July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 3 August 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370803-JWC-TC-01; CL 9:269-275.


5 Cheyne Row / Thursday [3 August 1837]


I sit down to write to you in a considerable draft, and in rather low spirits; both of which conditions are induced by one and the same cause: I am on the eve of a great journey—very great indeed; to judge from the preparations and talk about it—and with a sublimity of uncertainty over its details and ultimate issues which gives it, to my excitable imagination, very much the air of a voyage into a Future State.— If I consulted only my inclination in the matter, I should decidely adhere to the Present State, which I know,—can calculate the good and evil of,—and, to a certain extent, predict the result of—but the general sentiment being so strongly in favour of a change of air for longer or shorter, for better or for worse, and my grounds of opposition so inconclusive to every mind except my own; I have succumbed for once in my life to the force of public opinion, not without a secret misgiving that I shall find cause to repent my complaisance.

On Saturday morning then, the auspices having been duly taken and every rite performed with a romoré [noise] that mocks description; we start,—the Inevitable,1—Mrs Sterling,—and myself,—in “the handsomest carriage in all London,” with a months provision of clothes, and five country-maps in cases! From the purchase of so much geographical furtherance, as well as from the talk about people and places that are to be visited; you would infer that we are going on a Tour, an enterprise which for one with my small gift of travelling seems little short of madness. But then again, we carry the chessmen with us, and—Il Principe of Machiavelli!2 with Italian grammars and dictionaries, by help of which (and thro the interposition of divine Providence) it is proposed that I should enliven “our retirement at Malvern”3 in transforming the Thunderer of the Times into an Italian Tortorella [turtle dove]! So far as I can scheme out the thing from such data, as you can figure, we go first to Oxford where we shall remain over Sunday with Jacobson4—then on to Worcester on Monday—(seventy miles—a fearful long drive—taking Blenheim5 too in the road) There we are expected by a certain Archdeacon Singleton,6 with transports little short of those of a first love with whom we shall have “charming accomodation and every thing we can wish” until “all the necessary arrangements” be made for us at Malvern— This Malvern you are aware, or perhaps you are not aware—being an eminent watering place, where of course people eat monstrous breakfasts and do all the tiresome things that are done at watering places generally— Having arrived at the ultimatum of ennui there; we proceed to the Bartons7 at Clifton for a day and return (perhaps) by the Isle of Whight [sic] and Brighton—but “we hope better things tho' we thus speak”8— Now, how your povera piccola [poor little one] is to keep the life in her, thro' all this ‘dadding abreed [gadding about]’ I leave you to determine; for myself, I confess to you, I look into the thing, as a grand, and rather black peut-être [perhaps], which even at this eleventh hour I would fain decline going to seek.— But it were so willful-looking and even ungrateful-looking—for positively Mrs Sterlings chief pleasure in the prospect seems the idea that my health will be benefited by going with them. And as for him one can only account for his eagerness in the cause by supposing him bewitched—given over, for the punishment of his political sins at the age of sixty five, into the hands of the deepest Radical young woman that lives, who leads him the life of a dog!

That I might give you even this much half-certainty as to my movements, is one reason of my delay in answering your dear letter; another is to be found in the circumstance that no frank was procurable till after the 4th of August9— And it is so much more agreeable to me, to write in the “flow on thou shining river-fashion”10 than with the concentration of Tacitus or of the Author of the French Revolution—

Apropos of the French Revolution; I have read Thacker[a]y's article in proof11—and as Tommy Burns12 said of Eliza Stodart's leg—“it's nae great tings”! so small a ting indeed that one barrel of the Inevitable-Gun may be decidedly said to have missed fire— He cannot boast of having, in any good sense, “served Thacker[a]y” however he may have “served Carlyle.” When you consider that this is Thacker[a]y's coup d'essai [first attempt], in his new part of political renegade,13 you will however make some allowance for the strange mixture of bluster and platitude which you will find in his two Columns,14 and rather pity the poor white man,15 wishing with Mrs Sterling so often as his name comes up that “he would but stick to his sketchings[.]”

One fact worth knowing one learns from this source viz: that the Metropolis is entirely occupied with our work—a rather hopeful sign of the Metropolis in these wishy-washy times—dont you think it is?— But I will send the paper when it is published——Cavaignac, contrary to your prediction, has written you an immise [sic] long letter which he sent last week to go by Madame ma mere [his mother], that so it might couter [cost] you rien [nothing]. along with it was a note to me, requesting or rather, kurt und gut [in short], requiring that I should order your bookseller to send a copy of your book to Marast in such a street of such a square who ‘proposed reviewing it in the National.’16 Now I was quite at a loss to know whether you would consider a Review in the National (still only proposed) worth TWO copies of the book, one as I understood having been sent by Fraser already for that purpose—I rather thought not—but as you were not there to tell me, I did what seemed best to myself. I made Mr Darwin drive me up to Frasers where I stated the case in all plainness to the Versifier of Teufelsdreck, desiring simply that Mr Fraser would use his own discretion in the matter, as he could judge better than I “whether it was or was not compromising the dignity of the book to give away another copy of it for the sake of even a clever notice in the National[.]” Our Poet Laureat[e] seemed tickled with this putting of the question. What they decided on I have had no opportunity of hearing[.]

