April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO JOHN WELSH ; 13 December 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18441213-JWC-JWE-01; CL 18: 282-285


13th December [1844]

My dearest Uncle

I write to you de profundis—that is to say from the depths of my tub-chair, into which I have migrated within the last two hours out of the still lower depths of my gigantic red bed, which has held me all this week—a victim to “the inclemency of the season”! Oh uncle of my affection such a season! did you ever feel the like of it? Already solid ice in ones waterjug!— “poor Gardiners all froz out”1 and Capt Sterling going at large in a dress of skins, the same that he wore in Canada!2 I tried to make head against it by force of volition—kept off the fire as if I had been still at “Miss Hall's”3 where it was a fine of sixpence to touch the hearthrug, and walked, walked, on Carlyles pernicious counsel—(always so for me at least) to “take the Bull by the horns” instead of following Darwin's more sensible maxim: “in matters of health always consult your sensations.” And so by “by working late and early I'm come to what ye see”!4 in a tub chair—a little live bundle of flannel shawls and dressing-gowns—with little or no strength to speak of, having coughed myself all to fiddle-strings in the course of the week! and “in a dibble of a temper” if I had only any body to vent it on!

Nevertheless I am sure “I have now got the turn” for I feel what Carlyle would call “a wholesome desire”—to smoke! which cannot be gratified—as C is dining with Darwin—but the tendency indicates a return to my normal state of health. The next best thing I can think of is to write to thee;—beside one's bedroom-fire, in a tub-chair, the family-affections bloom up so strong in one!— Moreover I have just been reading for the first time Harriet Martineau's outpourings in the Athenaeum and “that minds me” as my Helen says that you wished to know if I too had gone into this devilish thing— Catch me! what I think about it were not easy to say, but one thing I am very sure of, that the less one has to do with it the better—and that it is all of one family with witch craft—demonaical possession—is in fact the selfsame principle presenting itself under new scientific forms and under a polite name. To deny that there is such a thing as animal magnetism, and that it actually does produce many of the phenomena here recorded is idle—nor do I find much of this, which seems wonderful because we think of it for the first time, a whit more wonderful than those Common instances of it which have never struck us with surprise, merely because we have been used to see them all our lives—every body for instance has seen children thrown almost into convulsions by some one going thro the motions of tickling them! Nay one has known a sensitive Uncle shrink his head between his shoulders at the first pointing of a finger towards his neck!—does not a man physically tremble under the mere look of a wild beast or fellow man that is stronger than himself— does not a woman redden all over when she feels her lovers eyes on her—how then should one doubt the mysterious power of one individual over another!—or what is there more surprising in being made rigid than in being made red? in falling into sleep than in falling into convulsions? in following somebody across a room—than in trembling before him from head to foot?— I perfectly believe then in the power of magnetism to throw people into all sorts of unnatural states of body— could have believed so far without the evidence of my senses, and have the evidence of my senses for it also— I saw Miss Bölte magnetized one evening at Mrs Buller's by a distinguished Magnetiser who could not sound his hs, and who maintained nevertheless that mesmerism “consisted in moral and intellectual superiority—” in a quarter of an hour by gazing with his dark animal-eyes into hers, and simply holding one of her hands, while his other rested on her head he had made her into the image of death—no marble was ever colder, paler, or more motionless, and her face had that peculiarly beautiful expression which Miss Martineau speaks of—never seen but in a dead face or a mesmerized one— Then he played cantrups [tricks] with her arm and leg and left them stretched out for an hour in an attitude which no awake person could have preserved for three minutes. I touched them and they felt horrid—stiff as iron—I could not bend them down with all my force—they pricked her hand with the point of a penknife she felt nothing—and now comes the strangest part of my story— The man who regard5 Carlyle and me as Philistines said, “now are you convinced?” “Yes said Carlyle there is no possibility of doubting but that you have stiffened all poor little Miss Bölte there into something very awful”—“Yes said I pertly but then she wished to be magnetized what I doubt is whether anyone could be reduced to that state without the consent of their own volition I should like for instance to see anyone magnetize ME!” “You think I could not”? said the man with a look of ineffable disdain—Yes said I—I defy you”!— “Will you give me your hand MISS”? “Oh by all means” and I gave him my hand with the most perfect confidence in my force of volition and a smile of contempt—he held it in one of his and with the other made what H Martineau calls some “passes” over it—as if he were darting something from his finger ends— I looked him defiantly in the face as much as to say, you must learn to sound your HS Sir before you can produce any effect on a woman like me! and whilst this or some similar thought was passing thro' my head—flash—there went over me from head to foot something precisely like what I once experienced from taking hold of a galvanic ball—only not nearly so violent— I had presence of mind to keep looking him in the face as if I had felt nothing and presently he flung away my hand with a provoked look, saying “I believe you would be a very difficult subject, but nevertheless if I had time given me I am sure I could mesmerize you at least I never failed with any one yet.” Now if this destroyed for me my theory of the need of a consenting will—it as signally destroyed his of moral and intellectual superiority—for that man was superior to me in nothing but animal strength as I am a living woman! I could even hinder him from perceiving that he had mesmerized me by my moral and intellectual superiority! Of the clairvoyance I have witnessed nothing—but one knows that people with a diseased or violently excited state of nerves can see more than their neighbours. When my insane friend6 was in this house he said many things on the strength of his insanity—which in a mesmerized person would have been quoted as miracles of clairvoyance— Of course a vast deal of what one hears is humbug—this girl of Harriets seems half diseased—half makebelieving—I think it a horrible blasphemy they are there perpetuating in exploiting that poor girl for their idle purposes of curiosity!. In fact I quite agree with the girl that had this Mrs Winyard lived in an earlier age of the world she would have been burnt for a witch—and deserved it better than many that were—since her poking into these mysteries of nature is not the result of superstitious ignorance but of educated self-conceit.7 In fact with all this amount of belief in the results of Animal magnetism I regard it as a damnable sort of tempting of Providence which I “as one solitary individual will henceforth stand entirely aloof from— And now having given you my views at great length I will return to my bed and compose my mind.

Love to all—thanks to Helen—with tremenduous kisses

Your devoted Niece

Jane Carlyle

that wretched little Babbie does not write because I owe her a letter—a letter from her would have been some comfort in these dreary days of sickness but since she has not bestowed it I owe her the less thanks—