August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 9 January 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440109-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 235-239


[ca. 9 January 1844]

Oh Babbie Babbie! “I am a-weary a-weary,” as ever was “Marianna of the moated Grange”!1— Every day I pray to Heaven for just two things quiet and the free use of my faculties, and Heaven turns a deaf ear! If any approximation to outward quiet be granted I am sure to have along with it a headach or “real mental agony in my own inside” (as Helen phrases it) or if both my HEAD and ‘MYSEL’ be comparitively easy, then there are a hundred and one interruptions to snatch me up like a feather born on the wind and whirl me away—far away—out of my little sphere of industrial projects and good intentions. Till Cromwell is finished I am not to be held “responsible”—

Last Sunday2 I had thought to write you such a letter—as long as my arm—and as interesting “as—as—anything”! But “the Countess”3 came and made me go out with her “against my sensations,” and I came in so chilled that I had to warm myself with brandy and nestle on the sofa under that big shawl; that I might be resucitated for a party of Americans that was to take effect the same evening— And the wrteches4 all came—and there was such a drawling and Sir-ing!— I would have given a crown that you had been there for “it was strange upon my honour”! There was a Mr James with a wife and wifes-sister.5 “Not a bad man” (as C would say) “nor altogether a fool,”—but he has only one leg—that is to say only one real available leg—the other, tho the fellow of it to appearance consisting entirely of cork— Now a man may be as agreeable with one leg or three legs as with two but he needs to take certain precautions— The onelegged man, is bound in mercy to all people with merely ordinary nerves to use some sort of stick instead of trusting to Providence as this Mr James does. So that every time he moves in the room it is as if ‘a blind destiny’ had been set a-going, and one awaits in horror to see him rush down amongst the tea-cups, or walk out thro the window-glass, or pitch himself head-foremost into the grate! from which and the like imminent dangers he is only preserved by a continual miracle! For me with my nerves you may fancy the awfulness of such a visitor!— Of his two women what could anybody say?—unless that they giggled incessantly, and wore black stockings with lightcolour[e]d6 dresses. Then there was an American “General”!—General Baird7—the very image of Mr Pecksniff, without the slyness. His ample breast was covered with a white waistcoat—open very far down to shew the broach in his shirt—hair set round with pearls—the whole thing about the size of a five-shilling piece! He seemed there as a living confirmation of Dickens's satires on the American great men8—and several times I burst out laughing in his face— The General was brought by a Mr Coleman9 who was sent us last summer by John Greig—an exceptional yankee!—so full of life and glee, tho turned of sixty!—a sort of man one feels tempted to kiss—so benevolent and good without any cant about it—and with such affectionate eyes— I daresay I SHALL kiss him someday—the other night I found to my surprise that I had got the length of standing with one of my arms round his neck!! Which must have been a cruel sight for Creek who was also of the party—brought by Arthur Helps and his beautiful little atom of a wife in their carriage— He had been dining with them the promoted Creek! and they had asked my leave to come and SEE the Americans and “took the liberty of bringing Mr Craik along with them.” He behaves very well now the “poor fellow”!—does not come above once in the two months—and still his devotion survives even this self-inflicted absence—if I fling him one civil word he looks as if he would fall down and kiss my great toe! and answers in the plaintive tone of a lovelorn Shepherd in the Poetry of the Middle Ages— I begin to be wae for “poor Creek”! Such unrequited devotion I have not found in all Israel!10 “That minds me” of a most absurd little incident which befell a week or two ago which I must tell you if my pen will hold out—for the general amusement of your breakfast table—

