The Common Reader, Second Series, by Virginia Woolf

Geraldine and Jane

Geraldine Jewsbury would certainly not have expected anybody at this time of day to bother themselves about her novels. If she had caught one pulling them down from the shelf in some library she would have expostulated. “They’re such nonsense, my dear”, she would have said. And then one likes to fancy that she would have burst out in that irresponsible, unconventional way of hers against libraries and literature and love and life and all the rest of it with a “Damn it all!” or a “Confound it!” for Geraldine was fond of swearing.

The odd thing about Geraldine Jewsbury, indeed, was the way in which she combined oaths and endearments, sense and effervescence, daring and gush: “ . . . defenceless and tender on the one hand, and strong enough to cleave the very rocks on the other”— that is how Mrs. Ireland, her biographer, puts it; or again: “Intellectually she was a man, but the heart within her was as womanly as ever daughter of Eve could boast”. Even to look at there was, it would seem, something incongruous, queer, provocative about her. She was very small and yet boyish; very ugly yet attractive. She dressed very well, wore her reddish hair in a net, and ear-rings made in the form of miniature parrots swung in her ears as she talked. There, in the only portrait we have of her, she sits reading, with her face half-turned away, defenceless and tender at the moment rather than cleaving the very rocks.

But what had happened to her before she sat at the photographer’s table reading her book it is impossible to say. Until she was twenty-nine we know nothing of her except that she was born in the year 1812, was the daughter of a merchant, and lived in Manchester, or near it. In the first part of the nineteenth century a woman of twenty-nine was no longer young; she had lived her life or she had missed it. And though Geraldine, with her unconventional ways, was an exception, still it cannot be doubted that something very tremendous had happened in those dim years before we know her. Something had happened in Manchester. An obscure male figure looms in the background — a faithless but fascinating creature who had taught her that life is treacherous, life is hard, life is the very devil for a woman. A dark pool of experience had formed in the back of her mind into which she would dip for the consolation or for the instruction of others. “Oh! it is too frightful to talk about. For two years I lived only in short respites from this blackness of darkness”, she exclaimed from time to time. There had been seasons “like dreary, calm November days when there is but one cloud, but that one covers the whole heaven”. She had struggled, “but struggling is no use”. She had read Cudworth through. She had written an essay upon materialism before giving way. For, though the prey to so many emotions, she was also oddly detached and speculative. She liked to puzzle her head with questions about “matter and spirit and the nature of life” even while her heart was bleeding. Upstairs there was a box full of extracts, abstracts, and conclusions. Yet what conclusion could a woman come to? Did anything avail a woman when love had deserted her, when her lover had played her false? No. It was useless to struggle; one had better let the wave engulf one, the cloud close over one’s head. So she meditated, lying often on a sofa with a piece of knitting in her hands and a green shade over her eyes. For she suffered from a variety of ailments — sore eyes, colds, nameless exhaustion; and Greenheys, the suburb outside Manchester, where she kept house for her brother, was very damp. “Dirty, half-melted snow and fog, a swampy meadow, set off by a creeping cold damp”— that was the view from her window. Often she could hardly drag herself across the room. And then there were incessant interruptions: somebody had come unexpectedly for dinner; she had to jump up and run into the kitchen and cook a fowl with her own hands. That done, she would put on her green shade and peer at her book again, for she was a great reader. She read metaphysics, she read travels, she read old books and new books — and especially the wonderful books of Mr. Carlyle.

Early in the year 1841 she came to London and secured an introduction to the great man whose works she so much admired. She met Mrs. Carlyle. They must have become intimate with great rapidity. In a few weeks Mrs. Carlyle was “dearest Jane”. They must have discussed everything. They must have talked about life and the past and the present, and certain “individuals” who were sentimentally interested or were not sentimentally interested in Geraldine. Mrs. Carlyle, so metropolitan, so brilliant, so deeply versed in life and scornful of its humbugs, must have captivated the young woman from Manchester completely, for directly Geraldine returned to Manchester she began writing long letters to Jane which echo and continue the intimate conversations of Cheyne Row. “A man who has had le plus grand succès among women, and who was the most passionate and poetically refined lover in his manners and conversation you would wish to find, once said to me . . . ” So she would begin. Or she would reflect:

It may be that we women are made as we are in order that they may in some sort fertilise the world. We shall go on loving, they [the men] will go on struggling and toiling, and we are all alike mercifully allowed to die — after a while. I don’t know whether you will agree to this, and I cannot see to argue, for my eyes are very bad and painful.

