April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 23 April 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440423-JWC-JW-01; CL 18: 18-23


Tuesday [23 April 1844]

Dearest Babbie

I will do a prudent thing for once; as your birthday “comes to pass” the day after tomorrow,1 I will write today, “taking time by the forelock” in case of being hindered by a headach, or in-burst of Callers, or other devilry should I put off till the eleventh hour. Not that I attach any life-and-death consequences to your having my blessing, quite punctually, on your stepping into a new year of existence “here down” (as Mazzini says). My blessing, I guess, will not blossom into any blessedness for you—nor avert a single misfortune that may lie in your lot. But it is a satisfaction to myself to give it to you such as it is in making believe that there lies some charm in it—what is the most of ones human life but make-believe more or less conscious? Ah yes! if wishes were horses, not only “Beggars would ride”2 but Babbies should ride; in their own gilt coach, with “fine yellow deliveries3 (metaphorically speaking). Seated on down-cushions, and whirled thro' the most “picturesque nature”; your earthly pilgrimage should be performed without ennui or inconvenience of any sort—all peas taken from your shoes!— But I may formulize wishes for your happiness till the tongue wears small in my head, and Destiny will just take its own course with you all the same! So there's no use talking—

I have been taking a considerable quantity of most dutiful amusement in the last week—one evening I accompanied Carlyle and the Helpses to the Chinese exhibition which it was distinctly Carlyle's duty to see, and which he could not muster force of volition to go by himself Having been reduced to a shilling, and some thing called the Feast of Lanterns going on in it at present, it was crowded to a degree which made it impossible to see the tools and other particulars which alone deserved the notice of Literary gentlemen;4 so we came away in a short while, “heavy and displeased”5— Then I did a dinner at Mrs Allan Cunningham's!—it was her first party since her Husband's death6—and was given in joy over her sons in India who have lately distinguished themselves by their gallant conduct and received promotions in consequence7— Some Indian friends of these sons were to be there—whom we knew and were therefore the likeliest people to help her away with them— But C. would not go—the Barbarian!—having a dinner already on his heart for the following day so there was nothing for it—but to offer myself alone—having bowels of compassion—moi— It went off beautifully— I quite triumphed in the perfection of her jellies and all that—and did not grudge a new sore-throat for my own share gained in the cause—being of COURSE set for the evening to talk to the beautiful deaf Mrs Mackenzie!8 I had gone in the express purpose of making myself “generally useful” and it seems I have “a voice which deaf people hear so easily”! “it would have been quite a pity not to let her have me all to herself”! Then I went another day quite alone, in sober sadness, to see the Indians. And another day with Mrs A Sterling to see Tom Thumb9— Tom Thumb I had the greatest possible wish to steal away in my pocket— The Indians were below my ideal of Indians—but I shook hands with them as all the hundreds of people present did, and can now say thro all coming time when asked “have you seen the Indians?” “Yes I have seen them”! The cause of my going there, and alone, was that———Cavaignac is again writing in the Revenue10Independente! You may not see the connexion at first sight—but the one thing followed out of the other quite naturally I assure you— Mazzini had told me that Cavaignac was becoming decidedly a literary man—that he had an Algerine Tale in the last number of that Review, exhibiting “a calm and spiritualism—as opposed to action”— which he Mazzini considered to be proof positive of his being “a lost man”—but which he doubted not I would find “the right frame of mind for a Demi God—” while even he “must confess that the thing as a literary composition far surpassed anything he had read of his before— The story was of a Father who had an only son “in whom the soul had not awaked”— The Father however confident that the boy has a soul, could it only be got at, tries all means natural and magical to inspire him—the first part of the Tale ends in his trying the influence of an adorable woman upon the youth “but that said Mazzini even that does nothing at awaking his soul”—and there the Tale stops for the present— Now as I saw in this curious idea a design on C's part to produce his own confession of faith under an allegorical form, I was most impatient to read it for myself and set off early next morning to get a sight of the Review in the Reading Room of the London Library—but the Reveue Independente was just the only French Review which they did not have— So being there so early, tired, disapointed, not knowing what to make of myself for the rest of the forenoon—(a walk in the morning always unsettling me for doing any work at home) being thus circumstanced I could think of nothing so suitable as to turn in and take a look at the wild Indians!— Their war-whoops would probably harmonize with my discordant feelings better than the human speech of anybody I might go to call upon!

