JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 29 August 1837; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18370829-JWC-TC-01; CL 9:298-302.
JWC TO THOMAS CARLYLE
[29 August 1837]
I have been too long waiting for certainties—hithering and thithering1 being a condition under which I find it almost impossible to write or indeed to do any thing except fret myself to fiddlestrings. What I generally do in such cases is to shape out a decision with all despatch for myself, and leave the others to welter on after their own fashion; accordingly when I found on our arrival at Clifton, that it was all in the wind whether we should stay there one week or two or three, and whether we should return straight to London, or by Brighton, or by the Isle of Wight, or first making “a run over to Dublin,” I immediately announced my intention of descending by parachute, and was only prevented from carrying it into effect by humane consideration for the Parties in the Balloon, where there was evidently going to be an alarming explosion in case of my departure. Mrs Sterling having set her heart on a visit of some length to the Bartons, and his Whirlwindship finding the whole Barton generation “creatures without stimulus” whom he was desirous to cut and run from by “feeling it his duty to see poor Mr[s] Carlyle OME!” His secret purpose was evidently to take himself and me back in the carriage and leave Mrs S to follow as she could—and this I felt would have been a very ungracious proceeding towards that good soul who treats me with such kindness and consideration. I now perceive the use my company is of to them both, better then [sic] I did when we set out—I furnish, as it were, the sugar and ginger which makes the alkali of the one and the tartaric acid of the other effervesce into a somewhat more agreeable draught for ‘the effervescing of these people’!2— To say the least “it is very absurd”!3 But I shall keep all my stock of biographic NOTICES to enliven our winter evenings. Meanwhile you are to know that we left Malvern for Clifton a week ago, all of us with very dry eyes. Mr S on finding that certain Lords who smiled decietful [sic] at the Carlton Club,4 were absolutely inaccessible at the Foley Arms,5 suddenly discovered that “your beautiful scenery was a great humbug, as you had only to strip the soil a foot deep and it would be a vile black mass.” Mrs Sterling in her querulous qualifying about it and about it way—doubted whether it was ‘wholesome to overlook such a flat’ “not but what it was very well to have seen it for once—or if there was any necessity for living here—of course one would not object &c &c—[”] and for me—poverina [poor little thing]—from the first moment I set my eyes on the place, I foresaw that it would prove a failure—that it would neither make me a convert to nature, nor find me in a new nervous system—every day of our stay there I arose with a headach[e]—and my nights were unspeakable; every day I felt more emphatically that nature was an intolerable bore— Do not misconstrue me—genuine unsophisticated nature I grant you is all very amiable and harmless—but beautiful nature which Man has exploited as a Reviewer does a work of genius—making it a peg to hang his own conceits upon, to enact his Triomphe der Empfindsamkeit6 in—beautiful nature which you look out upon from pea-green arbours—which you dawdle about in on the backs of donkies—and where you are haunted with an everlasting smell of roast meat—all that I do declare to be the greatest of bores—and I would rather spend my days amidst downright acknowledged brick houses and paved streets than any such fool's paradises. So entirely unheimlich [dismal] I felt myself that the day I got your letter I cried over it for two or three hours. In other more favourable circumstances I should have recognised the tone of sadness that ran all thro' it, as the simple effect of a tiresome Journey and a doze of physic at the end, but read at Malvern with headach[e] and sleeplessness and ennui for interpreters!— Alas what could I do but fling myself on my bed and cry myself sick. I said to myself you were no better than when you left me and all this absence was gone for nothing. I wanted to kiss you into something like cheerfulness and the length of a kingdom was betwixt us—and if it had not—the probabilities are that with the best intentions I should have quarrelled with you rather. Poor men and women! what a time they have in this world—by destiny and their own deserving— But as Mr Bradfute used to say “tell us something we do not know.” Well then it is an absolute fact that his Whirlwindship and I road [sic] to the top of Malvern hill, each on a live donk[e]y! Just figure it! with a Welch [sic] lad whipping us up from behind; for they were the slowest of donkies tho' named in defiance of all probability Fly and Lively. “The Devil confound your donkies,” exclaimed my vivacious companion (who might really I think “but for the honour of the thing,” and perhaps some small diminution of the danger of bursting his lungs, have as well walked) “they are so stupidly stubborn that you might as well beat on a stick”! “And isn't it a good thing they be stubborn Sir” said the lad “as being, ye see, that they have no sense, if they warnt ‘stubborn’ they might be for taking down the steep and we wants no accidents Sir.” “Now” said I, “for the first time in my life I perceive why Conservatives are so stupidly stubborn[;] stubbor[n]ness, it seems, is a succedaneum for sense.” A flash of indignation—then in a soft tone “Do you know Mrs Carlyle you would be a vast deal more amiable if you were not so damnably clever”! This is a fair specimen of our talk at Malvern from dewy morn to balmy eve.
