October 1856-July 1857

The Collected Letters, Volume 32


JWC TO ISABELLA CARLYLE ; 10 December 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18561210-JWC-IC-01; CL 32: 48-50


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea [ca. 10 December 1856]

My dear Isabella

Before your letter came to stir me up, I was on the point of writing to you—on “the voluntary principle."1 But I am not up to much exertion yet, and can only do a little each day, in bringing up the arrears of my correspondence, and all other arrears that have accumulated in my life during the last seven or eight weeks.

Then every day of the past week I have gone out for a drive, to help my recovery; and I cannot yet take exercise on my feet. I get into an omnibus at the bottom of our street, settle myself at the further end of it, and get joggled along some six or seven miles—to the end of its line; then transfer myself into an omnibus starting for Chelsea again— And thus realize some fourteen miles of carriage exercise at the modest cost of one shilling! A ride in the gig with Jamie, even with that jibbing horse, would be a vast deal pleasanter—especially if he bought me sweeties at Ecclefechan— But one must take what one can get and be thankful—I had despaired of getting out of doors at all till the winter was over; but who could have anticipated such warm weather as this? The canaries, who were constantly quarrelling and pecking one another during the frost like any human married pair, now chirl and twitter so lovingly all day long, that I am in terror they carry things the length of laying eggs!—before “a breeding cage” has been provided! They have got a charming cage to live in I assure you!— I invested all the money that was to have gone to a new winter bonnet in that cage! and trimmed up an old bonnet—five years old! It is light and large the Cage—all of brass wire and mahogany—with little closets, roofed with glass, for seed and for water and a small additamental cage, the bottom of which is a white china bath! and which is hooked on to the open door of the large cage when I think the creatures would like to wash themselves. There is much need! they get so dirty in a day's time with the smoky atmosphere, that the mother who hatched them could hardly know them again!

Mr Carlyle stands them better than one would have expected. He even assisted in fixing a pulley in the drawingroom ceiling, by which I swing them up into a region of safety at nights, and when I am out for my drive— The cat I fancy, being mostly in the kitchen has not discovered yet that such tempting morsels are in the house And Nero, tho’ only too much alive to their whereabout, dare not do more than watch them with jealous eyes. The other day as he was sitting all in a tremble gazing up at their movements for an hour together Ann said to him “Yes Sir! Worship them, if that is what you mean! but take care you don't do anything else!”— Ann has been very attentive to me, and kept all straight about Mr C during my long illness. What a mercy she did not “leave” as she spoke of doing in a moment of phrenzy about “them bugs.” It was an instance of the botheration that may be occasioned by the wagging of an idle tongue. Her “giving warning” she told me after, was in consequence of Miss Jewsbury's house-maid (a clattering gomeril) having told her that “they were all chattering in their house about poor Mrs Carlyle not having a place to put her head in for the muddle with them bugs”—

Both the Secretary and the Horse are valuable acquisitions the Horse especially! A countryman of the Secretarys2 wrote to me the other day that he hoped the said secretary was going to prove of great use to me— “as a lightening-conductor!! There is really some truth in the idea—especially while I dont get up to breakfast; so that Mr Marten is the first to catch it! Mr C came down from him the other day much excited—and black as thunder—I durdn't ask what was wrong; but after vigourous puffing of tobacco smoke over my fire, he turned on me fiercely and said; “My Dear, will you tell me what on earth I am to do with that fellow up stairs,” “Marten?” I asked in surprise—“Why I thought you were satisfied with his work"!—“His work!—Oh his work is well enough! but how the devil am I to put a stop to his sniffing thro his nose!!” And then he made a frightful immitation of the obnoxious habit, which I then heard of for the first time!

I am wearing the striped petticoat I bought at Grahams3 and find it most comfortable, part of the blue cloth I have used in covering a fur jacket, and it looks as well as merino—I will have some more of the same, if I live till spring, to make a gown of! trimmed with shawl border it would look “most expensive"!4 (as poor Helen5 used to say)

I have not forgotten that I promised to make you a cushion; but the one I have ready is stuffed—and must wait for an opportunity—the cost of sending it by itself would be more than it is all worth—

Only think! that dear old Miss Donaldson6 at Haddington, the eldest, who is eighty six, and is all but entirely blind, and who had left off all sorts of occupation in consequence, took a notion after I had been there, to knit me “a little blanket,” before she died; and it came last week—so nicely done— with a letter from the other sister7 who can see, more or less, I fairly burst out crying over the thing! It is a sofa blanket all bright stripes— My Aunt Grace too has knitted me two pairs of brown worsted stockings—so that I have left kind feelings behind me it would seem.

What a sad death, that of Mrs Aitken's little child! He was such a large healthy looking child, and she was so very fond of him, and had suffered so much in bringing him into the world.

Give my kindest love to dear Jamie, and tell him I am never spoiled by anybody so much as by him. I often think of my visit to Scotsbrig—and wish it were to do over again—kind regards to the young Farmer and the little housewife8 yours affectionately

Jane Welsh Carlyle