JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 28 November 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18561128-JWC-MR-01; CL 32: 35-39
JWC TO MARY RUSSELL
5 Cheyne Row Chelsea [28 November 1856]
You cant think what difficulty I have had to keep Geraldine from firing off letters at you every two or three days, with the most alarming accounts of my bodily state! It is her besetting weakness by nature,—and her trade of Novelist has aggravated it,—the desire of feeling and producing violent emotions. When I am well I can laugh down this sort of thing in her; but when I am ill it fatigues me dreadfully, and irritates my moral sense as well as my nerves. In illness, as in Madame Genlis "Castle of Truth"1 people and things are stript of all illusion for one, and one sees, thro all affectations and exaggerations and got up feelings, to simple fact.— It seems as if disorder in ones nervous system were needed to develope in the brain all the insight that lies in it, inert— However that may be; when I am very ill I cant endure to be “made a phrase” over, and used up for purposes of emotion! and so in these weeks my hard, practical Anne, who never utters a sympathizing word, but does every thing I need, punctually and promptly, has been a far more agreeable nurse for me than poor Geraldine, who if I asked for a glass of water would spill the half of it by the way, and in compensation would drop tears on my hand, and assure me that I was “sure to die"! and then fall to kissing me wildly (when I was perhaps in an interval of retching—perfectly hating to be kissed!) and bursting out into passionate sobs!—(which of course did not prevent her from going into company half an hour after, and being the life of it!)2— These scenes wore me out so, that I was obliged to restrict her visits to one half hour in the day—and then; to be doing something, she would write letters to you, to my cousins, and any one she thought anxious about me. I said she might write to Maggie3 one day, on condition that I saw the letter before it went— My Dear! They would have believed at Auchtertool I hadn't a week to live!— I burnt the letter—and two other letters—and as I believed you really cared for me, and would be distressed at the thought of losing me; I prohibited her over and over again from writing to you at all.4—and, at last, gave in to her fixed notion to write, only on the understanding that if there were any exaggeration in the letter I should have the burning of it too!— I found it a nice letter, and pretty near the truth—
I am much better—my cough is quite gone—and I am sleeping better—get to sleep between 2 and 3 instead of six or not at all, as was the case for a month— Great weakness is all that remains to be cured, and I do take the most nourishing things—and only the weather has prevented me taking a drive every day this week— I have been out once in a ‘Fly,’5 besides into the garden to see my poor little plants, who dont know whether to live or die! The Canaries are well, but in spite of their expensive mahogany bath, they are as black with the fog as the sheep in Hyde Park— The other night I was alarmed by their having a bad dream; or one of them, I suppose, had the bad dream, and the other was frightened by its fright— They dashed about and flapped against the wires of the cage like mad canaries for a quarter of an hour—
Mr Carlyle, after having several horses on trial, bought a beautiful one ten days ago, and the first day he rode it, he brought it home some five miles with two shoes lost! Then the Smith shod it, with a broken nail in its hoof under the new shoe!— Of course it became dead lame and had to be sent to a vetrenary surgeon where it is, and is likely to be for some fortnight yet.— “No wonder!” (my Anne says) “there is nothing so bad for festering as a rancid (rusty?) nail.” Mr Fairie goes and sees the horse daily and sends bulletins of his health!
Every time Mr Fairie comes he asks have I heard from Mrs Russell? and tells me how much his friends the Gladstones6 admire both you and your Husband— I bless the chance which sent him into your drawing room that wet day; that gives me somebody who has seen you, to speak of you to—
Oh such a fright I got last Friday morning! Thursday night was my second night of something like human sleep I had fallen asleep about three and was still sleeping off and on between six and seven, when I was startled wide awake by a heavy fall in the room directly over mine (Mr C's bedroom)— I knew in the very act of waking that it was no table or inaminate thing that made the sound, but a human body! Mr C's of course—the only human body there! What could I think but that he had got up ill, and fallen down in a fit. I threw myself out of bed, tore open my door and began to run up stairs. But my legs got paralized, I leant against the wall and screamed. In answer to my scream, came Mr C's voice, calling out quite jolly“It's nothing, my Dear! Go back to your bed, it is a mistake.. I will be there presently.” Back to my bed I crept: and then, if it had been in my constitution to take a fit of hysterics I should have taken it! As it was, I lay and trembled and my teeth chattered—and when Mr C came and tried me with some water I could no more swallow it than if I had taken hydrophobia He had awoke too early, and got up to go down stairs and smoke;7 his way of invoking sleep. His room being quite dark, and thinking to put on his stockings and shoes before getting himself light, he had gone to sit down on a chair at the bottom of his bed, where these articles are left; but mistaking the locality, he had sat down on nothing at all! and fell smack his whole length to the floor—not hurting himself in the least for a wonder This adventure has pretty well taken the conceit out of me on the score of courage, presence of mind, and all that! Mercy! What would have become of Dr Russell if he had had a wife who stood still and screamed—that time when he was so dangerously ill?
Can you tell me did Dr Russell ever read Sir B Brodie's Psychological Enquiries?8 A man lent it me last week, and I find it the most lucid agreeable book of the sort I ever fell in with. If Dr Russell havn't read it and would “care TO” (as the Cockneies say) I can quite easily send it him by post. the man it belongs to is in no haste for it back, and it is only one small volume.
The Book Geraldine told you we were about sending “all to yourself"9 is her ‘Half Sisters’10—the one of all her novels which I like the best. And it has bonafide arguments in it, betwixt her and me, written down almost word for word as we spoke them in our walks together. It has been kept waiting for a photograph Geraldine insisted should be put in it. But my artist11 has discovered seemingly, there are other things to be done in this world better than doing photographs of me and for me! The things he has sent, after ten days waiting, are too horrid for any practical purposes!
My Aunt Grace has sent me two pairs of lambswool stockings knitted by herself! and both she and Anne12 have written to me several times since I came home. It is a great happiness to feel that I have real live Aunts after all! They had grown into a mere Myth!— Tell Mrs Macvey13 “the Countess” is well, and walks very often to see me in my illness, and I am sure it would please Mrs M to know that she has got a new velvet bonnet that cost her two guineas! a proof that she isn't in the abject poverty Mrs M fancied; nor yet has lost heart about herself!
Pray give my kind regards to Mrs Grierson and the dear old oddities at Nithbank14—I would have answered Mrs Grierson's letter15—if I hadnt been so feckless— Can you tell me the address of Mrs Lyon (Phoebe Johnstone of Cowhill);16 I promised to write to her about James Baillie—17 Have you got your new servant home? tell me how you like her—and do be so good as give Mr Dobie an emphatic kiss for me— He mustnt forget me for if Mr C becomes unendurable with his eternal “Frederick,” and I am obliged to separate from him; I intend running away with Mr Dobie—to the Back woods or where he likes. God bless you my dear, kind, true woman— Give my love to your Husband
Yours ever affectionately / Jane Carlyle 18
Have you got the new little dog—I have a whistle for him