January-October 1859

The Collected Letters, Volume 35


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 25 March 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18590325-JWC-MR-01; CL 35: 57-60


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea Friday night[25 March? 1859]

My dearest Mary

You could not conceive, without having been beside me, the hindrances I have found to answering your letter ever since it came to hand; for Nature prompted me to answer at once— You were sad—and a letter from me might cheer you a bit—the bare chance was quite sufficient to set me on writing without loss of a single post—if only ‘the Devil and his Grandmother’1 would have permitted. But, on the principle that “it never rains but it pours,” this house has been “like a cried fair”2 for the last three days; or rather like the Siege of Sebastopale!3 This is the third day that I have had company (improvised,—of their “own sweet will”)4 to my early dinner, making ‘pigs and whistles’5 of the whole heart of my day, and again equally uninvited MEN tumbling in to tea, and stealing away my evening— I have literally not had an hour to myself, beyond what was needed for recruiting exhausted nature, at full length, on a sofa, with shut eyes, and a mind as nearly in a state of vacancy as I could make it.

To night our last visitor (the anything but interesting son6 of my Sister-in-law at Dumfries) has left early, having mercifully a great distance to travel) and I snatched up my pen, before the street-door had closed on him, and surely I will now get a letter written; to be despatched tomorrow. Nobody else can well interrupt me tonight, as the clocks are this instant striking ten.

My Dear I am so much obliged to you for liking to write to me when you are sad. It is a proof of affection, that, which can be depended on. Fancy my writing to Mrs Pringle7 when I felt sad—the thing would be impossible!—tho she wrote me, I must own, I nice long letter the other day with no flumery in it “to speak of”! Just a few phrases about Mary Welsh's marriage8—“poor Marys life had had so little of happiness in it of late years; that one must make her wedding as glad and bright as possible for her.”— Must one? and if one must; is lending her the use of one's big rooms and silver-plate, and getting up the steam within a hairs-breadth of burting the boiler, so sure a way of making her wedding “glad and bright?” I should have thought the more quietly and modestly one took that Baboon9 “for better and for worse” the better! I did not think Mary Welsh by any means a wise woman, when I saw her for the first time last summer, but this going to Lann Hall to be married proves her very much of a fool. It is quite of a piece with the bonnet she had bought herself in London, (lilac satin all bedizened with white paste beads—and worn along with a rusty black gown!)— My Cousin John10 is quite scandalised at the slight to her Mother's house11— He is quite another sort of a Cousin poor fellow—worth all my cousins tied up in one bundle! and him I must make up my mind to lose! He talks of being ‘stationary’— But his Doctor12 has not a hope of him—nor could any one hope, who had looked in his face and heard his voice—and his cough— But it is the line both he and his Mother have taken; never to admit that he gets worse. My poor old Miss Donaldson is still lingering on, her mind as clear, her heart as warm as ever!—but no rallying nor chance of rallying (they write)—and suffering much from sleeplessness, and nervous distress. She sends me the fondest assurances of her “affection, that will abide to the last”—bids her poor sister write and tell me this and that, and Miss Jess writes—with what a sorrowful heart you can figure! I open every letter from Haddington with a shudder. One day, lately Charlotte brought me four letters, altogether, on a plate, and every on[e] (I could see so soon as she came into the room) with a broad black border! The sight made me sick, but it was a false alarm—there was no bad news, with all that influx of black. It is strange how the most absurd things will recur to ones mind along with the most solemn.

I am reminded this moment of a thing Old Sir George Sinclair (Sir Gorg Synkler as dear old Betty13 spells him) told me the other day as an authentic fact. We were talking about the hardship of living with a bad wife! (Lady Clementina14 is said to have thrown much light for him on that subject) Sir George said an old acquaintance of his own being at the point of death, a mutual friend (Kinaird15 I think was the name) went to take leave of him, and found him wonderfully cheerful. “I am glad” he said “to see you meeting death so bravely! Have you then no fear of the King of Terrors?”—“Oh no!” said the dying man, I have lived for five and forty years beside the Queen of Terrors; I need fear nothing after that!”

My little Charlotte continues to be a great temporal blessing to me. Proof against ‘Spoiling.’ But I have my own ideas about “spoiling servants,” and seen no cause yet to modify or change them. The “spoiling” I give Charlotte for example is no such easy matter as you may think—for I have common sense enough to know that a mistress must keep up her authority over her servants or it will be the worse for her!— and if the character of the servant be of a sort that cannot be acted upon by moral means, or if the Mistress is incapable or will not take the trouble to use moral means; why then there should be recourse to mechanical ones. I mean if one cannot or will not take the trouble to keep up a respect in the servant, why then, one must what they call keep up one's dignity16 with her. Now, how often it is just to ones servants and to them only that one shows all ones faults—because it would be too much constraint to be always showing a fair outside to them, and because they dont seem worth the bother of putting constraint on oneself— If one is to treat a servant indulgently humanly, fellow-creaturely, one must show her at the same time the best of oneself—not the worst, and substitute the real respect one inspires for the conventional respect one does not exact. Thus one must be content to wear in her presence the same moral straight-waistcoat one doesn't mind wearing in the presence of a lover, or valued friend. Moreover one must first of all satisfy oneself of the servants capacity for respect— With a fool or a creature without sensibility better stick to the keeping-up-one's-dignity system—

But Charlotte is full of intellect and imagination and feeling. The best piece of stuff I ever got, to “make a spoon or spoil a horn”17 with— And I assure you I never took more trouble to gain the esteem and affection of man or woman than I have taken to gain hers— In return I have the behaviour of an obedient, dutiful affectionate Adopted Child from her How long it may last so, I do not pretend to foretell—as I cannot forsee what other influences may be brought to bear on her—or how long my infallibility may hold out for her—

There! if that isn't moralyzing enough for one time!

Mr C sent a book18 to Dr Russell today— He had read it and thought it might interest him.

Give him my kindest regards please—and write soon—and believe in my constant love

Jane W Carlyle