August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JOHN WELSH ; 28 November 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431128-JWC-JWE-01; CL 17: 187-191


Tuesday night [28 November 1843]—

Uncle dear! How are you? I kiss you from ear to ear—and I love you very considerably; “hopping to find you in the same.”

The spirit moves me to write to you just at this unlikeliest moment (for my spirit is a contradictory spirit) when the Influenza has left me with scarce faculty enough to spell words of more than one syllable I caught the horrid thing a week ago—by Destiny—thro no indiscretion of my own—which is a consolation of a certain sort—for it does form a most “aggravating” ingredient in ones suffering to be held responsible for it, to be told, “this comes of your going to such a place, or doing such a thing—if you had taken my advice &c &c”! But this time I had been going nowhere—doing nothing in the least degree questionable—the utmost lark I had engaged in for months being to descend at Granges1 (Babbie knows the place) in the course of my last drive with old Sterling and there refresh exhausted nature with a hot jelly and one modest sponge-cake! It would have been no harm I think had the Influenza taken, instead of temperate me, a personage who sat on the next chair to us at the said Grange's and before whose bottomless appetite all the surrounding platefuls of cakes disappeared like reek [smoke]! His companion who was treating him finally snatched up a large pound-cake cut it into junks [thick pieces] and handed him one after another on the point of a knife till that also had gone ad plura [in addition]—the Dog(!) for it was with a dog that I had the honour of lunching that day; appeared to consume poundcake as my Penfillan Grandfather2 professed to eat cheese “purely for diversion”!— By the way it must have been a curious sight for the starved beggars who hang about the doors of such places to see a dog make away with as much cake in five minutes as would have kept them in bread for a week or weeks! bad enough for them to see human beings neither bonnier, perhaps, nor wiser, nor, except for the clothes on their backs, in any way better than themselves eating hot jelly and such like delicacies while they must go without the necessaries of life—but a dog!—really that was stretching the injustice to something very like impiety it strikes me. I should like to know the name of “the Gentleman as belonged to that dog”—he seemed by his equipments and bearing a person holding some rank in the world besides the generical rank of fool; and should one find him some other day maintaining in Parliament that ‘all goes well’—it would throw some light on the worth of his opinion to know that HIS dog may have as much pound-cake at Grange's as it likes to eat!

That however was the last social fact which I witnessed having been since laid up at home; and part of the time in bed.— I do not know why the solitude of a bedroom should be so much more solitary than the solitude of other places—but so I find it— When my husband is at work I hardly ever see his face from breakfast till dinner, and if it rains or often ever when it does not rain; no living soul comes near me to speak one cheerful word—yet so long as I am in what the french call my “room of reception” it never occurs to me to feel lonely—but send me to my bedroom for a day to that great red bed in which I have transacted so many headachs so many influenzas! and I feel as if I were already half buried!— Oh so lonely! as in some intermediate stage betwixt the living world and the dead! I sometimes think that were I to remain there long, I should arrive in the end at prophecying like my great great Ancestors!3That solitude has such a power of blending Past, Present, and Future, Far and Near all into one confused jumblement—in which I wander about like a disembodied spirit that has put off the beggarly conditions of Time and Space—and that I take to be a first development of the Spirit of Prophecy in one!

The letters of Babbie used to be no small comfort to me when I was ailing—but Babbie since she went to Scotland has had other things to do it would seem than writing to me— Babbies beautiful constancy in writing has like many other beautiful things of this earth succumbed to the force of circumstances! Ah yes! what young Lady can withstand the force of circumstances? Circumstances are the young Lady's Destiny!—it is only when she has lived long enough to have tried conclusions with the real Destiny that she learns to know the difference and learns to submit herself peaceably to the one and to say to the other—that humbug force of circumstances—“but I WILL! Je le veux, moi [I myself desire it]!”— Oh it is the grand happiness of existence when one can break thro one's circumstances by a strong will, as Samson burst the cords of the Philistines!4 Is n't it Uncle?— You should know if any man does!—you who are—permit me—I mean it entirely in a complimentary sense—so very very wilful! But as for my sweet Babbie her volition is not yet adequate to breaking the pack threads of the Lilliputians—never to speak of Cords of the Philistines! And meanwhile what can one do for her, but just what poor Edward Irving counseled certain Elders to do—who once waited upon him at Annan to complain of the backslidings of their minister and ask his (Edwards) advice under the same. Edward having listened to their catalogue of enormities, knit his brows, meditated some moments and then answered succinctly: “my good friends you had best pray for him to the Lord!

