January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 18 January 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430118-JWC-JW-01; CL 16: 19-24


[18 or 19 January 1843]

My best Babbie

I would have written to you yesterday forenoon; if it had not rained last Monday— The connection of cause and effect here will not be very apparent to you—what the rain of Monday had to do with the writing of yesterday—but so it was—as certainly, as that my husbands having received a seductive letter from the Lady Harriet a few days since will be cause of Mazzinis hearing a corn law lecture in the Strand tonight!1 “Ah” things are very curiously linked together in this little world—the Chinchinopoli2 chains of invisible workmanship are not half so intricate as some of the connecting chains between the simplest causes and the simplest effects—and I cannot fancy a readier way of losing one's wits, than just sitting down to consider how this comes out of that! or a readier way of settling one's pride on the great question of man's free-agency!

If you would know how the rain of Monday produced the silence of yesterday—I should be sorry to balk your scientific curiosity—so attend and you shall hear— On Monday at one oclock there being every appearance of a clear, dry day I set out in an Omnibus—to buy tea & coffee at Fortnum & Mason's,3 meaning thereafter to pay a charitable visit to poor Darwin who was (& is) confined to the house with cold.4 but no sooner had I issued from the Omnibus according to programme, than contrary to all human expectation, it began to rain on me—so I made for the nearest refuge that offered itself viz: the London Library! being in the Library what could I do but choose myself some books?—every thing I asked for was as usual “out” so as usual it ended in bringing away french novels—a book of Sand's which I had not before seen and two of———Paul de Kock!5 Having still however some sense of decency remaining—I cooly entered my name in the ledger for these books Erasmus Darwin! to the wonderment of the bookkeeper doubtless, who must have thought me an odd sort of Erasmus! (this—by the way) Well having the books in the house, it was natural that I should read them—yesterday after breakfast I took up Frere Jacques—meaning to read in it only till the table was cleared for writing—but it proved so amusing that hang me if I could lay it down till dinner-time when I had quite finished it— So you see if it had not rained on Monday I should have gone to Darwins—if I had gone to Darwin's I should have had no time to go to the Library. if I had not gone to the Library I should not have fetched away Frere Jacques and but for the fascinations of Frere Jacques I should have written to you!— So now you see how the two things hang together the same as Lady Harriet Baring's love-making to my husband and Mazzini's hearing Mr Fox on the corn-law!6 “but how is that again?”— Oh you cannot guess— Well. I will tell you that also—for it is good for your morality that you should be made to reflect on this subject of cause and effect— One can never be too much alive to the consideration that one's every slightest action does not end when it has acted itself, but propagates itself on and on, in one shape or other, thro' all time and away into eternity. Lady Harriet writes to my husband that she is ill—that she dines at four o'clock and is allowed to go nowhere in the evenings—to do nothing but speak—that “there is nobody—(she may really say almost nobody in the world) she likes so well to speak with as him”— Pray mark the fine truth-giving effect of the modifying parenthesis!— “So he sees what a work of charity and piety is cut out for him”! When a handsome, clever, and reputedly most haughty woman appeals to the charity and piety of a simple man like Carlyle you may be sure she will not appeal in vain— So he writes to her engaging to visit her on Thursday evening—and forgets to tell me he has done so— Then comes a ticket of admission for one gentleman and one Lady—to Mr Fox's lecture for the same Thursday evening—and he asks me would I like to go? The Devil puts it in my head to answer unexpectedly “yes”— In fact I have been long wanting to hear this Fox lecture—for I understand him to be a first rate speaker—and observing that his place was this time on the straight line of the Omnibus I thought I could never have so good a chance— “Very well says he rather perplexedly—but I cannot go with you— I promised to go to Lady Harriet tomorrow evening— Can you get any other man?— Mazzini is the never failing man in every case of need but I would not propose him—for young Italy7 has been horribly out of favour this long while—seeing that I remained silent he himself however proposed him— As he was going his road he felt the fairness of allowing me to go mine— So now you see that chain of consequences also—so far as it yet extends—

