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Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle

From: New England Review
Volume 33, Number 4, 2013
pp. 191-193 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0000

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May 20 [1847].—Went to Chelsea, where we soon settled into an interesting talk with Mrs. [Jane Welsh] Carlyle. She has been very ill, and the doctors gave her opium and tartar for her cough, which induced, not beautiful dreams and visions, but a miserable feeling of turning to marble herself and lying on marble, her hair, her arms, and her whole person petrifying and adhering to the marble slab on which she lay. One night it was a tombstone,—one in Scotland which she well knew. She lay along it with a graver in her hand, carving her own epitaph under another, which she read and knew by heart. It was her mother’s. She felt utterly distinct from this prostrate figure, and thought of her with pity and love, looked at different passages of her life, and moralized as on a familiar friend. It was more like madness than anything she has ever experienced. “After all,” she said, “I often wonder what right I have to live at all.” She talked sadly of the world’s hollowness, and every year deepening her sense of this: half a dozen real friends is far too magnificent an allowance for any one to calculate on: she would suggest half a one; those you really care about die. She gave a wondrously graphic and ludicrous picture of an insane imagination cherished by a poor invalid respecting her. [Thomas] Carlyle is not writing now, but resting,—reading English history and disagreeing with the age. She told of M. F.—— [Margaret Fuller, the editors surmise], an American transcendentalist. She came here with an enthusiasm for Carlyle. She has written some beautiful things, and is a great friend of Emerson’s, of whom she speaks with more love than reverence. Mrs. Carlyle does not see that much good is to come of Emerson’s writings, and grants that they are arrogant and short-coming. He came to them first in Scotland with a note from John Stuart Mill in his pocket, and was kindly welcome in a place where they saw nothing but wild-fowl, not even a beggar. She talked of her own life and the mistake of over-educating people. She believes that her health has been injured for life by beginning Latin with a little tutor at five or six years old, then going into the rector’s school to continue it, then having a tutor at home, and being very ambitious she learned eagerly. Irving, being her tutor, and of equally excitable intellect, was delighted to push her through every study; then he introduced her to Carlyle, and for years they had a literary intimacy, and she would be writing constantly and consulting him about everything, “and so it would probably have always gone on, for we were both of us made for independence, and I believe should never have wanted to live together, but this intimacy was not considered discreet, so we married quietly and departed.” She laughs at him as a nurse; he peeps in and looks frightened, and asks, “How are ye now, Jeannie?” and vanishes, as if well out of a scrape. Talked of her brilliant little friend Zoe (Miss Jewsbury),1 who declares herself born without any sense of decency: the publishers beg she will be decent, and she has not the slightest objection to be so, but she does not know what it is; she implores Mrs. Carlyle to take any quantity of spotted muslin and clothe her figures for her, for she does not know which are naked. She is a very witty little thing, full of emotions, which overflow on all occasions; her sister, the poetess, tried to bring them into young-lady-like order, and checked her ardent demonstrations of affection in society and elsewhere. The sister died, so did the parents, and this wild creature was thrown on the world, which hurled her back upon herself. She read insatiably and at random in an old library, alchemy, physiology, and what not, and undraped “Zoe” is the result. Dr. Chalmers’s coadjutor, as leader of the Free Church, came in one day when she was here: she said, “He...



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