January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 27 February 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430227-JWC-HW-01; CL 16: 63-66


[27 February 1843]

My dearest Helen

After (in Dumfries & Galloway-courier1 phraseology) “taking a birds-eye view” of all modern literature, I am arrived at the conclusion; that to find a book exactly suited to my Uncle's taste I must—write it myself! and alas, that cannot be done before tomorrow morning!

“La Motte Fouque's Magic Ring”?2 suggests Geraldine—“too mystical! My Uncle detests confusion of ideas”— “Paul de Kock? HE is very witty”— “Yes but also very indecent!—and my Uncle would not relish indecencies read aloud to him by his daughters.”— “Oh!— Ah!— Well! Miss Austin”?3— “Too washy—watergruel for mind and body at the same time were too bad”— Timidly and after a pause— “Do you think he could stand Victor Hugo's Notre Dame?4— The idea of my uncle listening to the sentimental monstrosities of Victor Hugo!— a smile of scorn was this time all my reply.

But in my own suggestions I have been hardly more fortunate— All the books that pretend to amuse in our day come in fact either under that category which you except against—“the extravagant clown-jesting” sort or still worse under that of what I should call the galvanized death's-head-grinning sort— There seems to be no longer any genuine, heartfelt mirth in writers of books—they sing and dance still “vigoureusement [vigorously]”—but one sees always too plainly, that it is not voluntarily but only for halfpence.— and for halfpence they will crack their windpipes and cut capers on the crown of their heads— poor men that they are!

I bethink me of one book however, which we have lately read here, bearing a rather questionable name as a book for my uncle—but nevertheless I think he would like it— It is called “Passages from the life of a Radical”—by Samuel Bamford—a silk-weaver of Middleton— He was one of those who got into trouble during the Peterloo time, and the details of what he then saw and suffered are given with a simplicity, an intelligence and absence of every thing like party-violence, which it does one good to fall in with—especially in these inflated times— There is another book that might be tried—tho' I am not sure that it has not a little too much affinity with water gruel—The Neighbours— A domestic novel translated from the Swedish by Mary Howit5— There is a “little wife” in it, with a husband whom she calls “Bear” that one never wearies of altho' they never say or do anything in the least degree extraordinary. Geraldine strongly recommends Stephens's Incidents of Travel in Egypt Arabia and Petrea as “very interesting and very short”— Also Waterton's Wanderings in South America.6 There are two novels of Paul de Kock translated into English, which might be tried at least, without harm done—for they are unexceptionable in the usual sense of that term—the Barber of Paris and Sister Anne7— I have read the last not the first—and I dare say it would be very amusing for any one who likes Gil Blas8 and that sort of books—for my taste it does not get on fast enough—

There! enough of books for one day— Thank you for your letter Dear— If I had not wee angels to write me consolatory missives at present I should really be terribly ill off. My Maid continues highly inefficient—myself ditto—the weather complicates every thing—for days together not a soul comes—and then if the sun glimmers forth a whole rush of people breaks in, to the very taking away of ones' breath!—yesterday between the hours of three and five we had old Sterling— Mr & Mrs Von Gléhen—Mr and Mrs Macready—John Carlyle & William Cunningham.9— Geraldine professed to be mightly taken with Mrs Macready—not so much so with “William”— Poor dear William! I never thought him more interesting however—to see a man who is exhibiting himself every night on a stage, blushing like a young girl in a private room is a beautiful phenomenon for me!— His wife whispered into my ear as we sat on the sofa together—“do you know poor William is in a perfect agony today at having been brought here in that great coat!—it is a stage-greatcoat—but was only worn by him twice— —the piece it was made for did not succeed—but it was such an expensive coat I would not let him give it away—and does'nt he look so well in it?— — I wish Jeanie had seen him in the coat!—magnificant fur neck and sleeves—and such frogs on the front!— He did look well—but so heartily ashamed of himself!

Oh I must tell you for my uncles benefit a domestic catastrophe that occurred last week—one day after dinner I heard Helen lighting the fire which had gone out in the room above—with a perfectly unexampled vengeance!—every stroke of the poker seemed an individual effort of concentrated rage. What ails the creature now? I said to myself—who has incurred her sudden displeasure? or is it the redherring she had to dinner which has disagreed with her stomach? (for in the morning you must know when I was ordering the dinner she had asked might she have a red herring? “her heart had been set upon it this good while back”!—and of course so modest a petition received an unhesitating affirmative—) on her return to the subterranean the same hubbub wild10 arose from below which had just been trying my nerves from above—and when she brought up the tea tray she clanked it on the lobby-table as if she were minded to demolish the whole concern at one fell stroke— I looked into her face inquiringly as she entered the room, and seeing it black as midnight (morally that is) I said very cooly—“a little less noise if you please—you are getting rather loud upon us!”— She cast up her eyes with the look of a martyr at the stake, as much as to say “well if I must be quiet, I must! but you little know my wrongs”! By and by Geraldine went to the kitchen for some reason.— She is oftener in the kitchen in one day than I am in a month—but that is irrelevant— “Where is the cat”? said she to Helen— “I have not seen her all night”—she takes a wonderful most superfluous charge of the cat as of everything else in this establishment—“the cat”? said Helen grimly I have all but killed her!”—“how?” said Geraldine— “With the besom” replied the other— “Why? for goodness sake?—” Why? repeated Helen bursting out into new rage “Why indeed? because She eat my red herring! I set it all ready on the end of the dresser, and she ran away with it, and eat it every morsel to the tail—such an unheard of thing for the brute to do! Oh if I could have got hold of her she should not have got off with her life”! “And have you had no dinner asked Geraldine—“oh yes! I had mutton enough—but I had just set my heart on a redherring”!— Which was the most deserving of having a besom taken to her the cat or the woman— My love to Babbie her letter to day is most com[f]ortable11— blessings on you all—Your affectionate Cousin

J Welsh