April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


TC TO LADY HARRIET BARING ; 22 December 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18441222-TC-LHB-01; CL 18: 292-296


Chelsea, 22 decr, 1844—

My dear Lady Harriet,— One brief word from me today;—which it is questionable whether I have the right to write, did not circumstances impel me. You have done a beneficent, humane and right thing; for which we are all very grateful to you here, of which I for one am very proud!

It is now some three weeks or more since the mad German,1 whom you once heard me speak of, whose roamings had led him incidentally to Nice wrote to my Wife: “Lady Harriet Baring, who is here also” (we had some inkling of that!) “proposes to take poor Miss Bölte into her own house.” Since that we have heard the same kind tidings by repeated posts; now off, now on; that it would not be necessary, that it would;—and yesterday a Note from Mr Baring certifies us that it is definitively so arranged; that Bölte is to go to you, so soon as she is fit to be removed; that you take charge of the poor Bölte, and give her shelter,—you, interposing as a goddess, since mortals will not! May you never repent it, my dear Friend;—you never will, I think. We are very sorry for the trouble you are like to have; but that, since it proves necessary, must be undergone: your act, so far as I understand it, is a real subject of satisfaction to me.

In fact there have come nothing but disastrous, bad, confused news from the Buller side of Nice, ever since you wrote. As if mere “Chaos” had broken loose there; and the Night-Empire were threatening to break in, presided over by Unwisdom! Sickness, disaster, distraction,—“houses too small,”—dark nameless Figures occupying place there, with whom the Daughters of Light could have no communing,—and poor Bölte lying sick, insane, among strangers in a hôtel; apparently sick to death,—and no use for her recovering if she could! Of all this I pretend to understand little, except that it did seem a real bit of Chaos come again,2 and that it was like to end as Tragedies do with the loss of life. My Wife has been in great trouble about poor Bölte; almost daily talking of her; I daily taking upon me to assert as if I saw it: “Well, there is one person there who will not see the utmost extremities arrive without interfering in some right and generous way to see Humanity and Reason take effect in the sphere she inhabits!” And so it proves. Very pleasant it has been to me, Ma Dame [My Lady], to figure you all along as a Beam of Light in that miserable element of Darkness; spreading round you what of order, settlement, humanity, good sense and nobleness was possible there. My blessings on you;—mine, and those of the afflicted and the stranger that was forsaken within your Gates!3 Poor Fleming, who seems to come here every Sunday (tho' I keep carefully up stairs), says, “It is a noble trait of Lady Harriet”:— Yes, Fleming, my man. In fact, we are all most grateful to the said Lady, and some of us, as I mentioned before, are partly proud of her in a silent way.

What you are to do with poor Bölte will, I suppose, gradually become clearer. I fear she cannot but be somewhat in your way: for Heaven's sake let not her interfere with your health, or the means towards it! I think, in black days, “There is but one thing wanting now: to hear that she is fallen unwell!”— Bölte seemed to me always a decisive, hardy, useful-looking, clear-sighted nimble little creature;—in whom there were utilities of many kinds, and nothing to be noted but utilities and general wholesomeness of mind. I have of late begun to apprehend there might be some hysterical flaw in her constitution; the Mesmeric phenomena first set me upon this:4 I remember also having noted, with amazement in one so calm and practical, some mad notion she seemed to have of getting to be Governess in the Queen's House itself: some Kämmerfrau [Lady in waiting] or the like had given her a Letter to some Dutchess which, Bolte was of opinion, surely should and would carry it! This has often recurred to me since I saw that Mesmeric Operation. I have also noticed a certain want of reticence in Bölte. But I believe she has firstrate talents for teaching, and is a thoroughly honest creature. What drawbacks there are, and what good possibilities for her, what you are wisely to do with her while she remains with you; all this your own discernment will teach you far better than I or mine ever could. And so I will leave it with you; very confident that some good will come of the matter, begun as it has been, carried on as it is like to be.— Well, it is beautiful to be a Queen:—but there are few that can do it, even when the equipments for the office are all there! Alas, the equipments will do little, when the Queen's self is not there!—

