JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE ; 23 September 1845; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18450923-JWC-TC-01; CL 19: 209-213
JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE
Tuesday [23 September 1845]
‘Nothink’1 for you today in the shape of enclosure; unless I enclose a letter from Mrs Paulet to myself which you will find as “entertaining,” to the full, as any of mine. And nothink to be told either, except all about the Play,2 and, upon my honour, I do not feel as if I had penny-a-liner-genius enough this cold morning to make much entertainment out of that— Enough to clasp one's hands, and exclaim like Helen before The Virgin and Child “Oh! how EXPENSIVE”!— But “how did the Creatures get thro' it”? Too well and not well enough! The Public Theatre, scenes painted by Stanfield,3 costumes “rather exquisite” together with the certain amount of proficiency in the Amateurs overlaid all idea of Private Theatricals and considering it as Public Theatricals the acting was “most insipid,” not one performer among them that could be called good, and none that could be called absolutely bad. Douglas Gerold seemed to me the best, the oddity of his appearance greatly helping him4—he played Stephen the Gull—Forster as Kitely and Dickens Captain Bobadil were much on a par—but Forster preserved his identity even thro his loftiest flights of Macreadyism,5 while poor little Dickens all painted in black and red, and affecting the voice of a man of six feet, would have been unrecognisable for the Mother that bore him! On the whole to get up the smallest interest in the thing one needed to be always reminding oneself “all these actors were once men!”6 and will be men again tomorrow morning! The greatest wonder for me was how they had contrived to get together some six or seven hundred Ladies and gentlemen (judging from the clothes) at this season of the year! and all utterly unknown to me except some half dozen! So long as I kept my own seat in the Dress Cirlcle7 I recognised only Mrs Macready—(in one of the four private boxes) and in my nearer neighbourhood Sir Alexander and Lady Gordon.8 But in the interval betwixt the Play and the Farce,9 I took a notion to make my way to Mrs Macready—John of course declared the thing “clearly impossible—no use trying it”—but a servant of the Theatre over hearing our debate politely offered to escort me where I wished, and then John having no longer any difficulties to surmount followed to have his share in what advantages might accrue from the change. Passing thro a long dim passage I came on a tall man leant to the wall with his head touching the ceiling like a Caryatide—to all appearance asleep, or resolutely trying it under most unfavourable circumstances! “Alfred Tennyson” I exclaimed in joyful surprise10— “Well!” said he taking the hand I held out to him and forgetting to let it go again. “I did not know you were in town” said I— “I should like to know—who you are”! said he—“I know that I know you but cannot tell your name”!— and I had actually to name myself to him— Then he woke up in good earnest, and said he had been meaning and was still meaning to come to Chelsea “But Carlyle is in Scotland” I told him with due humility. “So I heard from Spedding11 already, but I asked Spedding would he go with me to see Mrs Carlyle and he said he would.” I told him if he really meant to come he had better not wait for backing under the present circumstances. And then pursued my way to the Macready's box where I was received by William12 (whom I had not divined) with a “Gracious Heavens!” and spontaneous dramatic start, which made me all but answer “Gracious Heavens”! and start dramatically in my turn. And then I was kissed all round by his women—and poor Nell Gwyn—Mrs Millner Gibson13 seemed almost pushed by the general enthusiasm on the distracted idea of kissing me also! They would not let me return to my stupid place but put in a third chair for me in front of their box—and “the latter end of that woman was better than the beginning.”14 Macready was in perfect ecstasies over The Life of Schiller15—spoke of itwith tears in his eyes.
As “a sign of the Times,” I may mention that in the box opposite sat the Duke of Devonshire with Payne Collier!16 next to us were D'Orsay and “mi Laddy”!17— Between eleven and twelve it was all over—and the practical result? eight and sixpence for a fly and a headach for twentyfour hours!18 I went to bed as wearied as a little woman could be, and dreamt that I was plunging thro a quagmire seeking some herbs which were to save the life of—Mrs Maurice!19 and that Maurice was waiting at home for them in an agony of impatience while I could not get out of the mud-water!
Craik arrived next evening (Sunday) to make his compliments of “Kerrag [carriage]”—all he had to be thankful for, as his ticket was for another part of the House than Johns and mine20— Decidedly a man who cannot get in a finger without thrusting in a whole hand! Helen had gone to visit Numbers21—John was smoking in the Kitchen—I was lying on the sofa headachy leaving Craik to put himself to the chief expenditure of wind, when a cab drove up—Mr Strachey?22— No! Alfred Tennyson—alone!!! Actually; by a superhuman effort of volition he had put himself into a cab—nay brought himself away from a dinnerparty, and was there to smoke and talk with me! by myself me! But no such blessedness was in store for him— Craik prosed and John babbled for his entertainment, and I whom he had come to see got scarcely any speech with him.— The exertion however of having to provide him with tea thro' my own unassisted ingenuity (Helen being gone for the evening) drove away my headach; also perhaps a little feminine vanity at having inspired SUCH a man with the energy to take a cab on his own responsibility, and to throw himself on Providence for getting away again!
He staid till eleven; Craik sitting him out as he sat out Lady Harriet—and would sit out the Virgin Mary and Monsieur son Fils [her son] should he find them here—
What with these unfortunate mattrasses (a work of necessity) and other processes almost equally indispensable; I have my hands full—and feel “worried” which is worse— I fancy my earthquake begins to “come it rather strong” for Johns comfort and ease—but I cannot help that—if I do not get on with my work—such as it is—what am I here for? He is extremely mysterious—tells me nothing of his plans and asks nothing of mine beyond: “what hour is dinner today”? But I do not imagine he has any thought of Annandale—I heard him telling Robertson that he “was thinking of going to look at—the Scenery of the Wye”! This morning he told me that he “must give up the idea of staying a little while at Cheltnham—as the weather was grown too cold for it—” I never had heard of such idea— Once he asked me “how much it would cost to furnish a house in the style of ours”? he supposed we “might have about three hundred pounds worth of furniture here if it were all added up”— And to Helen, (his chief confidante) he stated that “his old lodging was always standing empty for him when he liked.” But not a word to anyone about Annandale— “He beats the worl”!—
What a long letter I have written for a woman in the thick of an earthquake— And I have not yet told you the most important thing of all Christie, taking Time by the forelock,23 has written a review of your Cromwell! It also beats the worl—and he has brought it to me to see what is to be done with it!— He came just as we were starting that night to The Play—and I was obliged to leave him almost immediately but not without tea before him— He had got some employment from Wheetstone24—expected more—was to return soon to tell me his whole case—meanwhile he left this M.S. in my hands and dazzled my eyes with a hideous oil-painting of his Wife—in proof of his rapid progress in the fine arts—
And now good by—with kind remembrance to all—
I was right— John is just come in, and asked “are you writing to Scotsbrig just now”? “Yes”! “Will you tell them then that I have concluded with my Land Lady to go into my old Lodging tomorrow”!— “You are not going to Annandale then, they seem to expect you there?”— “No! there is nothing to be done in Annandale at this Season”—
I cannot pretend to be sorry that he has concluded with his Landlady—