April-December 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 18


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 27 December 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18441227-JWC-HW-01; CL 18: 298-300


Friday [27 December 1844]

Dearest Helen

Your kind letter and gift along with a packet from Babbie were brought up to me in bed yesterday morning with my breakfast—at an hour when there is no post from either Liverpool or Scotland!— Today I have ascertained the meaning—your's had been missent to Camberwell!1 and, the post men having half a holiday on Christmas, Babbie's packet having arrived by the afternoon post was not delivered till the following morning Provoking enough that my dear little cousins should have been thus hindered in their good thought to enliven my Christmas day—but so far as myself was concerned I am not sure that I was not a gainer by having the pleasure arrive so “promiscuously”— Kindness is kindness on the 26th of December all the same as on the 25th—and at that unusual hour of the morning it came with the additional charm of a most complete surprise. Nay as to Babbie the surprise was at the same time a prodigious relief— I had made myself sure of a letter from her on Christmas day. She had not failed to write to me a long long letter every Christmas day. since we knew each other, and when none came—only a letter from Geraldine and another from Plattnauer I had been so vexed with her so provoked that she should let herself be “the victim of circumstances” to such a questionable length—so convinced from this last trait of her indolence that she was a Babbie all spilt on the ground and that could not be gathered! that I could really have cried—nay I am not sure but I did cry a little—certainly I did vent my spleen in flinging poor Geraldines letter into the fire—of course after reading it. And to find that after all my Babbie had not “failed in her truth”—that it was merely her Majesty's postmen who had had a half-Holyday —Oh I assure the relief to my “finer sensibilities of the heart” was considerable! And to find that you also my good girl had been thinking of me, working for me—and to such beautiful purpose—that little letter-case delights me in every sense—one would say you had read the essay I wrote for my own edification some time ago on Lady's work!2 wherein I lamented over the quantity of time which women fling away in producing results which a little taste and ingenuity could produce in what one calls “no time”—had you leaned over an embroidery frame for half a year you could not have produced a prettier letter-case or one more to my liking than this same—and the little memorandum book seemed also sent in the spirit of divination—as repeatedly of late—(before I was confined to the house) I had been saying to myself on finding that I had forgotten half the odds and ends I had gone out for to seek “certainly I ought to buy myself a memorandum book!” Thank you Dear and a hearty kiss to you—your pains have not failed in the object—to give me pleasure

I had another surprise—very great—on the Christmas day—almost “too great for anything” in fact— You know I dare say Carlyles sacred horror of shopping— To such an extent had he brought it that he could never be induced to order even his own coats and trowsers at the tailors until three or four years ago that having sent me to get him a coat; I ordered one sky blue with yellow buttons which made him “an ornament to society in every direction”3—and quite shook his faith in my judgement (he told me) “so far as the dressing of him was concerned”— You may imagine then what a thing it must be for a man thus puzzled to buy his own indispensables when he has not only to buy but devise a present for some one— Accordingly he never dreamt of making me presents till in these last three years that a most kind and considerate motive has induced him to give me something on birthdays and newyears days—but the pleasure of receiving his little gifts is always spoiled for me by thinking of the plague he must have had in realizing them—with such a habit of mind! So I asked him the other day to promise that he would do what I asked without knowing what it was—on assurance that the thing was easy and rational—and then when he had promised—I told him he was not to give me anything on new years day! He laughed very much and repeated that he would not— But to reconcile his promise with his wish to show his kindness—what does he do but sally forth and buy me a present for Christmas and in a fit of audacity almost incredible the thing he chose to buy was—a cloak!—a womans cloak!—and when he came in on Christmas morning to ask how I was he cunningly slipt it down on the chair at the bottom of my bed where I first noticed it when I was putting on my clothes at midday it happened that just at that moment I was thinking of the warm dressing-gown which was to be sent him every Christmas by her4—and all the flannel petticoats and night-caps and thoughtful things of her own making for myself; my heart was full of sorrow—and just then I saw on the chair what seemed a new dressing-gown—like the former ones—there was something perfectly bewildering in the vision—I stood staring at the thing uncertain if I was going mad and merely fancying to see it. At last in a sort of desperation I laid hold of it and found it was a woman's cloak—and then I understood the whole matter—but I was made horribly sad and nervous by it for the whole day. Poor Carlyle! his gift deserved to have excited gladder feelings—however I did my best to look glad over it before him— And he was much consoled by my assurance that it would be worn— He had bought it “by gass light” he said—and “felt quite desperate about it when he saw it in the morning”— But it is a wonderful cloak for him to have bought—warm, and not very ugly—and a good shape—only entirely unsuitable to the rest of my habiliments! being a brownish colour with orange spots and a brown-velvet collar!!

But Oh the head of me does ache today!— So I must have done.

Love and kisses—

[no signature]

C will try to rake up the song5 out of his memory—or at least what of it is recoverable— The old ballad singer from whom he got it last time is long dead