August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 16 January 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580116-JWC-MR-01; CL 33: 153-156


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea Saturday night [16 January 1858]

Dearest Mary

There never was woman had better chance at writing (except that my head is far from clear) than I have this winter evening— For I am alone in the house—as utterly alone as I ever felt at Craigenputtoch with Mr C “gone over into Annandale”!— The difference is; that Mr C is gone, not to Annandale, but to The Grange; and that my Servant instead of being too uncouth to talk with, is too illtempered.1 The very dog had a bilious attack over night, and has lain all day in a stupor!— I think I told you in my last, that both of us (I mean Mr C and I) were going to the Grange for a short time. And very little pleasure was I taking in the prospect. The same houseful of visitors! the same elaborate apparatus for living—and the life of the whole thing gone out of it!—acting a sort of Play of the Past with the principal Part2 suppressed—obliterated by the Stern hand of Death! I didn't see at all how I was going to get thro' with the visit! When lo! my Husband's friends “The Destinies” cut me out of all that difficulty, by laying me down in Influenza. When the day came, Mr C had to write that not only I was unable to come but that he could not leave me! In vain I urged on him that as he had left me often before ill, to go to that same place, his declining to go now would give the idea that either I was “waited on for death” or that I was grown strangely exacting. The truth came out at last; “he had no will to go, and was very glad of the pretext”!— But a note from Lord A showing plainly he did not believe in my illness—at least as a reason for his Mr C's not coming and some other reasons have decided him to go later—and I do not expect him back till the middle or end of next week. Meanwhile Ann seems to have ‘had a devil’ ever since the advent of those unlucky girls;3 and my illness instead of softening her heart (if she have one) has given her only greater opportunity to show her devilishness at my expense. It would be easy to go into thinking how indulgent I have been to that woman; how “ungrateful” she has been to me &c &c &c, and work myself into a rage, and give her warning, and—“pay the Piper”!4 But that reflection of having the Piper to pay keeps me quiet—outwardly—for inwardly, I own to plenty of smothered wrath. Look at the case—it is the dead of winter, when a revolution in a house cannot be accomplished without difficulty and discomfort, at the best—and then I have had enough sad experience of servants, to hope little from changing any one of them that can be gone on with better or worse. One may find a momentary relief from changing one sort of faults for another sort, but these get just as worrying in their turn—and the servant without faults—even without grave ones—where is she—to be got for her weight in gold? The question here however comes to be, can Ann be gone on with; and I rather think not, because she is ceasing to be servant of the house, and aspiring to the rôle of absolute mistress, which I do not yet incline to abdicate. I may and ought to put up with want of “kindness,” “pleasantness” even “obligingness”—in favour of the requisite qualifications, and the “unexceptionable character” one gives so much a-year for! but I must not live in fear of asserting my authority in my own house; for fear of illtemper culminating in “giving warning.” This is what it was coming to between us; the sad consciousness of my helplessness in winter, (since I am become so susceptible to cold) making me ignore not only her humours but her selfwill, till I was seized with disgust at my cowardice and suddenly pulled her down on her haunches (I mean figuratively of course) (That was on newyears day! the better day the better deed!)5 Since then she has been polite and does what she is bid—but there is something systematic, poisonous in her docility—which gives me the idea that she has some end to serve—other than that of mending her ways! Probably, being a woman of sense, she has considered that a new place in the dead of winter is no more desirable for her, than a new servant is for me—and that it will be best to do things securely—find a more promising “new love” before she is “off with the old.”6 But anyhow I cannot build any prospect of comfort on her present vindictive countenance, and douceureuse [sugary] manner. So my purpose is, to meet smooth with smooth, and postpone the denoument till I have more strength to hunt up a new servant, and train her, than at present; confined as I am to my two rooms!

If I had only myself to think for, I fear the natural woman would rise up in me and explode; at all costs and risks. But Mr C is so dreadfully put about by the least change around him, and Ann's quiet methodical ways suit him perfectly—while he sees nothing below the surface, and don't care a straw whether she be made of flesh and blood or of sulphur and brimstone! What a frightfully long chapter on a Servant! But you will excuse it if it relieve my mind putting on paper what, for the rest, I keep entirely to myself. I have not even Geraldine to tell. Geraldine is all but as good as gone out of my life!!!— She went into Essex the day before I returned from Scotland7— Thence after two months she went to Manchester8—seeing me for just half an hour in passing thro London and is not yet returned— So except for that one glimpse I have not seen her since I left for Scotland in the beginning of July— Latterly she has quite ceased to write to me!!!— She has been making “a considerable of a fool” of herself; to speak plainly. and has got estranged from me utterly for the time being; partly because her head has been pack-full of nonsense, and partly because I made no secret of that opinion. You have several times asked about her, and I always forgot to tell you—or it was too unpleasant to tell. Geraldine has one besetting weakness. She is never happy unless she has a grand passion on hand—and as unmarried men take fright at her impulsive demonstrative ways; her grand passions for these thirty years have been all expended on married men—who felt themselves safe.— And she too always went quite safe thro these romantic affairs— meaning really nothing but whirlwinds of Sentiment, and the men too somehow meaning as little—or less! But when I was in Scotland—with you9—she made an intimacy with a Mr Mantle who had been ten years in Australia,10 unhappily not married, only engaged or “as good as engaged” to a young cousin of his own11— For a long time it was an intimacy “with the reciprocity all on one side” But she went on writing him letters, inviting him to her house, flattering him, consoling him (he is a proud shy man) doing him all sorts of kindnesses; till he declared to his friends “he couldnt help liking Miss Jewsbury she was so extraordinary kind to him.” —He relied I suppose on his being some ten or twelve years younger than herself12 for security in accepting her kindness.

I could not see her committing herself as she did, and hear all her acquaintance chattering about her “assiduites” for Mr Mantle, without testifying my displeasure, and in proportion as she attached herself to him she drew away from me got pettish, suspicious, and mysterious. So it has gone on, till now Mr Mantle's bosom friend13 speaks indignantly of “the mischief he is getting by Geraldines flatteries,” and of “the impropriety of her fuss about him, when he (the friend) seeing her going ahead in her enthusiasm had himself told her, Mantle was engaged” and everybody speaks! and nothing comes of it! which is the absurdest of all!— Nor will come of it, I could swear! But all that makes me so angry, and what is worse disgusts me! It is making herself so small! openly making the craziest love to a man, who having eight hundred a year may marry her at any moment14—(unless he is going to marry another which dont make the case better!) and doesn't give any sign of intending to marry her!

Gracious what a luck I had no daughters to guide!

Now if here isn't a long letter! such as it is!

My dear, on newyear morning I went forward to the little cabinet where my china stands, and I took up the little china box you know,15 and I looked at it sadly and tenderly, and put it to my lips.— You were not alone in your remembrance that morning—

I had a note from Mrs Ratteray16 yesterday— Dr Pringle was still alive but that was all17—wandering from exhaustion for the last week— I am so sorry not to be able to go to them any more—

They are wonderfully composed poor things Kind love to the Doctor— and, if you please? how came you to assume the photographs were wholly yours I addressed them to him

Your affectionate / Jane Carlyle