January-October 1859

The Collected Letters, Volume 35


JWC TO DAVID DAVIDSON ; 14 February 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18590214-JWC-DD-01; CL 35: 32-36


5 CHEYNE ROW, CHELSEA, Monday, 14th Feby. 1859.

MY DEAR FRIEND,—It is not to YOU that I should write this evening, if I were animated by a due sense of “the duty nearest hand!”1 Putting aside all questions about a cap to be “done up” (alas that England should expect2 of one to wear caps at “a certain age” for all that one's hair don't turn grey!) and all questions about three pair of socks in my workbasket in immediate need of darning; then Katie Macready in breathless expectation of a letter from me to tell her “what I think” of a bulky MS.,3 on which after the fashion of young ladies of the present day, she has been employing her leisure, instead of on a sampler; and there is Miss Anderton (a young actress and a good girl as can be) expecting “a few lines” about a sensible little “article” of hers, entitled “Thoughts on Actresses,4 in the Englishwomen's Journal,5 which she sent me yesterday. (What a mercy you were married a good many years ago! You could hardly have succeeded in finding a wife now who had not published a Book or contributed to a Journal, or at least had a manuscript in progress!) And there is an unknown Entity, who is pleased to pass by the name of George Eliot, to whom I have owed acknowledgment a week back for the present of her6 new novel Adam Bede,7 a really charming book, which novel tho’ it be I advise you to read—and engage that you will not think the time misspent—under penalty of reading the dreariest book of sermons you like to impose on me if you do! All that I don't feel equal to breaking ground on to-night. My pen positively would not begin with anything to-night but “My dear Friend.” Besides I don't want you to be thinking me quite a Brute! insensible to your kindness in writing me such nice long letters—deaf to the echoes of dear long ago, that sound through them. That little picture of your visit to Grant's Braes!8 how pretty, how dream-like! awaking so many recollections of my own young visiting there—the dinners of rice and milk with currants—a very few currants—kind, thrifty Mrs. Gilbert Burns used to give me, with such a welcome! of play-fellows, boys and girls—all I fancy dead now—who made my Saturdays at Grant's Braes white days for me! I went to see the dear old house, when I was last at Sunny Bank,9 and found the new prosaic farm house in its stead, and it was as if my heart had knocked up against it! a sort of (moral) blow in the breast is what I feel always at these sudden revelations of the new strange uncared for thing usurping the place of the thing one knew as well as oneself, and had all sorts of associations with, and had hung the fondest memories on! When I first saw Mrs. Somerville (of mathematical celebrity)10 I was much struck with her exact likeness to Mrs. G. Burns—minus the geniality—and plus the feathers in her head! and I remember remarking to my husband, that after all Mrs. Burns was far the cleverer woman of the two, in as much as to bring up twelve children,11 as these young Burns were brought up, and keep up such a comfortable house as Grant's Braes, all on eighty pounds a year, was a much more intricate problem than the Reconcilement of the Physical Sciences! and Mr. C. cordially agreed with me. I am glad, however, the Centenary is over! for Mr. C. was pestered out of his wits with letters from “all the braying Jackasses in in Creation” about it.12 If he had cut himself up into square inches he could not have been present at all the “occasions” where he was summoned. He (Mr. C.) is as busy as ever tearing away at his new volumes. Meanwhile I am spending my life with the two Royal Children (of his title page)13 as large as life! Lord Ashburton having made me a present of the Picture from which the engraving was made.14 It quite makes the fortune of my drawing-room. For one thing, it serves the end our pretty little Shandy15 used to serve at Haddington, and is something for the stupid callers to chatter about. A very interesting letter came to-day to Mr. C. from Captain Pelly,16 the intimate friend of Colonel Jacob,17 who got back to India just in time to be with him at his death. He himself, Jacob, called his illness “complete loss of vital power, with inability to sleep.” For seven nights he had never closed his eye, yet was making himself go on and do work all the same. He said to Pelly the day before his last, affectionately pressing his hand, “I am passing away, and am glad of it.”18 All that day he said his face was superhumanly beautiful. What a long time it is since you were in London!19 Are you not ashamed of yourself for being able to sit still in this restless age? I have been very anxious these many weeks about my dear old Miss Donaldson.20 She has been living or rather holding on to life, beyond all expectation of those about her. Her mind is as clear and her heart as warm as ever, but her physical life is going out slowly slowly, amidst nervous suffering sad to think of in one so old, and so patient. I have not had a cold since November, and can drive out in good days, a great improvement on last year. Kind regards to your wife.– Affectionately yours,