August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 25 November 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421125-JWC-JW-01; CL 15: 204-210


Friday [25 November 1842]

There is some paper in the house today—but I absolutely dare not go in for it—so let us be thankful for the unfailing tho' rather prosaical resource of the Butchers book! My Darling Babbie: the “moral satisfaction” I have in you is great! almost my only “unmitigated satisfaction” (as Sir R Peel would say)—in the present existing state of my affairs— “The trail of the Serpent1 is over all else that pretends to give me comfort or pleasure!—My Aunt Anne writes to me,—as if it were great news—that “happiness is not to be found in this world! it was not Gods purpose with us in sending us into it”! “good gracious!” have not I known that much for upwards of a quarter of a century and put it into a formula too for my own behoof; before she,—wise woman as she now thinks herself,—had discovered that “Gods purpose in sending us into it” was not to run after “the fashion,” a seeking of happiness in the very lowest walk where it could be imagined findable— It is not happiness which I ask of Heaven, however much I might like to have it (in conjunction, I believe with all my fellow-mortals, even the most philosophical—if they would but speak without cant) THAT I agree to the impossibleness of, and should be a fool therefore if I did not leave it out of my prayers—but what I do ask of Heaven, and with ever increasing earnestness, and ever increasing protest against the “lions in the way”2 is calm—let me be sad as death if God wills it so—but let me be left in peace with my sadness!—that it seems to me one has a right to demand of one's fellow creatures—especially of those who profess to have our wellbeing at heart, and the unnecessary griefs which they cause us look to me not so much of God's sending as of the Devils! Oh but I am wrong in taking this view of the matter,—these every-day highly superfluous worries and tribulations are a part of our allotted trials, as well as the inevitable irremediable bereavements and afflictions—granted they are a part—but a part to be struggled against—protested against—only submitted to because one cannot help oneself— Why otherwise should God have planted in our hearts a sense of justice and of self-preservation? Meanwhile I have swallowed a Sedliz3 powder which as yet has had no beneficial results— A vision of a teacupful of soup crossed my mind—but Helen was ironing and I would not trouble her to make it for me— Helen however seeing me look ill, of her own accord broiled and brought up (with a little air of self-complacency which it would have been a thousand pities to dash) a morsel of mutton! as opposite a thing to the tendencies of my “interior” at the moment, as could have been hit upon by the wit of cooks! however like a simpleton I eat it to please her and now I am wishing “the devil had flown away with it”—I am not well certainly, but so long as I keep on my legs, and have nothing that needs to be taken care of I should be thankful— I have no cough only a perpetual dull headach of now a fortnights standing—very bad in the mornings and evenings and less so during the middle of the day— It seems to make no difference in it what I do or abstain from doing—it would be worse for me if it hindered me from writing— Fontenelle, I think it was, who observed in speaking of Hell that “he flattered himself one would get used to it”4—it rather makes against this theory of the force of custom, that I still make such an outcry about headach, for certainly I have had opportunity enough to “get used to it”— For the rest the weather has been more adapted for Ducks, or the Witches of Macbeth than for a delicate female like me— I went out a little yesterday however between two showers—and made excellent use of my time— I was not absent an hour and a half in all and in that brief space I executed a scold on Mr Boulter—shopped to the amount of Sixpence—made three new acquaintances and did three good actions! I should have returned then with a comfortable sensation of virtue you will say— Alas no I returned cold and wearied, and forlorn— On the whole the pleasures of benevolence between ourselves, are not a whit less visionary than other sublunary pleasures—at least I find them so— There is a moment of moral satisfaction in putting a starved old woman into a warm flannel petticoat but one reflects the next instant— “of course she will pawn it”—and so on of every thing else of the sort one attempts in the way of charity— That you may not be forming too magnificent an idea of my “good actions” of yesterday I must tell you, that the[y]5 cost me in all only half a crown, and wet feet. Some nights ago Carlyle in one of his dark walks along the Kings road6 observed a “remarkably decent even dignified looking woman” sitting on some steps with a baby in her arms—“if he saw her again he would give her a penny”—he did see her again the following night and gave her not only a penny but three half[p]ence7— The next night also she was “still there with the same sad, calm, look” He addressed her and found her pretty deaf—she professed to be a soldier's widow—that night he “had not a penny” so he told her to come down to me and I would give her some old clothes— I am sure he thinks I can invent old clothes—for it was only a few days before I had given all the duds I had to the widow of that pale faced street-sweeper in the Kings road now relieved from street sweeping for ever more— The woman arrived next morning at ten oclock—strongly perfumed with gin!—a decent looking woman nevertheless—and if a poor wretch have no fire—no warm breakfast—and for three farthings can get gin enough to both warm and strengthen her, who shall say that her taking it is a fatal sign of her—not I!—so in spite of the questionable smell I entered on a searching examination of her claims to my assistance. She told me she was the daughter of a Hotel keeper in Dublin, had eloped from a boarding school with her soldier husband at fourteen—had never since been taken the smallest notice of by any of her relatives—her Parents had died—her husband had died and here she was a beggar—with three children—a boy of twelve who had been taken into the Chelsea Institution8 for soldiers orphans—a girl of six and the baby at her heart— She “never went to see her son—for fear of disgracing him among his companions—he did not know what was become of her—but she lived here for the sake of knowing herself near him”— All very touching—if true— “She could sew perfectly well could do any work she was put to—but none was to be had”— I did invent some clothes for her—among the rest a most massive petticoat out of the old floor-cloth!!—gave her a shilling and promised to enquire about her at the address she gave me— And accordingly, yesterday, I set forth on that errand—when it occurred to me that the truth of her story was to be got better from her son (if she had one) at the Institution than at her lodgings where they tell lies for one another.— I addressed myself to the bookkeeper who discovered in his Ledgers the name—John Wood—and took the trouble to bring the boy for me into his private room—a dear little fellow full of spirit and intelligence—but the terrified expression of whose face at being brought in to me gave me a mournful idea of his young experiences of his fellow creatures— He looked as if he thought I must be come to tell him his Mother was hanged— His answers to all my enquiries were clear as spring-water—he had seen his Mother three weeks ago! she lived in Union Street! his Father died six years ago! there was no baby! (a borrowed baby!) his Mothers Mother was alive! he had an uncle in Smithfield!9—in short on a basis of truth I had been amused with a whole superstructure of lies—and the woman was just an inveterate, never-do-well!— I patted his head, gave him a shilling for his fright—and inwardly resolved to take some further charge of the son since nothing could be done for the mother— And there you see how imprudent it is to enter on a long story!—with limited time and limited paper—such histories are only for being chattered by the fireside So I spare you my other good actions hoping that I may do some more another day— No—the last is soon told and you may like to hear it—it was calling on little Miss Adam Hunter at her boarding-school, which after having been vainly inquired about, at Knightsbridge and Kennsington, turns out to be five minutes walk from my own door! exactly over against Newman's the Dyer's!10 That little Miss Adam is a cousin nobody need be ashamed of—a remarkably pretty, graceful, intelligent child, with a strange dash of the old Adam in it—a sort of old-fashionedness—not displeasing in a child however, but on the contrary rather “insinuating”— When she came into the room to me instead of leaving me to do the cousinly to her she tripped up holding out both hands and exclaiming with a tone half of “reception” half of childish gladness—“Oh thank you thank you Mrs Carlyle for coming to see me!” The Mistress came by and by and rather checked her expansiveness—we were getting on finely!— I must write to the Father to send his orders to the Mistress that she is to be allowed to visit me when I ask her—the cross looking spinster seemed quite disinclined to much intimacy—the old fool! as if the child would not learn far more from me than from her! But perhaps that was the very reason—