Probably Jane agreed to very little of all this. For Jane was eleven years the elder. Jane was not given to abstract reflections upon the nature of life. Jane was the most caustic, the most concrete, the most clear-sighted of women. But it is perhaps worth noting that when she first fell in with Geraldine she was beginning to feel those premonitions of jealousy, that uneasy sense that old relationships had shifted and that new ones were forming themselves, which had come to pass with the establishment of her husband’s fame. No doubt, in the course of those long talks in Cheyne Row, Geraldine had received certain confidences, heard certain complaints, and drawn certain conclusions. For besides being a mass of emotion and sensibility, Geraldine was a clever, witty woman who thought for herself and hated what she called “respectability” as much as Mrs. Carlyle hated what she called “humbug”. In addition, Geraldine had from the first the strangest feelings about Mrs. Carlyle. She felt “vague undefined yearnings to be yours in some way”. “You will let me be yours and think of me as such, will you not?” she urged again and again. “I think of you as Catholics think of their saints”, she said: “ . . . you will laugh, but I feel towards you much more like a lover than a female friend!” No doubt Mrs. Carlyle did laugh, but also she could scarcely fail to be touched by the little creature’s adoration.

Thus when Carlyle himself early in 1843 suggested unexpectedly that they should ask Geraldine to stay with them, Mrs. Carlyle, after debating the question with her usual candour, agreed. She reflected that a little of Geraldine would be “very enlivening”, but, on the other hand, much of Geraldine would be very exhausting. Geraldine dropped hot tears on to one’s hands; she watched one; she fussed one; she was always in a state of emotion. Then “with all her good and great qualities” Geraldine had in her “a born spirit of intrigue” which might make mischief between husband and wife, though not in the usual way, for, Mrs. Carlyle reflected, her husband “had the habit” of preferring her to other women, “and habits are much stronger in him than passions”. On the other hand, she herself was getting lazy intellectually; Geraldine loved talk and clever talk; with all her aspirations and enthusiasms it would be a kindness to let the young woman marooned in Manchester come to Chelsea; and so she came.

She came on the 1st or 2nd of February, and she stayed till the Saturday, the 11th of March. Such were visits in the year 1843. And the house was very small, and the servant was inefficient. Geraldine was always there. All the morning she scribbled letters. All the afternoon she lay fast asleep on the sofa in the drawing-room. She dressed herself in a low-necked dress to receive visitors on Sunday. She talked too much. As for her reputed intellect, “she is sharp as a meat axe, but as narrow”. She flattered. She wheedled. She was insincere. She flirted. She swore. Nothing would make her go. The charges against her rose in a crescendo of irritation. Mrs. Carlyle almost had to turn her out of the house. At last they parted; and Geraldine, as she got into the cab, was in floods of tears, but Mrs. Carlyle’s eyes were dry. Indeed, she was immensely relieved to see the last of her visitor. Yet when Geraldine had driven off and she found herself alone she was not altogether easy in her mind. She knew that her behaviour to a guest whom she herself had invited had been far from perfect. She had been “cold, cross, ironical, disobliging”. Above all, she was angry with herself for having taken Geraldine for a confidante. “Heaven grant that the consequences may be only BORING— not FATAL”, she wrote. But it is clear that she was very much out of temper; and with herself as much as with Geraldine.

Geraldine, returned to Manchester, was well aware that something was wrong. Estrangement and silence fell between them. People repeated malicious stories which she half believed. But Geraldine was the least vindictive of women —“very noble in her quarrels”, as Mrs. Carlyle herself admitted — and, if foolish and sentimental, neither conceited nor proud. Above all, her love for Jane was sincere. Soon she was writing to Mrs. Carlyle again “with an assiduity and disinterestedness that verge on the superhuman”, as Jane commented with a little exasperation. She was worrying about Jane’s health and saying that she did not want witty letters, but only dull letters telling the truth about Jane’s state. For — it may have been one of those things that made her so trying as a visitor — Geraldine had not stayed for four weeks in Cheyne Row without coming to conclusions which it is not likely that she kept entirely to herself. “You have no one who has any sort of consideration for you”, she wrote. “You have had patience and endurance till I am sick of the virtues, and what have they done for you? Half-killed you.” “Carlyle”, she burst out, “is much too grand for everyday life. A sphinx does not fit in comfortably to our parlour life arrangements.” But she could do nothing. “The more one loves, the more helpless one feels”, she moralised. She could only watch from Manchester the bright kaleidoscope of her friend’s existence and compare it with her own prosaic life, all made up of little odds and ends; but somehow, obscure though her own life was, she no longer envied Jane the brilliance of her lot.

