August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO AGNES HOWDEN ; 23 November 1857; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18571123-JWC-AHO-01; CL 33: 125-126


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea / Monday

[23 November 1857]

There's a good Girl! And thank you!— I choose the present moment for answering; as it is the most improbable I am likely to find! for I have the same sort of defiant pleasure in going in the teeth of probability that I used to have in going in the teeth of a high wind— I am pressed for time, having an appointment two miles off at one o'clock; my attention is distracted by a man painting beside me, and talking;1 my nerves are all in a flurry from a recent fright; and Mr Carlyle has just brought me an impossible glove to mend! What more would I have?—

But the fright?—gracious goodness, the fright is worth telling about!— I have a servant whom, during five years that she has been with me, I had never seen in a hurry, or excited, or deprived of her presence of mind.2 What then was my astonishment when she rushed into the drawing room last night, with her head tumbled off (as at first it looked to me) and carrying it in her hands!! and crying wildly “Oh Mam! I must go to a Doctor! (scream) my ear my ear! (scream) an animal has run into my ear!!” She was holding down her head as low as her waist, her cap off, her hair flying, and her hand pressed to her right ear. I sprang forward and pulled her fingers from her ear which was full of blood. “What animal?” I gasped. “Oh I think it is a black beetle!!”—and the screams went on, and she declared the beetle was “running up into her brain.” Her ignorance of anatomy was very unfortunate at the moment! I called up Mr Carlyle, for I had lost all presence of mind as well as herself— He took it coolly, as he takes most things; “Syringe it,” he said; “syringing will bring out any amount of black beetles!!”— There is an apothecary at the bottom of our street;3 I threw a table cover about her, and told her to run to him; and I begged Mr C to go with her, as it was a dangerous thing for me to go out in the night air. “Go with her?” he said; “What good could it do my seeing the Beetle taken out of her ear?”— But I had read in a newspaper not long ago of a man killed, by some insect creeping into his ear; and how did I know the apothecary was not an ass, and might spoil her hearing for life with probes and things—if indeed she did not die of it,! or go raving mad, as I should do in her place I thought!

I paced up and down the room for some ten minutes like a wild animal in its cage; then put on a cloak and bonnet and rushed after her—Mr C running after me, to pull me back. When I arrived in the man's little surgery; I found poor Ann covered with soapsuds, and comparitively calm; and the beetle (it actually was a black beetle) extracted piecemeal (with a probe)— “There might be a leg or so left” he said; but he would syringe the ear again in the morning— She would not go back to him this morning however; the rushing sound being gone, and the deafness remaining being owing she thinks to the ear being swelled from the rough treatment it got. I was better pleased that this man should not probe any more— If she does not hear with it tomorrow I will send her to a regular Surgeon. Meanwhile I feel as if I had been pounded in a mortar, with the fright of the thing, and have narrowly missed a cold, for I coughed half the night. But that is passed off thank god. I am so afraid of another seven months confinement!

I liked to hear of your Halloween—my ideas of Halloween are all connected with Maitlanfield. I always spent it there as far back as I recollect. Have ducked for apples and burnt nuts in that very kitchen of yours!

If Mrs Skirving4 wants to escape money disaster and all sorts of disaster, she should replace little Ann Camerons poor little white marble tablet in the Churchyard! I could not have confidence in my Fortunes, with such a thing in my cellar.5 Could you?— I should like ill to be the wife of a speculator just now! Mr C has or had some money in America— He doesn't recollect how much! and doesn't feel even a natural curiosity what is become of it!!— I have never heard a word out of his head about it except to say once, “I suppose my money will have gone in the crash, and poor Buttler6 (the gentleman who invested it for him) will be very sorry!”— Being a Philosopher's wife has some advantages!— I never think about money myself beyond what serves my daily needs—but if he werent of the same mind I might be made sufficiently uncomfortable about it.

And now good luck to you— Remember me to them all— I owe your sister in law7 a letter, which she shall get some day—

Yours affly / Jane W Carlyle