April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 1 April 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440401-JWC-JW-01; CL 18: 3-7


Monday morning [1 April 1844]

Dearest Babbie

These subterranean1 troubles of yours really get to be beyond all phases of human condolence! It is time (as Mazzini says) to act! And so I have been acting in your interest—and now it remains for Helen2 to decide whether I am to go on acting or hold my hand. You say what would I advise? I would advise that by all efforts and at all sacrifices you should break the spell which is over your subterranean!—merely hoping that it will wear itself out seems to be idle.

My own kitchen department was for a short period after I came to London under that same sort of Devils blessing— One or two servants turned off in quick succession had given the house what they call a bad name, which was the more easily fixed upon it we being then regarded as “foreigners” in the neighbourhood—“dishonourable women not a few” waylaid my servant as often as she went an errand, questioned her as to her eating and drinking, suggested ammendments, wondered she should consent to wash—to do this that and the other—explained to her that we could not be a genteel family since we kept only one servant &c &c—and the woman was sent home primed for mischief exploded on the first fault—finding word that was said to her, or provoked a quarrel—then gave warning—and a new one had to be sought who went thro the same phenomena.

One girl—irish, not a bad creature but very violent and unreasonable gave me warning in the first week because “she could not remain in a house where there were no waterpipes”! she wondered how anybody could expect a servant to stay beside such an inconvenience”!! I told her to depart then by all means the following week by which time I should have found a substitute—and when her day for departure arrived she was as sorry as possible,—told me that her giving warning had been “all along of the neighbourhood putting her up to it—that now she had seen more of the place she liked both the place and the people, and that if her successor went before she got another place she wished I would take her back and give her another trial. This completely convinced me of what I had already often felt persuaded—viz: the mischievous tendency of monthly engagements—if a servant may fly off at a tangent whenever she likes she yields to the first momentary disatisfaction or apprehension which every place under the sun is likely to occasion her plenty of just in the first days—before she has attached herself in any way either to the family or her duties. So I had a servant sent me out of Annandale3 hired on the Scotch principle of having to stay six months—and so broke the spell in my own case. The creature was neither a good woman nor a good servant but she was better than eternal changing— With no other friend here except myself and no money to carry her back to Scotland, and engaged for six months she could not choose but stay and make the best of it—and by the time the first month was over she had animal sense enough to feel that her place was a good place whatever the neighbours might say of it, and I also feeling that I was bound to her for half a year had to make the best of it, in training her to what she did not know and putting up with many little disagreeables, the consequence of all which was that she stayed here for eighteen months and had at last to be sent back to Scotland by vive force 4—so unwilling was she with all her faults to part from me! Helen5 would herself have been off in the first month had she not been tied for six—and here has she been now for seven or eight years on the whole for all our occasional squabblements a great temporal blessing to me—and if she were to go tomorrow the place would now have an excellent name.

Pondering on all this when I had read your last letter I decided that you should really adopt the same strong measure and bring some one from a distance—hired for a reasonable term—and in a manner dependent on making good her time with you. Of course where there are three—there is a complicacy in this measure, unless the one brought as a regenerating element into the concern had some principle to begin with they6 others might corrupt her even to the extent of inducing her to go away in the teeth of her own interest but with so many plain reasons for staying there would be needed an immense amount of folly in the creature to let herself be so misled—and with one tolerable fixture you might hope to leaven by degrees the whole lump into a state of tolerable fixidity! And now to descend from the theoretical to the practical I know of a servant at this moment whom I myself would feel no hesitation in hiring on a similar speculation

