The Collected Letters, Volume 13


JWC TO SUSAN H. STIRLING ; 8 January 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18410108-JWC-SS-01; CL 13: 9-12


5 Cheyne Row [8 January 1841]

My dear Susan

I always thought you a woman of admirable good sense; and I rejoice to see that marriage has not spoiled you. This speaks well for your Husband too; for I defy any woman unless she be no better than a stone, to hinder herself from taking something of the colour of the man she lives beside all days of the year. We women are naturally so impressible, so immitative! the more shame to men if we have all the failings they charge us with! Our very self-will, I believe which they make such a fuss about, is after all only a reflex of their own!

I find in your letter no less than three several proofs of this “admirable good sense”—first you love me the same as ever—that is highly sensible in you—secondly you improve in admiration of my Husbands writings; that also is highly sensible—thirdly you understand that my silence means nothing but—that I am silent; and that (to use my Mothers favourite phrase) is sensible “to a degree.”1 Indeed if my silence is indicative of any thing at all dear Susan, it indicates more trust in your steady sentiments of kindness towards me, than I have in the generality of peoples who profess to love me best—if I thought that you imagined me forgetful when I am only not making periodical affirmations of my remembrance of you, and that you were to cast me out of your remembrance in consequence, I would write certainly, would conquer my growing repugnance to letter-writing, rather than risk the loss of your affection—but I should not feel so grateful to you as now, with the assurance I have that I may give way to my indolence and keep your affection nevertheless.

In fact in my character of Lion's wife here I have writing enough to do, by constraint, for disgusting even a Duchess of Orleans2 Applications from young Ladies for autographs, passionate invitations to dine, announcements of inexpressible longings to drink tea with me—all that sort of thing which as a provincial girl I should have regarded perhaps as high promotion, but which at this time of day I regard as very silly and tiresome work, fritters away my time in fractionary writing, against the grain, and leaves me neither sense nor spirit for writing the letters which would suggest themselves in course of nature. Dear Susan I am sorry to say this world looks always the more absurd to me the longer I live in it! Human beings always the more like sheep! But thank heaven I am not the shepherd set over them: so let them go their way, while we who are a little higher than the sheep go ours! Now dont be fancying that I am growing into a “proud Pharisee,” which were even a degree worse than a sheep! Not at all! I have a bad nervous system keeping me in a state of greater or less physical suffering all days of my life, and that is the most infallible specific against the sin of spiritual pride that I happen to know of.

I am better this winter however than I have been for the last four winters—only the confinement—for I never get across the threshold in frost—is rather irksome, and increases my liability to headach—but it is a great improvement to have no cough and to be able to keep in the perpendicular.

For my Husband he is as usual, never healthy, never absolutely ill—protesting against “things in general” with the old emphasis—with an increased vehemence just at present, being in the agonies of getting underway with another book. He has had it in his head for a good while to write a life of Cromwell and has been sitting for months back in a mess of great dingy folios, the very look of which is like to give me lock-jaw.

I never see Mrs Empson3— She lives at a distance from me, in another sphere of things, and whatever efforts I might make to break thro these obstacles would end only in seeing—for getting to know her, I entirely despair of— Her being here however is an advantage to me in bringing her Father oftener to London—and he does what he can to seem constant— I shall always love him and feel grateful to him; all my agreeable recollections of Edinr I owe to him either directly or indirectly, the delightful evenings at “Mr Johns”4 and so much else! By the way Susan I can never understand what you mean by talking of gratitude to me. the gratitude it seems to me should be all on my side— But when people love one another, there is no need of debating such points.

I see Mr Craik5 once a week or so—he did seem to get a great good of me—perhaps I should say of us—but it is more sincere as I have written it for a year or two,—but latterly I think he has got some new light, or darkness, or, I know not what, which makes him seek my company more from habit than from any pleasure he finds in it—“the waur for himsel”—as they say in Annandale— In London above all places on earth, “il n'y a point d'homme necessaire [no man is indispensable]”—if one gives over liking you another begins—that is to say if you be likeable, which I may without outrage to modesty and probability infer that I am, since so many people have liked me first and last. There is you, away at Dundee, have gone on liking me without the slightest encouragement for so many mortal years now! And even “Mr John” could not help liking me tho he met me with the prepossession that I “had been a dreadful flirt.” So at least he told his Brother I remember, who in right brotherly fashion reported it to me, the first opportunity— If I had only been still unmarried, and had not been obliged to look sharper to my reputation I would have made your quiet Mr John pay for that speech!

What a likeable man, by the way, your Brother6 in Edinr is. So intelligent and so unpretentious—a combination not often to be found in Edinr, so quietly clever and quietly kind. I love quiet things, and quiet good things still carry me to enthusiasm. Tho' for the rest, my quality of enthusiasm is pretty well got under— God bless you dear— Kind regards to your husband and sister7— Carlyle joins me in all good wishes your affectionate J Carlyle

Need I tell you that I am always very happy to have a letter from you