January-October 1859

The Collected Letters, Volume 35


JWC TO GEORGE ELIOT ; 20 February 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18590220-JWC-GEL-01; CL 35: 37-39


5 Cheyne Row Chelsea 20th February / 59.

Dear Sir

I must again offer you my heartiest thanks. Since I received your Scenes of Clerical Life1 nothing has fallen from the skies to me so welcome as Adam Bede, all to myself,2 “from the Author.”

My Husband had just read an advertisement of it aloud to me,3 adding; “Scenes of Clerical Life? That was your Book wasn't it?” (The ‘your’ being in the sense not of possession but of prediliction) “Yes,” I had said, “and I am so glad that he has written another! Will he send me this one, I wonder?”—thereby bringing on myself an utterly disregarded admonition about “the tendency of the Female Mind to run into unreasonable expectations” when up rattled the Parcel Delivery cart, and, a startling double-rap having transacted itself, a Book-parcel was brought me. “There it is!” I said, with a little air of injured innocence triumphant!—“There is what, my Dear?”—“Why, Adam Bede to be sure”!—“How do you know?” (I had not yet opened the parcel) “By divination.”—“Oh!—Well!—I hope you also divine that Adam Bede will justify your enthusiasm now you have got it”!—“As to that” (snappishly) “I needn't have recourse to divination, only to natural logic!”—— Now; if it had turned out not Adam Bede after all; where was my “diminished head”4 going to have hidden itself?— But Fortune favours the Brave!5 I had foretold aright, on both points! The Book was actually Adam Bede, and Adam Bede “justified my enthusiasm”; to say the least!

Oh yes! It was as good as going into the country for one's health, the reading of that Book was!— Like a visit to Scotland minus the fatigues of the long journey and the grief of seeing friends grown old, and Places that knew me knowing me no more! I could fancy, in reading it, to be seeing and hearing once again a crystal-clear, musical, scotch stream, such as I long to lie down beside and— cry at (!) for gladness and sadness; after long stifling Sojourn in the South; where there no water but what is stagnant or muddy!—

In truth, it is a beautiful most human Book! Every Dog in it, not to say every man woman and child in it, is brought home to one's ‘business and bosom,’6 an individual fellow-creature! I found myself in charity with the whole human race when I laid it down—the canine race I had always appreciated—“not wisely but too well!”7—the human, however,— Ach!—that has troubled me—as badly at times as “twenty gallons of milk on one's mind”!8 For the rest; why you are so good to me is still a mystery, with every appearance of remaining so! Yet have I lavished more childish conjecture on it than on anything since I was a child, and got mistified about—a door (!) in our dining-room. What did that door open into? Why had I never seen it opened? Standing before it, “as in presence of The Infinite,”9 I pictured to myself glorious possibilities on the other side, and also horrible ones! I spun long romances about it in my little absurd head! I never told how that door had taken hold of me, for I “thought shame”;10 it was a curiosity too sacred for speech! But I lay in wait to catch it open some day; and then I somehow—forgot all about it!—till long after (a year or so) that the recollection of my door-worship occurred to me “quite promiscuously,”11 and in the same instant, the whole fact as to the door smote me, like a slap on the face! It was a door into—nothing! Make-believe! There for uniformity! Behind it was bare lath and plaster; behind that the Drawing-room with its familiar tables and chairs! Dispelled illusion no. 1! and epitome “of much!” (as Mr Carlyle might say)

Perhaps could I penetrate my little mystery of the present date; I should arrive at the same sort of lath-and-plaster results! And so— I give it up; just “taking,” gratefully and gladly, “the good the Gods (under the name of George Elliot) have provided me.”12

Now, Heaven knows if such a long letter to read be not illustrating for you also “the tendency of the female mind to run into unreasonable expectations”! But just consider! Is it possible that, with my opportunities, I should not know perfectly well, what a “distinguish-Author” does with letters of compliment that bore him; either by their length or their stupidity? He, lights his pipe with them, or he makes them into spills; or he crushes them into a ball, and pitches them in the fire or waste-paper basket; does anything with them except read them! So I needn't take fright about having bored you; Since, long before it came to that, I should have, or shall have been slit up into spills, or done good service in lighting your pipe!13 It is lawful for Clergymen to smoke, I hope,—for their own sakes? The newspaper critics have decided you are a Clergyman, but I don't believe it the least in the world.14 You understand the duties and uses of a Clergyman too well, for being one! An old Lord, who did not know my Husband, came up to him once at a Public meeting where he had been summoned to give his “views” (not having any) on the “Distressed Needle Women,”15 and asked; “pray Sir, may I inquire, are you a Stock-Broker?”—“A Stock-Broker! certainly not!”—“Humph! Well I thought you must be a Stock-Broker; because, Sir, you go to the root of the matter.”— If that be the signal of a Stock-Broker I should say you must certainly be a Stock Broker, and must certainly not be a Clergyman!

Respectfully and affectionately yours, whatever you be

Jane W. Carlyle