August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO DAVID DAVIDSON ; 5 November 1857; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18571105-JWC-DD-01; CL 33: 111-114


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea

Thursday evening /

5th November [1857],

and a furious protestant demonstration, on the part of Chelsea Boys, going on, in shape of squibs and rockets.)1

My dear Major Davidson. In the first place; thanks for your letter from the bottom of my heart! Reading it was like hearing music from one's far home in a strange Land! I paid it the compliment of crying over it; what more could I do?— It is curious that, beside you, I always feel like to cry, even when I am laughing! and you are the only man that gives me, or ever gave me that inclination! Is it a good influence that, or a bad? I should say good, at the present date any how; for softness is not the quality a woman of my years is apt to carry too far; there is more tendency to become hard as the nether millstone; But let me keep out of metaphysics!

Do you know I was getting sadly afraid that you had abandoned the “hope” of writing to me. But dont suppose the message about Mary2 was a woman's wile to quicken your “hope.” I really was very anxious about the good old Soul, both for her own sake and your Aunt's.3 Many a Peeress would have been less missed than that pattern Maid-of-all work! Her farewell words to me were often in my ears during the days I fancied her in danger; “ye’ll find us aye here, while we’re to the fore; but it's no lang we can expeck to get bided noo!”4 The idea of her mistress and she being parted even in Death seemed to have no place in her head! Miss Jess Donaldson too wrote to me of her recovery, which was like her kindness. I have got a sketch of Sunny Bank framed and hung up opposite my bed;5 on the same principle that Ruskin has every night one or other of his splendid collection of Turner pictures placed on a chair at his bed-foot; that he “may have something spirit-stirring to open his eyes on, the first thing, in the morning”!6— People have such different notions about what is spirit-stirring!—I have also brought back with me a clever drawing of the Nungate Bridge,7 and the block of stone & mortar for the Boys to play at Ball on—which I would not exchange for any Turner I ever beheld! You would be amused—and, being you, I dare say you would be TOUCHED, to see my picture gallery!—representations, better or worse (mostly worse) of places and people, all out of or associated with “dear old Long ago”— Will you make me a drawing of your house8 when it is finished? or will you send me your photograph? You shall have a beautiful one of Mr Carlyle in return for it!

The Mackenzies9 set out for India, via Brussels, a fortnight after my return; but they were with us three evenings. Both seemed in brave, composed spirits; tho the Indian business looked black enough just then! He meant to present himself at once to Lord Canning and ask to be sent on whatever service was most arduous. My Husband gave him a letter of most emphatic recommendation to Colin Campbell. We talked of you and your wife; and I think the right ears of you both must have rung with it!

Sir Colin writes that “if there was any nonsense in the english newspapers about Lord Canning and he not drawing well together, no word of it was to be believed; for nothing could exceed the kindness, and furtherance in every way, which he had been met with by both Lord and Lady Canning.”10 He says too that he has “a dreadful quantity of writing to do”—writing not being quite so easy for Colin as fighting! And so his bosom-friend Colonel Sterling11 sailed yesterday morning, “to take some of the writing off him poor Fellow!”— For the rest, it is Sir Colin's idea, that Delhi once taken, there will be little more fighting; but that the Army will have to transform itself into a great Police Force.—

When are you coming to London again? They have made fine broad walks in the Hospital12 park, and put beautiful live sheep in it; and there are seats to sit down, and rest, and talk; only there is no ‘gardener's house’ to take refuge in from thunder showers!— I should have thanked you for your letter before today; had not a girl called Georgiana Craik had the smallpox some thirteen years ago!13 a case of Tenterden Steeple causing the encroachment of Godwin Sands!14 But—if you remember—there was discovered a good many years ago a real connexion of cause and effect between the Steeple and the Sands! So is there between little Miss Craik's smallpox and my delay in writing. The smallpox made a very pretty girl into a very plain one; and the consciousness of her spoiled looks drove the girl's exuberant young Life all inward where it has raged and erated15 under a shy embarrassed, self-conscious exterior, till finally, after thirteen years, it has burst out in a passionate, all-for-love three-volume novel!16 Which novel having been presented to me by the young Authoress, I was bound in common politeness, not to say kindness, to write her a letter of acknowledgement. But what to say, that would not hurt her feelings, and at the same time not hurt my own conscience, was a difficulty! The Book is “thrilling” “enchaining” “absorbing”—all a novel needs to be in interest; but to have written even “a “successful” novel is a fault as well as a misfortune for a young Lady, I think; and, given this persuasion to be expressed in delicate, unwounding terms, and no such terms suggesting themselves, I had, day after day, written “5 Cheyne Row” at the top of a sheet, and then, not “my dear Georgiana”; but “my dear somebody else”; on the quite “voluntary principle”!17 Till at last, ashamed of my off-putting, I took a solemn engagement with myself that I wouldn't write to man woman or child, till that other letter was dispatched!18 So now you see how Georgiana Craik's smallpox thirteen years ago prevented your getting a speedier answer!

It is close, heavy, sloppy weather, giving one the feeling of being weltering in Train oil!— I would rather be at Morningside by a great deal; ceteris paribus [other things being equal]. I should be thankful however that I keep on foot. I do just that, and no more. It will be better with me perhaps when we are out of this “gloomy month of November, in which (according to some French Writer) the people of England hang and drown themselves.”19 Will you give my love—to your wife; and a kiss to that darling little Boy20 who burst out laughing at me! And will you “hope to write” to me now and then?— You may do it under the account of “time devoted to charitable purposes”—

And so goodby and all blessing on you and your belongings!

Affectionately yours

Jane Welsh Carlyle