JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 27 May 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430527-JWC-JW-01; CL 16: 181-185
JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH
[27 May 1843]
I have been dissipated all this week—extremely dissipated on programme; not settling myself to anything—writing to Babbie included!
The fact is, a sublime absurdity occurred to me the other day, and threw me into a sort of nervous flurry which I saw more likelihood to get rid of in everybody's or anybody's company rather than tete a tete with myself. My goodness! surely the mantle of Ninon de l'Enclos has fallen upon me!1 One might have thought that in this year of grace I was pretty safe from having my tranquillity assailed by the grandes passions of young gentlemen! But as the old Countess of Essex said when asked at eighty by a young jackanapes; “when does a woman have done with love”—?— “Ask some one older than me”!2
Be all that as it may I have done a deal of company this week—and talked— Oh good heavens—such a quantity! You would have been perfectly terrified at my liveliness had you been by—but those, who have had the benefit of it, have seen in it, the simple souls, only a most sudden return to good health and good spirits—on which they cannot sufficiently compliment and congratulate me! At a dinner party at the Wedgwoods3 on Tuesday Miss Darwin,4 who was there, said to me before I came away—“Mrs Scott5 and I have just been remarking to one-another that everybody that has sat next you thro the evening has been one after another in incessant fits of laughter!— What a comfort it must be to have the consciousness of being so entertaining”! An immense comfort to be sure! especially when one has the additional comfort of having just made a person one likes and wishes well to, extremely miserable (for the time being) in the abstract cause of virtue
Well! John Sterling has given me a German novel by Tiek—Vittoria Accorombona—which contains a woman he said “exactly after my own heart” I was curious to see his ideal of a woman after my heart— and so far as I have gone which is but some eighty pages I find he has made a wonderfully good hit!6 Poor John! he has recovered his spirits with a rapidity! “You will see,” says Helen while clearing away the breakfast things the other morning “that Mr John Sterling will very soon be married again!—but indeed I dont, for my part, think there is any love in the world now a-days like what used to long ago!— If one hears of it at all it is just momentary and away! There was No 4 how soon she got over the death of her lover!— And Mr Brimlecombe, the milkman was married seven months after his wife's death!7— But I I8 do think” she resumed after some interruption of dusting “that Mr Carlyle will be (admire the tense!) a very desultory widow! he is so easily put about—and seems to take no pleasure in new females”!— Yes! there is one new female in whom he takes a vast of pleasure, Lady Harriet Bahring9
I have always ommitted to tell you how marvellously that liason has gone on. Geraldine seemed horribly jealous about it—nay almost “scandalized”—while she was here—for my part, I am singularly inaccessable to jealousy, and am pleased rather that he has found one agreeable house to which he likes to go and goes regularly—one evening in the week at least—and then he visits them at their “Farm” on Sundays. and their10 are flights of charming little notes always coming to create a pleasing titillation of the philosophic Spirit!— Mrs Buller in her graceful quizzical way insisted I should “see a little into the thing with my own eyes,” and promised to give me notice the first time she knew beforehand of the Intellectual Circe's coming to her house— And accordingly Mr Buller came last Monday11 to ask me to meet her that evening at tea at seven oclock— She is in delicate health you may remember and not up to parties or late hours— I said at once yes—and appointed him to bring the carriage for me at half after six— He was not long gone—when it flashed thro my mind that a whole bevy of Americans male and female were coming here to tea by invitation at seven— —Dr Howe the man who puts souls into people blind and deaf and dumb—you would read about him and his Laura B[r]idgman in Dicken's Notes12—his wife—a Mr Mann and his wife and a Miss Peabody13— What to do?—I posted off to Chester Place to explain the necessity of my giving up the Lady Harriet for that time. But the Bullers would not hear of it—“it was my husband not me all these Americans were coming to stare at— I would simply pour out the tea for them—and if I spilled it or committed any awkwardness they would go home and put it in a book”!—there was truth in these suggestions14 and finally it was agreed that Mr Buller should still bring the carriage for me, and unless Carlyle made violent resistance, should snatch me away like Proserpine out of the American environment! C was at first quite furious at the project—but I got the better of him by saying “Well then there will be nothing for it but to let Mr Buller when he \ comes stay here”—the idea of that—the deafness & the trumpet was worse than anything—so he told me “in Heaven's name to do anything rather than introduce such an element into the concern”—
Happily Mr B came first—and off I went in cold blood—leaving C to pour out the tea himself and make what excuses of me he pleased!15— I do not remember when I did such a spirited thing or one which I so little repent of doing— I have no reason to study politeness with the Americans.— But Lady Harriet!— I liked her on the whole—she is immensely large—might easily have been one of the ugliest women living—but is almost beautiful—simply thro the intelligence and cordiality of her expression— I saw nothing of the impertinence and hauteur which people impute to her—only a certain brusquerie of manner which seemed to me to proceed from exuberant spirits and absence of all affectation— She is unquestionably very clever—just the wittiest woman I have seen—but with many aristocratic prejudices—which I wonder Carlyle should have got over so completely as he seems to have done—in a word I take her to be a very loveable spoilt Child of Fortune—that a little whipping, judiciously administered would have made into a first rate woman—we staid till eleven and as there were no other strangers, I had ample opportunity of estimating the amount of her seductions— — What she thought of me I should rather like to know—she took prodigious looks at me from time to time— In the last note to Carlyle inviting him to Addiscombe for next Sunday she says— “I meditate paying my respects to Mrs Carlyle—so soon as I am again making visits— She is a reality whom you have hitherto quite suppressed.”
Mazzini is all in a worry about a concert he is getting up for the Italian school16—indeed he has been of late so over head and ears in what Richard Milnes would call “beastly little businesses” that I get next to no good of him— I never saw a mortal man who so completely made himself into “minced meat for the universe!
Your letter came since I began to write—my poor Uncle— I do wish to heaven that the weather would mend for him— I am excessively glad that Maggie's neck is healing—these things are sometimes very difficult to get over—why will young ladies be m[eddli?]g and mending at themselves— I could tell you a story about a pimple if I had time and paper which would make your blood run cold—(if that were not superfluous)
Bless you my love— Remember me to all
I will exert myself about the picture frame Mr Hick was off to Liverpool again before I received your letter— What a good innocent soul he looks17