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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Jane Welsh Carlyle: Private Writing ("because it's cheap")


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Jane Baillie Carlyle (née Welsh): Samuel Laurence, n.d. (National Portrait Gallery)

21 October [1853]. - I remember Charles Butler saying of the Duchess de Praslin's murder. 'What could a poor fellow do with a wife who kept a journal but murder her?' There was a certain truth hidden in this light remark. Your journal all about feelings aggravates whatever is factitious and morbid in you; that I have made experience of. And now the only sort of journal I would keep should have to do with what Mr. Carlyle calls 'the fact of things'. It is very bleak and barren, this fact of things, as I now see it - very; and what good is to result from writing of it in a paper book is more than I can tell. But I have taken a notion to, and perhaps I shall blacken more paper this time, when I begin quite promiscuously without any moral end in view; but just as the Scotch professor drank whisky, because I like it, and because it's cheap.

October 22. - I was cut short in my introduction last night by Mr. C.'s return from Bath House. That eternal Bath House. I wonder how many thousand miles Mr. C. has walked between there and here, putting it all together; setting up always another milestone and another betwixt himself and me. Oh, good gracious! when I first noticed that heavy yellow house without knowing, or caring to know, who it belonged to, how far I was from dreaming that through years and years I should carry every stone's weight of it on my heart. About feelings already! Well, I will not proceed, though the thoughts I had in my bed about all that were tragical enough to fill a page of thrilling interest for myself, and though, as George Sand has shrewdly remarked, 'rien ne soulage comme la rhètorique.'

October 23. - A stormy day within doors, so I walked out early, and walked, walked, walked. If peace and quietness be not in one's own power, one can always give oneself at least bodily fatigue - no such bad succedaneum after all. Life gets to look for me like a sort of kaleidoscope - a few things of different colours - black predominating, which fate shakes into new and ever new combinations, but always the same things over again. To-day has been so like a day I still remember out of ten years ago; the same still dreamy October weather, the same tumult of mind contrasting with the outer stillness; the same causes for that tumult. Then, as now, I had walked, walked, walked with no aim but to tire myself.

October 25. - Oh, good gracious alive; what a whirlwind - or rather whirlpool - of a day! Breakfast had 'passed off' better or worse, and I was at work on a picture-frame, my own invention, and pretending to be a little work of art, when Mr. C.'s bell rang like mad, and was followed by cries of 'Come, come! are you coming?' Arrived at the second landing, three steps at a time, I saw Mr. C. and Ann in the spare bedroom hazily through a waterfall! The great cistern had overflowed, and was raining and pouring down through the new ceiling, and plashing up on the new carpet. All the baths and basins in the house were quickly assembled on the floor, and I, on my knees, mopping up with towels and sponges, &c.

In spite of this disaster, and the shocking bad temper induced by it, I have had to put on my company face to-night and receive. ----- and ----- were the party. Decidedly I must have a little of 'that damned thing called the milk of human kindness' after all, for the assurance that poor ----- was being amused kept me from feeling bored.

My heart is very sore to-night, but I have promised myself not to make this journal a 'miserere,' so I will take a dose of morphia and do the impossible to sleep.

October 31. - Rain! rain! rain! 'Oh, Lord! this is too ridiculous,' as the Annandale farmer exclaimed, starting to his feet when it began pouring, in the midst of his prayer for a dry hay time. I have no hay to be got in, or anything else that I know of, to be got in; but I have a plentiful crop of thorns to be got out, and that, too, requires good weather. To-day's post brought the kindest of letters from Geraldine, inclosing a note from Lady de Capel Broke she is staying with, inviting me to Oakley Hall. This lady's 'faith in things unseen' excited similar faith on my part, and I would go, had I nothing to consider but how I should like it when there. I had to write a refusal, however. Mr. C. is 'neither to hold nor bind' when I make new visiting acquaintances on my own basis, however unexceptionable the person may be. The evening devoted to mending Mr. C.'s trowsers among other things! 'Being an only child,' I never 'wished' to sew men's trowsers - no, never!

November 1 - At last a fair morning to rise to, thanks God! Mazzini never says 'thank God' by any chance, but always 'thanks God'; and I find it sounds more grateful. Fine weather outside in fact, but indoors blowing a devil of a gale. Off into space, then, to get the green mould that has been gathering upon me of late days brushed off by human contact.

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Cheyne Walk, Chelsea: Thomas Rowlandson (?). c. 1800

November 5. - Alone this evening. Lady A. in town again; and Mr. C. of course at Bath House.

When I think of what I is
And what I used to was,
I gin to think I've sold myself
For very little cas.