But I myself have written a letter the consequences of which I feel more interested in than in any conceivable consequences that can follow out of the Lady Harriet's. After reading the Seaforth manuscript I wrote to Geraldine some of my notions about it, and she answered me in a whole pamphlet of witty, devil-may-care objections to my objections— “C'est assez [It is enough]” I said to myself “if she will run about the streets naked it is not I who am her keeper”— However “she had sent on my protest to Betsy” and accordingly in a few days came a letter from “Betsy” also8—extremely clever—and what was more to the purpose perfectly rational—assuring me that I had merely “said in other words what she had been telling Geraldine all along”— Since my letters were sent from one to another I saw no need of writing to both—and Mrs Paulet being clearly the most reasonable of the two I addressed my next to her, and certainly did not conceal the displeasure which Geraldines levity had occasioned me— Now things said at one are more annoying than what is said to one—and so poor Geraldine “moped,” and has had “sore eyes”—and seems to have been sincerely vexed—and finally writes me the best natured, most penitent little letter in the world As nobody knows better than I do the difficulty of confessing oneself gravely in the wrong, there is nobody more touched by such confession from another,—so I could not help reading a part of her last letter to Carlyle and declaring that she was after all a good little soul— Carlyle seemed never to have doubted it and winded up his praise of her with “you should ask her to come up here for a little while; it might be of great use to her”!—a proposition of such a novel character on his part quite took me by surprise, and I sat staring at him without making any answer— “Why says he you seem doubtful about it—she is very easy to do with is she not? and you like her company”? “Oh said I at last as to the doing with—have no misgivings about that but”— “but what”? “Why I am afraid that having her beside me from morning till night would be dreadfully wearing”! “You had Jeannie beside you from morning to night—what would be the difference”?!!— “Jeannie! Jeannie was not always in a state of emotion! dropping hot tears on my hands, and watching me and fussing me as Geraldine does!— “Oh as you like! only I think it would be a kindness to the poor lonely girl—and that her company might be useful to yourself when you have so little of mine”— I lay awake half the night endeavoring to resolve whether I should ask her or no—but there was so much to be said for and against!—a little of her would be very enlivening—but a continuance of her does really fatigue one—and then to say the truth—tho I am not jealous of my husband (pray read all this into yourself and burn the letter) tho I have not only his habit of preference for me over all other women (and habits are much stronger in him than passions) but also his indifference to all women as women to secure me against jealousy—still young women who have in them, as Geraldine has, with all her good and great qualities, a born spirit of intrigue are perilous sort of inmates for a married pair to invite—they may make mischief in other ways than by seducing the husband's affections. Then again; it might as he said really be of use to her in several ways—and should I let my purely selfish misgivings hinder her of the possible good—professing as I do both to herself and other people to have a friendship for her? another argument for, the invitation arose out of my consciousness that I am letting myself grow too indolent—perhaps I should be the better of being roused out of my habitual still life and forced to exercise my faculties again in human speech—especially of the intellectual sort which Geraldine takes delight in— Still the thought of those ecstatics she goes on with introduced an immense questionability into the project— So that it was with a hesitating mind I wrote to her finally inviting her in a sort of a way to come “for two or three weeks”—and it is with an unsettled mind that I await her answer—not knowing whether I wish it be a yes or a no—and foreseeing that if she come, there will be consequences from her coming either good or evil— I took precious good care not to tell her that the invitation originated with Carlyle—that fact would have been sufficiently flattering for her to have founded a whole prospective Romance on it!—and really the sober sadness of this life weigh too heavily on me that I should have much patience with the romances of other people!— I wish I might talk with you for a couple of hours about this and other matters—ones mind does sometimes make such a foolish uncertain figure on paper!

But enough for the present— The watch stand was for Helen— I sent it to her instead of the small one which I could not part with— The other Helen has plainly not the slightest idea of going away9—and as she has behaved quite satisfactorily since last time, I had best I think let her be doing for the present—till some really desirable looking servant comes in my way— I should be very much put about in exchanging her for an entire stranger, while I am capable of making so little exertion in the house myself— I can never feel affection or confidence for her after her last misconduct—and should no longer keep her for her own sake As I have so often done before—but my own interest will be best served by taking the matter leisurely and keeping her such as she is and has shown herself till I have a distinct prospect of bettering not worsening my position— I was charmed at your discovering that gallows-expression in Carlyle's picture— I have all along been calling it Greenacre-Carlyle10

Your letter came in the midst of this— Bless you— Kisses to all— Write me instantly that you have news of Walter11

Your affectionate /

Jane Carlyle