August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 30 December 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18431230-JWC-MR-01; CL 17: 224-226


30th December [1843] / 5 Cheyne Row

Dearest Mrs Russel

Here comes another new-year— —already! How one's years do gallop when one is no longer young! The first message I charge it with is one of kind remembrance and cordial good wishes to you—and if I add a little trouble to be taken for my sake; I know your good heart well enough by this time, to feel quite sure that you will receive the one as gladly as the other—

By the same post which takes you this letter I send a hood which you will see at the first glance can be intended for no other head than old Mary's!—and also a cap for Margaret,1 which I hope will fit her—if it do not; you must help her to make it fit— And I enclose a money order for a sovereign to be distributed as last Year—for Margaret and Mary their pounds of tea and the remainder to be given to the two old people you told me of— There is also a waist-buckle which I hope you will like and wear for my sake. And tho last not least I send a couple of—extinguishers (!) a nun and a Jesuit hollowed out into extinguishers; which you are to present to your Father with my affectionate regards as a supplement to the Tablet!2 (which I hope by the way he continues to get regularly—my brother-in-law has taken it into his head to carry it home with him on the Sunday nights, undertaking to forward it punctually: but I liked better when it went direct from here with my husband's handwriting on it) Whether these extinguishers, which have had “an immense success” (as I was told at the shop where I bought them) indicate a growing tendency towards catholicism, or are meant as a satire against it I cannot pretend to decide! Who shall read in the deep brain of a Cockney-Inventor When he gets into the sphere of the symbolical? He wanders thro the universe of things “at his own sweet will,” collecting here a little and there a little, combining and confounding, with such a glorious superiority to all laws of affinity and right reason, and such an absolute disregard of consequences; that one stands amazed before him “as in presence of the Infinite”!—the Infinite—absurd!— I saw the other day the “realized Ideal” of a butcher, which I shall not soon forget. A number of persons were standing before his shop contemplating the little work of Art with a grave admiration beyond anything I ever saw testified towards any picture in the National Gallery! The butcher himself was standing beside it, receiving their silent enthusiasm with a look of Artist-pride struggling to keep within the bounds of Christian humility— A look which seemed to say; “yes! you may well admire— but remember good people that I am but a man!3—and his work of art; what was it?— A hare, to begin with—hanging in a long row of dead sheep and quarters of beef—of course a dead hare—it had still its fur on, and was fixed up by the hind legs,—pretty wide apart,—its belly towards the public,—about its neck and about every one of its four legs was tied a blue satin, ribband, and one of scarlet satin, in very coquettish bows! between the hind legs was placed a large and particularly smart—blue and scarlet cockade!! and into a large gash made in the belly was stuck a sprig of holly laden with red berries!!! Just fancy the butcher lying awake in his bed meditating how his HARE should be—and deciding that it should be thus and no otherwise—and then sending out his wife or daughter, the first thing in the morning, to buy ribbands of the requisite colours—and then anxiously superintending the sewing of the Cockade—and then and then—till finally his Ideal hung there, by the hind legs, a world's wonder! it would be so at least anywhere else but in London—where such wonders are no novelty— Last Christmas another of our Chelsea butchers (the people who have to do with the eatable here are always the greatest geniuses) regaled the public with the spectacle of a living prize-calf, on the breast of which (poor wretch) was branded— —like writing on turf— “6d a pound”!—and the public gathered about this Unfortunate with the greedy looks of a parcel of Cannibals!

It was a great pleasure to me to hear such particular accounts of you all from my husband— He was so minute in his details that it was almost as if I had been at Thornhill myself without the painfulness of going— But he says “I must never ask him to do that again; it was too sad”—If it was too sad for him, what would it not be for me?— But often, often I dream of being at Thornhill in my sleep—and who knows how much or how little of reality there may be in what happens to one in sleep?

My husband has been very busy since his return from Scotland but with no result as yet. he brought all that he had written into the room where I was peaceably darning his stockings the other day and laid it on the fire—and it was up the chimney in a fine blaze before I knew what it was that he was burning! This life of Oliver Cromwell looks to me sometimes as if it were never going to get itself written, work at it as he may. It reminds me of the child of a french marchioness I once read of that could never get itself born, but was carried about in her twenty years till she died. A wit was said to have asked her in course of time if “Madame was not thinking of swallowing a tutor for her son”! It is about time now to ask Carlyle if he be not thinking of swallowing a publisher for his book! But tho' I can joke on the subject in writing it is no joking matter to be practically concerned with I can assure you!— He gets so utterly wretched and so out of health when he is not getting on with his work; that one does not know what to do with him or with oneself.

My kindest regards to Dr Russel and your Father.— a kiss to yourself which I wish I could give you without ‘blowing’ it as the children say— Do not forget me as I certainly shall never forget you, but shall love you and be deeply deeply grateful to you as long as I live

Jane W. Carlyle