Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh Carlyle. Marriage as an “excellent mystery.”
Both the Carlyle’s, despite their quirks and prejudices, were fond of entertaining newcomers. Since the publication of Sartor Resartus, Carlyle had become a literary lion, and Jane, for all her caustic asides, was pleased to see “the host of my husband’s lady admirers” gathered about him in her presence. There was Harriet Martineau, the famous political economist, holding out her ear trumpet “with a pretty blushing air of coquetry,” and later, the novelist Geraldine Jewsbury, lying on the carpet at the great man’s feet.
Nor were the Carlyle’s averse to fashionable society, though Jane often criticized its arrogance and extravagance. She records in a letter to her mother, written on April 7, 1839, that a week previously ” the sound of a whirlwind rushed thro’ the street, and there stopt with a prancing of steeds and footman thunder at his this door, an equipage, all resplendant with sky-blue and silver…whence emanated Count d’Orsay.” The renowned exquisite had behaved in a particularly gracious manner, while his host, never easy to impress, had displayed a solid homespun dignity:
…Happily it was not one of my nervous days, so that I could contemplate the whole thing from my prie-Dieu without being infected by his agitation, and a sight it was to make one think the millenium actually at hand, when the lion and the lamb, and all incompatible things should consort together. Carlyle in his grey plaid suit, and his tub-chair, looking blandly at the Prince of Dandies; and the Prince of Dandies on an opposite chair, all resplendent as a diamond-beetle, looking blandly at him. D’Orsay is a really handsome man, after one has heard him speak and found that he has both wit and sense; but at first sight his beauty is of that rather disgusting sort which seems to be like genius, “of no sex.” And this impression is greatly helped by the fantastical finery of his dress: sky-blue satin cravat, yards of gold chain, white French gloves, light drab great-coat lined with velvet of the same colour, invisible inexpressibles, skin-coloured and fitting like a glove, etc., etc. All this, as John says, is “very absurd”; but his manners are manly and unaffected and he convinces one, …Read More:http://carlyleletters.dukejournals.org/cgi/content/full/11/1/lt-18390407-JWC-GW-01
Number 5 was seldom a dull house, yet during the last twenty years of the Carlyles’ occupation, their life was darkly overshadowed. As early as 1846 Jane had begun to doubt whether she still retained her husband’s love; and in the 1850′s she could not help acknowledging that Mr. C., who had previously appeared indifferent to all women “as women,” had developed a platonic infatuation for a famous London hostess, the Junonian Lady Ashburton, and often willingly deserted Cheyne Row to spend his evenings in her company. Meanwhile, Jane’s health was gradually breaking down, undermined by the enormous doses of henbane and morphia that, as a remedy for her chronic sleeplessness, she had been taking night after night since she reached the age of forty-five. Sometimesshe feared she might be going mad, and in 1863 a minor street accident resulted in months of excruciating pain. ( to be continued)…