November 6. - Mended Mr. C.'s dressing-gown. Much movement under the free sky is needful for me to keep my heart from throbbing up into my head and maddening it. They must be comfortable people who have leisure to think about going to Heaven! My most constant and pressing anxiety is to keep out of Bedlam! that's all. ... Ach! If there were no feelings 'what steady sailing craft we should be,' as the nautical gentleman of some novel says.

November 7. - Dear, dear! What a sick day this has been with me. Oh, my mother! nobody sees when I am suffering now; and I have learnt to suffer 'all to myself.' From 'only childness' to that, is a far and a rough road to travel.

Oh, little did my mother think,
The day she cradled me,
The lands I was to travel in,
The death I was to dee.

November. - 'S'exagérer ses droits, oublier ceux des autres, cela pent être fort commode; mais cela n'est pas toujours profitable et on a lieu souvent de s'en repentir. Il vaudrait mieux souvent avoir des vices qu'un caractère difficile. Pour que les femmes perdent les familles, il faut qu'elles aillent jusqu'à l'inconduite, jusqu'au désordre. Pour les y pousser, il suffit souvent qu'un homme gâte toutes ses bonnes qualités et les leurs par des procédés injustes, de ia dureté et du dédain.'

It is not always, however, that unjust treatment, harshness, and disdain in her husband drives a woman jusqu'au désordre, but it drives her to something, and something not to his advantage, any more than to hers.

To-day has been like other days outwardly. I have done this and that, and people have come and gone, but all as in a bad dream.

November 13. - Taken by ----- to Lord John's lecture at Exeter Hall. The crowd was immense, and the applause terrific; the lecture 'water bewitched.' One thing rather puzzled me: at every mention of the name Christ (and there was far too much of it) the clapping and stamping rose to such a pitch that one expected always it must end in 'hip, hip, hurrah.' Did the Young Men's Christian Association take his Lordship's recognition of Christ as a personal compliment, or did it strike them with admiration that a Lord should know about Christ?

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Old Battersea Bridge, seen from up stream. on Lindsey Row (now Cheyne Walk), with Battersea on the far shore
: Walter Greaves, 1874 (Tate Gallery)

20 November. - I have been fretting inwardly all this day at the prospect of having to go and appeal before the Tax Commissioners at Kensington tomorrow morning. Still, it must be done. If Mr. C. should go himself he would run his head against some post in his impatience; and besides, for me, when it is over it will be over, whereas he would not get the better of it for twelve months - if ever at all.

The Death of the Property Tax!!! (or 37 Mortal Wounds for Ministers & the Inquisitorial Commissioners!!!!!!!!!): George Cruikshank, 1816 (Library of Congress)

