July-December 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 34


JWC TO DAVID DAVIDSON ; 17 August 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580817-JWC-DD-01; CL 34: 133-135



MY DEAR FRIEND,—Your last letter was thrice welcome as being on “the Voluntary principle”1 in its purest expression! not only you were not owing me a letter, but I was a letter in your debt! a discreditable fact rather; but for the “extenuating circumstances,”2 I had not however forgot my debt—nay—I had been paying a sort of interest on it in the shape of occasional beginnings of letters in my head! But whenever it came to “carrying” them “out” in black on white; my cough, the pain in my shoulder, my languor, my dispiritment; ach! so many things with and without name stood in the way! But all that is behind, for the present, and now I should be a horrid wretch if I did not acknowledge your last letter—did not render some account of myself to the friend who takes such a kind interest in me; ill-health being no longer the ready excuse for any and every omission I fall into. Since I came here three weeks ago I have been no longer recognisable for the same woman, who in London was described by a “fast” Lady3 of my friends, as “the very seediest looking Party she had ever set eyes on.” I have recovered the highly useful faculties of sleeping and eating, and quite ceased to cough; and life is no longer the horrid nightmare I had been feeling it for many months. So excellently has my “change of air and scene” succeeded that I mean to go on with it a while longer. I return to London on the 21st or 23rd, but shall only stay there till I have replaced—the ribbons on my bonnet! and made a few other necessary feminine arrangements—and then start off again—to Dumfriesshire next! Mr. Carlyle will sail in two days from Newcastle4 for Hamburg to make a grand looking up of Battlefields. He will be gone for some four or five weeks—so why should I stay “like an owl in Desert” at 5 Cheyne Row, which has got to look to me, I regret to say, something compounded of a Hospital a Prison and a Madhouse! such long confinements and miserable illnesses, and horrors of sleeplessness I have transacted there of late years! I shall not see you tho' I go to Scotland—for I shall not go further than Dumfries. Haddington and all that uses me up dreadfully! In Dumfriesshire too, there are sad associations enough—but it has more to cheer me—my husband's family and dear friends of my own are still living and prospering there. Besides there will not be time for much visiting about, nor have I the necessary strength for it. It is the hourly astonishment of me, that I should be going to Scotland at all—for my own pleasure—at my own suggestion! a month ago I had so utterly lost courage—courage in the groom's sense of the word as applied to horses, when they “go whether they can or not.” But it is such a famous place this for “getting up one's strength.” “The beautiful Nature,”5 combined with plenty of live sailors and soldiers, the beautiful art displayed in the house and grounds. The daily drives in an open carriage, and daily (almost) sailing in the Bay; the atmosphere of great good Sense and Kindness wrapping one round like “medicated cotton wool,” all that is so good for me in my invalid condition. How glad your wife and you must be to get into the new house6 with “ample room and verge enough.”7 But when it is all perfected what “work of art” will you undertake next? You will have acquired the habit of superintending something, and seeing something going on, besides the natural growth of your daily life. Will you write a Book about India?8 Will you go into Parliament? What will you do or try to do? “Live,” you say, as a man should who feels that an account will be required of his years, his days, his minutes, live and do whatever Providence appoints! Bah! when one is still as young as you, one must help Providence to cut out one's business for one! Meanwhile, God bless you and all your belongings. Don't forget me, but you won't be able to get that done; I shall remember you so often and kindly! My belief in magnetism goes thus far. I return to London on the 21st, and after the 28th my address for a fortnight at least will be Tarn Hall, Lymon,9 Dumfriesshire.— Yours faithfully,


Do you know anything of the Mackenzies? I am surprised I have not had a letter from her.10 She volunteered the promise with such an air of good faith.