April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 31 May 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440531-JWC-JW-01; CL 18: 54-57


Friday [31 May 1844]

Dearest Babbie

Yesterday there came to pass the absurdest thing, which I feel a besoin [need] to tell you before it grows cold in me! It was a day of visitors,—of what the Haddington dressmaker used to call “carriage-Ladies”; One foot-man-rap after another had assailed my nerves, till I was fain to seek refuge in a sort of resigned stupidity—the last Carriage-Lady came just as I was finishing with Miss Farrer1 and Mrs Rich: and was shown in by the agitated Maria, with some movement of the lips, but no sound of a name that reached my ears; nor did I think it worth while to ask her to try it again, as new Servants mangle ones visitors names so as merely to make them into a temptation to laugh exactly at the wrong moment— The Lady who followed her inarticulate announcement was very pretty, young, with a considerable dash (it struck me) of the French Grisette [coquettish shopgirl] about her, only more expensively dressed. (You are to recollect that I never SAW a French Grisette with my bodily eyes—have merely got an idea of the phenomenon out of George Sand's Novels) She seemed to know me rather intimately and even to expect that I should be pleased to see her. Plainly to follow my first impulse, and ask whom I had the pleasure of addressing was going to have caused her a considerable shock; so I allowed myself to be shaked hands with, and sat down on the sofa beside her, and talked of the weather, and answered kind enquiries about my health and hoped that by preciseing nothing, I might get the time put over till something should fall from her to give me the shadow of an idea who she was! The situation was embarrassing, but as I have said I had got past all “finer sensibilities2 at the moment, and I “waited” with a composure of soul that Cavaignac himself could not have rivalled— “I hoped to have had good accounts of you to TAKE BACK” said she, in answer to my reflections against the east-wind—“take back”? thought I, “—is there a family of them all alike unknown who take so lively an interest in my health?” But just then her voice awoke a sort of remembrance in me, and by an almost superhuman effort at recollection I perceived my visitor to be ——— Elizabeth Macgregor, alias Mrs Thomas Cook!!3 Decidedly “my constitution is breaking up” (as Old Sterling Says of himself) for there was no change in her to have excused such want of memory! When I had made the discovery I thought it best to recommence with her, confessing that up to that moment she had been a grande mistero [great mystery] for me! Judging from myself I thought she would like less ill to have been frankly forgotten, than to have been received coldly—and of course though I did my best to meet her after her own fashion I could not be very warm, to I did not know whom. It was a pity!—but “accidents will happen in the best regulated families”—and how much more in this family which is rapidly going to the Devil! Could Helen only imagine how we go on; her heart would overflow with diabolic joy! Not that the new woman disappoints me much; except in the faculty of speed, she does not in fact disappoint me at all— She is a fine-tempered, rational, quiet, creature whom I could train in a few months to be every whit as servicable a servant as Helen, but having her only for a month, falling to training her at all would be a work of supererogation, as my ways would have to be all unlearnt again, most likely, in the next place she goes to, and there would be no time for myself to reap any fruits of my labours. As she is she might be gone on quite comfortably with in any other house but this, where it is considered the sin against the Holy Ghost to set a chair or a plate two inches off the spot they have been used to stand on! and where the servant of a week is required to know all the outs and ins of the house as currently as the servant of seven years! Men are very unreasonable really and this man in particular is enough to turn one's head—at times. It is in vain that I get up an hour before the usual time, that I make the porridge and the coffee and all that I can make, with my own hands, he goes about from morning till night really trying you would say what possibly can be got to fret and scold about—till I declare to Heaven my patience is quite exhausted—what with his everlasting unreasonable worrying, what with the number of little things I have to look after what with about three weeks of that most obtuse Miss Bölte what with the east-wind and my own corrupt human nature I am pretty near suicide just now, or—flying off to Liverpool.

Just fancy Bölte staying on thro all my difficulties, from week to week, and when I had only offered her a bed for the two days betwixt her coming to town and Mrs Bullers— Indeed her stay was assuming an air of permancy which made my blood run cold, and not only mine but everyone's that frequents the house—for you know her way of sitting gazing at one's visitors without ever speaking a word— Anthony Sterling requested as a particular favour that I would “marry her to Plattnauer and so set the two pairs of gazing German eyes to gaze at on[e]4 another!”— She is gone now however “thanks God”!—is engaged to Sir James Graham at a salary of a hundred guineas a year! Mrs Buller told Lady Graham that she was recommended by me, and that SHE had considered all other recommendation perfectly superflous—whereupon Lady Graham was pleased to say “Oh certainly! Mrs Carlyle's recommendation is to be received as conclusive”! So “the first chapters of Genesis” are silenced for ever!—and now having done my duty of general—humanity so successfully by her, I recommend her to Destiny and her own deserving—for I really am sick of my protegée!— She is an excellent Governess; the miraculous improvement she has wrought on Theresa5 proves that beyond all doubt— But for a companion to me—! The cat is an angel in comparison!

Gambardella came one evening—did I tell you? He had quarrelled with Lord Brougham—of course that was to be looked for— He is now all agog about Count Dorsey and Lady Blessington6— He seemed pretty mad— I was expressing my idle longings to be in Liverpool and he offered to wait three weeks to escort me there—and then he offered me the use of his spare rooms for a month and if Mr Carlyle would not come along with me (for decency's sake—there could be no other earthly motive for G's inviting him) I might “bring one of them from Maryland Street!!! which of you would like to go and countenance me in such an awful position?— When I told Plattnauer this; he said with some asperity that he supposed he must be “wanting me for a Model”!!! Do you know Babbie I would like very much to be in the company of some sane people for a while—everybody here is mad or going mad. Are you in Liverpool sane? It would be a strong additional motive for going to you— Besides relieving my Uncle of “The siller [money]”!— Does the dear man fancy me kept so very bare as to be needing a restitution to that amount?— Positively When Helen resumes her functions I must see whether I cannot run away for a week or two—I really “need a change” (as the phrase is) —Harriet wrote the kindest of letters two or three weeks ago, inviting me to Tynemouth— He said “if you wish to go, you had better,—I will take you to———the Omnibus!!” “I should prefer going to Liverpool” said I, not wishing to loose so good an opportunity— No answer— I repeated— “if I were to leave home alone, the natural place to go were to go were to Liverpool”—a look of profound unconsciousness followed by a request that I would hand him the milk—(we were at tea)— Now what was the meaning of such inconsistency? simply that he was sure I would not think of going to Tynemouth—but Liverpool I might go to—and so it would not be so safe to offer his services to “take me to the Omnibus” in that direction! However when Helen comes, and there is no more need of me to stand between him and the kitchen I will make another attempt I do so want to see you my Babbie—to see you all—my Uncle most of any—

How does Pauletdom go on since it was enlivened with Geraldine7—John Sterling is still despaired of by all his family—but somehow I cannot despair of him yet— The Maurices are come to live in our Rectory for country quarters!! have taken the place for three months from the Kingsley's who are gone to Germany8— Somebody has just sent me the present of a new sort of Coffee pot— I fancy it must be Anthony Sterling, who is taking up the family-feelings towards me—he gave me a—large jug the other day!—bless you my darling—pray for me

Ever your own9

[no signature]

Do not forget to tell me if Helen's cold be better