August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 19 November 1857; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18571119-JWC-MR-01; CL 33: 119-123


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea

[19 November 1857]

My dearest Mary

I had actually miscounted about whose turn it was to write; and am almost glad I did; since it has been the occasion for your writing me such a dear kind letter on “the voluntary principle”! Dont suppose however I should have kept silence much longer even in the mistaken idea you owed me a letter. It had been in my head to write for many days back; but what Mr Carlyle calls “a pressure of things” has made it difficult for me to carry out my own inclinations in any one direction. Thank God I have not to enumerate, among the Things pressing, a coldthat being my bugaboo now— I have been ill with that thing which, for want of a better name, I call “my sickness” and for which I know only one cure to “pack my carpet-bag” (as Dr Russell advised) and rush out into space! But it does not confine me to the house, that sickness; and does not plague anyone but myself— I am used to it (as the pigs to killing) Neither does it prevent me writing letters—only makes my letters like every thing else I do spiritless.— My chief impediment has been that weary Artist who took the bright idea last spring that he would make a picture of our sitting room1—to be “amazingly interesting to Posterity a hundred years hence”— I little knew what I was committing myself to when I let him begin— For the three months before I went to Scotland he came and painted twice a week,—while I was in Scotland he came four times a week; and for the last six weeks he has been overshadowing me like a night-mare every day!! Except when, please God, the fog is so black that he can't see! These lower rooms are where I have been always used to live at this season; and to keep up fire there, and in the drawing-room as well—besides in Mr C's study at the top of the house—is a great expence, where coals are seven and twenty shillings a cart load—and is also a great trouble to one servant so I have kept my ground hitherto; always hoping he would get done—but my Heavens! he will make his great “Work of Art” last him into 1860, I begin to think!—a whole day painting at my portfolio! another whole day over my work box and so on! not the minutest object in these three rooms, opening into one another,2 but what is getting itself represented with Vandyke fidelity!3 And all the while the floor wont be flat for the life of him!4

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A Chelsea Interior by Robert Tait (detail)

Courtesy of the National Trust Photographic Library and Michael Boys


I suspect he aims at more than posthumous fame from this picture—hopes perhaps—some admirer of Mr C's with more money than wit to guide it, may give him a thousand pounds for Mr Cs “Interior” the portraits of Mr C himself, and Mr C's wife, and Mr C's dog inclusive!— The dog is the only member of the family who has reason to be pleased with his likeness as yet!5— This will be the second time my dog has appeared in the Exhibition!6— Meanwhile I can't settle to write when that man is in the way.—

I rush out and ride in omnibuses—I go about the house sorting up—or as the American Ladies say “reconciling things”—

A good deal of that has been needed, in prospect of my two Cousins Maggie and Mary7 to stay here on their road to the Isle of Wight where they mean to pass the Winter—Auchtertool being “too cold”—(or too dull)— I think with astonishment of Mary who can never get up till midday—undertaking such a journey at this season and paying visits all the way—at Glasgow8—at Liverpool9—here—!

I should have greatly preferred one at a time— Mr C is so dreadfully busy just now, and so easily disturbed—that my life is spent in standing between him and the outer world;—and how I am to breast this innundation of it into the very house! how I am to make myself into a human partition between all the interruption and fuss that two young Ladies who have no comprehension of, or sympathy with, hard work, and love of quiet, is more than I know! Then it suddenly flashed on me that I had torn down the head and roof of the spare bed this summer, (which had been spoiled by a cistern overflowing above, and pouring down into the bed in the room beneath)10— The room had stood vacant and I had forgotten all about its desolate state— This flashed on me in the night and I couldn't sleep another wink, for haste to be on foot and out, buying chin[t]z!—lest I should be caught like a foolish house wife, with my spare bed standing naked! Then I had to seek a sempstress—almost as difficult to find as the philosophers stone (for all the “thirty thousand distressed needlewomen”—who cant sew)—and then a carpenter who would not keep me waiting a month—and to shape and do a good deal of hammering myself after all!— Finally today I have the pleasure of seeing the bed rehabilitated— But I am so tired! for the least fuss or hurry plays the deuce with me! I wouldn't go to bed however till I had thanked you for your letter— I hope to write to you to better purpose soon—

My best love to your Husband Ask him if the fame of pepsine has reached him?—if not I will tell him about it.

Your affectionate Jane Carlyle

Every letter I have forgotten to speak of the sweet briar— I should like you to keep it over the winter and send it in spring— It will surely grow with me then!