August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 5 February 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580205-JWC-MR-01; CL 33: 176-179


Cheyne Row Chelsea Friday night [ca. 5 Feb. 1858]

“All right”!—my Darling! that is to say All wrong! but nothing new wrong! When I caught that cold, first thing I did, in the new year; I accepted resignedly the prospect of being confined to my drawing room till the March winds were over; And thus spared myself a deal of useless struggling against Providence.—Since I have been feeling up to the present time too sensitive to the weather (which has continued to get colder and colder) for venturing out of doors. At the same time, by taking better care of myself than I used to do I was longer of falling ill this winter than last, and have never except the first two days needed to keep my bed. I have been up to breakfast (in the drawing-room, at the fire of which I dress myself!) all thro' the Winter, and that, in itself, for a woman who has no natural turn for laziness is an immense gain on last year.

If it hadn't been for that unblessed Ann, who has caused me more irritation than she is all worth, I should positively have rather enjoyed my confinement. Our people came earlier to Town than usual on account of the early meeting of Parliament;1 and they make much less of the long drive to Chelsea when it is no longer on a chance of finding me out. I have quite as much of the outer world as I want to keep me from stagnating. I have a great rug of racoon fur to lie under on the sofa when I am “too cold for any thing”! and my friends supply me with new novels English and French! which I own to a weakness for, and make no conscience of indulging in, when I am not up to serious study—Wasn't it permitted me to read the Arabian Nights instead of Rollin's Ancient History2 when I had the measles? And so I rather liked having the measles; I remember! My delay in writing has been owing chiefly to a fixed idea in the head of a certain charming Mrs. Hawkes. This Lady is an artist. In her days of prosperity she painted pictures in oil for her pleasure; now her husband, after spending her fortune, has gone to live abroad with his mistress!3 and she has taken seriously to painting as a profession; partly to escape from her vexations, partly to eke out her means. She has been recommended to send a picture to the Exhibition this year, and my face, such as it is, being familiar to Ruskin, Tom Taylor,4 and the other Exhibition Critics she has decided her picture shall be a portrait of me,—poor me! who had already nearly left my life in Mr Tait's “Interior” which also is for the next Exhibition. I “might sit in my usual corner of the sofa,” or “I might lie,” I “might read” or I “might go to sleep”—but paint me she would, whether she could or not, and whether I liked or not. And so, for the last fortnight she has been coming every morning at eleven and staying till two;—just the time I used to have all by myself to write in, or do what other thing needed privacy—darn Mr C's socks perhaps. I dine between two and three, and from three till six I am seldom without callers. Then comes Mr C's dinner, at which I look on, and tell him the news of the day. And thus the only time I have had to write letters in as at night, with Mr C sitting opposite me at the same table (as at this moment) an arrangement which feels to rather tie my MORAL legs together! accordingly I have waited for a morning all to myself—And besides; my affairs with Ann had become critical—and I waited to be delivered from the worry of that. We are at a clear understanding at last, Ann and I. and never was a relation of five and a half years duration broken off more—what shall I say?—politely! The married woman who for many years has come in to help in any emergency, or press of work had “thought it but fair” I should know, Ann was meaning to leave at the end of March, when her niece5 was to go into business as a Milliner. Ann6 was going to stay three months with her to teach her housekeeping! and would then find “a situation with a single gentleman who kept an under servant to do all the rough work”—“Don't she wish she may get it?”—“That is the reason,” said Mrs Newnham “that she doesn't care a bit now whether she pleases you or not.”—As this woman never said a word to me of any servant of mine before I took her information as authentic and thanked her for it. Ann was at her Mothers that sunday night and came home quite gracious and continued gracious for a week!—Had the Niece's scheme been visited by “the pigs” which “run thro”?—I took no more notice of her good temper than I had done of her bad—One day Geraldine was here (she came back the very day I last wrote to you).7 She fell to talking about Ann—how her face “looked less diabolic” “It may look as it likes I said; if she does not give me warning on the 29th of February, I shall give her warning and be done with it.” Geraldine has a way when amused of raising her voice to a scream; and she screamed out “you cannot give her warning on the 29th My Dear, for it isn't Leap Year!”—I had just heard Ann sweeping in my bedroom and any loud speaking can be heard thro the door between the two rooms. I said “speak lower”; but the shot had already told, I fancy. Ann came up so soon as Geraldine was gone, and while arranging the fire-place said carelessly “The coals won't last over another week Mam; I should say they will be out by Saturday.” “Very well—more must be had in on Saturday”—and I went on reading—“And” continued Ann “if you could by any means suit yourself I should like to leave on—”—“The 29th of March” I interrupted her—“Yes, you will leave then whether I am suited or not—if I had not been so helpless these two months back, I should not have troubled you to stay even till then.” Neither of us said another word—and both had spoken in the most natural tone! I went on with my reading and she swept up the hearth—And I call that quite a dramatic ending! for all so quiet as it was!

She does her work now well—to get a character for the “single gentleman” and to make herself regretted. but I go on as before never speaking to her but to give my orders and speaking then with perfect good humour—All squabbling and exploding has thus been avoided. and so a blue pill or two saved—besides one's self respect—

This part of it is easy enough! but the next—the seeking a new servant—and, when I have “caught my hare,” training her! that I do not contemplate without a shudder—especially while the weather is so cruel cold—and I could not go about, to make enquiries, or run up and down this windy house to tell anyone what to do but at the risk of my life! Surely surely it will be warmer by the end of March!—

Geraldine comes every day for longer or shorter time—but she is no use to me in this matter or any other—she is so unsettled—“carried” as we call it—I wont hear a word about Mr Mantle8 out of her head—and there is nothing else she has care to talk about or think about—

Love to the Doctor—

Poor Mrs. Pringle indeed! I have not written to her yet.

Your affectionate Jane Carlyle