JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 16 November 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421116-JWC-JW-01; CL 15: 186-192
JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH
Wednesday [16 November 1842]
Darling—the four ill written pages I sent you yesterday, evinced a more determined concern for your happiness, than twenty well-written would have done under more favourable circumstances! For yesterday was a bad day with me, “upon my honour” and the second bad day too which made it the worse to bear up against. Now I am “pretty well” again and hasten to make hay while the sun shines, that is to write while the rain rains— With dry weather one may foresee there will come a flight of visitors to make up for time lost—to them. I have set a semptress to work—in the kitchen—finding that the needlework of this house was threatening to engulph me bodily. I have written a trio of other-people's-business-notes, and now I am all for my Babbie!
First of the Anniversary: “The moral satisfaction was complete; the financial rather disappointing.” Thirteen pounds was the sum collected including the immortal five—from which deduct the expences, and there would remain, I am afraid, zero, or perhaps even a deficit—the supper of itself must have gone with a half—forty five gallons of beer, fifty pounds of macaroni, and roast beef of unascertained quantity!—to be sure there were two hundred and fifty sat down to what the Dumfries courier would call “the festive board,” and the fine times of miraculous loaves and fishes1 are long gone by: tho' god knows if ever there was a time when men had more need of them! think of the boiled dead dog!— The supper transacted itself in a tavern hard by, at the close of the business—leaving the schoolroom to more poetical purposes—to distribution of prizes—speeches of “The founders” (anglice the Commitee) and “what shall I say, strange things upon my honour”! You may be sure that old Pestrucci2 would not let slip so fine an occasion of gratifying his melodramatic propensities and accordingly a series of scenario were most unexpectedly introduced which the audience must have been charmed to find themselves “assisting at”—for nothing—I mean gratis— Of the first, poor unsuspecting, horror-struck Mazzini was made at once the hero and the victim!— When all had spoken who were to speak, he came forward—very shame-faced as you may fancy—and “unveiling himself as the original founder” (in defiance to Baldacconi3 who had said he dared not) he made a most moving address to the school as learners and as patriots— When he had finished, amidst shouting like to bring down the ceiling there stepped forth from the pupils benches the least boy—some twelve years old—who advanced blushing, and laid a bouquet at his feet! then putting his little hand in his breast, he pulled out a little paper, and proceeded to read a little sonnet to his (Mazzinis) honour and glory!—just fancy this!— and consider the sort of Man! and admire him that he did not turn round and brain old Pestrucci on the spot—from whose goosehead of course this coup de theatre must have emanated! Nor was this all the trials his modesty had to undergo—an Italian girl next advanced from the pupils benches (there are nine female pupils—some english, the wives of Italian operatives—and some Italian) a very beautiful girl too,—came forward in an accès [fit] of enthusiasm genuine—for this part of the exhibition was spontaneous—and humbly besought him to give her one flower of his bouquet!! and an Englishwoman, who would not be behind the foreigner, called god to witness that he was the Prophet of her time!! “The moral satisfaction” might well be “complete”—more than complete one would say!— Nor had Pistucci4 forgotten himself—when the company were about to disperse one of the pupils again stepped forth, and declared that it would make their enjoyment perfect if Mr Pistrucci would favour them with an improvisation—“Oh Impossibile, impossibile!” with all sorts of coyish grimacing—at length he allowed himself to be so far prevailed upon that “he would read them a composed poem of his own”—which he thereupon drew all ready from his pocket—and calling to him “the Dr Rossetti”5 the two old fools proceeded to deliver in horrible recitative a dramatized poem written for the occasion! What the “wellwishing English” thought of all this, I cannot pretend to say—a good deal of inward laughter must I should think have transacted itself—fortunately there were few english present—of women only Elizabeth and Mrs Jameson, the one, half Italian by marriage, and the other, two-thirds so by nature—
Did I tell you the Fate of Gambardellas picture of Carlyle?—I think not—at C's desire I stept in to see it one day in passing to the Sterlings—Speridion (his other name is quite too long for writing) almost without opening his lips set it up before me— He had put in a small triangular light just at the joining of the nose and brow which gave it the appearance of smelling something to which assafoetida was a joke, and another very broad, circular one in the middle of the under lip—which I cannot describe unless you can fancy such an unheard of thing as a lip just ignited by a lucifer-match!— I looked at it for a moment with all the gravity I could muster, and then looked at the painter— Our eyes met, and both exploded into laughter— “The fact is” said G. “that poor man can not sit! and will never get himself painted in this world—unless from memory by some one who has studied his face” (in this last observation I believe there was a deal of sound sense)— “But we must not tell him so”—he continued—“it would vex him, and the poor man has done the best he could! just let it pass for my want of talent, and I will do him a picture of you to make up to him for his lost time!” And then he made me sit down and read two letters from Mrs Reid6 which I had heard of already from Carlyle, and which had “excited him very much”—no wonder!