21 November. - O me miseram! not one wink of sleep the whole night through! so great the 'rale mental agony in my own inside' at the thought of that horrid appealing. It was with feeling like the ghost of a dead dog, that I rose and dressed and drank my coffee, and then started for Kensington. Mr. C. said 'the voice of honour seemed to call on him to go himself.' But either it did not call loud enough, or he would not listen to that charmer. I went in a cab, to save all my breath for appealing. Set down at 30 Hornton Street, I found a dirty private-like house, only with Tax Office painted on the door. A dirty woman-servant opened the door, and told me the Commissioners would not be there for half-an-hour, but I might walk up. There were already some half-score of men assembled in the waiting-room, among whom I saw the man who cleans our clocks, and a young apothecary of Cheyne Walk. All the others, to look at them, could not have been suspected for an instant, I should have said, of making a hundred a year. Feeling in a false position, I stood by myself at a window and 'thought shame' (as children say). Men trooped in by twos and threes, till the small room was pretty well filled; at last a woman showed herself. O my! did I ever know the full value of any sort of woman - as woman - before! By this time some benches had been brought in, and I was sitting nearest the door. The woman sat down on the same bench with me, and, misery acquainting one with strange bedfellows, we entered into conversation without having been introduced, and I had 'the happiness,' as Allan termed it, 'of seeing a woman more miserable than myself.' Two more women arrived at intervals, one a young girl of Dundee, 'sent by my uncle that's ill', who looked to be always recapitulating inwardly what she had been told to say to the Commissioners. The other, a widow, and such a goose, poor thing; she was bringing an appeal against no overcharge in her individual paper, but against the doubling of the Income Tax. She had paid the double tax once, she said, because she was told they would take her goods for it if she didn't - and it was so disgraceful for one in a small business to have her goods taken; besides it was very disadvantageous; but now that it was come round again she would give up. She seemed to attach an irresistible pathos to the title of widow, this woman. 'And me a widow, ma'm,' was the winding up of her every paragraph. The men seemed as worried as the women, though they put a better face on it, even carrying on a sort of sickly laughing and bantering with one another. 'First-come lady,' called the clerk, opening a small side-door, and I stept forward into a grand peut-être. There was an instant of darkness while the one door was shut behind and the other opened in front; and there I stood in a dim room where three men sat round a large table spread with papers. One held a pen ready over an open ledger; another was taking snuff, and had taken still worse in his time, to judge by his shaky, clayed appearance. The third, who was plainly the cock of that dungheap, was sitting for Rhadamanthus - a Rhadamanthus without the justice. 'Name,' said the horned-owl-looking individual holding the pen. 'Carlyle.' 'What?' 'Car-lyle.' Seeing he still looked dubious, I spelt it for him. 'Ha!' cried Rhadamanthus, a big, bloodless-faced, insolent-looking fellow. 'What is this? why is Mr. Carlyle not come himself? Didn't he get a letter ordering him to appear? Mr. Carlyle wrote some nonsense about being exempted from coming, and I desired an answer to be sent that he must come, must do as other people.' 'Then, sir,' I said, 'your desire has been neglected, it would seem, my husband having received no such letter; and I was told by one of your fellow Commissioners that Mr. Carlyle's personal appearance was not indispensable.' 'Huffgh! Huffgh! what does Mr. Carlyle mean by saying he has no income from his writings, when he himself fixed it in the beginning at a hundred and fifty?' 'It means, sir, that, in ceasing to write, one ceases to be paid for writing, and Mr. Carlyle has published nothing for several years.' 'Huffgh! Huffgh! I understand nothing about that.' 'I do,' whispered the snuff-taking Commissioner at my ear. 'I can quite understand a literary man does not always make money. I would take it off, for my share, but (sinking his voice still lower) I am only one voice here, and not the most important.' 'There,' said I, handing to Rhadamanthus Chapman and Hall's account; 'that will prove Mr. Carlyle's statement.' 'What am I to make of that? Huffgh! we should have Mr. Carlyle here to swear to this before we believe it.' 'If a gentleman's word of honour written at the bottom of that paper is not enough, you can put me on my oath: I am ready to swear to it.' 'You! you, indeed! No, no! we can do nothing with your oath.' 'But, sir, I understand my husband's affairs fully, better than he does himself.' 'That I can well believe; but we can make nothing of this,' flinging my document contemptuously on the table. The horned owl picked it up, glanced over it while Rhadamanthus was tossing papers about, and grumbling about 'people that wouldn't conform to rules;' then handed it back to him, saying deprecatingly : 'But, sir, this is a very plain statement.' 'Then what has Mr. Carlyle to live upon? You don't mean to tell me he lives on that?' pointing to the document. 'Heaven forbid, sir! but I am not here to explain what Mr. Carlyle has to live on, only to declare his income from literature during the last three years.' 'True! true!' mumbled the not-most-important voice at my elbow. 'Mr. Carlyle, I believe, has landed income.' 'Of which,' said I haughtily, for my spirit was up, 'I have fortunately no account to render in this kingdom and to this board.' 'Take off fifty pounds, say a hundred - take off a hundred pounds,' said Rhadamanthus to the horned owl. 'If we write Mr. Carlyle down a hundred and fifty he has no reason to complain, I think. There, you may go. Mr. Carlyle has no reason to complain.' Second-come woman was already introduced, and I was motioned to the door; but I could not depart without saying that 'at all events there was no use in complaining, since they had the power to enforce their decision.' On stepping out, my first thought was, what a mercy Carlyle didn't come himself! For the rest, though it might have gone better, I was thankful that it had not gone worse. When one has been threatened with a great injustice, one accepts a smaller as a favour.

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Carlyle House, 24 Cheyne Row(with Thomas Carlyle's birthplace and Carlyle Estate, Craigenputtock, inset): artist unknown, Illustrated London News, 1881

Jane Welsh Carlyle (1801-1866): journal entries for 21 October-21 November, 1855, from Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, prepared for publication by Thomas Carlyle, edited by James Anthony Froude, 1883. From Froude's notes:

A part only of the following extracts was selected by Mr. Carlyle, and a part, sufficient merely to leave a painful impression, without explaining the origin of his wife's discomfort. There ought to be no mystery about Carlyle, and there is no occasion for mystery. The diaries and other papers were placed in my hands, that I might add whatever I might think necessary in the way of elucidation, and in this instance I have thought it right to avail myself of the permission. It has been already seen that among the acquaintances in the great world to whom Carlyle's reputation early introduced him, were Mr. and Lady Harriet Baring, afterwards Lord and Lady Ashburton. Mr. Baring, one of the best and wisest men in the high circle of English public life, was among the first to recognise Carlyle's extraordinary qualities. He soon became, and he remained to his death, the most intimate and attached of Carlyle's friends. Lady Harriet was a gifted and brilliant woman, who cared nothing for the frivolous occupations of fashion. She sought out, and surrounded herself with the most distinguished persons in politics and literature, and was the centre of a planetary system, in which statesmen, poets, artists, every man who had raised himself into notice by genuine intellectual worth, revolved, while she lived, as satellites. By Lady Harriet, Carlyle was ardently welcomed. In the society which gathered about herself and her husband, he found himself among persons whom he could more nearly regard as his equals than any whom he had met with elsewhere. He was thrown into connection with the men who were carrying on the business of the world, in a sphere where he could make his influence felt among them. He was perhaps, at one time, ambitious of taking an active part in such affairs himself, and of 'doing something more for the world,' as Lord Byron said, 'than writing books for it.' At any rate his visits to Bath House and the Grange, Lord Ashburton's house in Hampshire, gave him great enjoyment, and for many years as much of his leisure as he could spare was spent in the Ashburton society.

