August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 1 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431201-JWC-HW-01; CL 17: 194-196


Friday [1 December 1843]

Dearest Helen

I will try you with a letter this time and see whether you will not have the grace to answer, a thought sooner than that little villanous Babbie has answered my last!— She is sure that “my kind heart will find excuses for her”—the pretty phrase!—the insinuating faithless Babbie!— My kind heart you may say feels flattered by her good opinion, but has too much rational work laid out for it, that it should dream of expanding itself in quixotisms like that! Far from finding excuses for her, I find in her shortcomings excuses for all my own shortcomings of a similar sort; past present and to come! I say to myself with the mild injured self-dignity of a Pecksniff,1 “when I fail in writing it is because I am sick, or because I am over-worked or because (as Edward Irving once wrote to me) “the Lord has other views with his servant, than that he should write so many letters of human love2 as in the bygone time”! it is never because—I am amusing myself!—the fact being that I never amuse myself by any chance!—moi!

I daresay however I should not be so implacable, were it not that I have been feeling so horribly in need of letters just at the particular time thro which Babbies have failed me— For I have been quite ill for a week or two—with that anomalous thing which to save trouble we call Influenza—and you who have always lived in a family can have no notion what a dreary thing it is to be all day in bed with no company but one's own which is little better than a death's head under such circumstances— About thrice a day—on the average—Carlyle pops in his head between the curtains and asks firstly “how are you now Jane”? secondly; “have you had any thing to eat”? thirdly; “you are not thinking of getting up yet”?—then off to his Cromwell in which he lives, moves, and has his being3 at present—as is always the way with him when he is writing a book— Oh dear me if all book-writers took up the business as he does, fidgeting and flurrying about all the while like a hen in the distraction of laying its first egg, and writing down every word as with his hearts blood;—what a world of printed nonsense would be spared to a long suffering public! What a host of “distinguished Mrs and Mrss and Misses would to the great relief of society be eating their victuals in resigned obscurity!— Harriet Martineau used to talk of writing being such a pleasure to her— In this house we should as soon dream of calling the bearing of children “such a pleasure”!— but betwixt writing and writing there is a difference, as betwixt the case with which a butterfly is born into the world and the pangs that attend a man-child! Well! the Cromwell will be got fairly under way by and by! and in fulness of time will by Gods blessing be got on the shelf!— And meanwhile I am recovered from my Influenza as well perhaps without any making of as with it—

I had a precious batch of caricatures from Mrs Paulet lately professing to be “illustrations of Miss Jewsbury's late matrimonial speculation”—in my life I have seen none cleverer—they would have made old Pestrucci himself “in the character of Heraclitus” (vide [ask] Babbie) burst into laughter!4— They were sent at Geraldine's own request—which was infinitely creditable to her goodnature—for a more abused little tick of a creature than she is represented thro'out never figured in truth or fiction— I will ask Mrs Paulet to let me show them to you—but she charged me “to keep them from all stranger eyes”—she lives always in a dreadful apprehension of consequences that dear woman which is odd in a person who nevertheless seems not to conform to les regles [the rules] in any one particular Geradline had been staying there and is now gone back to Manchester—she writes to me with an assiduity and disinterestedness that verge on the superhuman5— I do not remember whether I told Babbie that one of my MUDIES 6 the one last despatched had been returned on our hands as wholly inapplicable to any practical purpose—the drop which made the cup of her Mistress's anger overflow was her having sewed a black apron with white thread—whereupon her mistress remonstrated “very mildly”—and the young person “threw herself on the kitchen floor and kicked and screamed”— Of course her immediate dismissal was the result— The other (Juliet) is conducting herself to ones heart's content her Mistress a Mrs Hervey of Strangeways Hall7 (?) wrote me a very pleasant and pleased letter about her some weeks ago—so that one saved out of this destitute family is all the percentage which christian benevolence has to congratulate itself upon— I am told it is as much as Christian Benevolence usually gets—

I do not hear a word of Gambardella—I suppose he never goes to Maryland Street which proves decidedly that he is not in “a state of Grace”— A pity!— One of those heaps of excellent good bricks which one sees here and there on this earth which for want of some sort of lime to build them together, remain to the end of the Chapter—rubbish!

But here is the Sterling carriage come to take me a drive—it seems kept up just now more for my use than any one else's that dainty little Brougham!— And the old fellow himself has mended his manners lately—indeed there was one day he expanded into such a munificence that I feared he was going to die! Only think of his buying me in one shop a packet of wax lights (which by the way I left in the pocket of his carriage and saw no more of) and a few minutes after at Howell & James's8 a couple of guinea—pocket handkerchiefs!—a windfall really to me who never had a dress-pocket handkerchief in life except the little beauty that was given me by you. And then he took me home by Grange's (vide Babbie again) and gave me hot jelly and cake and the offer of cherry bounce [brandy]! but I must go—a kiss to you dear and to my still dear tho reprehensible Babbie

Ever your affectionate

J Carlyle