JANE WELSH CARLYLE'S “The simple Story of my own first Love”; 2002; DOI: 10.1215/ed-30-simple-story-of-my-own-first-love; CL 30: firstpage-30-173-lastpage-30-194
[This is a slightly altered version of K. J. Fielding's introduction to “The simple Story of my own first Love” (Edinburgh, 2001) 3–13.]
The manuscript belongs to private owners, who wish to remain private. It is something like an exercise book, 8 by 6½ inches (20 by 16.5 cm.), with a lightly marbled thin card cover. At the top of the front cover is a tiny label, on which TC has written “3o,” and below it, in irregular brackets, he has written in ink: “end of 1852:— child love. Not heard of before (Burn? No! 3 Augt 1866)—.” This was about a week before he had finished his memoir of “Jane Welsh Carlyle” (Carlyle, Reminiscences 40–199). Inside its front cover Alexander Carlyle penciled, “Life 1. 121 / Life 1. 285,” referring to Froude, Carlyle. There are a few notes by TC on the manuscript, all recorded in the footnotes. Alexander confined himself to clarifying the readings of various words by writing them above the line: this occurs particularly where the manuscript is marked by a stain (perhaps hot candle grease) going through several pages. The booklet has forty lined pages, or twenty leaves, of which the top half of the first leaf has been torn away. This missing half leaf left a stub showing quotation marks, possibly suggesting that the booklet was begun as a commonplace book, though the quotations left from Twelfth Night and La Rochefoucauld appear to belong with the story.
The manuscript is accompanied by Alexander's typed copy, used when he was preparing his version of the story for NLM 2:47–57. The copy has a few of his jotted notes, but they have nothing positive to tell; they were evidently made in the course of trying to rebut Froude, and only tell us a little more about Alexander.
The text is taken from the manuscript. Within a few conventions, transcription is as close as reasonably possible. Superscript letters are brought down and italicized; anything in square brackets is editorial, and any brackets within the text are given as rounded, however written. Most of JWC's decidedly eccentric spelling and punctuation has been followed; occasionally, letters or words have been introduced in square brackets for clarity. Some consistency has been introduced for her quotation marks within other quotation marks. The manuscript is presumably a second draft, copied out with care. This is shown, for example, by the way that the long footnote about JWC's Latin studies flows over five pages, separated from the few lines of text by a double line. There are some minor deletions and changes, not footnoted.
Both Froude and Alexander Carlyle tried to make use of “Child Love” (as they called it, using TC's note on the cover as a title) to support their different interpretations of JWC; and, in order to do so, they strangely accepted the tale as not just unquestionably autobiographical but as giving a precise report of what TC actually said. Froude says that he took his quotations from “a note-book written long after,” which contains the “curious entry” from “What the greatest philosopher” to “open his mouth upon it.” He also tidies up the spelling (see Froude, Life 1:285–86). And he uses it to argue that, even in 1825 when the couple were approaching marriage, TC was “not in love” but merely admired and “loved” JWC “in a certain sense,” because anyone who had really known “the thing called love,” could not possibly have made the quoted remarks to “the object of his affection.” It is too absurdly curious a reading of the story to need unraveling!
Yet Froude's comment was taken up by Alexander Carlyle, in his corrective New Letters and Memorials. He wondered whether Froude had left “Child Love” out of the Life because it would remind readers of the absurdity (in Alexander Carlyle's opinion) of Froude's account of JWC's childhood “Irving Episode” (NLM 2:47–48), where Froude had said that even when Irving was facing his marriage, his “real love” was for his old pupil, JWC, and that “the feeling on her part was—the word is her own—‘passionately’ returned” (Froude, Life, 1:127). Alexander Carlyle attacked Froude's line once morein his note quoting Dr. Welsh's account book record of payments to Irvingfor tutoring the child. He pointed out that JWC would have been 11 at the time Froude claimed she was “passionately in love with Irving!” To which Alexander sarcastically adds, “This would probably be her second case of ‘Child-love’” (NLM 2:207). Both editors were either confused or controversially dishonest. It should, of course, be remembered that she and Irving had met from time to time after he left Haddington and before he introduced her to TC.
Froude had also already quoted the long footnote from the tale about JWC's learning Latin, first saying (what must be true) that “her tutor introduced her to ‘Virgil,’ and the effect of ‘Virgil’ and her other Latin studies was to change her religion and to make her a sort of ‘Pagan.’ In one of her old note-books I find an allusion to this.” He then gave the entire footnote in his own style (Froude, Carlyle 1:121–22); but it did not enter his head to convey that it had been embedded in a distinct story.
It remains debatable how far it really was a simple story and how far fiction or the “fact of things.” JWC has to speak largely for herself, with only some brief comments here on when she wrote and to what she refers.
