January-October 1859

The Collected Letters, Volume 35


JWC TO BETTY BRAID ; 3 March 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18590303-JWC-BB-01; CL 35: 47-51


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea Friday [3 March? 1859]

My dearest Betty

I shouldn't wonder if you were wearying to hear from me! I know that I am wearying to hear from you, and there isn't much hope of that till I have first put you in my debt.

The fact is I have a far wider correspondence on my hands than is either profitable or pleasant; and there are so few hours in the day that I can give to writing, being subject to continual interruptions in the forenoons, and in the afternoons too wearied for anything but lying on a sofa betwixt sleeping and waking. Ach! I remember “Tom Dodds” telling Mr Brown (you remember Mr Brown?)1 that it was impossible to learn the whole of some task he had marked out to us—that he “hadn't time for so much.” “Then” said Mr Brown, “MAKE time, Sir! Miss Welsh can always make time for as much as I like to give her!” He wouldn't compliment me on my talent for making time now, poor fellow! if he were alive to pay compliments and seeing how I go on! It isn't that I am grown idle or lazy at heart; but I am grown physically incapable of exertion— It's no good trying to “gar myself”2 do things now. If I overdo my strength one hour, I have to pay for it the next with utter impossibility to do anything! So it's as well not to kick against the pricks,3 but to just creep along as I can! Indeed I should rather be thankful that I am got so far in the road to wellness, that I am now capable of resting and leaving the rest to shift for itself— In the beginning of my bad health, the feverish inclination to overfatigue myself, and the wide-awakeness day and night was the worst part of my disease. And besides this bodily languor and weariedness, I really have now little to complain of— I keep free of colds—have not coughed since November! and I get some reasonably good sleep—ever since I returned from Scotland4 and took to drinking—whisky toddy! Don't be alarmed! I never increase my doze, and it is but one tablespoonful (of whisky that is) before going to bed.

For the rest; Mr Carlyle is hard at work as usual, and the house would be dull enough, if it were not for the plenty of people—often more than enough—who come to see me in the forenoons, and for Charlottes young, dancing spirits and face radiant with good humour and kindliness all day long! And the strange little Being has so much sense and reflection in her, that she is quite as good to talk with as most of the fine Ladies that come about me.— Sometimes I go out for a drive, and stay to Luncheon (which is my dinner) with some friend or other; to shake the cobwebs off my brain, which are apt to gather there when I sit too much at home! Last Tuesday I spent two or three hours at George Rennie's! Oh you can't fancy what an old worn-looking man he is grown. He has a grand house,5 and his cousin Jane whom he married (instead of me) seems to make him a devoted Wife;6 but his life is not a happy one I think. Great ambition and small perseverance7 have brought him a succession of disappointments and mortifications which have embittered a temper naturally none of the best! And his children (three sons)8 must have disappointed him worst of all; for they are all a long, straggling, foolish sort of creatures; indeed the eldest, who had a stroke of the Sun in India, is become quite a helpless idiot!9 In spite of all this, I am always glad to meet George, for the sake of dear old long ago; and if he is not glad to meet me, he is at least still very fond of me, I am sure. I saw at his house the other day, for the first time Marion Manderson (Margaret Rennie's only daughter)10 She is the image of what Margaret was when she went with me to the Ballincrief Ball—my last Ball in East lothian!11 I have been to Balls here—very grand ones too; but never with the same heart I carried to that one—before any shadow of death had fallen on my young Life!12

Who on earth do you think I have coming to two o'clock dinner with me? (Mr C dines at 7, which is too long for me to wait nowadays) That tall Sir George Sinclair13 that went to see George,14 with some wonderful ointment or other! which of course did him no good! He is living in the vicinity of London at present. and wants us to spend a month with him at Thurso Castle15—(in the very extreme north of Scotland)—when summer is come—If I could be conveyed there in my sleep I should make no objection for my share; but it would [be]16 a terrible long journey to go, for the doubtful pleasure of finding Sir George Sinclair and Lady Clementina17 at the end of it!

I had a letter from poor Miss Jess Donaldson today. No better accounts of Miss Donaldson! She is wearing away; but so slowly, and painfully! It breaks my heart to think of her! And Miss Jess is as much to be pitied as the other—about to be left solitary at her age—and she a confirmed invalid since before I was born! I wish to Heaven I had health at this season to go to them and be of any use to them; since their silly nieces18 have no mind to go, and would only trouble them if they did! But it is only by taking the most tiresome cares of myself and self-denying myself at all turns, that I manage to keep from being laid up; and going to them, only to fall ill would be a sorry kindness. I write to them every week; it is sad to think that is the only way in which I can express my sympathy.

Surely this mild winter must have been good for George, as for me. If I only knew him improving tho’ ever so slowly I should think of you in your new home19 with pleasure. Have you any snowdrops or crocuses blown? My Cousin Walter sent me a dozen snowdrops from Auchtertool20 in a letter.

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Snowdrops, Auchtertool Manse, 2006

Courtesy of Stewart Glasson


They arrived as flat as could be, but when I put them in water, I could positively see them drinking and their little bellies rounding themselves out—till they looked as fresh as if they had been just brought in from the garden My kind regards to your Husband and George

Affectionately yours

Jane W Carlyle

John Welsh is still at Falmouth not worse he says. But the Doctors think his case perfectly hopeless.