August-December 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 15


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 25 December 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421225-JWC-JW-01; CL 15: 248-252


Sunday [25 December 1842]

My dear kind Babbie

I fancy you almost understand my instinct, without being told, how it was with me yesterday; that I did not notify the safe arrival of those affectionate presents by return of post— I had made up the little packet for Maggie the night before—while Carlyle was dining at the Helps's1—and the little packet for my uncle immediately after breakfast—and I had written to poor Harriet of whom I have been rather neglectful lately2—all before the Postman came—for he was later than usual—did not come till half after twelve—no wonder; if many people had taken the same advantage of the post that you had done! And then, when I saw those parcels—so like what used to be and yet not what used to be—and read your letter so kind, and yet not from her3—I could not help a long fit of crying—which you will not think an ungrateful return for your wish to make me feel myself still loved and cared for—it is only a very narrow-hearted person that could fancy grief for what one has lost incompatible with gladness over what one has— Before I had recovered myself, Carlyle came in upon me, and urged as usual that I should “get out into the open air”— Oh that weary “open air,” which is to do all for one and does so little!— Mazzini met me at the door, and came back with me; and so the post hour had come before I was let alone—

The cushions are perfect beauties, and both have been already slept upon! indeed I began to think that Geraldine had taught you some of her magic—which had enabled you to make of Carlyle's one a sleepling talisman!— After dinner he fell to examining it anew, and asking anew if I could not “open it up so as to let his head in” for “it would real[l]y make a very comfortable cap”—on my advising him to apply it rather to its proper use; he said “well! how does one do with it? So?—” placing it at the back of his head against the green chair—and in one moment he was fast asleep! and slept without moving a muscle for two hours!— I was almost relieved when Helen's entrance with the tea-tray broke his super-natural looking repose— I myself had in the mean while been sleeping by snatches on mine—but never profoundly enough to get rid of the apprehension that my hair might be dirtying it!— Carlyle seemed really pleased with his present and letter—repeated several times over with an air of complacency “poor little Jeannie!” and I dare say at that moment you wore the shawl-dressing gown to his Imagination!4 The beautiful little bag and handkerchief might have been an offering to Titania the fairy queen!5 I never saw anything more dainty! Kiss Helen for them, with a heartiness! You are very good to me my dear little cousins—and that is all I can say; for I have not little Miss Adam Hunters knack at making speeches. Oh that preposterous child! I cannot get her out of my head— “Mrs Carlyle, I am enjoying myself so much! and feel so much obliged by your goodness in inviting me”! “Oh Mr Carlyle you do speak so like my papa, it is quite a pleasure to listen to you”! Once he was cross-questioning her about something she called “her Magnel's questions,”6 and turning to me with a look knowing enough for fifty she said “Ah! I perceive Mr Carlyle is a dreadful quiz!—now ar'n't you Sir, a great quiz?” And remember this creature is not struck ten yet!

Certainly, Jeannie, Gambardella is getting mad with success, like his favourite Masaniello,7 and like him will need to be shot before long!— Just see such a note as I have had from him! along with a book of the most distracted poems that even this age has yet produced—and this note8 you are to bear in mind must have been sent open to the author of the poems—for it came to me open inside the book which was addressed in another hand— “I must wait patiently”! and all in the imperative mood! patiently!— Yes I shall wait with a patience never surpassed!—except so far as my uncles picture depends on his coming— He is a good fellow in the main—but he ought to learn the difference between a man and a woman—I mean in addressing them—

I have read the Seaforth novel and, as was to have been anticipated, with a feeling little short of terror! So much power of genius rushing so recklessly into unknown space! Geraldine, in particular, shows herself here a far more profound and daring speculator than even I had fancied her. I do not believe there is a woman alive at the present day, not even George Sand herself, that could have written some of the best passages in this book—or would have had the courage to write them if she had had the ability,—but they must not publish it, “decency forbids”! (as they write at the street corners)— I do not mean decency in the vulgar sense of the word—even in that sense they are not always decent!—but then their indecency looks so purely scientific, and so essential for the full development of the story that one cannot, at least I cannot get up a feeling of outraged modesty about it—nay I should feel as if I were the indecent person should I find anything to blush at in what they seem to have written just FOR FACTS SAKE without a consciousness of wrong—but there is an indecency or want of reserve (let us call it) in the spiritual department—and exposure of their whole minds naked as before the fall—without so much as a fig-leaf of conformity remaining—which no respectable public could stand—which even the freest spirits among us would call “coming it too strong”!— I wish a clear day would dawn for me that I might give them a full and faithful deliverance upon it—for it is a difficult task they have put on me to criticize such an extraordinary jumble of sense-and-nonsense, insight beyond the stars, and blindness before their own nose!9 One thing I feel no doubt about that this Geraldine will either ‘make a spoon or spoil a horn’10—she is far too clever to do nothing in her day and generation—

Darwin heard Mazzini telling me the other day I should “really wear a shawl in the house”—a fixed idea, he has got!— Darwin seemed quite indifferent whether I wore a shawl or even a shift, but the next time he came he brought me an immense gauze-looking shawl of white lambs wool!—so like him, was it not?

I have still no letter from Mrs Russel—“very absurd,” as John Carlyle says— If I do not hear in a few days I must write again—it looks at least as if Margaret were deliberating.11 Would she but decide to come I should consider it the best news in the world— Helen continues most meek and civil—but then she told me at the last outbreak that “she could keep her distance as well as any one if she chose—and she would take precious good care that I should have no fault to find with her for ever speaking up so long as she had still to be about my house”— “Do o o”—said I, “that is just what is required of you”—so the civility may be all part of the system—any how it is a greater relief, than I could have fancied it, to be delivered from her eternal clack— If it were not for thinking of the future I should find this silent civility extremely agreeable— I cannot say about her thinking—certainly her temper had become IN THE MORNINGS just what it used to be after drink—and Mrs Dunlop12 told me a servant of hers killed herself with drink—fairly died in her house—without her ever having suspected her—she took it always after they had all gone to bed— Still I hardly think the creature has relapsed— I never smell drink in the house or see any signs of it— Oh prose of life!— Oh poetry! bless thee my Babbie—

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