The Collected Letters, Volume 25


JWC TO FANNY LEWALD; December 1850; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18501200-JWC-FLE-01; CL 25: 299-300


5 Cheyne Row / Chelsea / [early] December [1850]

I am not dead, dear Miss Lewald; at least not officially “dead and buried”; (for, between you and me, tho' I still get up, and lie down, and walk and talk and go thro the outward forms of being alive, I am not at all positive of the fact—have often enough uneasy doubts in my secret mind, that it is not real human Life that keeps me here on foot “sub aures [beneath the heavens]”; but some curious combination of galvanism and mechanism, which ‘the Father of Lies’1 is making experiment of in my human form. This Theory would account for many phenomena in my conduct, wholly inexplicable if I am to be regarded as a responsible agent, with a Conscience and a Will in me—would account for the shameful little fact, amongst others, that I should have let all these many weeks pass over without sending you one line of remembrance, and of thanks for your charming letters. To be sure since that day we took leave of one another in Sloane Square, as for a good while before, I have had worry on the back of worry; but I cannot expect you to accept that excuse for my silence; with so many examples before us of the possibility of writing letters “under difficulties,” from Frederick the Great who wrote one on the field of battle—the battle going against him too!—down to our last interesting Murderersthe Mannings,’ who corresponded up to the day of their hanging!2

You left me, I think, in a paroxysm of household virtue, training a servant-maid who had been sent me from the country, with no more knowledge than a sucking dove of the very A B C of Cooking! Alas! it was “no go“! A Woman of Genius might perhaps have learnt to roast and boil from my teaching, but this girl was unfortunately a blockhead—and her tepid and bloody attempts at preparing food for me ended in disgusting away the little appetite that illness had left me with. Then came Miss Bölte and exclaimed; “You are mad to dream of teaching to cook in your old age!” and with her usual headlong obligingness, which should be prayed against in the Litany not less than “Battle, Murder, and Sudden Death,”3 she set about seeking me a new servant “who should make my Life happy”— Meanwhile worn out with the squalid irksomeness of the whole thing, I accepted Lady Ashburton's invitation to stay a month at her beautiful place in the country, and there, with a houseful of gay brilliant people, amidst luxury and splendour, ‘world without end’ I lived as in a Fairy-Tale; only with the ever-present consciousness that it was a Fairy Tale, in which I had only the part and lot of an atrabiliar Reader! My Husband joined me there, and on our return to Chelsea the change of Servants had already been effected, thro the insistence and persistence of our inevitable friend— For once, I thought, she had really made a capital hit—the new woman seemed capable and willing, and I was entirely satisfied with her for—one day! the second day she was rather languid, the third she began to vomit her food, and by the end of the week was dangerously ill—the truth disclosing itself that she had been off and on at the Hospital for two years and was pronounced unfit for service!— I was thankful to get her into the Hospital again—half dead myself with nursing her besides doing her work— And it was three weeks of interregnum before I could “suit myself” (as the English phrase is)—three weeks, that I rushed about wildly, asking after “a general servant” before I found one to my own liking! Now it is all well in the kitchen department—and the house is restored to its normal state of good order—and there remains of all that revolutionary period only sooty remembrances, and the poor girl in the Hospital to look after— Miss Bölte says “what a luck I sent her to you or she might have died in the streets”!! It is pleasant always to see the bright side of one's own doings— Latterly I have had some pain and a great deal of fright from an accident that befell me—I am not however going to enter on that at the end of my paper when you have had already so much querulous egotism from me— Geraldine is doing well4—my kind regards to Mr Hartman.

Yours kindly

Jane Carlyle