The Collected Letters, Volume 26


JWC TO LADY AIRLIE; 15 October 1851; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18511015-JWC-LAI-01; CL 26: 207-208


5 Cheyne Row / Chelsea Wednesday [15? October 1851]

Dear Lady Airlie,

Since the day that I left you in the trousseau-room at Alderley, I have written some fifty letters, I should think,—more or less flowingly,—to correspondents old and new; how comes it then,—I wish some Clairvoyant, or Physiologist, or other exceptionally deep-knowing human Being would tell me:—that to you, who have been oftener and more kindly in my thoughts than some of these others, & to whom moreover I had promised to write soon, no letter should have yet got itself written by me?— I have given myself a variety of reasons for this silence, some absurd enough to make a cat laugh—but the most reasonable reason, and the only one that will bear being offered as an excuse is this. I find myself in a false position with you as a correspondent! Don't misunderstand me; I do not mean that you being a brilliant young Countess, and I a poor Philosopher's elderly wife, there should be thro' that any difficulty in our writing to one another. My life has been too much made up of strong contrasts that I should feel the external discrepencies between us at all perplexing for me at this date—but the false position which bothers me is an accident, produced by your lovely enthusiasm, by your—what shall I say? passion for genius and wisdom and “all that sort of thing”! My Husbands writings and speech have found a quick response in your noble nature—you feel enthusiastically grateful to him for giving you high aspirations, and strengthening you for good. And therein you do well; People who elevate and strengthen us in this modern world being so woefully scarce; one can hardly be too grateful to that man or woman who does us that benefit or even honestly strive to do it. But you go further—by the transfiguring light of your “beautiful enthusiasm” you contrive to see a sort of a Teacher even in me!—not because you ever heard any wisdom from me, or have any ground for believing me wise, the least in the world; but just because I am Mr Carlyle's Wife!1— Now this is what I mean by being in a false position towards you—I am here receiving a certain sentiment of consideration from you, which I feel to be given me on false pretences and not feeling in myself—loving you as I do—the straightforward virtue to wholly disclaim it; I should like to keep up your illusion of Faith, so flattering to me, by writing you, not such offhand letters as I write to others, and as nature prompts me to write, abounding in nonsense rather than in sense, but instead, little exquisite sheetfuls of—what shall I say?—female Carlyleism! I should like— —but no good ever comes of trying to pass for wiser or better than one is—and in any case the thing is frankly impossible to me. So I have decided on making you this little foolish avowal once for all—and writing henceforth, so long as you choose me to write, on the veracious principle of having no wisdom of my own “to speak of”!

I heard of you two or three days ago from Miss Farrer—that you were “happy there,” and “delighted with everything”—good news for me, who wish you all the happiness possible in a conditional world,2 from the bottom of my heart— Miss Farrer wrote me a lively good humoured letter along with “a homage of two chickens” from her Norfolk residence. I am glad you have written to her for I know she loves you, and there is much good in her.

Mr C made out his visit to the Ashburtons at Paris but it seemed to be rather a failure— Lady A confined indoors with cold all the while, and Mr C ruined in his sleep, by a beautiful Time piece in his bedroom which “struck even the half hours”! and by the want of “a four posted bed” &c &c. He returned after a week in a most domestic frame of mind, bringing little Nero a homage of a new collar and leading string!— The Ashburtons are now at the Grange— Lady A kindly invited me there for three weeks along with the Taylors3—but but—I confess to finding the Taylors too boring, for being lived in the same house with a second time! Besides I had been about so long! and my soul as well as my household affairs, were getting out of order and needing to be sorted up,—

Do write to me and tell me how you pass your time, everything about you will be always interesting for me— Yours affectionately

Jane Carlyle