October 1856-July 1857

The Collected Letters, Volume 32


JWC TO GEORGE LILLIE CRAIK ; 20 December 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18561220-JWC-GLC-01; CL 32: 59-62


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea / 20th December [1856]

Dear, kind Man! Nature would have had me answer your letter by return of Post;1 to tell you I was mortal glad of it, and very pleased that you still liked me! or rather I should say very pleased to hear it. For I knew you too well ever to fancy it could be “out of sight out of mind” with you; or that any new people, never to say Irish people, could displace one you had taken into your heart. Besides did not I still like YOU?2 and (as I told a man. a Mr Ross3 at Brighton, who thought fit to tell me he had “received a most disagreeable impression of me at first sight”) you know these things are always mutual! you could do no otherwise!

This much—not about Mr Ross but the rest of it—I felt a need to say at once. The reason which prevented me till now was a rather whimsical one. A letter of thanks due to an american girl,4 (the Sister of Mrs Edward Twisleton) who had sent me an elaborate piece of needlework made into a lovely chair had lain on my conscience for weeks! and just the day before receiving your letter I had gone and “registered a vow in Heaven.” that I would not write to Man Woman or child till I had done “what the United States expected of me"! But a letter of thanks, that has “lain on one's conscience for weeks” is the Devil and all to write, I can tell you! It is written now however and this is the very next.

Did that dear little Mary confide to you the fact of my new bonnet?5—a fine, etherial, altogether irrelevant bonnet which she stood by and let me purchase, nay encouraged me in purchasing to keep up my dignity in Scotland? Well! God forgive her share in the transaction! and now you may tell her; it was no go! literally!— That bonnet did not go with me to Scotland, after all! On considering the box “all to itself” it would require, and the rains it would be exposed to, and, above all, the moral shock it might give to individuals remembering when I was born; I just wrapt it in silk-paper, and locked it away, and haven't seen it since! But myself went to Scotland, all right; and was there ten weeks. A wonderful ten weeks! spent chiefly in being kissed and cried over, by the oldest Inhabitants, wherever I staid! I never could decide all the while, nor can I decide yet, whether I was exquisitely happy or exquisitely miserable! I know only that the state, was exquisite after one sort or other; and that I shed more tears in those ten weeks than I had done in ten years! and that I often doubted if I were dreaming or awake? A living woman or a ghost? And that I travelled back to London with a birdcage containing two Haddington Canaries and two flower-pots containing each—a weed!! And that I found on my return I had had more emotion than was good for me; and fell seriously ill; and was confined to my room seven weeks and that it is only during the last fortnight I have been able to go out, for a drive!—and there you have a complete outline of my history since little Mary and I parted.6 If you were sitting here beside me, and I wish you were; or if there were any brief dagueratype process by which I could transfer the details of that journey thro’ old homes, the chief pleasure of which was being cried over, and the chief objects graves! I would not let you off with an outline.

For the rest; Mr C has made two great acquisitions lately—a horse and a secretary (german). The horse is a Beauty, and Mr C. says “a remarkable combination of courage and sensibility"; the Secretary is decidedly ugly, and Mr C always speaks of him as “that fellow up stairs.” Plattnauer “hopes—he (the famulus) is going to prove of great use to me—as a Lightening-Conductor”; I hope so too— Certainly I have noticed that on the days when one hears what my servant calls “the sound of Mr Marten catching it”; a certain mildness is remarked down stairs.

Dear Mr Craik I well understand all you say to me about your Wife.7 It was just so, I fancied you would be feeling her loss. Your sorrow is the price you pay for being unselfish, loyal, tender. I like to think of your having such kind, sensible, dear girls for daughters:8 I am sure they will do their very best to close over the blank in your home.

But you must come away as soon as you are at liberty, must come and see us all, and get your thoughts shaken out of the circular train which they naturally fall into when every thing present to the senses suggests a recent grief. Many will be delighted to see you here—besides me— And I will introduce you to my canaries with whom and dear little Nero I mostly live at present. Imagine me falling back on two vermin of birds! laying out the private capital which should have been invested in a new winter-gown, on a superb structure of brass wire and polished mahogany for these yellow atoms to reside in! anticipating all their wants and even their “little fancies” (“we allow the Prisoners their little fancies here"! the Pentonville official once said to me.9)—talking to them about Haddington and “all that,” in the Canary Tongue which I have studied on purpose— And then taking Nero in my lap, to talk seriously to him on the folly of his open jealousy of these birds and the dangers of indulging it. And then when I have brought him to penitent whimpering, stroking his poor little head, and kissing his little black nose, and fondly assuring his little warm heart, that no biped or quadruped or centiped could ever come between me and him, my kind little dog of many years—thrice stolen—thrice bought back!10— All this sounds very—“what shall I say?"11innocent! does it not?

When will you be here? and the girls—will they come with you? Suppose we went to Scotland together next summer, I feel to love Scotland since this last visit more than I ever did before— Every body was so adorably kind to me— Love to my “little Mary and Georgina too— Yours affectionately always Jane Carlyle