July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 11 August 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370811-JWC-TC-01; CL 9:277-282.


Folley Arms, / Great Malvern, / Worcestershire. / Friday, August 11th, 1837.

Husband of me—I hope you duly received the large packet I sent enclosed to Henry Taylor; otherwise you must be thinking me a rather degenerate Goody. Honourable members are such rari aves [rare birds] here as yet, that even Mr. Gibson1 could not get me a common frank; so I was constrained to address myself to the Government. On the faith that it is all right I shall take up the thread of narration where I broke off at Chelsea; under no very comfortable circumstances, for my head was so bad that I had to go to bed three times while writing that letter, tho' I would not tell you so then for fear of making you anxious. By the way it is a great sottise [stupidity] that of the two strokes on the newspaper—the less one is all well the more careful one is that no want of strokes shall let the truth be suspected; it is when one is well enough to be taking no thought of wellness or illness that the strokes are apt to be forgotten.

Allons donc [Let's go on then]! my run-away husband—On Monday (being the 7th of August 1837) I arose and put on clean raiment, and having for the hundredth time recommended to Ellen my roses and silver spoons, and myself to the Great disposer of all, I seated myself beside Mr. and Mrs. Sterling in their new carriage, with much the same sensations as I might have felt beside Mr. and Mrs. Graham in their new balloon;2 to drive wheresoever the wind listed, and be landed where it should please the pigs: so great was the horror of doubt and fluctuation which involved our whole expedition to my thinking! The same day however, about eight in the evening, we actually gained Oxford as proposed; and descended ‘da carroza’ [from the carriage] less fatigued and more pleased with our day's-work than ‘I as one solitary individual’3 had anticipated.—On my life, there is ‘a fund of vitality’ in that man, which covereth a multitude of sins. What a taste he still has for ‘innocent pleasures’! I, who at half his age have already exhausted all that, can do nothing but stare at his preternatural effervescences and raptures.— The Angel Inn, where we staid at Oxford, gave me a rather unpleasant impression of the tone of that place (for travellers always get very decided and of course infallible impressions of places from the Inns where they eat or sleep)—not that the bread butter et cetera was not first rate, and the silver forks in ‘good’ style: what disgusted me was to observe in every bed room, laid before the looking glass, a bible and book of prayers with a small hassock underneath (and this preparation I was told was universal thro' all the Inns at Oxford) my particular hassock (of green cloth) had a drawing printed on it, which I was at pains to examine—it represented a sportsman (for consistency's sake let us hope a parson) in the midst of a stubble field taking aim at three birds which he could not fail to hit, the tips of their wings being touching the muzzle of his gun! Moreover the Waiters, all large elderly men, had a sort of 'mazed abstractedness and sad gravity of look which gave one a notion they must have some time or other been unsuccessful graduates: while the maids my-adied at us at such a rate, and made their reverences so profoundly that the free Breton-blood rushed to my face in very shame for them— From all which I inferred that Oxford was a place much under the domination of Cant—Cant in its two most killing shapes, of Religion that keeps its hassock and Respectability that keeps its gig.

The Colleges however, which we saw the best part of during Tuesday forenoon under the guidance of Jacobson, interested me beyond measure—not only as being a splendid memorial of past ages but as shaping for me into actual stone and mortar, and painted glass, and illuminated manuscripts and square-capp'd blackgowned figures et cetera, the vague notions I had gathered in my girlhood, out of novels and histories, of a Great English University.— But nothing of all that I saw gave me so lively an emotion of pleasure as—a very small thing indeed—neither more nor less than Guy Fox's Lantern4 preserved under a glass case! and what gave Mr. Sterling the liveliest emotion of displeasure, was a question I addressed, with no ill intention but in pure unsophisticated curiosity, to the gentleman who showed us the Bodleian Picture Gallery, viz: ‘how came it that I saw no picture of Oliver Cromwell there, seeing that they had raked together so many insignificant persons of his time?’5 A broad stare was all the answer I received to this natural enquiry, from which the gentleman's features did not relax so long as I remained in his company. I hope he is now more at ease. There were also many gloriously illuminated manuscripts shown me, which I could have spent much more time in looking at than Mr. Sterling would allow—especially a Plato and Tacitus—and a greek testament bound in solid silver having a carved ivory Monk in relief on one side and on the other a Greek inscription purporting the ‘that Maker thereof particularly wished God would bless himself and his family.’—And there was Queen Elizabeth's Latin exercise-book (putting me very much in mind of my own) along side of Tippo Saib's gold-lettered Koran!6 But I should need more sheets than one to enumerate all the curiosities and niceties I saw.