The introductory quotations from Shakespeare and La Rochefoucauld seem to have been left after some leaves were torn out because they belong with a story about love. They are also witness to how far TC was mistaken in his apparently snappish remarks about love and Thackeray, which need some explanation. What Thackeray has to say about Love cannot be explained without referring to his novel Esmond; and understanding Esmond depends on seeing how it expresses what Thackeray felt about Jane Brookfield and his relations with her husband, the Reverend William Brookfield (see 19:xiii). The three of them were linked (as the Carlyles were) with Lady Harriet and Lord Ashburton, Esmond being explicitly dedicated to the latter. And the whole affair leads into what the novel has to say about marriage and love, which TC so disliked and JWC admired (see below). None of this comes out in Charles and Frances Brookfield's Mrs Brookfield and Her Circle, notoriously incomplete for what it tells of Thackeray's devotion to their mother.
However much it is simplified, the account remains slightly complicated. Thackeray had been at Cambridge with William Brookfield. From about 1845 he came to know the couple well; there was a close friendship between the three of them; and, in the absence of Thackeray's insane wife, Isabella, from whom he lived apart, the susceptible Thackeray and his friend's wife grew more strongly and sentimentally attached. The novelist wrote whimsically devoted letters to her; Jane Brookfield enjoyed his admiration; and Brookfield happily let it pass, since however warmly the adoring Thackeray felt and expressed himself, the intimacy was strictly verbal rather than physical. So all proceeded without exception and hardly a raised eyebrow among William Brookfield and their friends until, in 1849, one of Jane Brookfield's cousins, Harry Hallam, pointedly drew Brookfield's attention to the relationship. It was apparently then that they became uncomfortably sensitive to the situation, though it was not until 1851 that a tremendous row broke out.
The exact circumstances are not clear. Thackeray saw the Brookfields' unhappiness. With some reason he believed that Jane's husband treated her badly, and he faced him on the matter. But the rupture was complete, and he was hurt and furious that Jane Brookfield seemed to take it so coolly. At the end of October there was a meeting at the Grange at which the Ashburtons tried to reconcile them. Yet, though they all kept up outward appearances, it was still more or less final: Brookfield went to Madeira for his health, taking his wife with him, and Thackeray had to find an outlet for his hurt frustration in the novel he was writing.
Yet it is surprising that so little seems to have been recorded about the affair by friends or acquaintances, who were either remarkably unperceptive or discreet out of friendly decency and in view of the two families' children. For the Brookfield affair was much of what the novel was transparently about. It is generally agreed that Thackeray created and developed three of the chief characters with the Brookfields and himself in mind. It is a first-person novel with Henry Esmond close to Thackeray; Lady Castlewood, whom Esmond eventually marries, stands for Jane Brookfield; while her boorish husband has his counterpart in the Reverend William. It has been convincingly apparent to Thackeray's chief biographers, such as Gordon N. Ray in his biography of Thackeray and in The Buried Life, and editions of the Letters;1 more recent writers agree.
The Carlyles were not present at the Grange during the attempt at reconciliation, but they were there just after the publication of the novel at the end of October 1852. They heard about it, and, once they read it, saw that Esmond was not only about Love but Lost Love. From the time (in book 1, chap. 11) that Harry Esmond first comes home from Cambridge to find the “skeleton” of an unhappy marriage “in the house,” we hear of “the sadness in Lady Castlewood's eyes and the plaintive vibrations of her voice. Who does not know of eyes, lit by love once, where the flame shines no more?—of lamps once properly trimmed and tended. … The gentlest and kindest of woman was suffering ill-usage and shedding tears in secret: the man … made her wretched by neglect, if not by violence.” “The love-lamp” was put out, and so, “Love!—who is to love what is base and unlovely.”
Nor was this true only of the Brookfields' marriage. We can see from JWC's letters and Journal how she could often have applied much of this to her own marriage, for as Harry Esmond says, it is “a hard task for women in life, that mask which the world bids them wear. But there is no greater crime than for a woman who is ill-used and unhappy to show that she is so. The world is quite relentless about bidding her to keep a cheerful face.” Like Thackeray, JWC would have found it echoing some of her deepest feelings of sentiment and hurt resentment, as well as going on to give the consolation of wish fulfillment. The novel is primarily a love story, and, as the author later remarked about it, “I have said somewhere it is the unwritten part of books that would be most interesting” (Ray, Letters, 3:391).
