January-September 1845

The Collected Letters, Volume 19


JWC TO HELEN WELSH ; 9 January 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18450109-JWC-HW-01; CL 19: 8-10


[9 January 1845]

My dearest Helen

My plot has been thickening till it has seemed really as tho it would come to “a regular fix”— Some five days ago Helen1 came in from washing the door steps and bursting into tears, informed me that she “really thought she was going to die—could at all events no longer keep her legs”!— Then on questioning her, it came out that she had had “the dreadfulest cold” for a week, and had “kept it out of sight and taken no sort of care of it” because it seemed “so impossible for her to get being ill at the same time as me”—and so now she could no longer “keep her legs” and was broken down as is her usual way into a cowardly distraction after “the disclosure, proportionate to her foolhardiness before it— For me, who had not been down to my kitchen for six or seven weeks nor done all that while anything whatever in the Cinderella line, but on the contrary had been needing to have several things done for me—the pouring out of my breakfast for example—which I am in the habit of doing for myself, this sudden incapability of my one maid was rather awful—especially as for all the time I have been living in Chelsea I have never yet succeeded in discovering any respectable woman to bring in on such sudden emergencies—nothing more efficient than one Martha—a child—whom Jeanie knows to her sorrow2—nevertheless I retained sufficient presence of mind to administer a large dose of physic to the creature on the spot—and then tying an additional shawl over my own head fell to making beds and doing other inevitabilities with as much willingness of spirit as I could put into flesh so very weak3— Martha was procured—and John Carlyle came and prescribed—ipechacuan4—lozenges for Helen—one whole ounce of which she eat up in one evening without being sick! which did seem to me most “mis-taire-us”!5 And so all these days the house has exhibited a sort of human game of battledore and shuttle-cock—little Martha being the shuttlecock kept flying between the upper and under premises—where Helen and I as battledores kept ever giving her a new impulse— Today Helen is rushing into the back court in the rain as if nothing ailed her tho' she has still a most horrible cough—but to prevail on that creature to excercise anything like reason or consistency is entirely a futile attempt. So much for the material state of matters— The moral is not much better— A week ago my mad friend6 walked in (if indeed that epithet be now any distinction so many of my friends having become “mads7—One look sufficed to show me that he returned no saner than he went—indeed on his first visit both Carlyle and I thought him very much worse the expression of his countenance having got a certain ferocity in it and his manner being very irascible—but this I suppose had been merely the effect of the excitement and fatigue of travelling from Paris hither without any rest—for the two times that he has been back, since that first day of his arrival in London, I have found him not terrible as he was then—but merely bewildered and foolish— I wish to heaven however that in my present weak state he would not haunt me,—I cannot refuse him admission for fear of driving him to some outbreak, and—really he leaves me always with my head nearly as turned as his own— If I did not care about him I might be amused with his vagaries they are so extraordinary—but he is so good thro all—and I like him so well—and his present course seems leading so surely to permanent confinement in a lunatic Asylum that the sight of him makes me horribly sad

Mrs Sterling is grown very peacable her Husband says8—“takes everything now by the soft handle”9—but there is no reason to believe that her private feelings towards me have undergone any favourable change— Since her Dr commanded her to cease from railing at me she has obeyed— but one day there occurred a little incident which showed her silence was mere compulsory— She was dressing the hair of one of her little nieces and the boy Edward10 who was looking on (just come home for holydays) exclaimed (surely inspired by the Devil) “Oh that is very pretty! that is just the way Mrs Carlyle wears her hair”! Whereupon his Aunt threw down the comb and said sharply “we do not speak of that person here”— Afterwards on the children leaving the room she said to their Governess—“Just think of that!—even that boy must talk about her”! She professes to be grown so fond of her husband again that she cannot suffer him a minute out of her sight—“which says Anthony is really excessively tiresome” but besides the fondness he fancies she is always in fear of his coming here— And so he comes rarely—and by stealth—without carriage or servants—like a man going to rob a hen roost!—which I consider a quite false position in which to place either himself or me— He ought decidedly either to come in the face of day—to say to the woman “these people are my friends and I will go to see them occasionally—and there is no wrong in my going—and so you had better just reconcile yourself to the idea of it—or go mad again if you like that way of it better”—or else if he considers humouring her to be his properest course he ought to come here and say—“you see how I am oppressed by a distracted wife—she is my wife however and I must consult her whims before all eslse11—and so since I cannot see you any more without pain to her farewell and God bless you” either of these courses would beseem him—but the middle-course—coming here in secret beseems none of us and if he do not get to find this out for himself pretty soon I shall tell him or make Carlyle tell him to stay away— I have plenty more mad work to tell you of but I am tired for today— I am still confined to the house—my cough is very obstinate this time—tho' I eat rasins for it world without end—I really think they tend to mak me sleep!!

If you want a book for my Uncle's reading I can tell you a very nice one which I have just finished The Camp of Refuge—it makes two of Knights weekly volumes for all readers12—if it be not in the libraries you will get it to buy for two shillings—and it is well worth more money

Love and kisses in profusion—

Ever your own /