My procedure at Worcester (where we passed two days and whence I sent a newspaper) was unexpected and disappointing in the extreme. I walked into the house of the illustrious Archdeacon, along a lengthy passage, down two steps into an antique looking drawing room or suit of drawingrooms; without giving proof of being anything out of the common—I cast my nota-bene eyes over the man—a large portly figure belonging to the rotund school—the very beau ideal of an old Abbot—with a countenance full of twinkling intelligence and gregarious good humour, having a high metallic tone of voice, and a whisking sudden[n]ess of movement accompanied by a peculiar fling of the coat-skirts which reminded me forcibly of the Archivarius Lindhurst7—I also flung a cursory glance on a table where a massive lunch was spread out, such as realized one's sublimest conceptions of a Convent refectory, and then—without more said or done I pitched myself into a fluffy snowwhite bed which was shown me as mine where I lay twenty four hours—not out of sheer contradiction but because I really could no longer hold myself erect. In vain the prim archdeaconian Perpetua came at stated intervals to know ‘if I wanted any thing’ receiving always for answer “to be let alone”—and in vain the Whirlwind himself came at intervals not stated, to ask in a tone of deep tho' loud pathos (for it was from outside the door) “if I believed that he was exceedingly sorry,” receiving also one unvarying answer “Yes Yes” My headach[e] refused to listen to the voice of either charmer till it had run its course. It was indeed a strange preternatural night the first I passed in [t]hat prebendary establishment, right under the stroke (it seemed to me) of the great Cathedral clock, which strikes even the quarters, haunted by the images of the large Archdeaconus and large pigeon pie I had seen below, and taken together had to my overexcited imagination a cast of magic! especially in the dead of night, with a rushlight dimly lighting the chamber and my head quite mistified [sic] between this Worcester Archdeacon and the german Archivarius—and could by no possibility decide whether Archdeacon Singleton was not also the father of a green serpent and could make his face into a bronze knocker[!]8 Worthy man when he welcomed me anew next day with the broadest smiles he little suspected what strange thoughts I had had of him.— But I have quite miscalculated my distance—and have left no room for my travels history since.9 The loss will not be material— Suffice it to say we came from Malvern to Cheapstow all in one day besides ‘doing’ Eastnor Castle, Goodrich Castle, Tintern Abbey and Cheapstow Castle10—and the next on to Clifton—thoroughly tired body and soul. We are in lodgings here— I have a quiet room—and sleep better—every day we dine with the Bartons—the kindest people to dine with that one could wish, but as he says—there is a lack of stimulus. The brother that is returned from India is the most wonderful compound in appearance of Cavaignac and—Mr Bradfute[:] Ecco la combinazione [Behold the combination]!11— And now here is surprising news for you—John Sterling is to be back in London with his wife and her little ones about the tweth [sic]—He himself having turned towards Madeira—in consequence of the C[h]olera abroad, and the family to remain at Knight[s]bridge—which I do not think his Father half likes—poor John is really a little flighty—‘after all’. I fondly hope to quit Clifton the end of this present week and to go home by the base of the iso[s]celes triangle which the Isle of Whight [sic] makes with Clifton and London instead of along the two sides— I long for home—and to be putting in order for your coming—I shall send you a newspaper immediately on my landing—and then you will write to say when— O my darling we will surely be better both of us there again—effervescing even. Dont you think so?—I made no mark—wrote nothing on any newspaper—it must have been some editorial mark of Mr S's12 which I had not noticed— I have sent you papers from every large town where I have been.
I have left no room for kind messages—say for me all that you know I would wish to say— I saw the Crawfords13 at Monmouth— Mr C. is most emphatic for another course of lectures—the Characters14 he thought a most glorious project— I have no doubt but you will find an audience prepared to be enchanted with you whenever you want one
The Book seems to be much more popular than I ever expected— Archdeacon Singleton finds “nothing radical in it”!!15
If you could fall in with a copy of the Scotch Worthies16 I want it to give away.