April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 12 August 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440812-JWC-JW-01; CL 18: 173-177


[12 August 1844]

Dearest Babbie

I have been reading no German Homer last week—mending no linen—and my method has been scattered to the winds! Still I have been much and actively employed with a matter which has indeed taken up much of my thoughts ever since I returned to London A person1 whom I am deeply interested in—(I will not name him as connected with such circumstances—you may divine him perhaps—and if you do, I desire that you will keep his name secret—as it would be of the worst consequence to him in every sense that the facts I am about to tell you should be spread about concerning him)— Well this person had disappeared out of my sphere in the most perplexing manner. A letter from him lying on the mantle-piece for me at my return showed him to be got into some very questionable state of mind—laid hold of all on a sudden by some of these “new ideas” that are infecting this lower world in these days. He talked of being “completely regenerated so far as he could see” of being now become from the most wretched the happiest of human beings—&c &c—and “what mostly occupied him in these days was how he could be of use to me and Mr Carlyle!”— “but alas,” said he ldquo;with regard to the latter I fear his hour is not yet come—if it ever will come”!— He concluded with stating his intention to return to London the following day and to see me immediately on my return—to which end he begged me to write to him at his usual London address—saying when he might come—

I wrote to him accordingly to come the first morning he could before one o'clock—adding that I had read his letter three times over and did not know what to think of it the last time any more than the first—but that I looked to him for helping me to the solution— That I congratulated him on having arrived at Happiness by whatsoever inconceivable means, but wished he would name that word as little as possible—“for I always heard it with a superstitious shudder— Happiness if there was such a thing at all seeming to me of the nature of those delicate Spirits which vanish when one pronounces their name”— The sequel has shown that I wrote those words in the true spirit of Prophecy! It did cross my mind that he might be falling into insanity—but I struggled against the idea as too horrible— Still it was a strange letter from a man not given to foolish enthusiasms and who has the utmost destestation2 for all sorts of cant and humbug Day after day passed on and he did not come—neither write any more— At the weeks end I wrote again expressing my fears that he was ill—and begging that if such were the case he would either write or make somebody write for him— No answer— Thouroughly alarmed I wrote again reproaching him for his indifference to my anxieties and entreating him “as a favour” to make me understand what all this meant. Silence as of death!— This was more than I could sit still under— But for the english ideas of propriety as recently illustrated in the case of Mrs Fraser I should have got at once into a Street cab and driven to his house to enquire after him— This I was regretting in the presence of Theresa (Revis) could not be done—and the Child exclaimed you shall take Godpapa's carriage—and Godpapa himself and the Servants and then there will be no impropriety”!— And off she ran, and came back in two minutes, and told me all this precautionary equipage would be at my orders in half an hour—clever Child! off then I went— Old Mr Buller driving me thro the rain and having with some difficulty found his lodging, some five miles off, I made Escott3 inquire if he were returned and well— No—he had not returned—he had written that he was coming and then again that he “would not come any more”!— “And his letters”?— “Had all been punctually forwarded to him.”— “Then they could give me his actual address”? The Servant went to enquire and returned presently with a slip of paper on which was written

Ham Common

This in itself was a revealation— The name—and situation taken together suggested to me at once of those dreadful vegetable, fraternal, universal-religion establishments which Alcott4 and the like of him have originated on this long suffering earth! Well, I thought, it might have been worse—no wonder that he dared not confess to me he had become a member of such an establishment!— To be sure for the time being it is sad—pitiable—but he is too manly a person to be long humbuged by such creatures and too honest to live in a humbug a moment after he has recognised it as such. So I set myself down in forced composure “to await”

And I might have awaited long enough had not a letter come from a mutual friend asking “can you tell me what on earth has happened to ——— I hear something dreadful has happened to him—it is too horrible—they say he has become insane!

There then was the horrid word put into so many letters for me by another!—all my own vague fears turned almost into certainties by being given back to me by another!— My tongue and my feet were at once loosened by this word as from a sort of enchantment. I went immediately to Carlyle and told him something must be done— Well said he I will go to Ham Common myself and see after him next week if you can get nobody else to do it or do not like to go yourself (!)—or perhaps I will go tomorrow—I could not wait till “next week” nor yet on the strength of a “perhaps” I put on my bonnet and set off to———Craik! That man desired no better ever than to be suffered to do me service—and in such an emergency I felt no delicacy in using him— As I expected; Craik being informed of such particulars as I could give him flung by his work and set out on the instant for Ham Common, from thence to one place after another, and came back to me here between ten and eleven at night with a clear and full account of the whole sad affair— He had at the time mentioned, entered the Accordium—which he had been visiting occasionally for some weeks before— For two or three days he worked in the garden and appeared well enough—but soon he began to reproach them that they did not carry out their own principles (noble detestation of humbug surviving even in the wreck of reason!)— The Pater as he calls himself was angry and resisted his disciples innovations—whereupon ——— burst into frightful violence and proceeded to strike at them all and break everything within his reach— The Pater as the easiest way of ridding himself of the poor young man—got a Magistrates warrant and had him conveyed to the nearest gaol where he passed the night in a dark cell and was found in the morning raging mad— This the wretch himself did not confess but Craik thinking he was holding back something hunted about in the neighbourhood till he found one that could tell him— A young man of fortune, who had recently made ———'s acquaintance in their mutual walks and taken a great fancy to him heard tell of the thing—got him out of the prison and conveyed to a private house in Richmond—but what to do next?— There was nobody who knew any thing about him there—and how to discover his friends if he had any?— He had torn the letters he received into such small pieces that they could not put two words of them together—the last which came when he was no longer in a state to read it the young man ventured to open—and found it WITHOUT date (of course, being mine) and signed only with initials. There was no light to be got from it—except that I had mentioned one name—which name they had traced to its owner and thence the letter I had received— Meanwhile his madness continuing too violent for any individual person to manage he was conveyed to Wandsworth Lunatic Asylum5—as a person belonging to nobody!—

What I felt in hearing all these particulars you may partly conceive— I wished it were morning—to do something—tho what I knew not—all night I thought and thought— To go to the Asylum and see the locality and his doctor—to get him proper medical assistance—if the advice he had seemed inefficient—to discover the address of his relations and write to them in case of the worst—to discover also the address of his only intimate friend that I knew of in London6 and communicate with him—to see himself if the Dr would suffer it— All these things at least were clearly enough to be done—and I got up with an agitated mind to do them— Craik again kindly undertook to go in quest of the gentleman I wished to see—and discovered him—or rather the place where he had been—for he was gone to France for some weeks—I myself having written some letters of questions—in the midst of which came a Lady to pester me about James Baillie for more than an hour— Went off to Wandsworth via Marlbro' Street which is precisely in the opposite direction to pick up Darwins carriage and himself—that I might go with such an appearance of respectability as would impress the people favourably as to ——— and ensure me lucid answers at all events civil ones— I fortunately found the consulting physician there at the time7 and one look into his face carried the consolatory assurance along with it that my poor friend had fallen into excellent hands— And he told me—Oh god bless him for the comfort!—that he had no doubt but my friend would soon be quite cured—that all this phrenzy had been merely the consummation of long neglected physical disorder.

From all that I saw and heard it was clear that he could not possibly be better than just where he is— And the hope of his soon being well again!—and that we shall talk over all these woes together as past!

Oh what an unspeakable relief was that visit to the Asylum—

But I must stop—for I am writing myself into delirium tremens

They8 will wonder what all this writing can be about—if you do not tell—so I do not forbid you to communicate the circumstances—it is only the individuality that I would keep concealed.—

Ever your own /