The Collected Letters, Volume 11


JWC TO GRACE WELSH ; 7 April 1839; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18390407-JWC-GW-01; CL 11: 68-72


Chelsea, Sunday, 7 April, 1839.

Dearest Mother—It is a week past on Thursday since you went away,1 and really that one week looks longer than all the time you were here. Parting is one of the few hardships in this world which one does not “use to”; indeed the last time seems always the worst. It was quite heart-breaking leaving you in that tremendous apparatus,2 given up as it were to an irresistible destiny; to be shot away from one like an arrow into space! I cried all the way home; and then sat down so dowie [sad] by the fire, indisposed to speak to any son or daughter of Adam. But Helen was determined I should not despond for lack of a little of her Job's comfort;3 so she broke the silence by an announcement that we were “out of baith dips and moulds.”4 “There,” said I, giving her money, and returned to look into the fire. But she lingered as she went, and at the door she made a stand and gave a great sigh, and then broke forth, “I declare it's no like the same hoose, sae dull and dismal-like, it's just as if a corp [corpse in a coffin] had gaen oot! She was so attached!” What could one do in such a case but either jump up and fell her, or burst into new weeping? Having little spirit remaining, I chose the latter alternative. Then as if on purpose to keep alive my regrets, ever so many things have turned up, since you went, that I should have liked you to have been present at. The very next evening came the French Catholic Rio, that Carlyle had described to us as such a striking man. He pleased me much, tho' resembling the description in no one particular except the duskiness of his complexion. I had fancied him a stern, bigoted enthusiast, whereas he is a sort of French John Sterling; if possible even more voluble and transparent; and his Catholicism sits on him just about as lightly as John's Church-of-Englandism sits on him.5 I happened to ask him if he knew Cavaignac: “Ah, who does not know Cavaignac by name? But I, you know, am a victim of his party, as he is a victim of Louis Philippe. Does Cavaignac come here?” “Yes, we have known him long.” “Good gracious! How strange it would be for us to meet in the same room! How I should like it!” “Well,” I said, “he is to dine here on Monday.” “I will come; good gracious, it will be so strange”: and he seemed amazingly charmed with his prospect. Not so Carlyle, who began, before he was well out at the door, “Mercy Jane, are you distracted?” “What can you do with these two men?” etc., etc. I assured him it would go off without bloodshed, and began to think of my dinner. In addition to the boiled leg of mutton already projected for the sake of the capers, I decided on a beefsteak pie; and, that care off my mind, I trusted in Providence that the men would not come to an explosion.

The dinner, however, could hardly be called a “successful one.” Rio appeared on the scene at half-past three, as if he could not have enough of it. Latrade6 came as the clock struck four. But Cavaignac— Alas! Two of his friends were on terms about blowing each other's brains out, and Cavaignac was gone to bring them to reason; and not till they were brought to reason would he arrive to eat his dinner. Now, whether the men would be brought to reason before the dinner was quite spoiled, was a delicate question that Latrade himself could not answer. So, one half hour being gone, and still no appearance of him, I was on the point of suggesting that we should wait no longer, when a carriage drove up and deposited Mrs. Macready and Macready's Sister.7 Was ever beeksteak pie in such a cruel predicament! There was no help, however, but to do the amiable, which was not ill to do even in these trying circumstances, the visitors were such attractive sort of people. Mrs. Macready asked me how I liked Harriet's Book.8 I answered “how do you like it?” She made wide eyes at me and drew her little mouth together into a button. We both burst out a-laughing, and that is the way to get fast friends. An hour and half after the dinner had been all ready we proceeded to eat it,—Rio, Latrade and we. And when it was just going off the table cold, Cavaignac came, his hands full of papers and his head full of the Devil knows what; but not one reasonable word would he speak the whole night. Rio said nothing to his dispraise, but I am sure he thought in his own mind. “Good Gracious! I had better never be in the same room with him again!”9

But there has been another Frenchman here that I would have given a gold guinea that you had seen: To-day gone a week10 the sound of a whirlwind rushed thro' the street, and there stopt with a prancing of steeds and footman thunder at this door, an equipage, all resplendent with skye-blue and silver, discoverable thro' the blinds, like a piece of the Coronation Procession, from whence emanated Count d'Orsay! ushered in by the small Chorley.11 Chorley looked “so much alarmed that he was quite alarming”; his face was all the colours of the rainbow, the under-jaw of him went zig-zag; indeed, from head to foot he was all over one universal quaver, partly, I suppose, from the soul-bewildering honour of having been borne hither in that chariot of the sun; partly from apprehension of the effect which his man of Genius and his man of Fashion were about to produce on one another. Happily it was not one of my nervous days, so that I could contemplate the whole thing from my prie-Dieu without being infected by his agitation, and a sight it was to make one think the millenium actually at hand, when the lion and the lamb, and all incompatible things should consort together. Carlyle in his grey plaid suit, and his tub-chair, looking blandly at the Prince of Dandies; and the Prince of Dandies on an opposite chair, all resplendent as a diamond-beetle,12 looking blandly at him. D'Orsay is a really handsome man, after one has heard him speak and found that he has both wit and sense; but at first sight his beauty is of that rather disgusting sort which seems to be like genius, “of no sex.” And this impression is greatly helped by the fantastical finery of his dress: sky-blue satin cravat, yards of gold chain, white French gloves, light drab great-coat lined with velvet of the same colour, invisible inexpressibles, skin-coloured and fitting like a glove, etc., etc. All this, as John says, is “very absurd”;13 but his manners are manly and unaffected and he convinces one, shortly, that in the face of all probability he is a devilish clever fellow. Looking at Shelley's bust,14 he said “I dislike it very much; there is a sort of faces who seem to wish to swallow their chins and this is one of them.” He went to Macready after the first performance of Richelieu, and Macready asked him, “What would you suggest?” “A little more fulness in your petticoat!” answered d'Orsay. Could contempt for the piece have been more politely expressed? He was no sooner gone than Helen burst into the room to condole with me that Mrs. Welsh had not seen him—such a “most beautiful man and most beautiful carriage! The Queen's was no show i' the worl' compared wi' that! Everything was so grand and so preceese! But it will be something for next time.”

I have heard from Elizabeth (not Countess Pepoli yet). She says of him merely: “one of the pleasantest things that has happened to me since I came” (the place it seems is horribly dull) “has been a most cheerful Letter from Pepoli on leaving the Quadrant.15 He says he does not mean to see you till he has completed his arrangements.” …

O Mother! only think! poor Mr. Ryerson is dead!16 Died ten days ago, after three days' illness. … It makes our Soiree quite a sad sort of remembrance to me.

The Coolidges17 called yesterday to take leave and beg an autograph. I am giving away the whole of the manuscript of the French Revolution, in pages. She (Mrs. Coolidge) asked most politely after you, and was sure I must “miss you sadly.” Creek18 has been but once since you went away: Carlyle was in the midst of Deerbrook when he came in, and gave such a smack with his teeth as could hardly escape notice, and has produced this amelioration of our lot. Rio has taken up his mantle, has been three times last week and comes again to-night; but he returns into Monmounthshire19 to-morrow and is making the best of his time.

… I hope my Uncle continues improving. My kindest regards to him and the rest.— Carlyle sends his kind love. He has been saying up to last night, “One misses her much.” God bless you.

Your affectionate /

Jane Carlyle