January-July 1843

The Collected Letters, Volume 16


JWC TO JOHN STERLING ; 18 July 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430718-JWC-JOST-01; CL 16: 288-289


[18 July 1843]

D'abord [first of all], I am glad that you do not come just now—I should have grudged to see you go back without me—and to have gone with you would have been a base desertion of my post.

Ever since my husband saved himself in Wales, this house has afforded the liveliest image of a sacked City!—has been a house possessed with seven devils!—two carpenters—a painter—a paperhanger—a nondescript apprentice lad and “a spy”—the latter hardly taller than your boot—the master's son, placed there to see that every man did his duty—such hurrying and scurrying—“up stairs down stairs, in my lady's chamber”1—such a smell of paint—such an infernal noise, such perfection of material discomfort: it would need the pen of a Dante to give you an adequate idea of it! Ach Gott!—but this household earthquake was greatly needed—and no sort of revolution can get itself accomplished with rosewater— There will be a clean, bright house for my husband to come home to. and I shall get—PERHAPSa little praise— and if not; why I shall have virtue's own reward.—“Die Tugend &c. &c.—”2 you remember? Meanwhile I am dreadfully falled out of the sphere of the Ideal—am a sort of possible practical T[h]eresa3 at present— I go about scolding my work-people and, cutting out furniture-print—and suggesting improved methods of doing things. Even the Apprentice Lad's singing I take cognizance of—always in grinding with the pumice-stone this Devil of a boy will sing—snatches of wild strains—as if the Redcross Knight—Joclyn's bower &c. &c. were fitting accompaniments for the hideous noise he is making— the day Mrs Chadwick called for me—had just seated herself on the sofa and was beginning to utter—insipidities; when crash, screech came the pumice-stone over the room door to the tune of

“Oh rest thee my darling!
Thy Sire is a Knight! &c

making the poor Lady start to her feet and utter a little scream— I said to him at last grimly, but with an awkward calm—“how happy you must be that you can sing at such unmusical work—!”

“Oh thank you Mam” says he quite unconscious that I was in a bad humour “I's quite happy—so far as I knows—(beautiful illustration of C's doctrine of unconsciousness!4) but I's always a-singing any how—it sounds pleasant at work, do'snt it Mam”? “Oh very pleasant said I! but if you would sing a song from beginning to end it would be still pleasanter—for me.” “Thank you Mam—I will try”! But he does not succeed—. At six in the morning so soon as I hear the hubbub commence, I jump out of bed and “in wera desperation” take the shower bath,” then I have such a long day before me!— “How charming to inhale the morning air when one has been always virtuous”! Sometimes I am seized with a passion for rural life—and then with my own hands I construct a gipsey-tent in the garden, out of clothes-lines—long poles—and an old brown crumb cloth!—within which I establish myself with the indispensabilities of life, a chair, a table, a bit of carpet—and the implements for writing and sewing—Woman wants but little here below! This retreat has only one drawback; it is too much the envy of surrounding nations5—from every window in the row heads peer out to penetrate my meaning! If I had a speaking trumpet I would address them once for all: “Ladies and gentlemen! I am not here to enter my individual protest against the progress of civilization—nor yet to mock you with the sight [of]6 an arcadian felicity, which you have neither the taste nor the ingenuity to make your own!— I am here simply to enjoy nature according to ability—and to escape from the poisonous atmosphere within doors! Retire I pray you—and leave me unobserved to pursue my innocent labours”!— But at night? I cannot sleep in my tent? and as your father said “God Almighty Mrs Carlyle if you sleep in that stew of new-paint you will awake dead”! No—I take all proper precautions I sleep with my two windows wide open—“and plenty of ladders lying underneath so that the thieves need only walk in