January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 16 March 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430316-JWC-JW-01; CL 16: 86-88


[16 March 1843]

My dear good Babbie to write me such a big letter! But ecco la combinazione [here is the combination]! In reading your paragraph about the servant I said to myself like you “that sounds well”—and I felt strongly minded to prosecute the scent—for even when Helen is not in a temper I have no longer any comfort with her— I do not know whether it be that she is fallen into that sort of chronic ill health which shows itself in listlessness and “confusion of ideas” more than in any other way—or whether it be that she has lost all care about pleasing me and so does not exert the faculties she has but certain it is the work of the house is always trailing behind her—herself always untidy—and nothing going on in the kitchen department as it ought to go on— Carlyle as well as myself is out of all patience with her, and for a long while back, I have only kept her because I have kept her, because I have a horror of changes— Plainly however this posture of affairs could not be allowed to last for ever—waited only the fullness of time1 to have itself altered—and the result of my cogitations as to when it would be best to part with her has always been that something would be finally settled when we should be leaving town— I should try to find her a place then and get rid of her in a peaceable way—for to leave her in the house to invite all the thieves of Chelsea into it by publishing her terrors about them, was not to be thought of— —and to “clatch [move awkwardly] her about the country” with me as I did formerly, at great expense and trouble, required that she should be worth the expense and trouble— Always understood however, in mental reservation, that someday I might give her her leave “quite promiscuously”— If she broke out on me with any more insolence, my mind was made up to bring things to a termination at once—and let her seek herself a place where she could find one—

When I received your letter this morning then—tho pleased to hear there was such a promising-sounding woman in the world—I did not immediately jump at her— In all probability she would be hired, before I could conscientiously put Helen away—unless she committed some new violence and that was not to be calculated on— I meant to write then that all I could do in the matter for the present was to beg that you would keep an eye on her— But ecco la combinazione as I said before— The sun being shining very bright this morning—Helens dirtiness showed itself more flagrant than usual— Already Bingham Baring has been and others were likely to follow in so beautiful a day—so for the credit of the house I begged her to get herself cleaned a little as soon as possible—she was going to the door at the moment to speak to the Butcher—she finished a long confabulation with him and then flouncing open the parlour door she presented herself with an air of fiery determination and asked me “what was dirty about her? what I meant by desiring her to get herself cleaned—her cap (a great frouzy yellow night cap) was clean—her face was clean—what did I mean at all”? I told her; “I meant that she had been going about for months back in a state of untidyness that gave the house the air of a dirty Lodging-house—and that I wished her to reform herself in that particular “I do not at all know what you would have?” said she furiously—“I can keep myself no cleaner than I am—and if your not content I cant help it—you are always finding fault with something, and in short there is no pleasing of you”!— “I will tell you how to please me” said I—“by going and seeking yourself another place”— “Oh! thank you—thank you kindly,” says she making a curtsey (!!) I want nothing better for my part”— “Very well then said I—let it be understood you leave this house”— She slammed the door and ran down stairs— In half an hour after she came flying up again—with her face crimson and her eyes sparkling like a wild cats— —“Do you wish me to go to day said she, or am I to do out the clothes?—if you do not want me I can be ready in half an hours time” “You will do out the clothes and you will do your work for a month, said I very cooly— I do not choose you to run out into the streets again like a wild animal as you have done on former occasions”— —“Oh” says she saucily I can get myself a lodging—you need not keep me a moment longer than you like”— “Compose yourself said I—it is not for your sake I am keeping you but for my own— I do not choose to be without a servant—go down stairs and remember that for another month you are my servant neither more nor less”!— So under these sudden and decisive circumstances—I fling aside a coat I was lining for Carlyle (who is gone to Woolich)2 and write to you by return of post—to beg that you will throw yourself vigorously into the matter of investigating this woman—the account of her qualifications is perfectly satisfactory—but can it be ascertained if she be honest—sober—and not an absolute fury—a little heat of temper I do not mind—all good servants have it—and will you see her—and judge whether I should like her countenance—I never saw any good come of a disagreeable-looking servant with whatever recommendations. And find whether she be really inclined to take a single servants place—and willing to wash as well as able— The wages I give Helen now is twelve pounds—but I should prefer beginning with ten—that the rest might be a reward for good conduct if she pleased me— If you find on inquiry that she still sounds promising in all the particulars I have mentioned and above all if you like her looks—it might be best for me perhaps to engage her to come a month hence—but unless you think her specially desirable—there would be no sense in bringing her before we leave the house— I could get some body here to fill up the interval between Helen's going and our going— —send the valuables out of the house and lock it up as formerly—it would stand no worse chance locked up than with a person like Helen to take care of it—and then start with a new one on my return—

But tell me what you can learn and what you advise—and then I will answer positively—engage her or let her go—

I have plenty of other things to say—but must leave them in abeyance for the present—my passion has set my head a-aching—and my letter is already so long— who are the men you are to have for god's sake? and who is the young lady?

My congratulations and a shower of kisses to my Uncle for his descent to breakfast—

Bless you all and believe me even in the abyss of prose your poetically loving J C