August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 29 March 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580329-JWC-MR-01; CL 33: 196-199


5 Cheyne Row / 29th March [1858]

Dearest Mary

Considering how often one makes experience that evils are worse in the expectation than in the reality, it is wonderful perverseness, that one lets the expectation always do its worst, without drawing comfort from that well known Law of Things Here have I looked forward for weeks back to the 29th of March as a day of horrors!1 and now it is come, and I find myself preparing to pass my evening, very composedly, in writing a letter to you! the most of the forenoon having gone in—‘sitting’ to Mr Tait for the finishing touches to my portrait, in that immortal picture of his!!2

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A Chelsea Interior by Robert Tait, 1858

Courtesy of the National Trust Photographic Library and Michael Boys


And yet Ann left at midday, and I heard the new servant come in about half an hour ago! Had I “trusted in Providence” (as your dear Father would have advised) ever so much; I could not indeed have foreseen how Ann's Exodus would be smoothed for me; but I might have foreseen that some way or other it would be smoothed; so as to try my sick nerves less than it threatened to do, in prospect.

But first, I must tell you the adventure of my new servant, for it is of the nature of an adventure, my last choice of a servant!—how it will turn out Heaven only knows! Either it will be a grand success, or an absurd mistake. It cannot turn out in a medium way. Oh my Dear! only fancy! I have hired a “Miss Cameron” (from Inverness), “Daughter of a half-pay Lieutenant!” (swamped in numerous progeny—as in the case of the “wee wifie that lived in a shoe, so many Bairns he didn't know what to do”!3) Miss Cameron is 31 years old, has an intelligent, affectionate face, a low, pleasant voice, a manner at once modest and self-possessed, and “has known enough of life” she says, to “desire above all things a quiet home.” Imagine! a servant coming to one in London for “a quiet home”! and knowing anything “of life” beyond “beer,” “wages” and “holidays”! So far—excellent! wonderful! but now for the draw-backs! Miss Cameron having never filled but one “situation”—that of Ladys Maid and Companion at General Osbornes4 for eight years—does not know—naturally—whether she can clean a house, and cook a dinner, till she have tried!! hopes that she will soon learn if I will “have patience,” and tell her, or get her told how!!! and I hope so too, most sincerely. Much as this romantic style of thing seduced my imagination, I durst not, with a husband in the house, and a very “particular” one, have gone into it; if I had not help at hand, in the shape of a married woman5 who is ready always to cook and clean for me at the shortest notice, and whose good qualities and capabilities I have had occasional recourse to for the last eight years. To her I trust, in my own bodily inability, to teach Miss Cameron's Ladys-maid Idea “how to shoot.”6 It is she who is now installing her in the kitchen. And between the two I feel a modest hope that a fire will be lighted for me! and breakfast brought up tomorrow morning!7 Happily it is only of me that, for the moment, there is question. Mr C was mercifully persuaded by Lord Ashburton to go this very day to Addiscombe—where I flatter myself he will remain till my “Lieutenant's Daughter” has learnt at least the elements of “All-work”! So had Providence prearanged for me!— They wanted me to go too and so great is my faith in the new woman's trustworthyness that I should have left her in charge of the house the same day she entered it; but that I dreaded risking myself in a house which has been all winter uninhabited.— I have only been twice out of doors, and only for a quarter of an hour each time—the result of my last turn in the street was a new doze of cold—which kept me thoroughly miserable most of last week, and has not quite passed over. Lady Sandwich will be three weeks at Addiscombe however, and perhaps I may go by and by for a few days before she and Lord A return to Town. I know a little change of air would do me good, if I could have it without exposing myself to a fresh attack.

I was glad to hear of your having been in Edinr tho you felt no good from it at the time. one gets into such a rotatory state of sensation staying always at home, tho' one may like home better than any other place

I was downright sorry for Ann when she left today little as she had earned human sympathy from me. Not that she ever repented of her bad behaviour. or showed any regret at leaving me. Perhaps she felt some regret at leaving her place. I am not sure. But a Nemesis overtook her at the last, that made her an object of such compassion that I shook hands with her at parting! and told her that I should have been extremely sorry at losing her if the last three months could be obliterated from our relation. The Nemesis was an attack of Influenza exactly like one of my own! and she was obliged to ask for help in getting her affairs here wound up—and would have to arrive at her Mother's poor house unable to put a haughty face on herself. It must have been a hard trial to her pride, being reduced by physical pain to wear the afflicted look which she was so anxious to avoid. From what she answered, in cold sour self-justification, it was clear to me she would much rather not have gone, if—I would have allowed her to tyrannize over me! Since I would not, I must take the consequences myself—it seemed to be she, poor creature, not I, that was taking them this morning!— A chance if she ever find a resting place in this world again! Before she came here she had never staid in a place above a year—and her temper does not improve by age. When I heard the outer door shut after her, I felt as if she were stept out into confused misery as long as her life!—and cried!—The more fool I!— I dont think any thing could possibly have been written better than the little paper you sent me!— Love to your Husband

Your affectionate / JWC

I cant understand Mrs Pringle can you? My Aunts say she is so composed “because she knows those she has lost are happy with their maker in Heaven.”8 Really!