My American was immensely pleased with your reception of him—that is the only American whom I have found it possible to be civil to this great long while— Oh such a precious specimen of the regular Yankee I have seen since!5 Coming in from a drive one forenoon, I was informed by Helen, with a certain agitation, that there was a strange gentleman in the Library, “he said he had come a long way and would wait for the Master's coming home to dinner and I have been,” said she “in a perfect fidget all this while for I remembered after he was in, that you had left your watch on the table!” I proceeded to the Library to inspect this unauthorized Settler with my own eyes—a tall, lean, red-herring-looking man rose from Carlyles writing table which he was sitting writing at, with Carlyles manuscripts and private letters all lying about—and running his eyes over me from head to foot—said; “Oh— you are Mrs Carlyle are you?”— An inclination of the head—intended to be hauteur itself—was all the answer he got— “Do you keep your health pretty well Mrs Carlyle”? said the wretch, nothing daunted—that being always your regular Yankees second words—another inclination of the head even slighter than the first— “I have come a great way out of my road” said he “to congratulate Mr Carlyle on his increasing reputation, and as I did not wish to have my walk for nothing I am waiting till he come in—but in case he should not come in time for me, I am just writing him a letter here at his own table as you see Mrs Carlyle”! Having reseated himself without invitation of mine I turned on my heel and quitted the room determined not to sit down in it while the Yankee staid— But about half an hour after came Darwin and Mr Wedgwood6 and as there was no fire in the room below they had to be shown up to the Library where on my return I found the Yankee, still seated in Carlyles chair, very actively doing, as it were, the honours of the house to them!! And there he sat, upwards of another hour—not one of us addressing a word to him—but he not the less thrusting in his word into all that was said— Finding that I would absolutely make no answer to his remarks he poured in upon me a broadside of positive questions— “Does Mr Carlyle enjoy good health Mrs Carlyle?”— “No!”— Oh he doesn't!— What does he complain of Mrs Carlyle?”— “Of everything.”! “Perhaps he studies too hard—does he study too hard Mrs Carlyle?” “Who knows”? — “How many hours a day does he study Mrs Carlyle?— “My husband does not work by the clock”— And so on—his impertinent questions receiving the most churlish answers—but which seemed to patter off the rhinoceros hide of him as tho they had been sugar-plums! At length he declared that Mr Carlyle was really very long of coming, to which I replied that it would be still longer before he came— Whereupon having informed himself as to all the possible and probable Omnibuses he took himself away leaving my two gentlemen ready to expire of laughter and me to fall upon Helen at the first convenient moment for not defending better “the wooden guardian of our privacy”7

But really these Yankees form a considerable item in the ennuis of our mortal life. I counted lately fourteen of them in one fortnight!—of whom Dr Russel was the only one that you did not feel tempted to take the poker to— If Mr Carlyle's “increasing reputation” bore no other fruits but congratulatory Yankees and the like I should vote for its proceeding to diminish with all possible despatch!—

Give my love to the children—a hearty kiss to Maggie for her long letter—for which I was also charged by Mrs Wedgwood to make her grateful acknowledgments— The governess was plainly not at all advanced enough for Mrs Wedgwoods children—but Maggies letter was a gratification to us on its own basis

And now dear Uncle if I have not wearied you I have wearied myself—which is not at present hard to do—for altho' the worst of my cold is over, I suppose; I am as weak as a sparrow—

I wish I knew how you exactly are—and what that little demoralized Babbie is doing—for altho' she has left my last letter unanswered for nearly three weeks I cannot help still retaining a certain tenderness for her—

God bless you all—

Ever your affectionate

Jane W. Carlyle

Carlyle is over head and ears in Cromwell—is lost to humanity for the time being—