I hope the picture will be speedily set agoing before Gambardella gets his head turned and raises his prices to a hundred guineas! Give him my kind remembrances when he comes again and tell him to remember that he is but a man after all!— I am glad the family of Welsh is likely to atone to him for the ingratitude of the family of Carlyle.— As for my Uncle and Johnnie I am sure they will be charmed with him. The sober Mr Alick I am not so sure about. I am obliged to him for his sympathy over my dullness—tho' superfluous—if six years of Craigenputtoch could not break me into a dull life I must have a fund of gaity in my character little short of superhuman; so that in either case, dull or not dull I am not to be pitied on that score— The dullness truly is the least of it!— —No fear of our leaving the potatoes11 on the quay—but seven barrels!—it is difficult for me to imagine barrels so diminutive that seven of them should not be something alarming— In looking at the paper there come over my mind the long forgotten dread-inspiring yet delectable reminiscence of Morgina (was that her name?) and The forty Thieves!12 Your consideration about the manner of delivering oneself from the empty barrels was worthy of you! By the by I have to thank you also for a very nice japaned kitchen-lamp and a tidy little tin saucepan! If you disclaim having made me any such present I bid you not be too sure— I had them in exchange for the snuffers! Oh the lamp!—it is still in action—has never failed to do its part for a single minute!—but it is ordered to be “flung out of his way” so soon as the present stock of oil is burnt out— “it makes an atmosphere that no mortal can breathe in”—as I am a living woman I have never been able to detect the impurity!—but no matter about that—it must go— Much else will have to go before Cromwell is finished—perhaps the animate as well as the inanimate.

