January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JOHN STERLING ; 16 June 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430616-JWC-JOST-01; CL 16: 200-202


[16? June 1843]

My dear John

Thank you passionately for giving me Vittoria Accorombona—and thank you even more for knowing before hand that I should like her. Your presentiment that this was “a woman exactly after my own heart” so pleases my own heart!—proves that I am not universally “a woman misunderstood”!— But you said nothing of the MAN AFTER my own heart so that Bracciano took me by surprise, and has nearly turned my head!1 My very beau ideal of manhood is that Paul Giordano; could I hear of the like of him existing anywhere in these degenerate days; I would—even at this late stage of the business—send him— —my picture! and an offer of my heart and hand, for the next world—since they are already disposed of in this— Ah what a man that must be who can strangle his young beautiful wife with his own hands, and—bating one moment of conventional horror—inspire not the slightest feeling of aversion or distrust! When a man strangles his wife nowa-days he does it brutally—in drink, or in passion, or in revenge: to transact such a work coolly, nobly, on the loftiest principles—to strangle with dignity, because the woman “was unworthy of him”—that indeed is a triumph of character, which places this Bracciano above all the Heros of ancient or modern times! which makes me almost weep that I was not born two centuries earlier that I might have been—his mistress—not his wife!2

But what think you befell? In the simplicity of my heart I lent the book to a friend—a man of course—whose hitherto-version of me has born a considerable resemblance to the Santa Maria—lent it too with all my marginal marks—(as Carlyle would say) “significative of much”!—and when the man brought it back he could neither look at me nor speak to me; but blushed and stammered as if he were in the presence of a new Godess of Reason!3 Disliking all that sort of thing I asked him plain out what ailed him? “The truth is,” said he, “Mrs Carlyle—that book (looking at it askance) has—confused me! May I ask who recommended to you that Book”? “A clergyman” said I—for the first, and probably the last time in my life, recognising your sacred vocation— “John Sterling gave it to me”— “The son”? “Yes to be sure the son.” and then I laughed outright—and the man looked at me with a mingled expression of pity and alarm—and—changed the subject!—

I am over head and ears at present in what Carlyle anathematises as “an unfathomable puddlement of Mudieism,” into which I have flung myself with my usual impetuosity, and am perfectly certain to be swallowed up”— Not so the Prophet of evil! I have no fancy for playing Curtius in so obscure a cause!4 But I would fain save if possible without absolute self-sacrifice, a woman of the name of Mudie and her four daughters from committing simultaneous suicide, or dying of simultaneous starvation. You have heard perhaps of a self-taught author or artist Mudie who migrated hither from Scotland some twenty years ago and within that period wrote upwards of a hundred volumes better or worse—Modern Athens Babylon the Great &c &c5— Well he died a year ago—leaving his family destitute—a wife and five children— —they struggled on a while, sewing what is called slop-shirts at a penny-farthing each—and stitching fine stays at eightpence a pair! But the Mother fell ill of Typhus fever—and the son—the only son—caught it from her—lingered six weeks and died—an account of five pounds was accumulated during his sickness for the necessaries of life— Their furniture, books, every thing had been seized and sold for rent long before—so they seized the Mother herself—no matter that her only son was just dead—and flung her into jail—for 5£! a gentlewoman—educated—and sewing shirts at a penny-farthing a piece!— She lay in prison three weeks—quite desperate it would seem—appealing to no one—at length a stranger—a Russian—who chanced to hear the facts gave the 5£ and she was set free—to what?—an old Lady gave her five pounds more for her immediate want,—and it was at this point of her history that I heard tell of her for the first time in my life— Esprit de corps with the backing it is to be hoped of some natural benevolence sent me immediately in quest of her and she and her daughters have lain on my heart like so many millstones ever since. In the beginning I set about organizing a public subscription to enable her to realize her utmost ambition the taking up of a little school— But alas: it comes out in the course of my investigations that she was “an improvident woman” in her better days—and still worse—that she has been suspected—only suspected observe—of paying a little secret worship to the God—that shall be nameless— All this makes no difference in my zeal to help her—but people in general have such delicate consciences in matters of charity— They can only give conscientiously to those who have led immaculate lives— This womans life has been so very hard that one may well I think abate a little from ones requisition of immaculateness—, for fifteen years together she wrote to her husbands dictation—and was savagely used by him for her pains—besides having educated all her children herself— That would be cried up as virtue in a woman that could still give dinners but it goes for nothing in one that needs a dinner— Oh dear dear I am bewildered what to do— The girls at all events cannot be charged with improvidence poor things, will nobody relieve one of them? Do you want a needle woman?—or a nurse-maid?— I have a moonbeam hope of getting one placed in Liverpool—but—in short I am in a mess of Mudieism and must pray your excuse for disturbing your contentment with Providence by this long tragical story—God bless you ever your affectionate Jane