One good result I anticipate from this good deed: that you will now actually learn German. It is a thing I wish you to do, as you have many times heard from me; it is perhaps really worth your doing! There is no reading elsewhere in the least comparable to German for one like you. Reading elsewhere is but a very questionable matter, for most part! Maurice the Puseyite Clergyman5 and I were agreed, the other night, that it might be a real benefit if one generation of Englishmen were fairly born dumb, or could have their tongues all cut out, and be totally debarred the use of pen and ink,—that so they might try what of wisdom Nature did acknowledge to be in them, not what of plausibility and frothy talk about wisdom a poor longeared quack-ridden Public could be persuaded to regard as wise! This, you will admit, was a bold expedient.

But in regard to German let me tell you of a small godsend that came to me the other day. It is a Mask of Goethe's Face; taken after death, they say; but they have altered the lips and eyes so that it looks like life;—and is indeed the liveliest representation of the man to me that I have ever yet seen. One Scheffer a Paris Painter sent it, whom I had not personally known before. The Duke of Weimar,6 it seems, sent a copy to Scheffer, and Scheffer made this for me. Many thanks to him. I look with an indescribable feeling into this actual facsimile of the face of a man that was so important to me. Thus was it; thus is it not no more;—it has vanished away again, there remains nothing of it but this dumb lump of lime! We are such stuff as Dreams are made of. We need not go to Mesmerism for miracles!— I hope you will like this face of Goethe; and call it with me a King's face. “Voilà un homme qui a eu beaucoup de chagrins [There is a man who has had many sorrows],” said the Frenchman on looking at it. Not properly chagrin, said Goethe, but hard work as he went along.

Of myself at present, still less of the world round me, I can tell you nothing. I have “chagrins” enough in that sense; but they amount to little, for myself or others. I am very solitary, not willingly idle. My beautiful Blotting-book receives very little from me; the more is my sorrow! Yet I do put leaves into it; I kiss its hands (in imagination), and wish there were more. You must be patient with me; in time I shall do better. It is such a piece of work as I never tried in this world before. I do at least sit solitary; encompassed only with shadows dead and living.— Pusey7 came in to me one day: it was in our tempestuous frost; he had come to the Cattleshow, where our poor Prince gained the prize for pigs.8 He was shaggy with wool, that day, my friend Pusey; girt up in pilot coats, comforters, leggings; rough as the Russian Bear to look upon; but mild of voice, mild of mind;—a man I really like. He was too polite to press his Christmas upon me; but signified that Bunsen &c Alas, Bunsen is not beautiful to me! We parted with the mutual wish to meet again.

Not of myself, but of yourself, my Lady! I have a thousand things I want to know;—which you will tell me when the good hour comes! I do not need Letters to keep you in my mind,—not that at any rate: neither do I think you have forgotten me when you are silent. I tell you again, your silences are more eloquent than any other person's words! Write when it is not a trouble to you; I will be patient and thankful.

For one thing can you spend a word for me upon the Brougham business;9—it is not worth many either to you or to me: but I could like to know what figure it assumed, whether the catastrophe has yet come. Surely all sane and honourable souls are called upon, each according to its opportunity, to cast away that singular incarnated Fraction of Bedlam; and say to it in fit dialect, “Singular Fraction of Bedlam, to commune with thee is not profitable for me; not to me for one:— Go!”

I never told of your seeing Charles Austin in the Bagnes [Bagnio]— I keep it hanging over you in case of bad behaviour. For the rest, it was perhaps all right. There is a cadaverous voracity in that countenance, an energy as of Gowles and unclean Spirits, which sometimes do go awry; indeed which properly never go aright: whether they arrive at Chancellor's Wigs or Travaux Forçés [hard labor] is quite a minor circumstance!10— Nor have I forgotten Avignon, and the figure I saw walking on the Castle-ramparts there, looking over the Rhone Valley! It is the last pretty sight I saw in those southern quarters:11 a little bit of World-history for me. Do you know who the great Fact of the Age is? We know who the great Lie is, very well!— Adieu, my own Friend. / T. Carlyle