January 1835-June 1836

The Collected Letters, Volume 8


JWC TO ELIZA STODART; 29 February 1836; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18360229-JWC-EA-01; CL 8:313-316.


[ca. 29 February 1836]

Dear Dear Eliza

It has several times occurred to me of late, with a painful force of apprehension, that I am what is called bewitched. I sit here week after week, month after month, looking at things which I have the most evident call to do, and with apparently no more power to bestir myself than the Lady in Comus! For instance with respect to yourself; I have wished to tell you, have meant to tell you, and by all laws of good loving ought to have told you, ages ago; that I am still alive, and true to you as in the days of my “wee existence”! And yet for no visible reason, I have gone on telling you nothing of the sort.—nothing of any sort—but leaving you to suppose me a heartless renegade, unless indeed your faith be greater than that of woman. Well! believe it or no, as you like and can; I love you still with all the ardour of my young enthusiasm—much more heartily and trustfully than I am apt to love nowadays with my middleaged discretion. Yet I have set myself very seriously to the business of loving since I came here—conscious that my long sojourn in the wilderness had developed certain misanthrophical tendencies in me that were leading me rather devilward,—into the region of hatred and all uncharitabl[e]ness! With a good deal of effort I have got up a sentiment for several men and women which has a good right to go by the name of friendship in these days. I have even executed two or three innocent flirtations with good effect, and on the whole live in great amity with my fellow creatures. They call me “sweet,” and “gentle”; and some of the men go the length of calling me “ENDEARING” and I laugh in my sleeve1 and think oh Lord! if you but knew what a brimstone of a creature I am behind all this beautiful amiability! But my sentiment for you dearest, is not “got up,” but grown up with me out of my sunny childhood, and wears always a sunny healthful look that these half-literary half-sentimental intimacies contracted after thirty can never match. The fault however is not in the people but in the time. “You great fool” said my Uncle Robert, once to me, when I was flying into somebody's arms on the North Bridge, “you will surely learn sometime or other that every body is not in such ecstacies to see you as you are in to see everybody”!! My judicious Uncle! you were there and then a true Prophet! I have long ago learnt to distrust the ecstacies produced at sight of me in others, and consequently cease to give way to any sort of ecstacy in myself. When I fly into any ones arms now and “swear everlasting friendship” it is always with a secret misgiving, and a secret and almost risibile [sic] conscious of a certain theatricality in the transaction. The words ‘forever’ ‘eternal’ ‘constant’ ‘faithful’ and such like applied to the friendships and loves that one begins at the years of discretion never fall on my ears except accompanied by something like the distant laugh of malicious friends. Melancholy effects of age!! “O the days when I was young”! and confident and foolish! Do you like to be wise Bess? I dont at all!—but one is is [sic] obliged to put a good face on the matter. And so I sit here in no 5 Cheyne Row and make grave pantomime, and grave speech in acknowledgement of all the wisdom I hear uttered by the celebrated men and women of the age; thinking my own thought all the while which is often this or something like this—“Was not sitting under a hay-stack in a summers day with Bess and George Rennie2—or even weeping childlike purely affectionate tears at the sound of the Castle bugles;3 when in reply to my demand to be allowed to marry, they4 sent me two halfcrowns and some barley-sugar; worth a whole eternity of this idle speculation and barren logic”? But the people here are good people, and with many noble gifts in them, and to me they have been quite incomprehensibly kind so that I ought not to feel discontent with THEM because the magic of the imagination in me has got impaired by years, and no spectacles that reason can invent does any thing at making the world so green and glorious for me as it once was. My chief intimates are a family of Sterlings— The Father known by the na[me] of “the Thunderer of the Times”—a clever, tumultuous, vapi[d] sort of a half-Irishman,5—the Mother a kind sincere wellenough cullivated [sic] most motherly half Scotchwoman6—the Son!7—An angel of Heaven! ostensibly a Clergyman of the church of England, and author of Arthur Coningsby a highly original Novel; He has also a wife, very fat, and good natured and fine ladyish in the best sense of the term.8 These people, as the elder Sterling told Susan Hunter when she was here, “all adore me”! Certainly they load me with kindnesses and treat me as if I were a sort of necessary to their existence: The very footman and Ladysmaid “have been quite anxious” if I have staid away half a week Mrs Sterlings portrait in oil hangs over my Mantle-piece9—and the whole thing is in the most flourishing condition—if it do but last[;] then I have an Italian Conte,10 one of the first poets of Italy, the handsomest and bestmannered of men, who comes twice a week or so and makes my thoughts melodious for the rest of the day. He was my Mothers chief indeed I think only favorite here among all our people; which was curious as they had no medium of communication but their eyes! For my part I speak Italian now like a nightingale. and will I am told soon write it “better than any native Signora”! Like the man and the fiddle nobody knows what he can do till he try.11 Did you hear tell of my Darling Degli Antoni?12—your recent distress13 prevented me introducing her to you among the rest of my Edinr friends. She is another of my special friends: it is so delightful to be called “carissima amica [dearest friend]” &c that it is worth while to keep up an Italian friendship or two for the purpose. But oh my dear Eliza would you but come and see all that I have—in the way of friends, in the way of house room in the way of hearts room! what glorious days we might still have together after all that is come and gone! Your Uncle, I rejoice to hear is better again, can you not come then? The journey is a mere trifle. the [we]lcome would be a great reality! To me y[ou w]ould indeed be welcome as flowers in May—or rather were it not better to say as flowers in December; and to my Husband you would be welcome—as a cigar in a land destitute of tobacco!!— Oh Bess will you will you come? Kisses to your uncle— My Husband is pretty well—almost thro the second volume of his illfated book—thinks of your Uncle and you with grateful affection—is on the whole the cleverest man I meet with still and the truest. I have never yet thanked you with my own hand for your beautiful stockings but I never wear them without thanking you silently. Godbles[s] you Dearest write to me soon tho I do not deserve it—and love me always—your own Jane Welsh