January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 18 April 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430418-JWC-JW-01; CL 16: 126-130


Tuesday evening [18 April 1843]

My darling

There is a sort of hurry scurry in my moral as well as material atmosphere just now which makes it prudent for me to take advantage of any quiet hour that turns up—so I write to night, tho the letter cannot go off till tomorrow— I was meaning to write yesterday (Monday) but could not; so being that Walter was with me all the day!—at least all the available part of the day— On my return from the poor Sterlings where I went for a few minutes immediately after breakfast, I found a cab at the door, the driver whereof had betaken himself to the gin-shop while the horse was placidly devouring a bundle of hay that had been thrown down to it. “Mr Macgregor up stairs with Mr Carlyle”— I brought Mr Macgregor down stairs to Mrs Carlyle—the cab was dismissed—and behold us DOMESTICATED after a sort!—as if it had been the most natural thing in the world!— Where the five Quakeresses1 were all those hours he staid is a question which curious minds might urgently demand the solution of—and perhaps in vain! It might also be asked what he had done with his ‘excitement’—for a calmer young gentleman I never sat beside—as calm as Mazzini himself! whom by the way he saw and expressed decided approbation of— He had also a spell of Forster2 whom he liked less because he was too tumultuous. In fact he seemed like myself “a lover of all quiet things”3—and I could have gone to sleep on the sofa, if necessary, knowing him to be in the room—which is my test of “compatibility of temper” in the choice of my friends!— All this will sound to you “most mis-tai-rous!— Well! there is common-place matter enough in the world without my adding to it—better that I should be able to tell you something new to exercise your speculative faculty upon. I only wish he could have known how I had been spending the four or five previous days—between heart-wearying visits at Knights-bridge,4 and lying on the flat of my back with headachs, at home—that he might have estimated at its full value my gladness to see him and the immensity of human speech which I bestowed on him! I shall tell you what I think of his palpitations and quakermania after I have seen him again— He will dine here on Sunday—but I expect him some morning before then—hitherto I have not tried my gift of “divination” on him—only my common-place faculty of observation—and by this, I judge him in no very alarming way either physically or morally.

You have seen in the newspaper what has happened at Knights-bridge?— Perhaps not— Mrs Sterling died last Sunday morning—not unexpectedly—her end had been foreseen for many weeks— The poor old fool of a man is in such a state as you can figure. —Anthony5 mercifully arrived on Thursday last— John is still detained at Falmouth by the confinement of his wife who is critically situated at these times— I had not been seeing her6 for a good while back—no one was allowed to see her except her husband and Alicia Campbell who has been her most unwearying affectionate nurse—the last looks I got of her was from the open door of her room—where she was asleep in an easy chair—with her mouth wide open— I wish they had not made me look at her so—it was a sad almost horrible look to have itself fixed for ever in my mind as the last— I came home with a bad headach which lasted all thro the night and next day I was too ill for rising out of bed, which is eternally to be regretted—for on that day—just that one day on which I could not go she expressed a wish “to shake hands with me”—adding “tomorrow I shall not be able” —but they did not tell me the latter words till after, or I would have gone at night when I was able to get up—but Anthony came down here at night and from the way he spoke I flattered myself that she would be able to see me and know me next morning— And when I went next morning—she was quite unconscious—alternating between stupor and delirium— I was in her room but came away again without looking at her— She was talking wildly—and seeing her in such a state had no consolation in it— To add to my regrets they told me that she had said that morning during a little interval of consciousness: “there now!— I said that I would see Mrs Carlyle yesterday and you see she has not come”!—so like her!—the pettish affectionateness of her nature still strong in death! Anthony who seems for his Mother's sake to have suddenly taken to behaving towards me as if I were their sister, promised that if she recovered her consciousness before death he would instantly come himself with a cab for me—but she never recovered her consciousness. —I went up on the evening of the day she died—and saw Anthony and Alicia—but not the old man— Anthony and William Cunningham7 walked home with me, trying to talk on—indifferent subjects!—what unnecessary restraints people lay themselves under in this world for sake of something that they account manhood!—as if manhood could consist in talking about the favourchange in the weather and the effect of St Luke's8 Steeple against the blue sky when their hearts were full of the dead— Truly we live all our days in a vain show9— I went next morning to see the old man for I was sure he would be better for getting a good cry with me—which he had; with his head on my shoulder poor old fellow—but at such a moment he was welcome to make any use of me that he pleased— Anthony speaks of leaving the army, and bringing his wife to live there—and really I do not see what else can be made of his Father10He is as unfit to keep up a house about him as a child of five years old—

