I am upon.

By the bye, what is to become of that beautiful Picture of Fritz drumming?14 I declare it is a shame to have it buried as now! Probably one of the prettiest Pictures, if well seen into; and there it stood (when Jane was in Bath House last) with its back turned to the world (and the flies), no eye getting the least good of it. I pray you advise with his Lordship where to put it, and so that one may see it now and then. I spoke to the man who did Talbotypes of me, since you went, about doing one of that Picture; which he readily undertook if you would permit. He is a Painter (nothing of the Mechanic in him in any way) this man; and you must really lend him the Picture, for a day, to that end; he will take the strictest care of it, return it without harm, and do me a small benefit by the operation.— When you come home will be time enough for this: my Artist (one Tait,15 in Queen Anne Street, Portland Place region) is at present in Weimar, still for a week or two.

Lady Sandwich, as you have heard, did come to us that Saturday Evening, and was very pleasant, and agreeable to old and young in our small reunion. The Goderiches are gone; they left me two Talbotypes of a pair of Maria Theresas which they have in the North Country,—not good for much, I am afraid, tho' one of them was given by the Kaiserin [Empress] herself.16 Lady Sandwich was here again, last Sunday,17 and brought me a great mass of Gotha Almanacs;18—there is actually no available genealogy to be got (I fear) out of those scrubby little Books; except perhaps by taking them in block? The Lady Mama is tolerably well always; and very good and agreeable: Jane and she, in particular, seem to pull very well together. You must try to keep the good old Lady here for the future,—if indeed “trying” be of any virtue!

Well, you must pardon an Outside barbarian; I am not disloyal to you, very far indeed from that, whatsoever your Ladyship's misguided mind may imagine. And I still, in a secret corner, half unknown to myself, have a hope of better days under the sun. Or if even not— Yours ever