So they might have gone on corresponding in a desultory way at a distance — and “I am tired to death of writing letters into space”, Geraldine exclaimed; “one only writes after a long separation, to oneself, instead of one’s friend”— had it not been for the Mudies. The Mudies and Mudieism as Geraldine called it, played a vast, if almost unrecorded, part in the obscure lives of Victorian gentlewomen. In this case the Mudies were two girls, Elizabeth and Juliet: “flary, staring, and conceited, stolid-looking girls”, Carlyle called them, the daughters of a Dundee schoolmaster, a respectable man who had written books on natural history and died, leaving a foolish widow and little or no provision for his family. Somehow the Mudies arrived in Cheyne Row inconveniently, if one may hazard a guess, just as dinner was on the table. But the Victorian lady never minded that — she put herself to any inconvenience to help the Mudies. The question at once presented itself to Mrs. Carlyle, what could be done for them? Who knew of a place? who had influence with a rich man? Geraldine flashed into her mind. Geraldine was always wishing she could be of use. Geraldine might fairly be asked if there were situations to be had for the Mudies in Manchester. Geraldine acted with a promptitude that was much to her credit. She “placed” Juliet at once. Soon she had heard of another place for Elizabeth. Mrs. Carlyle, who was in the Isle of Wight, at once procured stays, gown, and petticoat for Elizabeth, came up to London, took Elizabeth all the way across London to Euston Square at half past seven in the evening, put her in charge of a benevolent-looking, fat old man, saw that a letter to Geraldine was pinned to her stays, and returned home, exhausted, triumphant, yet, as happens often with the devotees of Mudieism, a prey to secret misgivings. Would the Mudies be happy? Would they thank her for what she had done? A few days later the inevitable bugs appeared in Cheyne Row, and were ascribed, with or without reason, to Elizabeth’s shawl. What was far worse, Elizabeth herself appeared four months later, having proved herself “wholly inapplicable to any practical purpose”, having “sewed a BLACK apron with WHITE thread”, and, on being mildly scolded, having “thrown herself on the kitchen floor and kicked and screamed”. “Of course, her immediate dismissal is the result.” Elizabeth vanished — to sew more black aprons with white thread, to kick and scream and be dismissed — who knows what happened eventually to poor Elizabeth Mudie? She disappears from the world altogether, swallowed up in the dark shades of her sisterhood. Juliet, however, remained. Geraldine made Juliet her charge. She superintended and advised. The first place was unsatisfactory. Geraldine engaged herself to find another. She went off and sat in the hall of a “very stiff old lady” who wanted a maid. The very stiff old lady said she would want Juliet to clear-starch collars, to iron cuffs, and to wash and iron petticoats. Juliet’s heart failed her. All this clear-starching and ironing, she exclaimed, were beyond her. Off went Geraldine again, late in the evening, and saw the old lady’s daughter. It was arranged that the petticoats should be “put out” and only the collars and frills left for Juliet to iron. Off went Geraldine and arranged with her own milliner to give her lessons in quilling and trimming. And Mrs. Carlyle wrote kindly to Juliet and sent her a packet. So it went on with more places and more bothers, and more old ladies, and more interviews till Juliet wrote a novel, which a gentleman praised very highly, and Juliet told Miss Jewsbury that she was annoyed by another gentleman who followed her home from church; but still she was a very nice girl, and everybody spoke well of her until the year 1849, when suddenly, without any reason given, silence descends upon the last of the Mudies. It covers, one cannot doubt, another failure. The novel, the stiff old lady, the gentleman, the caps, the petticoats, the clear-starching — what was the cause of her downfall? Nothing is known. “The wretched stalking blockheads”, wrote Carlyle, “stalked fatefully, in spite of all that could be done and said, steadily downwards towards perdition and sank altogether out of view.” For all her endeavours Mrs. Carlyle had to admit that Mudieism was always a failure.