— The first was a honeyed production enough, setting forth the inducements of Tynemouth—and beseeching him to come and paint her a picture of her “dear and admirable friend Miss Martineau, who was just now looking unusually well”— She Mrs Reid would “cheerfully bear his expences—a steamer would bring him in two days &c”— The second letter was on receiving his charge twenty pounds for the picture (not at all too much) and 6 pounds for expences—three pounds less—observe—than what it actually costs to go and come by railway— A more coolly impertinent ungenerous, unladylike epistle than this of the “amiable Mrs Reid” I never in my life read—it might well excite him— She reproached him with having neglected her directions about the steamboat and thus added several pounds to her expence “without one word of motive or apology”— If he must go by railroad at least he might have gone by the second class train!!!— She feared such want of consideration would hinder his success among English people “for whom nothing was more offensive than a want of delicacy in money matters”!— I absolutely blushed for the woman in reading her vile letter, and felt heartily sorry for the poor fellow. Such language to a man who had dined at her table—a gentleman by birth and breeding— Shame on the old haddock! I always considered her a humbug with her virtue-doing and penny-Ladyisms7—and I was not deceived— He was very confidential—spoke of my letter to him about the five pounds in the warmest terms of gratitude—and also of his regrets that after C's “capricious” behaviour to him he could not visit at the house— “There were just two perfect women for him in the world Mrs Follen in America and I in England—I was not so old as Mrs Follen (good God how old is Mrs Follen?) but that made no difference in the disinterestedness of his friendship for me—“whenever I needed him he was ready to spill his his8 blood for me or go to the world's end for me—but to visit at the house under such circumstances could be no good either to him or me—“he had said so to Dr Bute,”9 and a great deal more he appeared to have said to Dr Bute which he might as well have kept to himself— Moreover he told me as coolly as if I had been a hundred years old—that he spent all his evenings with Dr Bute—he must go somewhere, for his nature was social—he could not go to me—and so he went to Dr Bute—for unless he had virtuous society he would take up with vicious—would turn blackguard—and ruin himself every way— Heaven have mercy—“that minds me”!10 Only think Babbie of young Laing having written a Drama and actually sent it in to Macready! Do not mention this for perhaps it is a secret—when he confided the fact to Carlyle and requested his intervention with Macready, C. said (nay wrote it to Macready himself11) that he “received a sort of shock—as if his maid servant had informed him that she had fallen with child!!” If poor Laing hand12 seen that sealed note of recommendations which he unsuspectingly forwarded along with his M.S.!
Mrs Wright the large Dairywoman at the corner died the other morning, and her husband has been a great object of interest to the neighborhood especially to Helen ever since—it was a sort of Mahomet and Kadijah13 affair—the woman a prosperous widow advanced in years took him, a poor lad to keep not her camels but her cows—and finding him a good lad married him— She has died at seventy two—and he still a young man is inconsolable! “he cannot be persuaded” says Helen “to taste either meat or drink”—“how long is it”—said I—“when did she die?—” “this morning at nine o'clock”—it was then eleven! The poor fellow may have loved his old wife, however, very sincerely, and be sincerely to be pitied—altho' the fast was nothing to speak of— —apropos of fasts— C was reading out of one of his big books last night the only fast worth mentioning I ever heard out of them (the old chronicles I mean) A certain Sir John Compton displayed his vocation to holiness at so early an age “that when he was yet an infant on his mothers breast he fasted two days in the week—on wednesdays and fridays he did wholly abstain to suck”!!14 “there's a kid”!
The above was written yesterday, at twice; for certain [demons?] of sickness obliged me to stop in the forenoon sooner than I wished—this morning I have again had headach but it is going off now—what a time one has with these complicated concerns of bodies!— My side however, which you mindfully enquire about, is less troublesome—when I do not walk I hardly feel it but exercise invariably makes it worse—
Since my Uncle has a fancy for Norway, pray try to get him a book entitled “Norway and her Laplanders in 1841 with some hints to the Salmon fisher” by John Milford.15 I have just finished it and find it less to be condemned than the generality of modern tours— Would you tell me what autographs Helen HAS that I may know what to preserve for her— I am thankful to hear your cook is deceiving you to such excellent purpose— I hope she will stay a long time and dress a Soul for my own eating some fine day— Now, they may laugh at us as they like Babbie, but hang me if I could have spelt that animal any better than you, without looking in the dictionary!— s o u l I should not have spelt it; for I could not have fancied anything of soul in a cold, flat, nasty fish—but I should certainly have written it soal—thank goodness I was never required to write it—only to eat it— Oh that horrible squalling girl!16 in these wet days she is worse than ever! every morning that I get leave to sleep a little longer than usual she rattles me up with her accursed scales vocal and instrumental! The idea of any creature out of Bedlam falling to work to practise at eight oclock in the month of November!—
There is C tramping in his boots overhead so I must seal and be ready—bless you darling—dispense my love: liberally yet according to desert—
Ever your affectionate
Jane W C
I send Helen a caricature of Forster & Dickens to put among her autographs— I need not say who did it17