JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 27 January 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440127-JWC-JW-01; CL 17: 250-254
JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH
Saturday [27 January 1844]—
Thanks for your long letter dearest Babbie which was the more meritorious in you; seeing that it was written “decidedly” in the reactionary State of over-excitement; a state in which one is much less disposed for writing than for lying on a Sofa and doing nothing—or the nearest approximation to nothing, that I know of viz: reading french novels
I sympathize with you in your sympathy with Walter—our own immediate Walter I mean1—at the same time I who have no selfish interest in his being in Liverpool more than in Fife,2 since I see nothing of him in either place, can discover a compensation to himself in exchanging the gaities of Liverpool for the dullness of a country parish— A young man just at the most trying time of life, with an immense SOCIAL popularity and no serious work to do must run a great danger in such a place as Liverpool of degenerating into a mere good fellow—and “upon my honour” bating the probabilities of hanging, Botany Bay3—&c I would rather that a cousin of mine should “fling the gauntlet to society, join himself with some brave spirits, and rob a Diligence” (as a French writer dignifiedly described the process of turning highwayman)4 than squander away his one existence, given him thro' all eternity to “make a spoon of or spoil a horn,”5 in the anomalous superfluous vocation of good fellow! A man of that sort always looks to me like one of those leafless trees, which I used to feel so sorry for when I was a little tender hearted child, all the sap of which has gone to the nourishment of the parasitical plants that have fastened themselves on it, till it has no longer vigour remaining to send out a single shoot of its own! Better to grow up the solitary tree of the Desart for the weary Traveller to rest under and for the Birds of the air to make their habitations in, than to be a mere withered prop for parasitical plants in the garden of Paradise itself! Decidedly I am giving too much rein to my imagination this morning, going to excess in “tropes and figures”—so before I become altogether unintelligible to the merely human mind I will betake myself to matters on which it is impossible to be other than prosaical— Eh bien! I have swallowed a pretty number of blue pills again, and suppose I shall be less bilious next week—at least I am sure that I ought to be—and if I am not. I shall at all events have the consolatory reflection of having done my best— You would have pitied me yesterday and the day before—Mrs Jameson here “with her night-cap”—! in a flow of spirits and speech that seemed actually to pour themselves over this unaccustomed house, like an inundation—carrying all ones senses before it!6 I was so thankful when she was fairly deposited in bed—and I might retire to my own, to rest my utterly exhausted body and soul—but there is no rest for the wicked—not a wink of sleep could I get for the noise of the Lamberts who seem now to stay up systematically half the night and for the noise of my own heart which seems inclined to adopt the same system— at three my patience failed me and I rose and lighted a candle and got a book—finally by the aid of sal volatile I got an hour or so of sleep when it was about time to be getting up— Then to have to bear the fire of C's impatience for breakfast and Mrs Jamesons unfailing vivacity when she did come; after a night of this sort!— I would have saved myself in the coal hole if I might!—anywhere to be out of the way of it all! Last night however I slept better than any-night for the last three weeks—and today I am like you in the reactionary State— She is a good warmhearted soul Mrs Jameson and if I had only STRONG health I would desire no better company—but she “comes it too strong” for my present shattered nerves— Darwin is the company for one at these seasons or Elizabeth when she herself is not too much depressed by the foreshadow of the Pawn-shop!7 By the way they have sold a picture—a large one—The Elector of Saxony in the magnificent carved frame (if you remember him)—and “Carlo will have pocketmoney” for many days!— Speaking of pictures William Conningham has become an immense picture buyer—is said to have pictures the like of which are not to be found in England except in the collection of the Marquis of Stafford!!8 and so he may for he lays out sums of money on these which it is a perfect shame to hear tell of—a thousand pounds for a small crumpeled sketch by Raphael—eight thousand for a small assortment of rare engravings &c &c— What will this world come to in “voluptuousness” (as Mr Perry our house agent calls extravagance)! William has only three or four thousand a year of visible means—so that he must be investing great slaps out of his capital in this gratification to his vanity—for I am perfectly certain that he has no genuine passion for Art—only wants to be known as the possessor of valuable pictures—the shortest cut to that notability which his ambitious mind has always thirsted after—and so many people starving Babbie! forced to “eat boiled dog”! (or was it cat?9) We have exchanged that thread-bare example for others now so that I do not quite remember—) The subject of extravagance leads me in its turn to those documents I sent you belonging to our elegant Cousin10—you take no notice of them which is highly discreditable to your nice sense of family-honour— How he ever could seek me again after I had refused him two soveregns!—and having been allowed to come how he could immediately propose to me a transaction at a pawnshop!—and such a vile transaction—for this picture of his son (—illegitimate of course and worse than illegitimate—the poor child being there merely in virtue of its mothers small annuity)11 was swindled out of the hands of the painter in the first instance—and pawned by themselves—and his object in getting me to buy it back was simply to get two soveregns out of me by a round-about process. All this, with my natural talent for sounding into the mysteries of rascaldom, I have preciseed12 at the pawnshop and at the painters—and have of course taken no notice of the beggarly commision—and seen nothing of him since except out of Sterling's carriage one day on the street— If I had been as rich as William Conningham perhaps I would have taken the image of the poor child out of the pawnshop window where it still stands and kept it—merely that nobody with one drop of my blood in her veins should occupy such an ignominious position—but as it is I did not feel myself justified in preserving intact the family honour at the large outlay of two sovereigns
Plattnauer is still at Brighton with the Ailsbury's—which is a great loss to my Sundays— I might replace him with Arthur Helps or Count Krasinski—but it goes against my feelings to fill up living blanks— Mazzini keeps better and has much need; for he expects, with “a faith the like of which is not in all Israel” (nor to be wished that it were) to lead a new “Savoy's expedition” into Italy as early as the end of this February!!!13 (keep this from the knowledge of Gambardella14 of course) I listen to his programme and miraculous hopes with an indifference that drives him to despair—for I have a modest reliance on Providence and “the Laws of Nature” that if he DOES cross the channel with his tail of enthusiastic shoemakers and tailors and Balloon Inventors and what not he will be “turned back” as on the former occasion— (according to Carlyle) “at the first toll-bar!15 To be sure there is chance enough of his being laid hold of and sent to meditate on his folly in the Speilberg or at “the bottom of a well” in St Leo,16 for the remainder of his life—but as HE is quite indifferent as to that I do not see why I need get into any worry about it—indeed I feel so downright angry at his delirium that I cannot care just now what becomes of him the madman that he is!
And now goodby dear child I must proceed to “walk for my health” that most toilsome of sublunary duties love to all
Your own /