But Mudieism had unexpected results. Mudieism brought Jane and Geraldine together again. Jane could not deny that “the fluff of feathers” whom she had served up, as her way was, in so many a scornful phrase for Carlyle’s amusement, had “taken up the matter with an enthusiasm even surpassing my own”. She had grit in her as well as fluff. Thus when Geraldine sent her the manuscript of her first novel, Zoe, Mrs. Carlyle bestirred herself to find a publisher (“for”, she wrote, “what is to become of her when she is old without ties, without purposes?”) and with surprising success. Chapman & Hall at once agreed to publish the book, which, their reader reported, “had taken hold of him with a grasp of iron”. The book had been long on the way. Mrs. Carlyle herself had been consulted at various stages of its career. She had read the first sketch “with a feeling little short of terror! So much power of genius rushing so recklessly into unknown space.” But she had also been deeply impressed.

Geraldine in particular shows herself here a far more profound and daring speculator than ever I had fancied her. I do not believe there is a woman alive at the present day, not even Georges Sand herself, that could have written some of the best passages in this book . . . but they must not publish it — decency forbids!

There was, Mrs. Carlyle complained, an indecency or “want of reserve in the spiritual department”, which no respectable public would stand. Presumably Geraldine consented to make alterations, though she confessed that she “had no vocation for propriety as such”; the book was rewritten, and it appeared at last in February 1845. The usual buzz and conflict of opinion at once arose. Some were enthusiastic, others were shocked. The “old and young roués of the Reform Club almost go off into hysterics over — its INDECENCY”. The publisher was a little alarmed; but the scandal helped the sale, and Geraldine became a lioness.

And now, of course, as one turns the pages of the three little yellowish volumes, one wonders what reason there was for approval or disapproval, what spasm of indignation or admiration scored that pencil mark, what mysterious emotion pressed violets, now black as ink, between the pages of the love scenes. Chapter after chapter glides amiably, fluently past. In a kind of haze we catch glimpses of an illegitimate girl called Zoe; of an enigmatic Roman Catholic priest called Everhard; of a castle in the country; of ladies lying on sky-blue sofas; of gentlemen reading aloud; of girls embroidering hearts in silk. There is a conflagration. There is an embrace in a wood. There is incessant conversation. There is a moment of terrific emotion when the priest exclaims, “Would that I had never been born!” and proceeds to sweep a letter from the Pope asking him to edit a translation of the principal works of the Fathers of the first four centuries and a parcel containing a gold chain from the University of Göttingen into a drawer because Zoe has shaken his faith. But what indecency there was pungent enough to shock the roués of the Reform Club, what genius there was brilliant enough to impress the shrewd intellect of Mrs. Carlyle, it is impossible to guess. Colours that were fresh as roses eighty years ago have faded to a feeble pink; nothing remains of all those scents and savours but a faint perfume of faded violets, of stale hair-oil, we know not which. What miracles, we exclaim, are within the power of a few years to accomplish! But even as we exclaim, we see, far away, a trace perhaps of what they meant. The passion, in so far as it issues from the lips of living people, is completely spent. The Zoes, the Clothildes, the Everhards moulder on their perches; but, nevertheless, there is somebody in the room with them; an irresponsible spirit, a daring and agile woman, if one considers that she is cumbered with crinoline and stays; an absurd sentimental creature, languishing, expatiating, but for all that still strangely alive. We catch a sentence now and then rapped out boldly, a thought subtly conceived. “How much better to do right without religion!” “Oh! if they really believed all they preach, how would any priest or preacher be able to sleep in his bed!” “Weakness is the only state for which there is no hope.” “To love rightly is the highest morality of which mankind is capable.” Then how she hated the “compacted, plausible theories of men”! And what is life? For what end was it given us? Such questions, such convictions, still hurtle past the heads of the stuffed figures mouldering on their perches. They are dead, but Geraldine Jewsbury herself still survives, independent, courageous, absurd, writing page after page without stopping to correct, and coming out with her views upon love, morality, religion, and the relations of the sexes, whoever may be within hearing, with a cigar between her lips.