Today I had Jeffrey again and several others besides—and among them my purposed letter to you again fell to the ground—so you see between the solemn and the frivolous I have had my hands full— Geraldine made her farewell visit on Sunday, along with her Miss Patten— She had written that “grievance or no grievance; she would and must come for two hours alone on Sunday immediately after breakfast.” She came at two oclock— I said “I had ceased to expect you,”— “Oh yes” said she I meant—but could not get sooner”— With my heart at Knightsbridge I was in no humour to make even an attempt at patience with her— “Really” said I “it is a consolation to my self complacency to see you in action—when you tell me there is ‘no such thing as impossibility—no such word as distance where I am concerned.’ I look at MYSELF, not only recognising impossibilities at every turn, but even giving way before very slender difficulties—and think what a cold blooded, ineffectual character must I then be in comparison!—but when it comes to the test of doing—I find that the difference between us has been merely in dialect of speech not in matter of fact!”— For the first time in her life she had not a word to answer—but sat looking not unlike a fool— What think you Walter made the very same observation that Carlyle John and Mazzini made on her—each for himself—that “it was a mercy for her she was so ill-looking—”! Do not however in speaking of her ever quote me to her disadvantage—not to do her any mischief in her own circle, even at the cost of being supposed a bad judge of women, is the last duty that imposes itself on one who committed the imprudence of constituting myself her friend before knowing anything about her— Her friend I have ceased to be for ever and a day but from the consequences of having been it in the beginning I cannot wholly emancipate myself— Heaven grant that the consequences may be only boring— not “fatal”— But our imprudencies often enough cost us dearer than our crimes

John is at the Isle of Wight for a couple of days—a precious deliverance!—only alas too brief!— His long sojourn with a madman11 has worked no improvement in his own ways—he is if possible more restless, more indifferent, more selfish, more destructive of every thing like regularity and quiet in a household than ever he was! My hope lies in the very magnitude of the nuisance—his own Brother is so tormented by him that I am persuaded he will not be able to hold out many months without fairly turning him out of doors— Jeffrey delivered me from him originally by getting him sent off with Lady Clare.— yesterday the same kind friend suggested to me a new situation which he could get him if his magnificent Doctorship would accept it12—unfortunately there will be less money rather than Honour connected with it—and John likes money above all other things. We shall see!—

I hope my uncle does not see or hear much of all these visitors— I do wish he could get away into the country for a while—but where now?— Does he never think of getting summer quarters beside Walter13—cousin Walter I mean? You also should be in the country somewhere— Walter tells me you are coughing again—and not looking well—indeed he seems as uneasy about you in every way as you are about him.

The box came perfectly safe—sweetness for many days! and kindness for life long— Do not fail to tell Mrs Martin that I feel her kindness very gratefuly— I see Maggie's14 hand on the Damsons—will she tell me what on earth does W S denote—in Scotland it signifies Writer to the Signet15—but there cannot surely be a writer to the Signet enchanted into these pots—large as they are!

Your Picture16 is here—and will go back I hope with Walter—but Gambardella has not yet got the frames— I am afraid that some day he will shoot the frame-maker or “send an arrow right thro' him”— Every body likes the picture except Carlyle and Elizabeth17She says “it is a young lady that never knew a days sorrow or a days ill-health”— My kindest love to all— Your own