January-October 1859

The Collected Letters, Volume 35


JWC TO MARY CARLYLE AUSTIN ; 15 January 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18590115-JWC-MCA-01; CL 35: 9-10


To Mrs Austin The Gill Annan.

5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea [mid-January 1859?]

My dear Mary,

My speechless dismay yesterday on the arrival of your box might be reproduced, with grand effect, on the stage of one of the minor theatres!

First I must tell you, that ever since your promise of “fresh eggs” reached Mr C; it had been, not absolutely only, but without exaggeration—the only pleasant idea of his mind! “in a few days there would be Gill Eggs to one's breakfast, Thank God!” And in the meantime, his chronic discontent with his fried bacon, with his Yarmouth bloaters,1 because they were NOT fresh eggs was gradually rising to phrenzy pitch! And in the same ratio intensified itself his scorn of my stupidity in not being able to discover fresh eggs here “at any season of the year!” and his sacred horror of badness of egg-arrangements generally!! I had been listening to every van that passed our house, for two days; in trembling hope it would stop and “fresh eggs” issue from it! Yesterday, being fine, a fine bright sunshine, before the frost and snow that were on the road; I went out for a little walk. On my return, while standing till the door was opened, I noticed the door steps all trickled over with a thick buff colored fluid! “What can that be!” I asked at Charlotte2 the moment she appeared— “Come in— Oh do come in out of the cold Mam,” said she coaxingly, and you shall know all about it!— In the first place There!” she said, pointing to what shall I say? the ruins of a Box on one of the passage chairs! “That is the box you were expecting; and People have been into it, and they say lots of the eggs are smashed; but it's my opinion they have taken them! Master came down, and told the man; he had better in Future read the address on boxes before breaking into them! as if that would bring back the eggs, now!” At last I got the state of the case out of her: The Carrier who brought the box from the railway had left it by mistake at 5 Cheyne Walk—and the man of that house,3 who must be not the master, but in to keep it (from Mr C's observation of his appearance) “being expecting something himself”—proceeded to knock the lid in pieces, and finding what he did not expect, looked at the address, tied all up anyhow and nohow, and brought it here—marking his way with dripping of Egg, as, of yore, dear little Thom Thumb marked his with bread crumbs!4 Now my opinion is, “the man” had done nothing very heinous. It was the carrier who had the blame. Tell me how many eggs you put in. I took out, whole, precisely 2 dozens—but from the fact that only four of these were in the first lair, and that the hay was quite soaked, I infer there must have been nearly as many again. What a cruel pity! Charlotte's notion that the man had “taken a rare lot to himself” was founded on the fact that there was only one broken empty shell amongst the hay! still the hay was saturated with egg, and the man had not thought it necessary, I suppose, to put back the broken shells he would first take out; besides the 2 dozen of eggs, there were 4 magnificent fowls, and a tongue—(I wish it were an inspired one!)—was that right? I am so sorry about the eggs—for your disappointment and Mr C's—more than for my own—that tongue will for many days leave me nothing to wish for to my breakfast!— I think the box had been loosened by the division; and so the poor dear inestimable eggs had taken to polkaing on the road! besides perhaps the man DID break a few himself, before he was sensible what kittle5 ware he had to deal with! that is a less intolerable supposition than the one of his having eaten them!

Oh my Dear! My Dear, what a Devil-to-pay time of it we have just now!—The new volumes6 don't seem in the way to being done a whit easier than the former ones! and meanwhile the Books and papers that are “lost” every day—“irretrievably lost! swept away into the abyss! Oh CON-FOUND it! No man was ever so situated!! and the book or paper missing, lying all the while before his nose! My Dear! I assure you it is enough, combined with the dark winter weather, and “the general pressure of things,” to make one invest a sixpence in arsenic! If one hadn't enjoyed the advantages of a presbyterian education! As an old rheumatic beggar-man said in his last illness, to our white-neckclothed Curate, “I don't think I shall regret the loss of myself!7 “A very incomprehensible speech” said the Curate— But I understood it perfectly well. Especially when Mr. C. is in a phase of “losing things,” and tearing about; and CONFOUNDING it! It is to be hoped these eggs (the whole ones) and these prize-fowls may have a calming influence on his “Interior”!8 A hundred thanks Dear! Kindest regards to Jamie and all the girls and the nice wee boy.9

Your Affectionate

Jane Welsh Carlyle