July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


JWC TO SUSAN HUNTER; 11 September 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18360911-JWC-SS-01; CL 9:54-57.


Cheyne Row— / Month and day of month unknown [11 September 1836].

Dearest Susan

Your faith is very great: I have found the like in Lovers occasionally; but in a female friend never any thing the least resembling it. No wonder then if I prefer you to all my female friends past, present, and to come! Long may you continue to entertain such kind thoughts of me! for it were a real grief to me should you ever fall away from them either thro my fault or your own.

Your letter1 reached me in Dumfriesshire only a fortnight ago, after more than one long rest by the road. And I would have answered it from there, had I not been over head in packing &c at the time, and besides full of tremors about the long journey before me. During the hot weather some two months ago, a sudden thought struck me; that if I did not get out of London I should surely die! And you know how every thing must submit and arrange itself, when once “a sudden thought” strikes some women. In the present instance it was no sooner thought than done; I did what was comparable to taking up my bed and walking;2 I rose from my sofa and got into a mail coach. And tho' gentlemen, with more sympathy than insight, expressed their astonishment during the journey, that my “friends should have been so ill advised” as to let me travel alone; I nevertheless by dint of pure female volition reached the place of my destination rather more than half alive. I had not stayed to set my house in order; had not so much as considered what clothes I should take which up to the remotest time of which we have any detailed tradition has been the usually primary consideration of Gentlewomen on the eve of a journey— one or two thin muslin gowns, and pairs of gauze stockings and gloves, with a few more such flimsy articles better adapted for tropic heat than the sharp airs of Dumfriesshire, was all I carried with me,—no shawl, not so much as a flannel petticoat! I felt as if I could never be cold, in this world again, and as if any clothes at all were to be henceforth worn merely for purposes of decency. “To think” once exclaimed a cousin of mine, a consum[m]ate fine gentleman,3 on letting fall one of a very fidgety Lady's best china cups, full of tea, on her span-new Brussels carpet: “to think of the elegant Jem Baillie doing a thing like that”!! “To think,” may I not exclaim with the same propriety “of the judicious Jane Carlyle doing a thing like this”! By the time I reached Manchester I was shivering; at Liverpool I purchased flannel drawers; and the first thing my Mother saw necessary on my arrival at Templand was to encase me in flannel from head to foot. Having clothed my nakedness, she next proceeded to nourish me with new milk &c, in season and out of season; that I might grow immediately fat and strong; and strange to say instead of being braced and plumped out, as she expected, within four and twenty hours, or even in double that time, I became, for a series of weeks, only the more sleepless, the more headachy, the more profoundly stupid, and desperate of everything here below— So another sudden thought struck me, and this time it was, to return the road I came; and here I am! “a sadder and a wiser woman”! and for the present also, thank Heaven, a healthier one. I ought not however to regret my flight into Scotland, since it has made me take with such new relish to London— It is a strange praise to bestow on the Metropolis of the world, but I find it so delightfully still here! Not so much as a cock crowing in the mornings to startle nervous subjects out of their sleep!—and during the day no inevitable Mrs this or Miss that, brim-full of all the gossip for twenty miles round interrupting your serious pursuits (whatsoever they may be) with calls of a duration happily unknown in cities! The feeling of calm, of safety, of liberty which came over me on reentering my own house was really the most blessed I had felt for a great while. Seen through the medium of this feeling, the house itself and everything about it, even my Annandale Maid presented a sort of earnest classic appearance to my first regards, which is hardly yet worn off. By the way it is the same sort of appearance which used to strike me in your room in Hill Street, and which I have often missed in rooms all be-pictured and be-busted and evidently trying to look earnest and classic with all their might. And the impression is the more agreeable in as much as one cares not to analyze it. I do not remember a single article of furniture in that room of yours except the parrots cage; (to whom long life and prosperity, if he be still in the land [of] the living!) I could not have told what was in [i]t the next day after I had been there, but I remember well that the spirit of an elegant-minded Man looked th[r]o all its combinations and not the spirit of an Upholsterer. Had I been left alone in it I should have thought about Mr Jeffrey, and not of Trotter.4 Since I am come so unexpectedly on the subject of furniture, I must tell you some acquisitions I have made since you were here in which you will feel a friendly interest. The piano which refused any longer to do the service of one, is exchanged for a horizontal grand one, of age very advanced indeed, but retaining much of its original sweetness. Then, on one of the tables stands that really very admirable bust of Shell[e]y, which you may have read in the newspapers5 has lately been executed by Mrs Hunt. And over it hangs a splendid print of Albert Durer's which poor John Sterling sent as a parting gift, when he set out for Bourdeaux. Another little print hangs over my bookcase, no other than the Conte Pepoli, presenting as the Examiner has it “an earnest melancholy, gallant countenance” to the public but with a little too much of the whites of his eyes seen according to my judgement; and the couplet from his opera of the Puritani, written underneath;

“L'esigliato allor che maor
Ha sol posa al suo dolore”6

demands the sympathy of those same “Englishwomen” to whom his new work is dedicated a little too barefacedly dont you think[?] We have another foreigner that beats all the rest to sticks. A french republican of the right thro'going sort, an “ACCUSE D'AVRIL7 who has had the glory of meriting to be imprisoned, and nearly losing his head, a man with that sort of dark half-savage beauty with which one would paint a fallen angel; who fears neither Heaven nor Earth for aught one can see; who fights and writes with the same passionate intrepidity; who is ready to dare or to suffer, to live or to die without disturbing himself much about the matter. who defies all men and honours all women—and whose name is—Cavaignac! I forget whether you saw John Mill: he is gone abroad for his health, and so also has John Sterling. Mill's malady is of the nerves, and Mrs Taylor I imagine has a good deal to do with it. Sterling is more deep,—in the lungs and I fear much that he will never recover. His Mother I have not seen since my return, she has been in the Netherlands and is now at Brighton, but she writes to me and is good to me as ever—and the Stimabile remains to this hour the same incorrigible fool. Degli Antoni is gone to Dublin—who else did you know?—Henry Taylor—I heard of him being at Mrs Austin's the other night looking sweet on a beautiful German Countess8 and wear[in]g beautiful white shining pantaloons.

The Hunts go on in the old way. Leigh Hunt himself looks well and is in good spirits tho' without any regular employment yet.

Write to me soon, I am very grateful to you for remembering me at a time when you had so many sad thoughts to occupy you. These are Sorrows in which it seems idle to attempt offering consolations.

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