January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 1 May 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430501-JWC-MR-01; CL 16: 145-148


5 Cheyne Row / Monday [1? May 1843]

Dearest Mrs Russel

I am wearying to have some news of you— Absolutely; willing or unwilling, busy or lazy, you must sit down and write me a letter! How are you? and what are you all doing there in Thornhill? Where is Margaret;1 and what sort of industry is she following? And old Mary?2 Is she still able to creep about? And have you any money for her remaining? My husband says you were to give her two shillings a week which you considered would suffice for her with what she had— Maybe so—but two shillings a-week would not keep a London poor woman in “beer”! A woman whom I found lately lying on a little mouldy straw with not a single blanket over her—only an old cloak—and sharing that and the straw with three children—owned to having ten shillings a-week allowed her,—besides some bread and cheese from the Parish,—while her eldest child received both food and clothing at a charity school—and—the youngest being only five years old could not consume very much— Tho' I never tried living and keeping two children on ten shillings a-week, I could not but think I would have made a better job of it than she seemed to be making, and took pains to ascertain how the money went—four and sixpence went to the grocer for tea and sugar! “And then” said she “As long as I live I must have my pint of beer (Brown stout) in the day— I cannot wa[nt] my pint of beer for anything.” And so she lay all thro' the winter in the state I have mentioned—with a bad cold too—which turned to consumption and the other day she died!3 And I am afraid this is no exceptional case of unthrift— A woman to whom I gave some money to get her children flannel petticoats out of pawn went home and within a quarter of an hour's time had fried herself a panful of mutton-chops off it!—mutton being at that time ninepence a pound—and ever so many instances of the same improvident spirit have come under my own observation— But tho' old Mary may get more good of two shillings than a London woman of ten—still even in Scotland, and under your good care, it is a very slender amount of capital to front the world with! And if she fall sick or become quite helpless I trust to your getting her whatever is necessary, and applying to me for money whenever she wants it—not that I doubt but you would be ready to help her yourself— My Mother often told me how good and charitable you and your husband were— But this old woman is my concern—not yours— I cannot supply to her the place of the friend she has lost4—but it is both my duty and my pleasure to do it as far as lies in my power—

Did you hear of the sad fright which we had with my uncle in Liverpool? He was taken ill one night, just as She was last year, and in the same week of the same month— Tho the daily accounts I received of him were always that he was a little better and a little better, for a long while I could not open their letter without terror— I remembered always how all her betterness had terminated, and made little doubt but his would prove alike fallacious—now however, months having passed without any new attack I begin to trust that he may be spared a few years longer to his poor children, who are too young to find themselves orphans in the world. His Drs tell him that he must live very sparingly—must guard himself from all sorts of excitement—leave off card-playing &c &c—and he does their bidding—for the present—while the danger he has run is still fresh in his mind— But God knows whether his patience and docility may not wear out! and then!—Poor children! They have quite got up their hearts again—are dancing away at balls, and all the rest of it, as if there were no drawn sword suspended by a hair over their heads!— For me who see both the dancing and the sword it is an anxious spectacle!

I shall probably go to Liverpool for a week or two in the course of the summer. There was a talk at one time of summer-quarters to be taken somewhere in Cheshire—but my Brother-in-law John—who has a particular knack—like the pigs—of “running thro”5 things came to live in the house till some new employment turned up for him; proposing to my husband this and that excursion on the continent—till we are all at sea again with our plans — Wherever John is—there is uncertainty also!

Only think! I have still the same little maid! Indeed I need never speak of her going again till she be actually gone. Nothing could be more determined than I was to part with her that time when I wrote for Margaret.6 But she absolutely would not go! would not seek herself a place! She seems really to have much the same notion of the indissolubility of our relation—that the old scotch Butler had of his and his masters—in whose service he had been forty years—when his Master told him, his temper was become absolutely insufferable, and they two must positively part—he answered with a look of disdainful astonishment; “and where the deevil wud ye gang to?” Helen did not exactly ask me where I wud gang to? but she asked me in a tone of the most authoritative remonstrance “What would become of me, I should just like to know—fancying you ill—and me not there to take proper care of you?— I think that WOULD be a farce!!”— To tell her what would become of her under such astonishing circumstances, quite exceeding my gift of prophecy; what could I do but just to bid her “stay where she was then; only trying whether she could not behave herself more like a reasonable creature.” And to do her justice, she has been a little more reasonable latterly—

I have kept quite free of Influenza this Spring—for a wonder—and since I gave over swallowing my Brother in laws blue pills which had no effect but that of making me uncomfortable all over—I have been pretty much in my average state— The pain in my side still sticks there—better and worse—and I have not much strength to speak of— But I am able to keep on foot—and my mind is quieter—and on the whole I have reason to be thankful—

I hope you have got my husband's new book by this time—he sent it to you by a bookseller's parcel two weeks ago— To think that he should have finished a book and no copy sent to Templand!— When I saw him writing your name instead I could do nothing but cry. He asked “is that all the congratulation you have to give me on having got to the end of it”?— But I also had got to the end of so much! I enclose half a sovereign for a pound of tea to Mary and another to Margaret. God bless you all and believe me always gratefully and affectionately yours

Jane Carlyle

Be sure when you write, to mention when more money will be needed for Mary— Do you ever hear of Mary Milligan?7 Has she any child vet?