July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 17 July 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370717-JWC-TC-01; CL 9:246-252.


[17 July 1837.]

Mio caro e buono Marito [My dear and good Husband],

The writing-every-day plan is a nonsense—it is liking [sic] mixing the whole penny-worth of milk with the coffee instead of taking only the cream—impairing the clearness and flavour of the liquor, for sake of ‘whiteness’—an error which (in the case of the coffee), we have discovered and discarded, as you may perhaps remember; even amid your present affluence of cream, which might make a less reflective man than yourself forget that he is come out of scarcity and into scarcity must return.

Tout va bien [All goes well], here; the wind mostly in the east.— If you ran away from heat, I can only say, the heat has surely followed you—for we have none overmuch to complain of—I have on all my flannels still; and the temperature has even helped me out of the dilemma I was in when you left; whether or no I should make any pretension to mourn.1 I was going to have made a questionable sort of figure in the general blackness, when the thermometer fell to the level of black velvet, and I ‘trat hervor glorreich’ [came forward in splendor], as black as a crow from head to foot, without the least outlay in the world! Once or twice only I have found it more suitable to put on white but my black crucifix and a charming little black silk mantilla edged with lace, (which my Mother with her usual wisdom gave four pounds for (as much as would have bought a new carpet)) saves my loyalty, or rather I should say my gigmanity, from reproach—for devil a morsel of the sentiment of loyalty were discoverable, I believe, if one were to ransac[k] all the bombazeen and crape which makes the noble City at this moment look like a City ‘gone to the undertaker.’ Among ill bred people the talk about ‘the young queen,’ is sufficiently tiresome. The only criticism I put the least faith in is John Fergus,2—he says her expression is extremely unprepossessing, petulant and unamiable, and it will be well if she do not go all into confusion. To be sure she will! what else can a ‘young queen’ do? By the way John Sterling came to me one day, in a perfect ecstasy at an article which the Chronicle (I think) had on you, containing this rather remarkable deliverance—“Whence we have great pleasure in infer[r]ing ourselves fully Authorised, to claim Mr Thomas Carlyle as a staunch supporter of church and state”!!!3 After this one may expect to see you claimed as a staunch supporter of animal magnetism, phrenology, witchcraft even; or any thing that mankind in the rudest age has been known to support.

I see none of all these criticisms—tant mieux [so much the better] perhaps. I expect we shall have Sartor running the round of the journals presently: for Harriet Martineau has absolutely set up a thriving trade on that sole singular item! She has imported what Mr. Darwin calls a houseful of copies, which she is selling off at fifty per cent! the profits (I understand) being considered as pertaining to you. One copy I have received from her in gift! and not designing to part with it I have applied for another, on purchase, thinking you will be pleased to give one to Mr Wilson.4 My own which was lent to Cavaignac, I never expect to see more of. he left it at some house from which (so far as I could make any sense of his grumbling) he had since withdrawn himself, and, “there is no POSSIBILITY of getting it now.” I never saw a man lose other people's books with such a sublime coolness. He will reply to your message himself; is to give me a letter for you next week. He came a day or two after your departure and was going to have flared up amazingly at your going off without writing or coming when my explanation fell like oil upon his wrath—he was here again yesterday and I showed him the line in your letter whereupon he grumbled unintelligibilities and finished off with the proposal to write—Madame ma Mere5—was here too, one day last week! actually had screwed up her energies to the pitch of paying a visit to the Fergu[s]es and myself! the Ferguses! what do the Ferguses know about her! Why the Ferguses you know are once for all Angelica pasta [stuff of angels]—and wherever there is to be found an unhappy man, an unhappy woman or an unhappy child—there they consider themselves at their posts, ready alike with purse and pocket-handkerchief. One day that Elizabeth took me an airing she asked if there was anyone I wished to call on—I told her yes—Madame Cavaignac—and then entered a little into the history of her misfortunes—nothing more was necessary to make Elizabeth the devoted of Madame— She went in with me—we made a sort of Sabine rape of her, carried her up and down in carrozza [in a carriage] showed her the National Gallery—overwhelmed her with our gentilezza [kindness]. And repeatedly since has the Angelica Elizabeth gone alone or with sisters6 and subjected the bewildered Madame to the same process of being amused! All which attention has so far gained on her, that she finds Elizabeth (C tells me) “a good enough woman; not entirely destitute of sense”— Surely ‘Ma Mere’ and you have learned to praise in the same school!