Quite clearly the book had been talked about when the Carlyles, Thackeray, and his children were staying at the Grange at the end of October 1852. It had just appeared, and Thackeray would have sent the Ashburtons an early copy because of the dedication to Lord Ashburton “for the sake” of his “great kindness and friendship,” shown (though it is not mentioned) in the Brookfield affair. At the time they were all on good terms. Before going there, TC had written of Thackeray to his mother as “a clever and friendly man” (TC to MAC, 23 Oct. 1852), while the novelist had recently praised TC enthusiastically in an anonymous review of his Life of John Sterling, and especially for the “tenderness” as well as for direct emphasis of his “language.”2 But, by the time that they had left, TC wrote with a touch of jealousy to a friend that Thackeray was a sad “spectacle,” and that his new novel “threatens to prove very tiresome and therefore justly ‘unsuccessful.’ … Aus dem wird—was [What will become of him]?” (TC to JN, 5 Nov. 1852). Then, after reaching home, TC wrote to Lady Ashburton that JWC had read the new book, “with great admiration ‘for the fine delineations of women’; I next, with aversion and contempt mainly for his feline phantasms of ‘women,’ with many reflections on his singular fineness of sense and singular want of do [ditto],—and on the whole with fairly more esteem for this Book than seemed likely at the Grange. I find the ‘style,’ both of painting and writing, worthy of peculiar recognition, in general quite excellt … —and here and there with a fine adagio of affectionate sentimentality, which is almost beautiful. Poor Thackeray. God help him and us after all!” (TC to LA, 10 Nov. 1852).
It is obvious that, once they had read the novel, JWC and TC exchanged opinions. The remarks she attributes to him on love may be in the spirit of some of TC's writings, but they are not quoted from them, and so are apparently from conversation, just as Simple Story starts as if spoken to him. It is at that point that JWC began her childhood tale with its references to Thackeray and with more than half an eye on him. It was not the only stimulus. She would certainly have discussed it with Geraldine Jewsbury and, conceivably in writing it, had some idea of advising at least one of her young friends about marriage. For she was to mention the tale to the eighteen-year-old Kate Sterling (John Sterling's daughter), who, with her sisters, often looked to her for advice, which JWC took pleasure in giving (JWC to KS, 29 Dec. 1852). In fact, earlier in 1852, she and TC would have liked to encourage the courtship of a visiting young Prussian cavalry officer, Count Dalwig; “as fine, handsome, intelligent, brilliant, and modest a young fellow of his kind as I ever saw,” wrote TC. Kate had welcomed it; it “seemed precisely the offer that might suit beyond all,” and, though the Carlyles kept quiet, they wished it “cordially well” (JWC to TC, 27 July 1952; Froude, LM 2:163). But when Dalwig formally asked Kate's uncle and guardian, Captain Anthony Sterling (“abrupt and perverse”), for permission to get to know her better, he was given an “emphatic No!” (JWC to TC, 27 July 1852). It was probably one reason for the increasingly strained relations between JWC and Anthony, who had once been fascinated by her, who used to seek her out, and obviously still had much the same feelings for her that had inflamed the jealousy of his insane wife, Charlotte.3 It is quite possible that he is her “last love” in the tale, which, like Thackeray's, consciously sprang from love and hate.
The whole question of JWC's attitudes to “love” is so large that it can only be glanced at here. It was a word used more openly, if vaguely, in the mid-nineteenth century than now. Though, as she says, she did not have in mind the idea of writing an actual pamphlet on “the Marriage-Question,” she would have had plenty to say if she had, some of which can be found in her letters to young women such as her Liverpool nieces, Kate Sterling, and, later, other young friends who were getting married, such as Isabella Barnes, one of her doctor's daughters. She had obviously discussed marriage with many of her friends and even more closely with Geraldine Jewsbury, and, like her, she took up a position demanding much greater freedom for women than they found in their scorned Mrs. Sarah Stickney Ellis (mentioned in the tale), author of a highly conventional series on The Women of England, The Daughters of England, and so on (see JWC to JW, 19 Aug. 1846). It was, in fact, the central theme of most of Jewsbury's novels, such as Zoe (1845), which she had started with JWC and their friend Elizabeth Paulet, or The Half-Sisters (1848), which (to TC's annoyance) Jewsbury dedicated to her two former collaborators. JWC read with approval the novels of writers such as the influential and almost notorious George Sand and more widely in French literature. In one light, her company at the Grange and in London reflected conventionally respectable, intelligent, mid-Victorian society, while in another, it also represented a sophisticated cosmopolitan world including such figures as Lady Harriet's mother, Lady Sandwich, with her aristocratic French connections, or Lady Harriet herself, whose great-grandfather was the notorious fourth Earl of Sandwich. British society itself (as JWC remarks) was less restricted than we are often led to believe, with its own frequent “grand passions” to enliven it “at the present day.” The Welsh and Carlyle families, if we think only of JWC's second cousin, the dandy Captain James Baillie, were lively enough at times.4