The acquaintance which was so agreeable to himself was less pleasant to Mrs. Carlyle. She was intensely proud of her husband, and wished to be the first with him. She had married him against the advice of her friends, to be the companion of a person whom she, and she alone, at that time, believed to be destined for something extraordinary. She had worked for him like a servant, she had borne poverty and suffering. She had put up with his humours, which were often extremely trying. As long as she felt that he was really attached to her, she had taken the harder parts of her lot lightly and jestingly, and by her incessant watchfulness had made it possible for him to accomplish his work. And now his fame was established. He had risen beyond her highest expectations; she saw him feared, admired, reverenced, the acknowledged sovereign, at least in many eyes, of English literature; and she found, or thought she found, that, as he had risen she had become, what in an early letter she had said she dreaded that she might be, a 'mere accident of his lot.' When he was absorbed in his work, she saw but little of him. The work was a sufficient explanation as long as others were no better off than she was. But when she found that he had leisure for Bath House, though none for her, she became jealous and irritable. She was herself of course invited there; but the wives of men of genius, like the wives of bishops, do not take the social rank of their husbands. Women understand how to make one another uncomfortable in little ways invisible to others, and Mrs. Carlyle soon perceived that she was admitted into those high regions for her husband's sake and not for her own. She had a fiery temper, and a strong Scotch republican spirit, and she would have preferred to see Carlyle reigning alone in his own kingdom. Her anger was wrong in itself, and exaggerated in the form which it assumed. But Carlyle too was to blame. He ought to have managed his friendships better. He ought to have considered whether she had not causes of complaint; and to have remembered how much he owed to her care for him. But Carlyle was wilful, and impatient of contradiction. When his will was crossed or resisted, his displeasure rushed into expressions not easily forgotten, and thus there grew up between these two, who at heart each admired and esteemed the other more than any other person in the world, a condition of things of which the trace is visible in this diary. The shadow slanted backwards over their whole lives together; and as she brooded over her wrongs, she came to think with bitterness of many recollections which she had laughed away or forgotten. Carlyle's letters during all this period are uniformly tender and affectionate, and in them was his true self, if she could but have allowed herself to see it. 'Oh,' he often said to me after she was gone, 'if I could but see her for five minutes to assure her that I had really cared for her throughout all that! But she never knew it, she never knew it.' - J. A. F.

Jane Baillie Welsh and Thomas Carlyle were wed in 1826. The union, which lasted forty years, appears to have been blessed with little joy for Mrs. Carlyle. Published correspondence between the spouses reflects both mutual affection and frequent and aggravated dispute. J.A. Froude, in his life of Carlyle (1903), suggested that the marriage was never consummated.

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Castle Martin, Craigenputtock (property since c. 1500 of the family of Jane Baillie Welsh Carlyle and residence of the Carlyles for seven years, before their move to London): George Moir, 1829 (private collection, Dumfriesshire)

'It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four' (Samuel Butler).

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881): photo by Elliott & Fry, c. 1860s


dcollins said...

That Elliot & Fry photo of Carlyle, coming at the end, is amazing. He seems to be saying, "What have I lived through? What have I missed?" but the party fun is to let everyone put their own words in - and as his wife says, to the blacken the page with it.

Great research too on the period pictures of Battersea and Cheynes Walk. Oddly, it doesn't seem to have changed much.

TC said...

Thanks very much.

Ah, a sense of justice, perhaps, in Jane having her day at last -- and blackening those pages to her heart's content.

(She does herself paint a pretty caricature of the pompous figure of Justice: "The horned owl picked it up, glanced over it while Rhadamanthus was tossing papers about, and grumbling about 'people that wouldn't conform to rules'...")

Julia said...

Tom, you know I'm always around enjoying your blog, although I may remain in silence, don't you?

TC said...

Claro, Julia.

And this particular post is an especially fine place to hear that you are "there" -- which of course always makes me happy -- and perhaps the ghost of Jane Baillie Welsh will also have a way of appreciating your intelligent presence... let us hope so.

(Sensitive audiences are almost impossible to find, for anybody, in any epoch, as I am sure you know.)