I have been very quiet all last week, to get rid of the snifters I caught in the Sterling's carriage—(which is gone back to the coachmaker's, on my representation that it blew a hurricane in it in the calmest weather)[.] My care however seemed to be doing no good so last Wednesday night I indulged in a concert (as I could get it) and there I suppose the cold was fairly stewed out of me—for next morning I awoke quite free of it. This Concert was a very fine affair indeed—combining more superexcellent musical performance than was ever perhaps brought together on any stage.7 But to begin at the beginning, Pepoli lost his law suit with Laporte, and finds himself involved in enormous spese [costs].8 Che à fare [What to do]? All the Artistes of the opera exclaim with one voice let us sing for thee! Grisi9 becomes exalté [enthusiastic], makes propositions the most generous—The ‘famiglia Rubini [Rubini family]10 comes with tears in its eyes’ and says, our voices—nay our purses are thine! in short the enthusiasm of these people! Pepoli turns up his eyes to heaven, ‘thanking Iddio [God] for having created amicizia [friendship] to comfort the unfortunate,’ and issues biglietti [tickets] inviting all the world to his ‘Grand evening’—inviting you will observe (for it is merely suggested en passant that those who vogliono [wish] may pay a guinea)—on the gratis biglietto [free ticket] which came to me was 845—and it was expressly desired that an answer might be sent to 65 Quadrant!—there was 845 threepennies to begin with! then libretti [little books] were printed, containing all the verse ‘exclusively Carlo Pepoli's to be sung in the course of the evening, and each person who entered was to be regaled with a copy! there was another most superfluous spesa [expense]! Then four different sets of biglietti [tickets] and programs had to be issued, on account of mistakes and mis-shanters [mishaps]— and so on—from one piece of mismanagement and false delicacy to another—until the issue has been—that he has found himself in the end giving a most splendid and costly musical soiree without having any of the credit, a man usual[ly] gets by such acts of Munificence. The ten guineas worth of tickets taken by the Ferguses and the other friendly contributions he received will scarce cover the lighting of the great Opera Concertroom! To me he presented twelve guineas worth of tickets! Two were used by my mother and myself—and two I was happy to have an opportunity of regaling the Wilsons with—the other eight which I received very late, had to be distributed more by ‘the inexorable law of Locality’—and my limited recollection of people's numbers than any other consideration. I sent two to the Somervilles two to the Rennies—two to the Cavaignacs one to little Grant (in acknowledgement of a second cargo of tea) and one to Mr Darwin. And I had the satisfaction of seeing most of the people availed themselves of my attention— The Wilsons were sitting prim and neat as if they had come in a couple of bandboxes—Dr Somerville11 lugged in one of his tallow girls12—&c but it was a most deplorably gratis looking house on the whole. Elizabeth sent her coach for us and she and we took up Mr Darwin and a Mr. Hopner13—once British Consul at Venice and made much of by Lord Byron—a grave sensible man, leaning to the Angelica pasta sort of thing— I had dined with him at the Ferguses one day before— Pasta14 my chief inducement, fully realized all my anticipations— Grisi, Albertazzi15 are nothing to her— She exceeds all that I ever heard or dreamt of in the shape of a singer, and poor as I am I would give half a guinea that you heard her and saw her also.

The professors Rossetti16 and Pepoli came on the Stage together and delivered something meant to pass on us, I suppose, for improvisation but it was very well got up poetry.— Pepoli was more put about than you were—no wonder—for besides the horror of the exhibition he had a fear all the while that he was compromising his famiglia [family;] he was more pale than this paper, put his hand repeatedly to his head and remained some moments speechless. When he spoke it was a low melodious wail (as of a fallen peri) gradually swelling into a strain of sublimest sadness. My Mother and Elizabeth wept—I tore my program into a hundred pieces, Mr Hopner cleared his throat and Mr Darwin said with provoking quietness “poor dear Pepoli”! Cavaignac said yesterday that it gave him mal du coeur [heart-ache], and he had a cruel feeling that the republican qualité was getting itself a little offensé [injured] in Monsieur Pepoli[.] Rossetti is a charming old man—and the words came from him “like the notes of a nightingale touching and strong.”17 You must try to know him when you return. The old fool Pestrucci18 nobody I suppose staid to listen to— What doses of Italianism you do get from me—speaking of doses— Is it not passing strange that not once since you left have I had occasion to swallow a pill?—not that I imagine any more connexion between your journey to Scotland and my leaving off pills, than between Tenterden steeple and Godwin sands19—but the coincidence is curious! I beg of you, in my name to sacrifice a cock to Æsculapius,20 to propitiate the continuation of such exemption from physic for me! What a thousand important things I must be omitting to tell you! I might say much of John Sterling who came to me very often, with all his affectionatenesses and confidences after the old fashion, only I think still more affectionate and more confiding— He showed me many tales and verses, and adopted all my suggestions about them—even to the cutting off of some twenty couplets from a beautiful poem called Joan of Arc—21 Pity that my own husband were not alike complying! He is full as ever of fantasticalities; happening one morning to glance up at the Library mantle-piece he exclaimed in great glee—“I have it now! I never could understand till this moment, why Carlyle in that book of his calls Napoleon always “the bronze man22!— But he got your address and was to write you at great length from Clifton. The Stimable is all agog about an article to be written in The Times on your book, by a person (Thackeray I opine)23 quite qualified to do you justice—the bringing of which person's abilities to bear upon your abilities the Stimabile considers an amazing stroke of friendship—a “doing something to serve two meritorious men at once.” but you he thinks the most meritorious of the two, for if he were “by any chance to get into favour with a government, the only thing he would ask should be do something for Carlyle”!! Let us however not build too much on this—it may only be said as a lure for me. However that may be, if Mrs Sterling goes out of town for a week or two she is bent on having me with her. The Isle of Wight is now given up for Malvern—a watering place near Worcester—where the Wilsons also are going for a month or six weeks—“It's all one to Dandy!”24 I sent a guide to Rome,25 but had no time to read it. I also called at Fraser's and gave the necessary directions about Tom Holcroft's book.26

The repairs are still going on next door but their workpeople do not start till six in the morning which is bearable—I rise pretty generally at seven and always find things in readiness Ellen27 being rarely in bed after five. I have coffee in Johns little pot—my Mother preferring tea—and the water is always frittered [boiled] in abundance. She is a sweet girl Ellen—does her very best to please—and mislays no lobsters. The wretched Ann went off with a lie—she told me she had come that morning from Kew on foot—and we found after, she had slept all night at the stick-woman's! God help her for her case is beyond the reach of mortal help.

My Mother is still for going in the end of the month—I shall surely get a letter from you soon. Say any thing that is kind from me to your famiglia. If you were a kissing man I would depute you to kiss the children but I know you do not like to kiss anything but me—tanto peggio per voi [so much the worse for you]!

Are you getting well and happy? Pray do, and—and—niente [never mind]—God keep you. Write to me, from the bottom of your ditch. Wish me well and like me while you can—I wish I were worthy of your liking—

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