Or, to take another turn in looking at the spirit in which she wrote, she herself acknowledges that she had a very feminine (or human) delight in admiration. Whenever she returns to the scenes of her youth and childhood, in Haddington or elsewhere, it is never without noting encounters with her former “lovers” and admirers; she is struck by the way in which the three generations of the Sterling family had been obsessed or fascinated by her; and, whether writing for herself or others, she is always pleased to note that men were delighted by her company. Only a month or two before starting the story, she had answered a letter from John Stodart, who had written to inform her of his unabated love for her since she was fifteen, so that she had told even TC that “the Laws of nature in the matter of Love seem to be decidedly getting themselves newmade” (JWC to TC, 7 Sept. 1852). Almost all of this has been known before, though not the recognizable reference in Simple Story to TC's six-year-old sister Jean, who was transfixed by her passionate jealousy of a friend of her elder brother, the same sister who had come to live with them at Craigenputtoch, who drove her distracted by coming to breakfast in curl-papers, and whom JWC thought had as passionately strong a will as TC—and who was to be Alexander Carlyle's mother-in-law.5
This brings us to what is new in the manuscript account, and what pointed if fairly minor changes Alexander Carlyle made. For details down to the last comma, readers must make their own comparisons with the versions he gives and Froude's paragraphs in his Life. Those that are important are given in the notes. Now that the text is given from the manuscript, it is the story that matters most, rather than what imperfect editors make of it. In fact, their slight misrepresentations are a warning to attend to JWC rather than to them—or the present editors. We have noted how the booklet in which the tale is written may have been started as a commonplace book. Alexander Carlyle did his best to make it blander, tidying away Shakespeare and the Duke of Rochefoucauld at the beginning, and leaving out such references as those to the scandalous Ninon de Lenclos, the Duke of Wellington's amours, to “Christ Almighty!,” and to the young Jean Carlyle, and omitting the story about Dido and the doll.
It is partly in the same spirit that Alexander refused to permit the licence of JWC's peculiar spelling and punctuation or Scotticisms and muddled the nature of the tale by his own confusion about the ending. For JWC's story of the young preacher who signed himself off to God as his “obedient servant” when taking family prayers, is an example of a familiar family story: it does not mean that the tale itself was written as if it were an “Imaginary Letter,” as Alexander Carlyle says (NLM 2:47), familiar as it seems in its directly addressing its readers. Yet this raises the question of what kind of work it is.
It is a strange mixture of autobiography, cautionary tale, and self-scrutiny, probably naive in certain ways, though some may possibly want to see it as sophisticated. As she says, “Christ Almighty!”—it is inconceivable that, in its present form, it was meant for publication! It is a point that need not be labored. Perhaps it was written for a self-expression daunted by an inability to express her full feeling about love in open discussion at the Grange. She is clearly exasperated with TC, though not all her comments are ill-natured. It is, after all, presumably only a second draft at best, meant to be shown to no one but her closest friends. Yet it wobbles or oscillates between almost naked autobiography and fictional subterfuge. The pretty child at the dancing school, with a bold way of dealing with menacing geese or turkeys, is familiar from the stories recorded by Geraldine Jewsbury (Carlyle, Reminiscences 41ff.). So, to some extent, are her remarkable footnotes, particularly the one on learning Latin. Her remarks about having “no religion” are echoed in her letters: that is to say, no Christian religion. Without the need for prolonged investigation it is clear that the setting belongs to Haddington, with its close-knit community into which the troops were more or less absorbed. It is written to reply to “the greatest Philosopher of our day” (one of JWC's usual terms for TC), an actual “Mr C,” though it was kept from him while she was alive. The young woman who has “lost her honour” wildly calls her “Mrs—,” but at the end, the narrator signs herself off as “J— —,” after the story of the young preacher, as likely to indicate JBW (her initials before marriage) as JWC. She makes use of the coterie speech she shared with her husband and employed in letters and speech, usually regardless of whether it was exactly understood. Yet, in fact, she is hardly sure who she is: the once “spoilt-child” of Haddington, as she calls herself, or a fading woman who has “left her youth behind,” a remark, her husband was to note elsewhere, she often repeated with light-hearted pathos.
True, there is no St. Mark's in Haddington or Chelsea, nor does she say there is. She probably never had a governess. Yet it is hard or impossible not to believe in the blue-eyed artillery boy, or the smug fat rival who ends in the madhouse, or in the feelings of the nine-year-old child who is to turn into Mrs. C., married to Mr. C., “the greatest philosopher.” That is the point.
