JWC TO ELIZA MILES; 16 June 1832; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18320616-JWC-EMI-01; CL 6:170-173.
JWC TO ELIZA MILES
Craigenputtock, 16 June, 1832.
My Dear Eliza—
I could wager you now think the Scotch a less amiable Nation than you had supposed, least of all to be commended on the score of good faith. Is it not so? Has not my whole Nation suffered in your opinion thro' my solitary fault? In February I made a voluntary engagement to write to you, which now in June remains to be fulfilled! Still I am fulfilling it, which proves it is not altogether “out of sight, out of mind” with me; and could I give you an idea of the tumult I have been in, since we parted, you would find me excusable if not blameless. I never forgot my gentle Ariel in Ampton St.,—it were positive sin to forget her, so helpful she was, so beautiful, so kind and good! Besides this is the place of all others for thinking of absent friends, where one has so seldom any present to think of. It is the stillest, solitariest place that it ever entered upon your imagination to conceive; where one has the strangest shadowy existence, nothing actual in it but the food we eat, the bed one sleeps on, and (praised be Heaven!) the fine air one breathes; the rest is all a dream of the absent and distant, of things past and to come.
I was fatigued enough by the journey home; still more by the trysting that awaited me here; a dismantled house, no effectual servants, weak health, and, worse than the seven plagues of Egypt, a necessity of Painters. All these things were against me. But happily there is a continual tide in human affairs; and if a little while ago I was near being swept away, in the hubbub, so now I find myself in a dead calm. All is again in order about us, and I fold my hands and ask, “What is to be done next?” “The duty nearest hand, and the next will shew itself in course.” So my Goethe teaches.1 No one who lays this precept to heart can ever be at a stand. Impress it on your “twenty children” (that I think was the number you had fixed upon), impress it on the whole twenty from the cradle upwards, and you will spare your sons the vexation of many a wild-goose chase, and render your daughters forever impracticable to ennui. Shame that such a malady should exist in a Christian land; should not only exist, but be almost general throughout the whole female population that is placed above the necessity of working for daily bread. If I have an antipathy for any class of people, it is for fine ladies. I almost match my Husband's detestation of partridge-shooting gentlemen. Woe to the fine lady who should find herself set down at Craigenputtock for the first time in her life, left alone with her own thoughts, no “fancy bazaar” in the same kingdom with her, no place of amusement within a day's journey; the very church, her last imaginable resource, seven miles off. I can fancy with what horror she would look on the ridge of mountains that seemed to enclose her from all earthly bliss! with what despair in her accents she would enquire if there was not even a “charity sale” within reach. Alas, no! no outlet whatever for “ladies’ work,” not even a Book for a fine lady's understanding! It is plain she would have nothing for it but to die as speedily as possible, and to relieve the world of the expenses of her maintenance. For my part I am very content. I have everything here my heart desires, that I could have anywhere else, except society, and even that deprivation is not to be considered wholly an evil: if people we like and take pleasure in do not come about us here as in London, it is thankfully to be remembered that here “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”2 If the knocker make no sound for weeks together, it is so much the better for my nerves. My Husband is as good company as reasonable mortal could desire. Every fair morning we ride on horse-back for an hour before breakfast (my precious horse knew me again and neighed loud and long when he found himself in his old place). Then we eat such a surprising breakfast of home-baked bread, and eggs, etc., etc., as might incite anyone that had breakfasted so long in London to write a pastoral. Then Carlyle takes to his writing, while I, like Eve, “studious of household good,”3 inspect my house, my garden, my live stock, gather flowers for my drawingroom, and lapfuls of eggs; and finally betake myself also to writing, or reading, or making or mending, or whatever work seems fittest. After dinner, and only then, I lie on the sofa and (to my shame be it spoken) sometimes sleep, but oftenest dream waking. In the evening I walk on the moor (how different from Holborn and the Strand!) and read anything that does not exact much attention. Such is my life,—agreeable as yet from its novelty, if for nothing else. Now, would you not like to share it? I am sure you would be happy beside us for a while, and healthy; for I would keep all drugs from your lips, and pour warm milk into you. Could you not find an escort, and come and try? At all rates, write and tell me how you are, what doing and what intending. I shall always be interested in all that concerns you.
My health is slowly mending.
Yours affectionately, /
“Eliza Miles” and “the Mileses” are the good people in Ampton Street with whom we lodged; Eliza their daughter felt quite captivated with my Jane, and seems to have vowed eternal loyalty to her almost at first sight; was for coming to be our servant at Craigh (actually wrote proposing it then—a most tempting offer to us, had not the rough element and the delicate aspirant been evidtly too irreconcileable!). She continued to visit us here,4 at modest intervals;—wrote me, after my calamity befel [the death of his wife], the one Letter of Condolence I cd completely read (still extant, somewhere, and almost worth adjoining here ?),5—she was a very pretty & to us interestg specimen of the London maiden of the middle Classes; refined, polite, pious, clever both of hand and mind; no gentlewoman cd have a more upright, modest, affectionate and unconscsly high demeanr. Her Father had for long been in prosperous upholsterer busss, (“Miles & Edwards,” as we sometimes heard), but the Firm had latterly gone awry, & poor Miles now went abt as a “Traveller” (shewing specimens, &c) when he had formerly been one of the commanders-in-chief. He was a very goodnatured respectable man; quietly much sympathised with in his own house. Eliza, with her devout temper, had been drawn to Edwd Irving; went daily, alone of her family, to his Chapel, in those years 1831–2 and was to the last one of his most revert disciples. She did, in her soft loyal way, right well in the world; married poorly enough but wisely; and is still living a now rich man's wife.6