—I have also had a letter for you from John Sterling lying all this week— He was hindered writing sooner by the business which took him to Clifton and indeed brought him to England—the reconciling, namely, of those high-born?17 Bartons to the marriage of Anna with Maurice,18 which you know I all along predicted—there is nobody but me who is infallibly gleg [clear-sighted] “qui aie toujours raison [who is always right]19”— Poor John! he is off again for Bourdeaux [sic] with no clear prospect of ever being able to live in England— On the whole I was not content with the mood of mind he seemed to be in any more than with his condition of body. There is too much activity in both— He flies from place to place and from subject to subject with a rapidity that is absolutely frightful—and then his perpetual thanksgivings to Heaven for being attained to such composure of soul! his perpetual recognition that “Tugend ist das hochste gut und laster hoh zum mens[c]hen thut”!20 This the burden of all his poetry at present and of all his prose I told him so—and also that no man of his qualifications could possibly go on long in that element of TUGEND—or indeed for a single day, except by the strongest effort of self-delusion. He looked half wae—half angry so often as he got on this topic which was indeed as often we met. One day he said that he would “write a poem purely vicious then, and dedicate it to me!” Not so, I told him— I had no taste for unmixed vice any more than for unmixed virtue—I merely desederated [sic] vice enough to make virtue possible—and to supply a certain craving for variety in our nature which I found charmingly illustrated in an anecdote I had heard from Elizabeth Fergus. A little child of her acquaintance was getting itself prepar-eed for Heaven by its Mother who dwelt much on the perfect goodness that was to be anticipated there in all our associates—“but Mama” said the poor innocent “if I am very good indeed, maynt I have a little Devil to play with?” He laughed over this story (which is really a good one) just as Edward Irving used to do when the natural man for a moment got the better of the factitious. To finish off like my Mother; he is very much attached to ME, had we both been unmarried he would have tried to marry me—as it is he feels towards me as the kindest of Brothers—

I have been at church since I wrote, with the Ferguses—to hear Dr Chalmers21— He preached in the Swallow Street Chapel22 and the man who had that day “fired a double-barrelled gun” there had made bloody work! the people were absolutely hanging outside the windows like bees on a hive[.] Poor old fellow after all!23 It was very fine to see the glimmer of real genius that is in him lightening thro' the obstruction of old age—for he is grown so old! his head is bleached—his eyes dead—his mouth toothless his wholly figure rushed down with strange suddenness to decay! When he began to speak it was like the hissing of a serpent, and my heart ached for him, but as he proceeded his imagination and earnestness bore down all impediments, and every one held in his breath— I could not help a feeling of participation in the old man's success (if one may use such word with such sense in speaking of a sermon) and saying in my own mind—we Scotch “are the boys for bewitching you”; after every ‘burst’ there was a low murmur, threatening you would have said, to break into an explosion of bravos! and clapping of hands!— I actually, with my own two ears, heard one distinctly articulated “bravo” and several “very good”s!! but for mercy dont tell your Mother this or she will think all cokneydom [sic] hastening pit-ward “and I in the midst of them.”24

The Fergusi25 are gone tanto peggio per me [so much the worse for me]! Elizabeth gave me for keepsake an antique-broach [sic] from Pompeii—and implor[ed] me to call her Elizabeth in my letters[.]

John was to write you an invitation from Kirkcaldy and send it to Bell an[d] Bradfutes as it was only I said in case of your being in Edinr that you would have any chance to accept— He was as much taken with you as you were with him.

My mother set off the instant her teeth were rectified—keeping up her system26 till within two hours of departure when she became all affection and sorrow! I have had a letter from her today, from Liverpool, worded just as if we had been spending the last three months as—we ought to have done. After so signal a failure I shall never more flatter myself with the notion of being able to live reasonably beside her. My uncle and Walter and the two [old?]est girls go with her to Scotland next week. And now I must absolut[ely] conclude—no government frank, I fear, is forthcoming and beside[s] I have a most formidable deal of work to get thro' within the next twenty four hours. The noble Lady took it in her head to spend all Tuesday with me—and all yesterday I was laid up with my head thus cutting off two days from the time destined to my preparations, to seeking out and sorting my wardrobe, putting by and securing things about the house and providing work for Ellen to stave off the Devil from her elbow[.] She says she does not fear being left alone and I have no fear about her carefulness and honesty[;] still I would rather I were not going for so long—but if my anxiety becomes painful or my ennui great; I will not stay out the term of their absence, but come home [by?] some benevolent mail-coach. Or if you should wish to come back. how much more read[i]ly will I fly home in that case!

I will write again whenever I am settled any where that you may know how to address me. If I cannot get two franks tomorrow I must keep Cavaignac's letter till another opportunity—it is [very?] clever and long but of no moment otherwise. God for ever bless you my dear Husband— I wish you were with me again—kindest [love?] to all and devout imaginations of kisses—[to the c]hildren you[r] Jane

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