With all its magnificence it seems to me that the Bodleian Library must be a most perverse place to study in; for this reason above all, that the numerous private libraries left to it in donation, of which it is chiefly composed, are and must be kept apart and entire; so that instead of one great Library arranged under general heads, you have as it were a great many little libraries arranged under one general roof. They told me the inconvenience of this was obviated by the perfection of the catalogues to which I can only say the perfection of the catalogues must be much beyond the perfection of the Librarians. One of whom, grown grey in the service, I made as red as a lobster with asking him simple questions which he could nowise answer.

On the Afternoon of the same day we visited Blenheim where amidst much that was note-worthy I remarked most note-worthy of all, and a sort of epitome of the whole, two pictures hung on the same wall,—the one, Old Sarah7 in her loneliness and her pride,—the other Miss Glover in—her blue satin! (Miss Glover, for to be sure you do not know it, being a trashy actress's daughter,8 at present officiating as Mistress to his grace of Marlborough,9 a man of Seventy with a wife10 living in London) I could not but wish that a picture might have spoken for once, and the beautiful termagant might have there and then opened her tinkler-jaw11 on that trumpery damsel, and asked her in the Devil's name what she was doing in her Blenheim as ‘one of the family’ (to use our Cicerone's delicate phraseology)?—but so is it ever, pride before destruction—the haughty spirit before a fall!—We slept that night at a country Inn near Burford some sixteen miles on the other side of Blenheim, and proceeded hither, next day, by Cheltenham and Tewksbury (not without poking into every crevice of the old church at the latter place)—across the Severn (a marvellously clear flowing river for England) and so thro' a country as full as it could cram of apple-orchards growing on the greenest sward,—patches of the yellowest corn,—thatched homesteads up to the knees in hollyhocks,—and all soft, sweet, picturesque objects, which Nature in her profusion could be suffered to have flung together. For Malvern itself, it only half pleases me—the situation is magnificent, it stands a little way up on a hill or hills, from the top of which you see over ten counties, and the window of our sitting-room commands the richest, most extensive prospect I ever saw with my eyes—but as a village it is preposterous—at a little distance it looks as if it had been built with a pack of cards—all so white and twostoried and formal! at hand you find it consists of a great many smart, roman-cemented cockney-built Villas with a sprinkling of ‘gin pallace’-looking Hotels, grouped stupidly, or in strait lines at regular distances—all which seems so out of character on the slope of a romantic hill and alongside of a fine old Monastery and some two or three old houses in the gothic style!—But it will do well enough for all I am likely to want with it—Pray heaven you may not find me fallen into that arch-sin—a taste for description of natural scenery— For the present then you are to figure your povera piccola [poor little one] settled in one of these gin-pallace Hotels (of course the most aristocratic—when my Lord this and My Lady that breathe the same atmosphere that we breath—) tolerably well off as to things temporal, but for the spiritual part looking forward to better times; we have private rooms like the rest of the great people, and are served with excellent food, and Mrs. S. sews at her worsted work, and I work at your purse and the [Stimabile] exclaims ‘By Jove Hester this tranquillity is—delicious,’ but from the fierce tone he begins in, tho' sinking into dieaway softness at the close, I am always expecting the ‘delicious’ will come out a ‘damnable’—and when there is no more to be done ‘we go about worship’ and so to bed where I for one, tho' quiet enough, sleep no better than at Chelsea—that is to say badly as can be. For all this we pay some guinea a-day each!—the more's the pity for him that pays it all. By the way there is certainly a good deal of practical kindness in supporting me here at any such rate— However they both seem to think themselves obliged by having my company—and show me all the attention possible—so that I go by the name of ‘the young Lady’ in the house—and in short tout va bien [all goes well]—so far. How long it will go so well is another question— He talks of being absent a month. But I guess that either he will return sooner, or I will separate myself from the Great Balloon and alight in a parachute,12 before that time. I have stood the travelling better than I expected hitherto—going at ones own time in ones own carriage, with an officious Stephen to look after ones odds and ends, and officious Landlords to serve up tender roast chickens and ‘exquisite sherry’ is a very different sort of thing from dashing over the country in disarray, in doubt and destitution at the blast of a mail coach horn— But I must stop. God bless you my beloved. Write instantly on receipt of this—to my present Address—and tell me if you think of coming back—I do not want to hurry you—but—it is so long that we have not seen each other—at least to me it seems long— Love to all— Again God bless my—Genius— Jane Carlyle.

Pray say something pretty to the Sterlings—they send you their kindest regards.

You had better enclose this letter to my Mother— It will give me more time to swallow the fresh air on the hills if I make it stand for two.