JWC TO ISABELLA EMILY BARNES ; 24 August 1859; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18590824-JWC-IEB-01; CL 35: 178-180
JWC TO ISABELLA EMILY BARNES
Auchtertool House / Kircaldy [24 August 1859]
My dear Miss Barnes
How nice of you to have written me a letter, “all out of your own head”1 (as the Children say)! and how very nice of you to have remarked the Forget-me-not, and read a meaning in it!— It was certainly with intention I tied up some Forget-me-nots along with my farewell roses, but I was far from sure of your recognising the intention, and at the same time not young enough to make it plainer. Sentiment, you see, is not well looked on by the present generation of Women; there is a growing taste for fastness or still worse, for strongmindedness!—
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Jane Welsh Carlyle to Isabella Barnes, [24 August 1859] (detail)
Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland
So, a discreet woman (like me!!) will beware always of putting her sentiment (when she has any) in evidence—will rather leave it, as in the Forget-me-not case, to be divined thro’ sympathy; and, failing the sympathy, to escape notice.
And you are actually going to get married!2 You! Already! And you expect me to congratulate you!—or “perhaps not.” I admire the judiciousness of that “perhaps not”!— Frankly, my Dear; I wish you all happiness in the new life that is opening to you; and you are marrying under good auspices since your Father approves of the marriage. But—congratulations on such occasions seems to me a tempting of Providence! The Triumphal-Procession air which in our Manners and Customs, is given to Marriage at the outset—that singing of Te Deum before the battle has begun—has, since ever I could reflect, struck me as somewhat senseless and somewhat impious! If ever one is to pray, if ever one is to feel grave and anxious if ever one is to shrink from vain show and vain babble—surely it is just on the occasion of two human beings binding themselves to one another for better and for worse, till death part them; just on that occasion which it is customary to celebrate only with rejoicings, and congratulations, and trousseaux and—white ribbon! good god!—
Will you think me mad if I tell you that when I read your words “I am going to be married,” I all but screamed! Positively it took away my breath, as if I saw you in the act of taking a flying leap—into Infinite Space! You had looked to me such a happy happy little girl! Your Father's only daughter, and he so fond of you, so proud of you as he evidently was! After you and he had walked out of our house together that night, and I had gone up to my own room—I sat down there in the dark and took “a good cry”!— You had reminded me so vividly of my own youth, when I, also an only daughter—an only Child—had a Father as fond of me as proud of me!— I wondered if you knew your own happiness! Well! knowing it or not, it has not been enough for you, it would seem! Naturally— Youth is so insatiable of happiness, and has such sublimely insane faith in its own power to make happy and be happy!
But of your Father? Who is to cheer his toilsome life and make home bright for him? His companion thro’ half a life time gone! his dear “bit of rubbish” gone too—tho’ in a different sense! Oh little girl! little girl! do you know the blank you will make to him?3
Now, upon my honour, I seem to be writing just such a letter as a raven might write if it had been taught!
Perhaps the henbane4 I took in despair last night has something to do with my mood today—anyhow when one can only ray out darkness, one had best clap an extinguisher on oneself— And so God bless you—
Sincerely yours /
Jane W. Carlyle