Some time before the publication of Zoe, Mrs. Carlyle had forgotten, or overcome, her irritation with Geraldine, partly because she had worked so zealously in the cause of the Mudies, partly also because by Geraldine’s painstaking she was “almost over-persuaded back into my old illusion that she has some sort of strange, passionate . . . incomprehensible ATTRACTION towards me”. Not only was she drawn back into correspondence — after all her vows to the contrary she again stayed under the same roof with Geraldine, at Seaforth House near Liverpool, in July 1844. Not many days had passed before Mrs. Carlyle’s “illusion” about the strength of Geraldine’s affection for her proved to be no illusion but a monstrous fact. One morning there was some slight tiff between them: Geraldine sulked all day; at night Geraldine came to Mrs. Carlyle’s bedroom and made a scene which was “a revelation to me, not only of Geraldine, but of human nature! Such mad, lover-like jealousy on the part of one woman towards another it had never entered into my heart to conceive.” Mrs. Carlyle was angry and outraged and contemptuous. She saved up a full account of the scene to entertain her husband with. A few days later she turned upon Geraldine in public and sent the whole company into fits of laughter by saying, “I wondered she should expect me to behave decently to her after she had for a whole evening been making love before my very face to ANOTHER MAN!” The trouncing must have been severe, the humiliation painful. But Geraldine was incorrigible. A year later she was again sulking and raging and declaring that she had a right to rage because “she loves me better than all the rest of the world”; and Mrs. Carlyle was getting up and saying, “Geraldine, until you can behave like a gentlewoman . . . ” and leaving the room. And again there were tears and apologies and promises to reform.

Yet though Mrs. Carlyle scolded and jeered, though they were estranged, and though for a time they ceased to write to each other, still they always came together again. Geraldine, it is abundantly clear, felt that Jane was in every way wiser, better, stronger than she was. She depended on Jane. She needed Jane to keep her out of scrapes; for Jane never got into scrapes herself. But though Jane was so much wiser and cleverer than Geraldine, there were times when the foolish and irresponsible one of the two became the counsellor. Why, she asked, waste your time in mending old clothes? Why not work at something that will really employ your energies? Write, she advised her. For Jane, who was so profound, so far-seeing, could, Geraldine was convinced, write something that would help women in “their very complicated duties and difficulties”. She owed a duty to her sex. But, the bold woman proceeded, “do not go to Mr. Carlyle for sympathy, do not let him dash you with cold water. You must respect your own work, and your own motives”— a piece of advice that Jane, who was afraid to accept the dedication of Geraldine’s new novel The Half Sisters, lest Mr. Carlyle might object, would have done well to follow. The little creature was in some ways the bolder and the more independent of the two.

She had, moreover, a quality that Jane with all her brilliancy lacked — an element of poetry, a trace of the speculative imagination. She browsed upon old books and copied out romantic passages about the palm trees and cinnamon of Arabia and sent them to lie, incongruously enough, upon the breakfast table in Cheyne Row. Jane’s genius, of course, was the very opposite; it was positive, direct, and practical. Her imagination concentrated itself upon people. Her letters owe their incomparable brilliancy to the hawk-like swoop and descent of her mind upon facts. Nothing escapes her. She sees through clear water down to the rocks at the bottom. But the intangible eluded her; she dismissed the poetry of Keats with a sneer; something of the narrowness and something of the prudery of a Scottish country doctors daughter clung to her. Though infinitely the less masterly, Geraldine was sometimes the broader minded.

Such sympathies and antipathies bound the two women together with an elasticity that made for permanence. The tie between them could stretch and stretch indefinitely without breaking. Jane knew the extent of Geraldine’s folly; Geraldine had felt the full lash of Jane’s tongue. They had learnt to tolerate each other. Naturally, they quarrelled again; but their quarrels were different now; they were quarrels that were bound to be made up. And when after her brother’s marriage in 1854 Geraldine moved to London, it was to be near Mrs. Carlyle at Mrs. Carlyle’s own wish. The woman who in 1843 would never be a friend of hers again was now the most intimate friend she had in the world. She was to lodge two streets off; and perhaps two streets off was the right space to put between them. The emotional friendship was full of misunderstandings at a distance; it was intolerably exacting under the same roof. But when they lived round the corner their relationship broadened and simplified; it became a natural intercourse whose ruffles and whose calms were based upon the depths of intimacy. They went about together. They went to hear The Messiah; and, characteristically, Geraldine wept at the beauty of the music and Jane had much ado to prevent herself from shaking Geraldine for crying and from crying herself at the ugliness of the chorus women. They went to Norwood for a jaunt, and Geraldine left a silk handkerchief and an aluminium brooch (“a love token from Mr. Barlow”) in the hotel and a new silk parasol in the waiting-room. Also Jane noted with sardonic satisfaction that Geraldine, in an attempt at economy, bought two second-class tickets, while the cost of a return ticket first class was precisely the same.

