October 1845-July 1846

The Collected Letters, Volume 20


JWC TO MARGARET WELSH ; 28 February 1846; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18460200-JWC-MW-01; CL 20: 128-131


Monday [February—March 1846].

MY DEAR MRS. WELSH,—Curiously enough the thought you impute to me; ‘what mishap has befallen her now’ was the very thought that passed thro' my mind in opening your letter: but without reference to you the least in the world! the idea of any new sorrow having happened to you would have put itself into some kinder words. The fact is, your handwriting is very similar to that of a German friend of mine, here in London, from whom I hardly ever receive a note except to tell me something has gone wrong with her—thro' the cruelty of Destiny as she thinks—thro' her own want of patience and commonsense say others. Accordingly when I came to the words ‘only unqualified good to tell of’ and ‘quite naturalized in this family’ I stopt in astonishment and said to myself; ‘Miss Bölte must be going to die!’ nothing short of what we call ‘fee [on the verge of death]’ in Scotland, could have made her sensible of any ‘good’ in her lot, or satisfied with people's treatment of her— (She is a Governess this Miss Bölte— much esteemed in every family she has lived in—but too exacting ever to be content with the best treatment that one can get in a conditional World1)— Then my eye lighted on the date—and the puzzle was cleared up at once!—for it was just as like you as it was unlike her to make the best of things—and to get the better of Destiny by a patient, hopeful, loving heart. Oh yes my dear friend you have much to be thankful for! thro' all your troubles which might have saddened and embittered many a one, so as to have destroyed all her future comfort and usefulness in life, you have not lost but gained, in all that is most essential in life! When I think of you as I first knew you—a pretty gentle girl, but without any apparent capability for getting thro' the world, otherwise than by the help of others and the favour of a mild Destiny, and compare you as you were then with what I see you now—a thoughtful, quietly courageous, cheerfully and lovingly struggling woman, I can hardly regret for you the stern trials which have been the means of working this advancement. Not that I give all the credit of your present manner of being to Misfortune!—had the good qualities not lain in you even misfortune could not have developed them—we see plenty of people from whom trials seem only to take away the little strength they had to begin with— But had you been left to lead a tolerably easy life with my poor uncle—carried along by him, instead of having him to nurse and comfort and then to supply his place to helpless children—had you even never known the harassing cares of downright poverty—and been forced to look into your own soul to see what possible help lay there—and into the soul of what one calls Society to see how there, no help lies except for those who can help themselves—if all that had not been, I doubt if you would ever have grown into the estimable woman which all your late letters to me prove you to be. One thing I especially love you for—the way in which you speak—or rather—do not speak of Mrs. Robert!2—the bitterest expressions respecting that woman would have been excusable from you—but how much better is your silence!— When one can so bear injustice, one is in a manner proof against injustice. I fear the money-advantages she has endeavoured to secure for her children will be sorely counterbalanced by the taint of dishonour they are coupled with, and by the example of a self-seeking unjust Mother. Her eldest son John3 showed himself to me last spring—and until I am pretty well assured of his having entirely altered his figure will never be seen—willingly—by me again!— He wrote me a most flourishing letter, all about ‘natural affection’ and that sort of thing—concluding with an intimation that he intended shortly to be in London or a few days and hoped to be permitted to renew or acquaintance—commenced at four years old on his side.

Tho' my Husband's extreme occupation at the time, as well as the quiet and regular habits of a studious man's house were against my receiving a young, and probably restless and certainly sight-seeing stranger into it, I nevertheless let myself be seduced by his professions of ‘natural affection’; and urging on myself that if he was his Mother's son he was also his Father's and my Uncle's, I wrote inviting him to occupy my spare room during his stay—a position instantly accepted in a style that showed me the former letter had been written with no other motive but to provide himself a lodging free of expense— He arrived in due course—I was horribly agitated in the first moment of seeing him—so many old thoughts hung on him! but the first five minutes satisfied me that I had found no cousin here except in name. In fact one stood amazed before the obtuse assurance and barefaced egoism of that boy! He contradicted my husband—lectured him even, as if he had been the Angel Gabriel come amongst us! all my visitors he tried a wrestle at accursed Edinb. Logic with—whilst they were wondering at what ignorant savage I had picked up!— The wittiest and most high-bred woman of her time—a woman who is a sort of queen in London society—and deservedly— the Lady Harriet Baring—coming to tea one vening—was put to rights at every word—one might say bullied by this presumptuous youth as if she had had no more sense than a clucking hen! He staid three weeks! keeping me sitting up at nights for him till two and three in the morning—rushing out in without regard to anyone's convenience but his own—and finally took himself off—leaving me privately determined never to suffer him to sleep under my roof again thro' all eternity.

We are going on here much as usual—my husband busy over the 2nd edition of his Cromwell—and I doing the best I can in a state of health that never can be called good— This winter however I have avoided colds— partly from the mildness of the season and partly from having been out of London during November and December our most trying months—we were staying opposite the Isle of Wight at a beautiful place close on the Sea—with that same Lady Harriet Baring whom John Welsh amused beyond all the savage animals that she had ever seen! I went to Liverpool in July and remained till September at another sea place—Seaforth House— six miles from Liverpool with a Mrs. Paulet who is one of my dearest friends. Now, I hope we shall be stationary a while—for I cannot get used at all to the London fashion. …

Is there any town near you where booksellers send magazine-parcels from London! Mr. Carlyle was wishing to send you his Past and Present and could get it conveyed to Dublin in the beginning of the month free of expense but how would it reach you after?

My kind regards to your John 4 when you write— I hope when I see him I will not find it no go as with my other cousin.

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