August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JOHN WELSH ; 23 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431223-JWC-JWE-01; CL 17: 212-214


23d December [1843]

My dearest Uncle

It is not every one that can keep the Christmas after the most approved fashion;—in gormandizing over roast-beef and plum pudding, and defying Father Mathew in bumpers. For some of us the Drs prescribe to “eat abstemiously” and to “drink not at all” while for others, “poverty penury, needcessity and want” (as the Scotch preacher had it) enforce the same or a still severer discipline. I fancy you and little me will dine on Christmas-day with the usual simplicity; at least I am sure we ought to! And should Mirth even dance on the crown of its head round about us, I do not see that we need be unusually merry, nor indeed how we could manage to be so if there were need—either you or I, dear Uncle! It is all very well for those who are still young and hopeful to “put up the Christmas,” and keep it merry, and go jigging out of the old year into the new one, as if they they1 were playing at blind-man-buff! But when one is arrived at this with one's life; to be pretty certain before hand that newyears will “come with the rake and not with the shule [shovel],”2 and to be morally certain that whatever they come with, not all their best possible bringings can compensate for what the old years have taken away from one—then; it is not with mirth that one can welcome the newyear any more! One may still welcome it as of God's sending,—as another year of life at all events, and “while there is life there is hope”—of one sort or other— But there is no use in pretending to be merry over it or indeed other than very sad! Is it not so dear Uncle?

You will not call me “unsocial,” “misanthropic,” and the like, because “I, as one solitary individual” (my husbands favourite expression) prefer to remain quietly by my own fireside on the Christmas-day, and all such days; keeping them, not merry, but holy—in the silence of my own thoughts—with all whom I have loved on this earth for company, instead of one little noisy party! Whether far or near, living or dead infinite Thought can bring them all round me to give my newyear their blessing!: but for this I should break my heart in looking round me on the actual, and missing so much that has been!—

My husband sends you the last literary novelty—A Christmas Carol no less!3— It is really a kind-hearted almost poetical little thing, wellworth any Lady or gentleman's perusal—somewhat too much imbued with the Cockney-admiration of The Eatable but as Dicken's writes for “the greatest happiness of the greatest number (of Cocknies)—he could not expect to gainsay their taste in that particular— I also have a book to send you but I am afraid not by this parcel the bookseller having “failed in his truth”4—if it do not come in time today however you shall get it on newyear's day— At all events behold a match-box of the latest pattern and of course out of sight the best! The force of improvement one would say could no further go! but we shall see! You draw the matches against a side of their little cell in pulling them out and they come forth lighted without more ado—and in this state of separation they do not contract damp—which has been the ruin of so many matches, When the box needs to be replenished you open it at the bottom—and put the matches in with the unbrimstoned end foremost— This for the production of light,—for the contrary purpose behold a nun and a Jesuit hollowed out into extinguishers!! Whether this novelty, which is having “a great success,” indicates a growing favour for Catholicism, or “a certain' burlesque of it— Whether the Inventor be a Puseyite or Anti-puseyite or what he be; I can form no positive theory— “The new extinguisher” is plainly enough “significative of much”! but of what? “God knows” (as the universal Cockney answer runs)— It is no easy matter to read in the deep brain of a Cockney-Inventor, especially when he commits himself to the sphere of the Symbolical! He wanders in Idea thro the whole Universe of things at his own sweet will5—collects, combines, confounds, with such a glorious indifference to fitness, probability and, common sense, and such a stoical disregard of consequences; that one stands amazed before him and his works “as in presence of the Infinite”!

But oh my dear Uncle I am hard up for time, and I want to write to you a great deal longer!— Take twenty or even a hundred kisses to make up the difference between my wishes and my inability— And God send you a good new year—

Your ever affectionate

Jane Welsh Carlyle