Meanwhile Geraldine lay on the floor and generalised and speculated and tried to formulate some theory of life from her own tumultuous experience. “How loathsome” (her language was always apt to be strong — she knew that she “sinned against Jane’s notions of good taste” very often), how loathsome the position of women was in many ways! How she herself had been crippled and stunted! How her blood boiled in her at the power that men had over women! She would like to kick certain gentlemen —“the lying hypocritical beggars! Well, it’s no good swearing — only, I am angry and it eases my mind.”

And then her thoughts turned to Jane and herself and to the brilliant gifts — at any rate, Jane had brilliant gifts — which had borne so little visible result. Nevertheless, except when she was ill,

I do not think that either you or I are to be called failures. We are indications of a development of womanhood which as yet is not recognised. It has, so far, no ready-made channels to run in, but still we have looked and tried, and found that the present rules for women will not hold us — that something better and stronger is needed. . . . There are women to come after us, who will approach nearer the fullness of the measure of the stature of a woman’s nature. I regard myself as a mere faint indication, a rudiment of the idea, of certain higher qualities and possibilities that lie in women, and all the eccentricities and mistakes and miseries and absurdities I have made are only the consequences of an imperfect formation, an immature growth.

So she theorised, so she speculated; and Mrs. Carlyle listened, and laughed, and contradicted, no doubt, but with more of sympathy than of derision: she could have wished that Geraldine were more precise; she could have wished her to moderate her language. Carlyle might come in at any moment; and if there was one creature that Carlyle hated, it was a strong-minded woman of the George Sand species. Yet she could not deny that there was an element of truth in what Geraldine said; she had always thought that Geraldine “was born to spoil a horn or make a spoon”. Geraldine was no fool in spite of appearances.

But what Geraldine thought and said; how she spent her mornings; what she did in the long evenings of the London winter — all, in fact, that constituted her life at Markham Square — is but slightly and doubtfully known to us. For, fittingly enough, the bright light of Jane extinguished the paler and more flickering fire of Geraldine. She had no need to write to Jane any more. She was in and out of the house — now writing a letter for Jane because Jane’s fingers were swollen, now taking a letter to the post and forgetting, like the scatter-brained romantic creature she was, to post it. A crooning domestic sound like the purring of a kitten or the humming of a tea-kettle seems to rise, as we turn the pages of Mrs. Carlyle’s letters, from the intercourse of the two incompatible but deeply attached women. So the years passed. At length, on Saturday, 21st April 1866, Geraldine was to help Jane with a tea-party. Mr. Carlyle was in Scotland, and Mrs. Carlyle hoped to get through some necessary civilities to admirers in his absence. Geraldine was actually dressing for the occasion when Mr. Froude appeared suddenly at her house. He had just had a message from Cheyne Row to say that “something had happened to Mrs. Carlyle”. Geraldine flung on her cloak. They hastened together to St. George’s Hospital. There, writes Froude, they saw Mrs. Carlyle, beautifully dressed as usual,

as if she had sat upon the bed after leaving the brougham, and had fallen back upon it asleep. . . . The brilliant mockery, the sad softness with which the mockery alternated, both were alike gone. The features lay composed in a stern majestic calm. . . . [Geraldine] could not speak.

Nor indeed can we break that silence. It deepened. It became complete. Soon after Jane’s death she went to live at Sevenoaks. She lived there alone for twenty-two years. It is said that she lost her vivacity. She wrote no more books. Cancer attacked her and she suffered much. On her deathbed she began tearing up Jane’s letters, as Jane had wished, and she had destroyed all but one before she died. Thus, just as her life began in obscurity, so it ended in obscurity. We know her well only for a few years in the middle. But let us not be too sanguine about “knowing her well”. Intimacy is a difficult art, as Geraldine herself reminds us.

Oh, my dear [she wrote to Mrs. Carlyle], if you and I are drowned, or die, what would become of us if any superior person were to go and write our “life and errors”? What a precious mess a “truthful person” would go and make of us, and how very different to what we really are or were!

The echo of her mockery, ungrammatical, colloquial, but as usual with the ring of truth in it, reaches us from where she lies in Lady Morgan’s vault in the Brompton cemetery.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01