October 1856-July 1857

The Collected Letters, Volume 32


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 10 October 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18561010-JWC-MR-01; CL 32: 8-11


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea / Friday [10 October 1856]

Oh my Dear! my Dear! my Dear!—to keep myself from going stark mad, I must give myself something pleasant to do for this one hour! and nothing so pleasant suggests itself as just writing to you; to tell you how miserable and aggravated I am!

Geraldine says “why on earth, when I was beside a Doctor I had confidence in, didn't I consult him about my health?” Why? because when I was beside Dr Russell and indeed (except for a common cold) all the time I was in Scotland—nothing ailed my health!— A London Doctors prescription for me long ago—(the only sensible man I ever knew in the profession here—a pity he is dead)1 that I “should be kept always happy and tranquil” (!!!) had finally got itself “carried into effect for ten whole weeks, and was found—of an efficacy! But from the day I left Scotland quite other things than happiness and tranquility have been “thrown into my system”!— I arrived here with a furious face ach; Mr C having insisted on my sitting in a violent draught all the journey. That kept me perfectly sleepless all night in spite of my extreme fatigue—and

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Jane Welsh Carlyle to Mary Russell, [10 October 1856

Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland

ALT="The figure is a facsimile of the first page of Jane Welsh Carlyle's letter to Mary Russell, 10 October 1856"

so I began to be ill at once and have gone on crescendo—in the same ratio that my worries have increased— Figure this!—(Scene—a room where every thing is enveloped in dark yellow London fog!—for air to breathe a sort of liquid soot!—breakfast on the table—‘adulerated2 coffee’ ‘adulterated bread’ ‘adulterated cream’ and adulterated—water!—Mr C at one end of the table, looking remarkably bilious—Mrs C at the other looking half-dead!

Mr C—“My Dear”—“I have to inform you that my bed is full of bugs or fleas or some sort of animals that crawl over me all night!!”— Now I must tell you; Mr C had written to me at Auchtertool, to “write emphatically to Ann about keeping all the windows open; for, with her horror of fresh air, she was quite capable of having the house full of bugs when we returned”3—and so I imputed this announcement to one of these fixed ideas men, and especially Husbands, are apt to take up, just out of sheer love of worrying!— Living in a universe of bugs outside; I had entirely ceased to fear them in my own house—having kept it so many years perfectly clean from all such abominations— So I answered with merely a sarcastic shrug, that was no doubt very ill timed—under the circumstances and which drew on me no end of what the Germans call Kraft sprüche [forceful language]!— But clearly, the practical thing to be done was to go and examine his bed—and I am practical—moi! So instead of getting into a controversy that had no basis, I proceeded to toss over his blankets and pillows—with a certain sense of injury!— But on a sudden I paused in my operations—I stooped to look at something the size of a pin point— A cold shudder ran over me, as sure as I lived it was an infant bug!—and oh heaven that bug, little as it was, must have parents,—grandfathers and grandmothers perhaps!— I went on looking then, with phrenzied minuteness—and saw—enough to make me put on my bonnet and rush out wildly, in the black rain, to hunt up a certain trustworthy carpenter to come and take down the bed— The next three days I seemed to be in the thick of a domestic Balaklava4—which is now even, only subsiding—not subsided— Ann, tho’ I have never reproached her with carelessness (decidedly there was not the vestige of a bug in the whole house when we went away) is so indignant that the house should be all turned up after she had “settled it”; and that “Such a fuss” should be made about bugs which are “inevitable in London” that she flared up on me, while I was doing her work, and declared; “it was to be hoped I would get a person to keep my house cleaner than she had done—as she meant to leave that day month.” To which I answered “very good”—and nothing more—

And now you see; instead of coming back to any thing like a home—I have come back to a house full of bugs and—evil passions!! Shall have to be training a new servant into the ways of the house (when I have got her)—at a season of the year when it will be the most uphill work for both her and me— As to this woman I kept her these three years because she was a clever servant and carried on the house without any bother to me—but I never liked her as a woman—from the first week I perceived her to be what she has since on all occasions proved herself—Cunning, untrue, and intensely selfish— The atmosphere of such a character was not good—and nothing but moral cowardice could have made me go on with her— But I did so dread always the bothers and risks of “a change”! Now however that it is forced on me—I console myself by thinking, with that “hope which springs eternal in the human mind,”5 that I may find a servant, after all, whom it may be possible to not only train into my ways but—attach to me!

What a fool I am! Oh I should so like a Scotchwoman! if I could get any feasible Scotchwoman These Londoners are all of the cut of this woman. I have written to Haddington where the Servants used to be very good—to know if they can do anything for me— I suppose it is needless asking you—of course if there had been any “treasure” procurable you would have engaged her yourself. But do you really know nobody I could get from Nithsdale?— How stupid it was of Margaret not to come when I wanted her— I am sure it is harder work she must have at the Castle.6

Oh my Darling—I wish you were here—to give me a kiss and cheer me up a bit with your soft voice— In cases of this sort Geraldine with the best intentions is no help— She is impractical—like all women of Genius!

She was so pleased with your letter! “My Dear” she said to me “how is it that women who dont write books write always so much nicer letters than those who do?”— I told her— It was, I supposed, because they did not write in the valley of the shadow7 of their possible future biographer—but wrote what they had to say frankly and naturally.

Your Father (a kiss to him) should write me a word or two just now about—“Providence,” Oh be pleased all of you—Dr Russell too for all so busy as he is—to think of me and love me!— I have great faith in the magnetic influence of kind thoughts— And upon my honour I need to be soothed—magnetically and in any possible way!

Your affectionate /

Jane W Carlyle