JWC TO ELIZA STODART AITKEN; 6 March 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370306-JWC-EA-01; CL 9:167-170.
JWC TO ELIZA STODART AITKEN
[Ca. 6 March 1837]
Your Husband's letter1 written in Influenza found me in the same! I have had it severely and long; and am only now getting out in the heat of the day (if there be any such thing) while my head when it does not absolutely ache continues to feel much as if it had been brayed in a morter[.]2 Happily myself and the cat are the only individuals that have been laid up in this house: and as neither it nor I have anything at press, or are acting upon the public in any particular way; “the prevailing malady” could not have made a more judicious election. Indeed I would rather have the whole to do over again a dozen times myself, than that my Husband should have anything to say to it at present he is so worried with other matters— Two printers are on his book at the same time, and the life he leads between them puts me in mind of those unhappy “fish fish” in the Arabian Nights that were always a-frying and required to be “at their duty.”3 Besides this, he has a course of lectures on German Literature hanging over him, which it is evident to me he will not have an hour's leisure to prepare— And how he is to get thro' them successfully without preparation,—or what is to become of poor me if he break down in the midst! are questions of no light concern to my forecasting mind. But “I hope better things tho' [I] thus speak[”]4— A Lady was suggesting to me the other day that the danger of all dangers for him would be at the very outset, that if he only escaped saying “Gentlemen and Ladies” instead of “Ladies and Gentlemen,” the rest would be all plain sailing— And he promises that he will certainly say neither the one thing nor the other: so I await what May shall bring forth with tolerable composure—the more as it is the people who have asked HIM to speak, rather than he who has asked the people to hear.
When the Book is done with, and the Lectures done with, he proposes going to Scotland, or somewhere, for a long rest— But I do not think of accompanying him, having almost a cat-like attachment to my own house, as well as a constitutional incapacity for travelling, to say nothing of the preference I give to London before all other places. It is in fact a jewel of a place; for this reason, that if you want to be solitary you may have your humour out as completely as if you were at Craigenputtoch and if you are socially disposed you may have society to all lengths and of every possible cut so that it is strange if you do not find something to suit you. For my part I go upon the principle that “variety is charming”;5 and as somebody was telling me of myself the other day, I have “a whole humanum genus (human race) of friends.”—
In fact if there is any one thing to be learnt more than another, by living in London it is a due Catholicism of taste. One sees so many things which one has been used to consider antagonists and irreconcilable, existing along side of one another in peace and harmony! and still more one learns to lassen gelten [grant value] (ask your Husband—happy that you have one who knows German) by the fair appreciation you find from people as different as possible from yourself and from one another. Never has it happened to me to hear in London that phrase which in small towns and even in Edinr one is constantly hearing; such and such people “are not in my way.” People are content here with simply having ways, without trying to persuade their neighbours that they are the only ones that lead to salvation. They have ascertained, that from the centre to the circumference there are many more radii than one, and they are only moved to astonishment and disapprobation when a fellow creature flies over the circumference into the infinite Inane. But this is unbearable; to philosophize and metaphorize all in a breath! You will agree however that it is not easy to keep oneself “a plain human creature”6 in the midst of so much example to the contrary. Positively for weeks together sometimes I do not set eyes on or exchange words with one “plain human creature,” but only with human creatures more or less ornamented, or—perverted. Of all these ornamented human creatures the one I take most delight in is Harriet Martineau! The horrid picture in Fraser with the cat looking over its shoulder was not a bit like,7 and the Artist8 deserved to have been hanged and quartered for so vile a calumny. Neither does the idea generally formed of the woman merely from her reputation as a Political Economist do her more justice than that picture! They may call her what they please, but ‘it is plain to me and to everybody of common sense’ (as my Uncle Robert said) that she is distinctly good looking—warmhearted even to a pitch of romance, witty as well as wise, very entertaining and entertainable in spite of the deadening and killing appendage of an ear-trumpet, and finally, as ‘our Mother’ used to finish off a good character “very fond of ME.” I had a fly at Fanny Kemble (Mrs Butler) also this winter, but it would not do. She is green-room all over, and with a heart all tossed up into blank verse—blank verse too of the “fish-be it e-er so salt / “is ne-er too salt for me,”9 sort. The longer I live the more I want naturalness in people— I think Mr Simpson10 would say I keep “my charming naivete” to a wonder—
I have filled my paper without a word on the subject nearest your heart11—and nearest mine while I have been writing. But I do as I would be done by— I offer no idle condolences for I never found such of any comfort to myself. And my regard for your Uncle is well enough known to you to make any assurances of sympathy from me superflous. I hoped to have seen him again— It was not to be. He is gone from us all, but the memory of his worth and his kindness will abide w[ith] some of us while we live.
Perhaps I should have written this to your Husband—but it is not lost what a friend gets—perhaps too I should have written it more legibly—but “the weather is cold, and I am grown old”12 and so I have the paper on my knees in front of the fire which is not a way to make copperplate.
Pray write soon, for I am anxious to hear that your health is quite restored.
Your affectionate /