If we ask what we are to make of it all, it is an extremely personal paper, written with great liveliness, without a pedantic attention to actuality, perhaps inspired, like most of her writings, by a wish to address someone particular who is needed as an audience. It is a scrap of her autobiography as she liked to think of it: neither as fantastic as Sartor Resartus nor as pedantic, after all, as editors usually are. JWC was a performer as much as a writer. She did not believe that there was room in one house for two writers. But her expressive skill, her balance, and bravura gave her the chance to be more than captivating.
The message is a simple one: not to give one's heart away impulsively, as she herself had been warned, and not to be “an excitable character like me” (JWC to TC, 26 July 1849). Yet where would love be without impulse? She was to fear that Kate Sterling might marry from desperation, loneliness, or the wish to get away from her uncle. Elsewhere, she was to note the tragic story of a young girl forced into a loveless marriage. There is no doubt that she decidedly regretted her own marriage at times, though determined to make the best of it. The story, therefore, cannot stand by itself. There are too many strands and allusions that relate to her life. She would rightly never have claimed to rival the greatest female writers or “writing women” of her time, whom Dickens, thinking of her spell-binding ability to tell him a story face to face, said she so easily excelled. But she had the spirit to create a lively image of herself. John Forster knew her well, and says, quoting Dickens, that there was a “radiance” in her “subtle serious humour” and power to find the truth “in trifling bits of character” that, at times, could be combined with “some of the highest gifts of intellect.”6
Kenneth J. Fielding
Jane Welsh Carlyle, “The simple Story of my own first Love.” MS: privately owned. Pbd: A. Carlyle, NLM 2:47–57 inc; Jane Welsh Carlyle, “The simple Storyof my own first Love,” ed. K. J. Fielding and Ian Campbell, with Aileen Christianson (Edinburgh, 2001). Quot: Froude, Carlyle 1:121–22, 285–86. MS is written in an exercise-book, size 8 × 6½ ins. (20 × 16.5 cm.), with a lightly marbled thin card cover. At the top of the front cover is a tiny label on which TC has written in ink “3o,” and below it, on the cover, in irregular brackets: “end of 1852:—child love. Not heard of before (Burn? No! 3 Augt 1866)—.” Some explanations of the text are anticipated in the introductory comments above.
There is no title at the beginning of the text; this title is taken from JWC's phrase in the 5th paragraph, at the beginning of the story itself; she uses a short version when writing to Kate Sterling in an undated letter (tentatively dated [29 Dec. 1852?]): “Another [occupation] (not an imperative one you will say) has been writing the narrative of my First Love; good Heavens! You shall have it to read someday—it is short” (JWC to KS, 29 Dec. 1852).
[“The simple Story of my own first Love”]
What “the greatest Philosopher of our day” execrates loudest in Thackeays3 new novel,—finds, indeed, “altogether false and damnable” in it, is, that “Love is represented as spreading itself over one's whole existence, and constituting the one grand interest of existence; whereas Love,—the thing people call Love, is confined to a very few years of man's Life,—to, in fact, a quite insignificant fraction of it; and even then is but one thing to be attended to, among many infinitely more important things.” Indeed “so far as he (Mr C) has seen into it; the whole concern of Love is such a beggarly futility; that, in a Heroic Age of the World, nobody would be at the pains to think of it particularly; much less to open his jaw on it.”4
Now; that Life is made up of innumerable things, besides Love, is an assertion which “truth compels us to admit” (as the old Edinr Review used to say of such statements as two and two make four, and thrice seven is twenty one); and as to all that of a Heroic Age clapping an extinguisher on its “thing people call Love”; tho believing no syllable of it myself, naturally; I should be loth to unsettle anyone who does. But when Mr C would coolly lay the whole human race under a natural impossibility of loving except during “a very few years,—a quite insignificant fraction of Man's Life”; my whole inner woman revolts against such position, which I find to be neither true nor well imagined. and regard, moreover, as a personal affront.
“At what age, your grace, does a woman leave off being in Love?” a young Impertinent once asked the late Duchess of Devonshire,5 then seventy, and a Ninon Lenclos6 in her own way.— “You must inquire of a woman older than I am,” was the spirited reply. And I wonder what the Duke,7 now lying in state would have replied, had anyone, in the dark about Mrs Jones of Pantglass,8 asked him, in his eighty second and last year; “At what age, your Grace, does a Man leave off being in love? this, probably; “Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington finds the question irrelevant, and the Questioner a Fool!”— Bah! in presence of so many middle-aged, and old-aged, and very-old-aged grand passions as enliven English Society at the present day; one can afford to smile at Mr C's computation of “a very few years,—a quite insignificant fraction of Man's Life.”
