January-September 1845

The Collected Letters, Volume 19


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH ; 6 February 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18450206-JWC-JW-01; CL 19: 22-26


Thursday [6 February 1845]

I pray thee dear Babbie, do not get into the apologetic vein— When there is a real grievance apologies mend nothing: when there is no real grievance they are uncalled for: so that in any case apology-making is sheer waste of human faculty. Write to me when you like and can, and be sure that to no one are your letters more dearly welcome—provided always that they be written on “the voluntary principle”: but do not take up writing to me as a duty; nor accuse yourself of “ingratitude” or any other vice when you have prefered doing other things than writing to me or even preferred doing nothing at all— When I am pained by your silence; it is not because you have not written but because you have felt no need to write and the worst I think of you in that case is, that (as they say in Scotland of certain human imperfections) “it is the waur [worse] for yoursell”— To exact of you that you should feel a need to write were exacting that which does not lie in your own power— Such needs grow up by grace of God—like the lillies1—and ourselves can neither make nor unmake them—if we obey their impulse when there, it is all that can be reasonably required of us— Perhaps too we may do a little towards the blossoming of such of our needs by attending to the general culture of the soil—as we may promote in ourselves wholesome tastes in diet by “attending to our general health” (as the medical phrase is) But when one sees a person eating raw vegetables or chalk even—and leaving his nourishing broth or roast meat—one does not dream of calling him ungrateful or any other bad word—one says merely that he will certainly do himself a mischief and that it is a pity he should not know better what is good for him.

I have been attending to my “general health” here in the literal sense of the term, till I am become thoroughly sick of the occupation—and doubtful whether keeping alive is worth all the fuss one makes about it. All the last week I have again been confined to the house and breakfasting in bed—the extreme cold threatening to bring back my cough—in fact I have only been four times out in all for the last nine or ten weeks—and then never further than Sloan Square— It is in such seasons that I find the advantage of having numerous lovers(!) The women to their shame be it spoken like me best when I am well, and when there is a chance of getting me to their stupid parties— But all my men vie with each other in delicate attentions to me when I am shut up—and I have really more society then than at other times; so that I can but keep out of my bedroom where it would be judged improper for an english woman to receive— There is one however whose attentions I would gladly deliver myself from if I only knew how with safety. I mean poor Plattnauer who is not only a severe trial to my own nerves whenever he comes, but a positive terror to the rest— Arthur Helps was saying the other day that I seemed to “keep that madman to frighten people away as Lord Byron used to keep a bear for that purpose.”2 It is not so much anything that he does or says that inspires apprehension so much as an idea which seems to haunt the mind of every one who sees him even as it haunts my own mind that he will do some dreadful mischief before all's done. I quite despair now of his ever being quite recovered—the madness looks to have got ingrained in him and the best to be hoped is that he may subside into a half-sane half-fatuous state like Mr Crystal's3— But it will depend I think on his life going on much more smoothly than is at all likely, that he do not make a second outbreak—and the second I am sure will make him a maniac for life— So no wonder that I fear to drive him away or do anything to hasten this horrid possibility— Sometimes he will transact the whole visit without saying anything that would give a stranger the impression he was mad but there is an everlasting chase of strange expressions over his face and his manner has lost all its calm and courtesy—

Last Sunday Mr Fleming4 came while he was here, and very soon he gave indications of thinking that his (Mr F's) visit was prolonging itself needlessly— He started from his chair at last, seized the Cat—danced her in the air a while like a Baby—then pitched her on the floor—and asked if he might go up stairs for some of his books still here— I said by all means—and he went off—not up stairs but down to the kitchen where he marched to and fro smoking and talking very loud to Helen— I am certain in my private mind that he went away because he felt that if he stayed he would do Mr Fleming a mischief— He told me once already how tempted he had been to “seize the poker and dash out the brains” of a little Aberdeen man who sat “talking the horridest stuff to me, which no woman but myself could have listened to; for three deadly hours”!5 Oh for a good inspiration how to put a peacable end to these visits, the chief indeed sole interest of which has come to be the question ever in my mind; will he or will he not to day or some other day do to myself or one of the others some mortal harm? Poor Mr Fleming! he is the greatest coward, that man, out of petticoats! and on Sunday he was even more cowardly than usual having just transacted an inflamation of the bowels— So there he sat all in a tremble— perceptibly to the naked eye,—and then hurried off an hour before he would have gone in the course of nature—