My dear! I would have given something considerable that you had been here last Sunday Morning to have seen Plattnauers face—while a much more fiery trial was appointed him than that of having to wash his hands before Ladies— While we were sitting very peaceably together Lord Jeffrey and Mr Empson were announced—I sprang up delighted of course to see Jeffrey who had not warned me this time of his being come back to town— As it was not our first meeting however—and I had kissed him sufficiently when he came ten days ago—I was not thinking of going thro that ceremony—but he having a strong natural tendency for cuddling people (without the slightest earthly harm in it) and taking advantage of his being now near seventy years of age to indulge this innocent taste to the fullest extent, took me all in his arms as usual—regardless of the presence of Plattnauer, Empson, and Helen (as indeed he would have done the same before twenty starched Dowagers) and gave me one kiss after another, not “on the brow” or any of those delicate spots, but plump on my lips!—calling me “my darling Jeanie!—my sweet Child! my dear Love”!!! and then when we had got over the brunt of the business and set down on the sofa he ceased not a moment from kissing my hands, stroking my hair, patting my face—and saying the tenderest things in the tenderest tones! Now all this was nothing at all for Empson, or myself, or anyone that knows Jeffrey's ways—and that knows his age—and that knows the sort of Paternal affection he has entertained for me upwards of fifteen years. But if you will just look at it with Plattnauers eyes! My attention was attracted towards him by his convulsive snatching up of a newspaper—over which he stooped his head, blushing———! oh merciful heaven how he was blushing the poor young man!— He seemed only to sit witnessing such superhuman indecorums from the total inability into which his astonishment threw him of going away!— At last he reeled accross the floor and bade me good morning with a look “significative of much”! I have since heard that he went from here to Elizabeth to compliment her on the extraordinary character of Scotch Salutations as illustrated in the meeting he had just witnessed betwixt Lord Jeffrey and Mrs Carlyle,—Elizabeth begged him for god-sake “not to take the practices of Lord Jeffrey and Mrs Carlyle as a specimen of the national manner”—but said she “I tried to comfort him by the assurance that Lord Jeffrey was 70 which he would not however believe for he was quite struck with his handsomeness”!!! certainly if he had got that view of the subject the procedure was perfectly awful! “This minds me” Mrs Fraser came here on Sunday evening to tell me that an attempt was made by her husbands advocate to get a new trial!! on the plea that the Verdict had been given on false grounds—she did not suspect a new trial would be granted him but the bare idea of such a thing was troubling the poor soul dreadfully Moreover her husband had been seen leaning against the gate of her own garden lately after midnight!—was he “meaning to shoot her”? or merely to “get round her by fair words?” she did not know but was equaly terrified either way! I wish some philanthropic Individual would shoot him or “get round” him with a halter.

I always forgot to tell you that Gambardella called on me one day when I was out—Helen said he was on horseback and in great spirits he left a message that he could not come again as he was to set out for Paris the next day but one— He had been here some ten days then as I heard thro Pepoli who had met him on the street— Poor fellow—it is a pity that he has no steadfastness to turn his fine talent to account— “unstable as water he shall not prevail”11— But Brougham! goodness! he must surely be hard up for traveling companions!

James Baillie writes to me again in spite of all my hardheartedness—and this time I must answer for he writes in Prison.— I will send his letter next time— I wish he would give me up for—merely to hear of his troubles which I cannot help him out of—which only God can help him out of by putting some sense and principle into him makes me very uncomfortable without doing him any good. I would take any pains to find some situation for him if there were any situation for which he is fit—save that of Marker to a Billiard Table(!)—which I have no interest to procure him—but as to lending him trifles of money merely to keep him afloat from day to day he had better at once blow his brains out— Love to them all & kisses—be sure to tell me of little Glasgow12

ever your own J C 13