Would Mr C be so good as count. The Iron Duke,—our Hero, tho not to be sure, in “a Heroic age of the World,” was upwards of eighty when he fell in Love with Mrs Jones of Pantglass; having never, within the memory of Man, been out of love with somebody or other,—fell in Love with her to what pitch of—assiduity, at least, may be seen from the extravagant abuse with which a mere Mrs Jones of Pantglass is distinguished by the grandest Ladies of the Land. And, on the other hand, I could name a married woman,9 in my own family, who was just six years old, when she had a disappointment in Love which notoriously affected her health and spirits, for a time. A companion of her Brother's, after often caressing her and calling her his “little Wife,” had barbarously gone and married a grown woman: whereon the Child “took on” in such a strange, still way, never naming his name, and hiding from his sight; that the matter got past a joke. Now; since human nature may commence falling in Love at six, and may be still falling in love at eighty two; there are seventy six “years of Man's life,” dear Mr C, over which “the thing people call love” does actually “spread itself”—seventy six years which there is no gainsaying, and perhaps there may be more, tho' of that I have no evidence as yet. And I make no assertions I can't prove.
But I was going to tell you The simple Story of my own first Love; and all this is what you call “philosophizing,”—philosophizing with the philosophy, like the part of Hamlet “ommitted at particular request”!10
Well then; I was somewhat more advanced in Life than the Child in the foresaid breach-of-promise case, when I fell in love for the first time. In fact I had completed my ninth year, or, as I phrased it, was “going ten.” One night, at a Dancing-school-Ball, a Stranger-Boy put a slight on me which I resented to my very finger-ends, and out of that tumult of hurt vanity sprang my first love to life, like Venus out of the froth of the sea!!— So my first love resembled my last in this at least, that it began in quasi hatred.11 Curious! that recalling so many particulars of this old story, as vividly as if I had it under an opera-glass; I should have nevertheless quite forgot—the Boy's first name! His sirname, or as the Parson of St Marks12 would say, his “name by nature” was Scholey,13—a name which, whether bestowed by nature or art, I have never fallen in with since; but the Charles, or Arthur, or whatever it was that preceded it; couldn't have left less trace of itself had it been written in the “New Permanent Marking Ink”! He was only child, this Boy, of an Artillery Officer at the Barracks,14 and was seen by me then for the first time; a Boy of twelve, or perhaps thirteen, tall for his years, and very slight,—with sunshiny hair, and dark blue eyes,—a dark blue ribbon about his neck, and grey jacket with silver buttons. Such the Image that “stamped itself on my soul for ever”!—And I have gone and forgot his first name!
Nor were his the only details which impressed me at that Ball: If you would like to know my own Ball-dress, I can tell you every item of it; a white Indian muslin frock open behind, & trimmed with twelve rows of satin ribbon, a broad white satin sash reaching to my heels, little white kid shoes. and embroidered silk stockings,—which last are in a box up stairs, ‘along with the cap I was christened in,’ my poor Mother having preserved both in lavender up to the day of her death.
Thus elegantly attired, and with my “magnificent eyelashes” (I never know what became of those eyelashes?) and my dancing “unsurpassed in “private life” (so our dancing-Master described it),—with all that and much more to make me “one and somewhat”15 in my own eyes; what did I not feel of astonishment, rage, desire of vengeance, when this Boy, whom all were remarking the beauty of, told by his Mama (I heard her with my own ears) to ask little Miss W—h16 for a quadrille, declined kurt und gut [short and good], and led up another Girl!17—a Girl that I was “worth a million of,”—if you'll believe me,—a fair, fat, sheep-looking Thing, with next to no sense,—and her dancing!—you should have seen it! Our dancing-Master was always shaking his head at her and saying; “heavy! heavy!—” But her wax-doll face took the fancy of Boys at that period, as afterwards, it was the rage with men; till her head, unsteady from the first discovery of her, got fairly turned with admiration, and she ended in a Madhouse, that Girl! Ah! had I seen, by second sight, at the Ball there, the ghastly doom ahead of her,—only some dozen years ahead!—could I have had the heart to grudge her one triumph over me, or any Partner she could get? But no foreshadow of the future Madhouse rested on her and me that glancing evening; tho' one of us—and I dont mean her was feeling rather mad. No! never had I been so outraged in my short life! never so enraged at a Boy! I would have given a guinea, if I had had one, that he would yet ask me to dance, that I might have said him such a ‘No’! But he didn't ask me; neither that night nor any other night; indeed, to tell the plain truth, if my “magnificent eyelashes,” my dancing “unsurpassed in private life,” my manifold fascinations, personal and spiritual, were ever so much as noticed by that Boy, he remained from first to last impracticable to them!