Geraldine's Publisher has just been here and said he would apply to me to bail him if he were taken up for bringing out Zoe!—divers individuals, among the rest Mrs C. Hall6 (Geraldines kind friend) having told him that it would do him no good as a publisher, that it was “a most dangerous book shaking the foundations of all sound doctrine!” I engaged to bail him with my head against the book's having any serious consequence of any sort! He seemed all the while content with its success so far—it is talked about and that is the great point—for a publisher; whether for praise or blame is a secondary question—besides it has been more praised than blamed as yet.7 Among those who have read it of my own acquaintance its warmest admirers are just the two whom I should have said would hate it most—Darwin and Arthur Helps—Darwin who is what you know—the type of English gentleman, the “Sir Brown” (Indiana's Ralph)8 in real life—Arthur Helps again is a man of the deadly sensible sort, moral to the finger ends, holding much by all the existing respectabilities he is the Author of Intervals of Business—Claims of Labour and two Tragedies remarkable for their prosaic rationality.9 Arthur Helps moreover (to satisfy your idle curiosity) is No 210—and I suppose you are none the wiser for I believe you never saw either him or his pretty little button of a wife— By the way who was the other who “once before remarked on my manner of shaking hands with Darwin”11—I have quite forgotten— But dont you see that there must be something “truly” extraordinary (as Elizabeth Pepoli12 would say) in this Darwin-hand-shake! Since Mr Helps complained of it, Plattnauer has said to me; that I “shook hands with Darwin as if I wished to show all others how little I cared for them”!!! And poor good Darwin never himself to have noticed this “the least in the world”!13 like the Shepherds in Virgil “too happy in not knowing his happiness”!14

Geraldine is to send me this week a learned Egyptian of all things in the world! actually a living, breathing follower of Mahomet, who has at home in Egypt a harem and all that sort of thing, and is a man of many virtues and talents.15 selon [according to] Geraldine. He is to bring something that she has made or rather got somebody to make to keep my feet warm. I must say so far as I am concerned she has been showing to advantage of late months— In the fuss and flurry of finding herself just emerged into publicity, and busy too as busy can be, in translating a pamphlet for Mazzini who has not allowed her hal[f] time enough, she has nevertheless not failed a single time to send me the long weekly letter which a while ago she made it a fixed rule with herself to write me every Sunday— And the best of it is that she never so much as speaks of expecting an answer! If I give her one letter for four or five she thinks I have done well. When Mazzini saw her last half dozen little sheets he held up one hand and said quite touched—“but, my Dear, that is goodness! that is more clever than Zoe! for upon my honour I have sent her last week work enough to leave her not time to eat—and it is all done”!16

Mazzini thinks Zoe full of talent, and the boldness which may be a fault for “an English” is for him “rather good”—but he dislikes the book for its want of womanness—“it is the book of what shall I say—a man upon my honour!”

Carlyle is now got about as deep in the Hell of his Cromwell as he is likely to get—there is a certain point of irritability, and gloom which when attained I say to myself “now Soul take thy ease—such ease as thou canst get—for nothing worse can well be!”17 Desperation in that case induces a sort of content. Still I wish the Spring would make haste and favour my getting out of doors—for the (moral) atmosphere within doors is far too sulphury and brimstoneish

I am glad at what you say of my Uncle— Tell Helen with much love not to give over writing because you are come home18—the less she leaves it to you to do the writing of the family the better—

I told my Helen of the fright she got about the Cook having “a little daughter”— “Oh” said Helen! “Such a thing!—I never thoct but you were going to say the woman had born it in the room and I was just concerned to think what a mess it would have made!!” love to all

Ever yours /