July 1836-December 1837

The Collected Letters, Volume 9


JWC TO JOHN WELSH; 4 March 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370304-JWC-JWE-01; CL 9:159-162.


5 Cheyne Row 4th March [1837]

Dearest Uncle of me

“Fellowfeeling makes us wondrous kind”!1 You and my aunt have had the influenza: I also have had the influenza; a stronger bond of sympathy need not be desired: and so the Spirit moves me to write you a letter:—and if you think there is no very ‘wondrous kindness’ in that, I can only say you are mistaken—seeing that I have had so much indispensable writing to do of late days, that like a certain Duchess of Orleans I was reading about the other week, “when night comes, I am often so tired with writing, that I can hardly put one foot before the other”!

But with respect to this influenza Uncle, what think you of it? above all HOW is it, and WHY is it? For my part with all my cleverness I cannot make it out. Sometimes I am half persuaded that there is (in co[c]kney dialect) “a DO at the bottom on it”;2 medical men all over the world having merely entered into a tacit agreement to call all sorts of maladies people are liable to, in cold weather, by one name, so that one sort of treatment may serve for all, and their practice be thereby greatly simplified. In more candid moments, however, I cannot help thinking that it has something to do with the ‘diffusion of useful knowledge’:3—if not a part of that knowledge, at least that it is meant as a counterpoise, so that our minds may be preserved in equilibrium; between the consciousness of our enormous acquirements on the one hand, and on the other the generally diffused experience, that all the acquirements in the world are not worth a rush to one compared with the blessedness of having a head clear of snifters! However it be; I am thankful to Heaven, that I was the chosen victim in this house, instead of my Husband. For had he been laid up at present, there would have been the very devil to pay. He has TWO Printers on his book that it may if possible be got published in April; and it will hardly be well off his hands when he is to deliver a course of lectures on German Literature to ‘Lords and Gentlemen’ and ‘honourable women not a few.’ You wonder how he is to get thro' such a thing; so do I—very sincerely, the more, as he purposes to speak these lectures extempore, Heaven bless the mark! having indeed no leisure to prepare them, before the time at which they will be wanted. One of his Lady-admirers (by the way he is getting a vast number of Lady admirers) was saying the other day that the grand danger to be feared for him was, that he should commence with ‘Gentlemen and Ladies’ instead of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ a transmutation which would ruin him at the very outset. He vows however that he will say neither the one thing nor the other; and I believe him very secure on that side. Indeed I should as soon look to see gold pieces or penny loaves drop out of his mouth, as to hear from it any such hum-drum unrepublican-like commonplace. If he finds it necessary to address his audience by any particular designation it will be thus; ‘Men and Women’! or perhaps in my Penfillan Grandfather's4 style “Fool-creatures come here for diversion[.]” On the whole if his hearers be reasonable, and are content that there be good sense in the things he says without requiring that he should furnish them with brains to find it out; I have no doubt but his success will be emminent [sic]. The exhibition is to take place in Willis's Rooms: ‘to begin at three and end at four precisely’ and to be continued every Monday and Friday thro' the first three weeks of May—‘begin precisely,’ it may; with proper precaution on my part, to put all the clocks and watches in the house half an hour before the time; but as to the ‘ending precisely’!—that is all to be tried for! There are several things in this world which once set a-going, it is not easy to stop; and the Book is one of them. I have been thinking that perhaps the readiest way of—bringing him to a cetera desunt [a stop, rather than a conclusion]—(conclusion is out of the question) would be just as the clock strikes four to have a lighted cigar laid on the table before him—we shall see! The French Revolution done, and the Lectures done; he is going somewhere (to Scotland most probably) to rest himself a while—to lie about the roots of hedges and speak to no man, woman, or child, except in monosyllables! a reasonable project enough considering the worry he has been kept in for almost three years back. For my part having neither published nor lectured, I feel no call to refresh myself by such temporary descent from my orbit under the waves, and in Shakespearean dialect, I had such a ‘bellyful5 of travelling last year as is likely to quell my appetite in that way for some time to come. If I had been consulted in the getting up of the Litany, there would have been particular mention made of steamboats mailcoaches and heavy-coaches among those things from which we pray to be delivered; and more emphatic mention made of “such as travel by land or sea.”

My mother writes to me from Dabton, where she is nursing the Crichtons.6 In my humble opinion she is (as my Mother-in-law would say) ‘gay idle o' wark’ [sadly lacking in something to do]. I have expended much beautiful rhetoric in trying to persuade her hitherward and she prefers nursing these Crichtons! Well! There [is] no accounting for taste!7 She will come however she says when you have been there—but not sooner—so I hope you will pay your visit as early in the season as you can—for it would be a pity if she landed as last time, after all the fine weather was gone, and the town emptied. Give my kindest love to my kind Aunt—and kisses to all the children. I owe my cousin Helen a letter, and will certainly be just after having been generous. My Husband sends his affectionate regards and hopes you received the copies of two ‘articles’ which he sent:— Mr Gibson8 has not been here for some weeks—he begins to look stif[f]ish and a little round at the shoulders—otherwise as heretofore. God bless you all my dearest Uncle— Yours Jane W Carlyle—


Early in January 1837 it must have been when book on ‘French Revolution’ was finished. I wrote the last paragraph of it here (within a yard of where I now am) in her presence one evening after dinner. Damp tepid kind of evening, still by daylight, read it to her or left her to read it; probably with a ‘Thank God, it is done, Jeannie!’ and then walked out up the Gloucester Road towards Kensington way: don't remember coming back, or indeed anything quite distinct for three or four months after. My thoughts were by no means of an exultant character: pacifically gloomy rather, something of sullenly contemptuous in them, of clear hope (except in the ‘desperate’ kind) not the smallest glimpse. I had said to her, perhaps that very day, ‘I know not whether this book is worth anything, nor what the world will do with it, or misdo, or entirely forbear to do (as is likeliest), but this I could tell the world: You have not had for a hundred years any book that came more direct and flamingly sincere from the heart of a living man; do with it what you like, you——!’ My poor little Jeannie and me, hasn't it nearly killed us both? This also I might have said, had I liked it, for it was true. My health was much spoiled; hers too by sympathy, by daily helping me to struggle with the intolerable load. I suppose by this time our money, too, was near done: busy friends, the Wilsons principally, Miss Martineau, and various honourable women, were clear that I ought now to lecture on ‘German Literature,’ a sure financial card, they all said; and set to shaping, organising, and multifariously consulting about the thing; which I unwillingly enough, but seeing clearly there was no other card in my hand at all, was obliged to let them do. The printing of ‘French Revolution,’ push as I might, did not end till far on in April— ‘Lectures,’ six of them, of which I could form no image or conjecture beforehand, were to begin with May.—T.C.