I received one day by post a letter the handwriting of which was not new to me—but I could not recollect in the first minutes whose it was— I read the first line—“Oh those bright sweet eyes”!— I stood amazed “as in presence of the Infinite”!— What man had gone out of his wits? What year of grace was I in? What was it at all? I looked for a signature—there was none! I read on— “There is no escaping their bewitching influence”!— “Idiot”! said I “whoever you be”! (having now got up a due matronly rage) “To write such stale nonsense to me! and to send it by post”! But I read on— “It is impossible but that such eyes must be accompanied by a feeling heart— Could you not use your influence with their possessor on my behalf? The time of young Ladies is in general so uselessly employed that I really think you would be doing— —Miss Swanwick a kindness in persuading her to———translate for me those French laws of pawnbroking”!!! now it was all clear—and I had the ridicule of finding that my virtuous married-woman-blushes had been entirely thrown away! the “bright sweet eyes” were not mine but Miss Swanwick's and the writer of the letter was Robertson, who had repeatedly raved to me about those Swanwick-eyes to a weariness!— But have you often in your life heard of any thing more absurd—more stupid (even for an Author) than this beginning of a letter to one woman with an apostrophe to the eyes of another! And when I told him afterwards the misconception thereby occasioned instead of feeling ashamed of himself he only laughed till the tears ran down!

Oh what an awful adventure—a dinner party of eighteen and a cook with a cut vein! I can never understand how people outlive such things—had I been the Mistress in such a case I would have immediately sailed for America, or gone up to the housetop and suspended myself from a rafter! Remember me to Gambardella since he has emerged again into the sphere of visibility, you may tell him I met his Mrs Reid at that Birthday party11—and had the honour of being regarded by her with a marked terror and dislike—happily she went away soon— You would have laughed to have heard her as I did trying to indoctrinate one of Dickens's small children with Socinian benevolence—the child about the size of a quartern loaf was sitting on a low chair gazing in awestruck delight at the reeking plum-pudding which its Father had just produced out of “a gentleman's hat”—Mrs Reid leaning tenderly over her (as benevolent gentlewomen understand how to lean over youth) said in a soft voice—professedly for its ear but loud enough for mine and everybody elses within three yards distance— “Would not you like that there was such a nice pudding as that in every house in London tonight? I am sure I would”!— The shrinking uncomprehending look which the little blowzy face cast up to her was inimitable—a whole page of protest against twaddle! if she could but have read it!

Mazzini was here yesterday so bright as I hardly ever remember to have seen him. I saw one sunny flash in his eyes which might have been the first waking to life of Pygmalions Statue!12 his face is all but well now— But besides that, some “change has come over the spirit of his dream”— I know not what it is— I know only that he looked almost dazzlingly beautiful yesterday and that this beauty was plainly the expression of some inward newfound joy! Elizabeth came in—“the white face with which I had left her on Sunday had haunted her all the afternoon and she could not be easy till she knew how I was”— “but I see” said she “with a peculiar look and tone that you are QUITE well now”— The fact was, Mazzini and I had just been regaling ourselves with wine figs and gingerbread, and when the rap came to the door I bade him put away the glasses and he put them into—my writing desk! so that when she opened the room door we both presented an unusual appearance of discomposure—which Elizabeth whose head is always running on “what shall I say—strange things upon my honour”—interpreted doub[t]less13 into “a delicate embarrassment” —Elizabeth to have been always virtuous, as I am sure she has been has really a curious incapacity of comprehending the simplest liason between man an woman. She would not sit down—but having quite looked us thro and thro (as she thought) went home “to write letter”—

I have got back Geraldine's MS. very much altered and amplified14 I cannot give an opinion of it as yet having read only two Chapters—

Mrs Paulet said true in saying that I said that I felt tempted to run away to Liverpool but the end of the sentence, which she suppressed, undid the beginning—

I do feel so tempted almost every day of my life at present for to be here in the present state of Cromwell is almost more than flesh and blood can bear— However there is no use in Jeremiahds over what cannot be helped— Cromwell must come to an end or he and I will come to an end—and in either case there will be—an end!—

God bless you my good babbie again— Write much.— I need it just now— Love to them all and kisses at your discretion— ever your own