April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 12 November 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18441112-JWC-HW-01; CL 18: 266-269


Tuesday [12 November 1844]

Dearest Helen

If your letter had not been so long or so amusing, if it had been in fact less “creditable to your head and hort”; the chances are it would have been answered sooner. I should have flashed you off a few lines “at the earliest opportunity”—but being a meritorious letter; I wished as poor William Gibson used to phrase it, “to make a suitable return”—and for that, one has to await the “convenient season.” Thus you see my dear young Lady there is always “something very particular” occurring “here down” (qui giù) to prevent virtue having its “own reward”! There is one touch in your letter which has filled me with genuine admiration—you were not at all aware I dare say (for merit is ever unconscious) when you historically mentioned the fact; of the importance I was likely to attach to it, and the favourable inferences I should draw from it respecting the general state of your soul. You said that on being told how Margaret1 had poured boiling soup “all over her”—you ran for cotton, and THEN down stairs &c &c— Now that is what I call having ones wits about one, that is really being a useful member of society. There is not one of a hundred young Ladies who would have run for cotton FIRST, who would not have run to see the state of the accident first—and so lost time which is always precious but never so precious as in cases of burning— I make you my compliments on your calm ready helpfulness my gentle cousin—it would be well if there were more of that sort of helpfulness circulating in this fussy little world. And when I meet with an ccident—“happen a misfortune” as my first London servant used to say2—I hope you may be at hand to help me—you—with your “little cry and much WOOL”! 3

If I had not been very busy in these weeks, I really think I should have been tempted to send for sixpenny-worth of Arsnece—and put myself out of pain—Everlasting rains—the air a solution of soot—the universe one abominable “Clart [Mud]”—no possibility of taking outdoors exercise, and no faculty of sleeping without it— And every body that comes in, sworn (one might think) in a general conspiracy, to tell one something tragical or disagreeable— I really do think sometimes that a sort of things occur to ME which occur to noone else, at least the[y]4 occur with a frequency which has no parallel There is another of my intimate acquaintance gone mad!—madder than twenty March hares—and as if I must needs be mixed up with all the madness that occurs in my sphere—the idea of her Monomania is, that her husband is my Lover!!— The poor creature (Mrs Anthony Sterling) has done nothing—absolutely nothing—these many years but read novels—and now I suppose we are witnessing the consummation of her futile existence!— It is more than a fortnight ago, that hearing accidentally shewas ill, I put on my things like a good Samaritan. and went off in the rain, to see whether I could be of any help— The servants looked strange at me—the Master looked strange—the whole house had an atmosphere of strangeness, which puzzled my unsuspecting mind— Anthony shut the door of the Library cautiously on himself and me—and then told me his wife was “out of her wits simply and shortly”— “Good gracious! I asked do you seriously mean that she is gone mad”?— Yes said he—she is at present in a decided state of Monomania—which the Drs say the slightest contradiction may drive into Hysterical phrenzy”— Monomania? said I and what is her particular idea?”— Her “particular idea” said Anthony with all the military composure in the world, “is, that I have fallen in love with you—that you are a dreadful person—and that I ruin myself in making you presents”!— Actually the poor wretch was raving one day about his (Anthony's) having given me my new dining room carpet and new piano— “She was sure it was he” !!! and all these base visions growing out of the one poor little fact of her husband's having once given me a crockery jug!! You may fancy if I sat very comfortable in my chair after this revealation He offered me wine, which I declined tho really needing it—as I also declined his offer to send the carriage home with me; tho' I should have been the better of that too—in short I conducted myself like an angel of discretion, and came away with all despatch—but MY discretion never succeeds the unhappy woman was told by one of John's5 children that I had been there, and forthwith fell into the Phrenzy which the Drs apprehended— For several days the poor Husband's state was truly pitiable—he could not leave her room a moment without her shrieking out that he was “going to walk with Mrs Carlyle”—and flinging the poker all about— At last she suddenly took a violent dislike to him and would not suffer his presence, which was so far good— He still keeps her in his own house—but shut up with three experienced attendants in a part of the house which is boarded off from the rest with improvised planks—lined with flock to prevent her noise being heard. It is very horrible—she is sometimes like to lay all waste and has to be put in a straight waistcoat— I wish she had chosen one of her maids or some other of her friends than myself to be jealous of—almost anybody would have been more feasable— Nevertheless Anthony tell[s]6 me this jealously has been an affair of some standing—tho' neither of us can recall a single circumstance that could have given a rational or even irrational ground for it— Meanwhile it is slightly annoying to have ones name uttered in shrieks, before assembled Drs and servants—and coupled with the most ignominious epithets. Happily I never liked her much, so that I can bear her misfortune like a christian—and her madness is of such a very repulsive sort that one cannot feel any tender sympathy with it7—fancy the meanness of the creature— On the night after my visit—Carlyle went up “to speak a word of comfort to poor Anthony” and she being not yet boarded off—nor contradicted in any of her caprices—sent her own maid to listen all the while at the Library door to hear what Carlyle and her husband were saying of her!!

Curiously enough—another married Lady of my acquaintance8not mad—has just at this moment—misfortunes never coming single—taken up a rabid jealousy of poor innocent me! Has done such absurd things in evidence thereof and made her husband do such absurd things that even Carlyle “has no longer a doubt of it” He Carlyle is making himself very merry at what he calls “the judgement come upon me” and calls me oftener than ‘Jane’ or ‘my Dear’ ‘Destroyer of the peace of families!’ This morning as I was sitting only half-awake over my coffee, he suddenly exclaimed—“just to look at you there, looking as if butter would not melt in your mouth, and think of the profligate life you lead”! As John Carlyle would say “it is very absurd”!— He John Carlyle is expected to arrive here this evening— God's will be done!—

I had a long visit from Walter—not the Liverpool Walter the least in the world, but the gentle, good, rational Walter of Cheyne Row9— I asked about his wife—“Oh” said he “my Wife—my wife is—just as you know her”—and that was all he would say on her subject— It is rather a Mercy for the peace of that family, that there are two hundred miles betwixt Falkner Street10 and Cheyne Row— Ann Jane11 is exactly the sort of woman to be jealous—of me!

And now with kisses world without end to all and several—I bid you adieu

Your affectionate cousin

Jane Carlyle

Send this letter on to Babbie—she has not had many lately—nor long ones—and I forgot to tell her of Mrs Anthony Sterling