For six or eight months, I was constantly meeting him at childrens balls and teaparties; we danced in the same dances, played in the same games, and “knew each other to speak to”; but the fat girl was always present, and always preferred. They followed one another about, he and she, “took one anothers parts,” kissed one another at forfeits, and so on; while I, slighted, superfluous, incomprise [unappreciated] stood amazed as in presence of the Infinite!18 But that was only for a time or two while I found myself “in a new position”:19 a little used to the position I made the best of it. After all, wasn't the fat Girl two years older than I? and that made such a difference! had I been eleven “going twelve,”— I with my long eyelashes, lovely dancing et cetera; things would have gone very differently I thought,—decidedly they would. So laying this “flattering unction” to my soul,20 I gradually left off being furious at the Boy, and rejoiced to be in his company on any footing.
Next to seeing the Boy's self, I liked making little calls on his Mother; but how the first call, which was the difficulty, got made, I have only a half remembrance; or rather I remember it TWO different ways(!!);—a form of forgetfulness not uncommon with me. I should say quite confidently, that I first found myself in Mrs Scholey's barrack at her own urgent solicitation, once when she had lighted on me alone at ‘the evening Band’; if it were not for my clear rercollection21 of being there the first time with my governess,22 who “of military extraction” herself (she boasted; her Father had been a sergeant in the Militia) was extensively liée [intimate] at the Barracks. At all events my Mother was on no visiting terms with this Lady, and it is incredible I should have introduced myself on my own basis.23 Very likely she had besieged me24 to visit her, for the Ladies at the Barracks were always maenuvering to get acquanted25 in the town. And just as likely my governess had taken me to her, for my governess had a natural aptitude for false steps. In either case, the ice once broken, I made visits enough at Mrs Scholey's Barrack, where I was treated with all possible respect. Still as a woman Mrs Scholey didn't please me, I remember; in as much as she was both forward and vulgar; and it wasn't without a sense of demeaning myself, that I held these charmed sittings in her Barrack But then; it wasn't the woman that I visited in her; it was the Boy's Mother; and in that character she was a sort of military Holy Mother for me, and her Barrack looked a sacred shrine! Then; as often as she spoke to me of her son, and she spoke I think of little else; it was in a way to leave no doubt in my mind, that the first wish of her (Mrs Scholey's) heart was to see him and me ultimately united; and there is no expressing how it soothed me under the confirmed indifference of the son to feel myself so appreciated by his Mother. Nor was Mrs Scholey herself my sole attraction to that Barrack; the Boy, be it clearly understood, I never saw there, or assuredly I should have made myself scarce; God forbid that at even nine years of age I should have had so little sense,—not to say spirit,—as to be throwing myself in the way of a Boy who wanted nothing with me! Oh no!— The Boy was all day at a school in the Town, within a gunshot of my own door,—a quarter of a mile at least nearer me than his Mother. For the other attraction the Barrack-room possessed for me; it was a Portrait—nothing more or less!—a dear little oval miniature of the Boy, in petticoats; done for him in his second or third year; and so like, I thought; making allowance for the greater chubbiness of Babyhood, and the little pink frock, of no sex. At each visit I drank in this “Portrait charmant” [charming portrait] with my eyes, and wished myself artist enough to copy it. Indeed had one of the Fairies, I delighted to read of, stept out of the Book, in a moment of enthusiasm, to grant any one thing I asked; I would have said—I am sure I would—“the Portrait charmant, then, since you are so good, all to myself, for altogether”!
Still I hadn't as yet, to the best of my remembrance admitted to myself (to others would have been impossible) that I was head and ears in love. Indeed an admission so entirely discreditable to to26 me couldn't be too long suppressed. Oh little Miss W—h! at your time of life and with your advantages, to go and fall in love with an Artillery boy, and he not caring a pin for you! It was really very shocking—very! And let us hope, I should have felt all that was proper on the discovery of my infatuation, if the circumstances under which it was made had been less poignant! The Boy's regiment had received orders to march!
To Ireland I think it was; but the where was nothing. For me, in my then geographical blankness, the marching beyond my own sphere of vision was a marching into Infinite Space! So; two more days and the Boy, his Mother, his regiment, and all that was his, would be in Infinite Space for me! Here was a prospect, to enlighten one on the state of one's heart, if anything could! Now I knew all I had felt for him and all I felt; and I forgave him all about the fat girl; and—*27
“believed in the progress of the Species.”29
Had I stopt there well and good but a sudden thought struck me,—a project of consolation so subversive of “female delicacy,” that I almost blush to write it. But in these moments termed supreme, one “swallows all formulas” as fast as look at them; at least I do. This project then; could it be the confession of my love to its object you may be thinking? Christ Almighty!30 no!—not that! Tho with no knowledge as yet of what my American young Lady called “Life”; instinct divined all the helplessness of that shift, even could I have gulped the indecency of it. No! my project was less flagrantly compromising, and something might be gained by it. It was this simply; to persuade Mrs Scholey to leave the little oval miniature with me, in loan; on the understanding that when I was grown up and should have money, I would return it to her set with diamonds; and as immediate tribute of gratitude, or pure esteem,—whichever she liked,—I would present her with my gold filigree needlecase,—the only really valuable thing I possessed and sent me from India all the way, but it might go,—without a sigh,—in part payment of such a favour! Whether my idea was, that ‘grown up’ and ‘having money,’ I should procure a copy of the miniature for myself, besides the diamonds for Mrs Scholey; or whether it was that I should have another attachment by then, and that portrait be fallen obselete31 chè sa [who knows]? One can't remember everything, even in remembering much. Only so far as the actual crisis was concerned, my project and its result have left a picture in my mind,—as distinct as that Descent from the Cross on the opposite wall.
