July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


JWC TO JOHN STERLING; 1 February 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370201-JWC-JOST-01; CL 9:132-136.


1st February [1837]

My ever dear John Sterling

Here are thirty three pages of writing for you, which would divide into ten letters of the usual size! so that you see I discharge my debt to you, handsomely enough in the long run. But even if you should not be complaisant enough to accept a nonsense-fairy-tale1 in lieu of all the sense-letters I ought to have sent you; still you must not be after saying or thinking that “Mrs Carlyle has cut your acquaintance” John Sterling “is a man of sense” (as Mrs Buller one day, in Carlyle's hearing, said patronizingly of the Apostle Paul) and must know that Mrs Carlyle is a woman of sense; by this token, that she perceived him John Sterling the very first time she ever set eyes on him to be no humbug after all that had been said and sung about him, but the very sort of man one desires to see, and hardly ever succeeds in seeing in this make-believe world! Now I put it to your candour, whether any woman of sense, in her right senses, having found a pearl of great price,2 would dream of dissolving it in a tumbler of water and swallowing it all at one gulp? For such, in highly figurative language, would be the foolish use I should have made of your friendship, provided it were true, as you wrote, that I had already cut your acquaintance! O no! you have only to take a just view of your own merits and mine; to feel as convinced as tho' I had sworn it before a magistrate, that my long silence has proceeded from some “crook in the lot”3 and not in the mind. The fact is since I became so sick and dispirited, I have contracted a horror of letter-writing almost equal to the hydraphobea [sic] horror for cold water. I would write anything under Heaven fairy tales, or advertisements for Warren's blacking4 even rather than a letter! A letter behoves to tell about oneself, and when oneself is disagreeable to oneself; one would rather tell about anything else; for alas one does not find the same gratification in dwelling upon one's own sin and misery as in showing up the sin and misery of one's neighbour.

But if ever I get agreeable to myself again, I swear to you I will then be exceedingly communicative: in preparation for which desirable end, I must set about getting into better health, and that I may get into better health I must begin by growing wise. Which puts me in mind of a boy of ‘the English Opium Eater's5 who told me once he would begin Greek presently; but his Father wished him to learn it thro' the medium of Latin, and he was not entered in Latin yet, because his Father wished to teach him from a grammar of his own, which he had not yet begun to write!!

For the present we are all in sad taking with Influenza. People speak about it more than they did about Cholera; I do not know whether they die more from it. Miss Wilson not having come to close quarters with it, has her mind sufficiently at leisure to make philosophical speculations about its gender! She primly promulgates her opinion that Influenza is masculine; my Husband, for the sake of argument, I presume (for I see not what other interest he has in it) protests that Influenza is feminine; for me who have been laid up with it for two weeks and upwards, making lamentations of Jeremiah (not without reason) I am not prejudiced either way, but content myself with sincerely wishing it were neuter. One great comfort, however, under all afflictions, is that The French Revolution is happily concluded; at least it will be comfort when one is delivered from the tag-rag[g]ery of printer's devils that at present drive one from post to pillar. Quelle vie[What a life]! Let no woman who values peace of soul ever dream of marrying an Author!—that is to say if he be an honest one, who makes a conscience of doing the thing he pretends to do. But this I observe to you in confidence: should I state such a sentiment openly, I might happen to get myself torn in pieces, by the host of my Husband's lady-admirers, who already I suspect, think me too happy in not knowing my happiness.— You cannot fancy what way he is making with the fair Intellectuals here! There is Harriet Martineau6 presents him her ear-trumpet with a pretty blushing air of coquetry which would almost convince one out of belief in her indentity [sic]! And Mrs Pierce Butler, bolts in upon his studies (out of the atmosphere as it were) in riding-habit cap and whip (but no shadow of a horse, only a carriage—the whip, I suppose, being to whip the cushions with, for the purpose of keeping her hand in practice). My inexperienced Scotch Domestic remaining entirely in a nonplus whether she had let in “A Leddy or a gentleman”!7 And then there is a young American Beauty8—such a Beauty! “snow-and-rose-bloom” thro' out,—not as to clothes merely but complexion also—large and soft, and without one idea, you would say, to rub upon another! and this charming creature publicly declares herself his “ardent admirer”; and I heard her with my own ears call out quite passionately at parting with him “Oh Mr Carlyle I want to see you—to talk a long long time about—Sartor”!!—Sartor of all things in this world! what could such a young Lady have got to say about Sartor, can you imagine? And Mrs Marsh the moving Authoress of the Old Man's tales9 reads Sartor when she is ill in bed; from which one thing at least may be clearly infer[r]ed that her illness is not of the head.10 In short my dear Friend; the singular Author of Sartor appears to me at this moment to be rather in a perilous position; in as much as (with the innocence of a sucking dove, to outward appearance) he is leading honourable women not a few entirely off their feet— And who can say that he will keep his own!— After all, in sober earnest, is it not curious that my Husbands writings should be only completely understood and adequately appreciated by women and mad people? I do not know very well what to infer from the fact—

Having got rather into the sphere of scandal, I may mention before leaving it that John Mill and Mrs Taylor get on as charmingly as ever. I saw them together very lately looking most exstatically [sic] ‘Moony’ at one another, and sublimely superior to all the rest of the world! Mr Spedding11 is often to be heard of at Miss Wilson's—(not that I fancy anything amiss in that quarter)—only I mention him because he is your friend—for my part I cannot help feeling him to be exceedingly—sensible!—Mr Morris12 we rarely see—nor do I greatly regret his absence; for to tell you the truth, I am never in his company without being attacked with a sort of paroxysm of mental cramp! he keeps one always with his wire-drawings and paradoxes as if one were dancing on the points of one's toes (spiritually speaking)— And then he will help the kettle and never fails to pour it all over the milk pot and sugar bason [sic]!—

Henry Taylor draws off into the upper regions of Gigmanity—the rest I think are all as you left them.

Your Mother was here last night looking young and beautiful, with a new bonnet from Howel and James's13— Your brother is a great favorite with Carlyle—and with me also—only one dare not fly into his arms as one does into yours—

Will you give my affectionate regards to your wife, and a kiss for me to each of the children— Ask your wife to write a postscript in your next letter, I deserve some such sign of recollection from her, in return for all the kind thoughts I cherish of her— I wish to heaven you were all back again—you make a terrible chasm in our world which does not look as if it were ever going to get closed in— You will write to me? You will be good enough to write to me in spite of all?— There is nothing that I do not fancy you good enough for; so I shall confidently expect a letter— God bless you and all that belong to you—I am,

ever affectionately yours /

Jane W Carlyle

Carlyle has made every exertion to get you a printed copy of the diamond necklace, but it is not to [be] got this day— He adds his brotherly regards—