Some months ago Countess Pepoli applied to me to seek a place for a young scotch protegée of hers whose simple honest face had quite won her heart— This girl is about four and twenty to appearance—she had been for a year—or two years I forget which servant to Count Sartorio (jump jump) in Glasgow and had been exceedingly content with his service—but Sartorio's affairs having gone wrong in Glasgow thro his imprudent benevolence in setting up a countryman of his own and wife in a Cook-shop7—the poor old fellow had to renounce “Jump jumping” there any more, disperse his household and come back to try his luck in the Quadrant This Margaret went into another place in Glasgow but not being so well off in it as with old Sartorio she conceived the adventurous project of coming up to London sure that, if she were on the ground without expense to him, her former Master would take her back. And up she came accordingly. But Sartorio had no longer a house only a lodging—and had hardly enough to keep his own soul and body together never to speak of a servants soul and body—and so he fetched her to Countess Pepoli to solicit her patronage for the girl who felt ashamed to go back to Glasgow and confess that she had gone on a goose chase— Elizabeth was so pleased with her scotchness that she took her up at once and has been charging herself with her ever since— Sartorio gave her the best of characters for honesty, good conduct in all respects, and ability in doing all his work— Some weeks ago after various temporary arrangements Elizabeth found her a very promising looking situation thro the recommendation of a decent woman with whom Miss Fergus8 lodges when she comes to visit Elizabeth—just at the bottom of Elizabeths garden— The family consisted of a Lady and Gentleman—it was a pretty genteel looking house and the girl was to be their single servant—all went charmingly for a while—but a week ago the girl came to Elizabeth—and desired to speak with her without the Count9—and then informed her that she was finally persuaded she had got into an improper house! a Lady had lately come to stay with her Mistress who went out finely dressed every night at nine o'clock and did not return till far on in the morning— —and the Mistress of the house was not married to the gentleman who staid with her—but was in the habit of sleeping with another gentleman who came after dark, and was let in by herself (the Lady's self)!— The girl said she was extremely sorry for all this because the place was excellent in every other respect the Lady most kind to her, and so far as herself was concerned no improper word or action took place—but “she thought that suspecting how it was it would be very wrong in her to remain”— This spoke much for the girls morality— You may fancy knowing Elizabeth her comical consternation in finding that her zealous atempts to protect and provide this girl had been crowned with such success—as placing her in a bad house!— She was neither able to eat nor sleep during the days that the girl remained after this communication—for she could not but agree that the Lady having used her so well she ought to give her time to find a successor—last Saturday Margaret finally came forth immaculate as she went in—and now Elizabeth is partly recovered. — After receiving your letter I rushed off to Elizabeth's to see where she was at with this girl who it immediately occurred to me might be an excellent person for you to break your spell with— I had not seen her myself but meant to—before saying anything about it— Elizabeth was gone to town “with the Count”—I left a message and yesterday the girl Margaret came to me at ten in the morning with a letter from Elizabeth She has quite the good honest scotch look which Elizabeth praised in her and if I myself wanted a servant at this moment I would hire her— That is all I can say— She expressed the utmost readiness to go to Liverpool or anywhere that she could find a decent situation Seemed a very attachable simple hearted creature who would do whatever she was set to as well as she could and understand when she was well used—not sheepish by any means—but at the same time very modest— She had done all things about a house cooked waited and housemaid—did not consider herself at all likely to excell in any one of these branches at the present but felt no fear but she would learn all that it was required of her in a week or two if she were told— Now it is for Helen to decide whether there might not be a good reward lying in virtue of training this girl—a little patience and botheration would suffice for it—and a little kindness I think would attach her to you beyond the risk of evil influences from without—especially as I should warn her well on that head before sending her off— If you decide on the adventure tell me what wages you give—what she would be required to do—for how long she would be held engaged—and all other necessary particulars—as to expences—the way I settle with that for myself—was to pay the whole (in the cheapest principle) in the first instance then if the servant left at the end of the first six months that one half should be repaid from her wages—if she staid longer there should be no demand on her. The half of the expences is neither here nor there to oneself but it is an additional consideration for her in retaining her place.

I told the Girl to return here on Thursday afternoon—and I would then be able to tell her the result of my negociation—

If you dislike the idea it is of no moment my having given her a false hope for I know of a place for her here—to console her with— Only I shall try to keep her disengaged till I know your decision So you must write either tomorrow or Wednesday that I may know what to do before she comes on Thursday—

You see what pens I have—and may figure the confusion of my head from the immensity of writing which it has taken to tell my short and simple story your dear little impatient letter is come since I began writing this—but I will not say anything of myself to day being already quite weary—besides having much to do—

God bless you my darling— Carlyle is very anxious you should try this scotch girl—if that be any recommendation.

Your own /

Jane Carlyle