It was not without misgivings enough that I entered on this questionable enterprise; I felt its questionability, in every fibre of my small frame. But what then? The day after tomorrow, the Boy's self would be in Infinite Space for me, and if I had not his picture to com[f]ort me, how on earth should I be comforted? So I took a great heart, prayed to [*]32
and half a line more
Minerva, I remember;—I had got converted to Paganism in the course of learning Latin, and Minerva was my chosen godess—and, in the first interval of lessons, ran off to the Artillery Barracks, taking the gold needlecase in my hand; and never had it looked so pretty! Mrs Scholey was at home, packing up (Ah me!), and the miniature was in its old place. I had been so afraid of it being packed up, that the mere seeing it seemed a step in getting it. There it hung, by its black ribbon from a nail over the fireplace, and “didnt I wish I might get it”? If only I might have walked off with it, without a word! But I was come to beg not steal, good god; and “to beg I was ashamed”!41 My programme had been to throw myself on Mrs Scholey's generosity for the picture, and then to slip my needlecase into her hand; but face to face with the Lady, something warned me to offer her the needlecase first and throw myself on her generosity after. Still—how to unfold my business even in that order? My position became every moment more false; I sat with burning cheeks and palpitating heart; my tounge refusing “its office” save on indifferent topics, till I felt that in common decency I could sit no longer. And then only,—in the supreme moment of bidding Mrs Scholey farewell,—did I find courage to present my needlecase, with what words I know not; but certainly without one word about the picture; for her rapid acceptance of my really handsome gift, as a “good the gods had provided her,”42 and no more about it, quite took away my remaining breath; and next minute I found myself in the open air, “a sadder and a wiser child”!43
At three o'clock the following morning, the Boy's regiment marched, with band playing gaily “The Girl I ve left behind me”44 Soundly as I slept in these years I could not sleep thro that; and sitting up in my little bed to catch the last note, it struck me I was The Girl left behind, little as people suspected it!— For a day or two I felt quite lost, and was not “myself again” for weeks: still at nine years of age, so many consolations turn up, and one was so shamefully willing to be consoled!
For the rest, young Scholey, (I wish I could have recollected his first name!) had slipt thro' my fingers like a knotless thread: he never came back to learn our fates (the fat girl's and mine), nor did news of him dead or alive ever reach me; and so, in no great length of time,— before I had given him a successor even,—he passed for me into a sort of Myth; nor for a quarter of a century had I thought as much of him, put it all together, as I have done in writing these few sheets.
It would have made a more “thrilling narrative” to read, if this love of mine had been returned; for with the reciprocity all on one side,”45 as the Irish say,—the interest flags, don't you find?— On the whole my first love wasn't the smart piece of work to have been predicted of such a smart little girl,—a girl so renowned for her eyelashes, her Latin, and her wit. But nothing is so baffling for human foresight as to predict of other peoples loves; it is hard enough to make head or tail of them in completion— Indeed, logically considered the whole “Thing people call love,” like the Power of God “passeth all understanding”!46
For one condition of my first love however I cannot be too thankful, to “the Gods”—“the Destinies,” or whatever singular or plural power presides over the Love-Department “here down”;47 for this namely; that it had no consequences (the loss of my gold filigree needlecase was not a consequence “to speak of.”) Many a poor girl has been brought to marriage, and the Devil knows what all, by her first love,—actually—got married, “for better and for worse, till death do part,”48 on the strength of it! about as sensible and promising a speculation, it seems to me, as getting married “for better and for worse till death do part” on the strength of measles or scarletina!— But such reflections did I let myself go to them, might lead me too far,—to the length namely, of my whole pamphlet, in petto [in my breast] on the Marriage-question, which, I fear is too much in advance of the Century for being committed to writing; so long at least as the mania for editing and publishing everybody's papers, however come by, holds out.49 So— So “I add no more but remain, *my dear Sir, your obedient servant”