August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO TC ; 27 June 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580627-JWC-TC-01; CL 33: 253-256


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea / Sunday [27 June 1858]

Oh MY! How slow! Only from Wednesday night till Sunday morning that I have been “let alone”! It looks three weeks at the least! Not that I have either done or seen much to lengthen out the time. The “field of new-cut hay,”1 the only thing I can be said to have seen, was nothing “to speak of”! And I have not done yet so much as the one thing wherewith I was privately minded to celebrate your departure,—have not gone yet to Stokes2 to get one of my few remaining back teeth wrenched out! it is the two letters from you, out of Scotland, I think, that, confounding the ideas of Time & Space, give such preternatural length to these three days!

Mrs Welsh came yesterday, and brought the receipt for the Horse.3 The man wished to have three days notice for delivering up the horse, “the park4 being so large; horses became very wild in it! and it took two or three days to catch them”! What height of wildness! I still hope there may be some substitute found where you are.

Mrs Welsh's visit to Scotland is prevented by the sickness of the Lady,5 who wished to have her, having developped itself into insanity. The poor creature has been shut up in an asylum. John came to take his mother home, and bid me goodby. His cough was worse than I ever heard it, and his spirits at the lowest. Bence Jones6 whom he had seen that day, had told him that his right lung was affected, and that “if he did not get cured of his cough before October it was all up with him”! His Mother asked in a scared way “But John! What DID he mean?” “Mean?” he said, so like my Uncle Robert!7 “it is plain to anybody with common sense what he meant! that if I did not get better before Winter I should get worse next winter, and die probably in the Spring!8 is not that very easily understood?” There was something fierce in his tone—almost like brutality, but it was only desperation! I tried to comfort his poor Mother at least, by telling how Bence Jones had predicted with absolute confidence the death of Jones (of the London Library)9 “within six weeks,” and—three weeks after that he had resumed his functions at the Library! But there was no comfort to myself in the precedent. It is the same cough, the same haggard exhausted look that I never knew in any of the family (and I have known it often enough!) end otherwise than fatally. Well!—our family is destined to vanish from the face of the earth it would seem! And yet—it was a family with some high quality in it! health superadded, it might have gone far!— And what then?

It is all right about Lord A and the picture! that is to say it is not all wrong—as we had thought! I wrote nothingmeddling is such a thankless office, unless one is sure of doing some practical good by it! But yesterday Tait called, and said; “you know of course Lord A has bought the Picture,” and “on that hint I spake”! frankly taxed him with having put Combe10 up to reminding Lord A; and of implicating me, as it were, in picking the pocket of a friend (making me a forenoon visit) to the extent of 500! Explaining to him that, so little did Lord A wish for the picture, he had pressed it on my acceptance, &c &c. “If the transaction were not solemnly finished off; he Tait ought to break it off”! A more frank exposition of my feelings could not have been made!

Tait bore all meekly; only his face in a white heat!—for he felt conscious of fault in the business—but not the fault we had imputed to him. Here is the way in which the thing happened, (he solemnly assured me—offering proof of Combe's letter)—

Tait took Combe and his Wife to the Exhibition11—of course pointed out to them his own picture—which Combe, very much his friend and “maybes nae great jooge”!12 went into raptures over. From the Academy the female Combe and Tait drove to the Royal Institution,13 dropping the male Combe at Sir James Clark's,14 where he was engaged to lunch, and where he found himself sitting next Lord Ashburton. Of course he began talking of the academy pictures he had just come from, and, with pure zeal of friendship, mentioned with special approbation The Chelsea Interior— “Ah! said Lord A, listening with a pleased look: I rather think that picture belongs to me! I said I should be glad to buy it of the artist— Pray if he is a friend of yours, tell him I understand the picture to be mine, and will thank him to let me know its price.”— Now, really that sounds very like Lord A!—carried away by the impulse of the moment—pleased to say he was possessor of a picture the person next him was praising!—and so far poor Tait was blameless— He (Tait) next dropt Mrs Combe at Sir James who went to Lord A open-mouthed about a beautiful Leonardo da Vinci of his, at the Royal Institution— “Oh, said he, if you like pictures pray come to Bath House tomorrow morning, your husband and you, and look at my collection which is thought good:—and bring with you the artist who has painted the Chelsea Interior!—and dont, Mr Combe, forget my message to him about the picture being mine— All this is really very Lord-Ashburtonish!

“You seriously mean me to tell Mr Tait you take the picture at his own price?” asked Combe, like a discreet Scotchman— “Certainly Certainly”— So next morning Tait received a letter from Combe to this purport—which he will show me, he says,—

What Tait regrets is, that Lord A— never having heard the price of the picture, may have bought it dearer than he likes— For Tait himself considers the price a sort of fancy one—put on it “to prevent it falling into vulgar hands” (as he wrote to Lord A). He would really have taken off a hundred or two, I think, if it had not been “for the honour of the thing”—tho' the price being set down 500 in the Catalogue, Lord A might have known it from the beginning, had he liked— I believe it was from Tait himself Lord A got the idea that the price was high! wonderful Lord A! at all events it was Tait's conscience about the price that made him take my rating so meekly!— In token of recantation of my rancours against him, I have accepted, after some resistance, his escort to Rottingdean15 tomorrow—Mrs Welsh having betrayed my projected journey there before him when I was meaning to keep it secret— But I am not sure I will not contrive to jilt him yet!— the idea of being so many hours together in presence of a fellow creature—and such a fellow creature—makes me shiver!—tho he may be of use, taking tickets &c—

Mr Scott called the night you & I were going to the station and—called again yesterday for your address—and Dr Carlyle's—something else wanted!16— They gave me tea at Hampstead17—and strawberries without cream—the tea was like the washings with soada of a dirty old mettle tea pot!—but the cups and saucers were of the finest french china—and the cake was served up in Silver, and the butter was “in a lordly dish”— Rossette wept on my neck, and was very kind On the whole it was a pleasanter go than I expected. The Carpenter18 took down your bed yesterday and Oh triumph! not one bug discoverable!

Yours ever / JWC