—Deariest babbie! I sometimes wish I had you here just to assure me by your contented looks that every thing in and about this establishment is not actually but only Cromwellianly fallen into a state of detestableness disgraceful to hear tell of—and then again I thank heaven that you are not here— “Night must it be 'ere Friedland's star can burn”13—and so is it for me tho' no Friedland!—support, tho' most soothing at the moment, only weaken's me in the long run, when I have much to bear. When I feel myself quite, quite ALONE, with only myself to rely upon—than14 I am true to myself!—at least have been hitherto—but the petting and consideration I have of late been used to once more has revived the leaning tendency of my earlier days—and I feel dreary and helpless as in the first unlearning to be a much-made-of Only Child— In a few weeks it is to be hoped “the winter of our discontent”15 being fairly set in, I shall have wrapped myself in my fur-mantle of imperturbability, and be living on my own individual resources—such as they are!— Happily one does not live for ever—nor even very long!


I am afraid my Babbie, that your contentment with this long letter will be greater BEFORE you have read it than after— So many closely written pages containing what? fretful egoism and the story of a beggar-woman! Ach du lieber Gott [Ah, dear God]!— But perhaps you may think with Cavaignac that being stupid with you is a sign of particular affection— One evening that I was talking to him rather “wittily” (as I thought)—he said to me brusquely—“spare me your cleverness Madame! Je ne le veux pas—moi [I don't want it—I]! it is not my pleasure to rank among those for whom you have to make minced meat of yourself”!! regal words truly! as all his words were!—if that man be not an absolute monarch yet before he die; nature will have missed her intention with him!

I left my letter unsealed last night to see what reportable thing todays post might bring forth—that I should hear again from yourself I was not presuming to hope—thank you all the more!—foolish “Gam”! why dont he come and dine at once and put you all out of pain— Dear! I would be last person in the world to dissuade you from any good work, but could not you delay your visit to Everton16 till the picture is fairly atchieved—and till you have had the visit of Geraldine & Mrs P?17 I know they will do the impossible to get you off to Seaforth—and I do think you would find Seaforth “very exciting,” especially with Geraldine there to weep ON YOUR HANDS and show you how a woman of genius demeans herself—having some notion of setting up for the part yourself; you cannot begin to study it too soon!— Helen too I want to go—

Carlyle finds your paper plaster-of Paris also!—he is meaning to order a quantity “such as it is” from the shop in the Strand—

What do you hear of Walter? not your Cousin Walter but mine?18 is he all settled now?, appointed assistant and successor?— The marriage of course will take effect in the flowery season if there be no economical hindrances

My Dear you talk of rejoicings—for what? in the name of goodness? ARE there fine news from India?19 you know we get a paper20 only once a week— I can assure you all the faces I see here are looking as glum as usual—whatever may have happened to brighten them— Bless you

Your own heart's-sister

J. C.