There is talk of a new volume of the letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle, which I should very much like to read; for these letters are said to be certain which were suppressed by Froude (James Anthony Froude, Carlyle’s biographer) — he intent on revealing Carlyle’s defects as a husband — and in which she writes in a tone of wifely affection, without a word of bitterness or complaint.
If she can see and understand from the other side, it will give her happiness for it is a sorry business to have the secrets of one’s hearth and one’s intimate relations laid bare before a curious and non-understanding public. For how can any outsider understand what makes the happiness or unhappiness of any marriage, or whose is the fault, if there is any want of harmony?
In this case, it is clear that neither Carlyle, nor his wife, had a sweet, easy temper. But he had his work to engross him and he was the last man to hint at a defect in her to any human being. She on the other hand, suffered from a certain leanness of soul which feminine duties did not satisfy.
She was too clever, too exacting and her marriage — as is the way of all things human — did not bring her the happiness she looked for. Perhaps it was natural she should think the fault did not lie with herself, but with a dyspeptic husband, who was so unfortunate as to be a genius.
It does seem hard that a husband should be held responsible for his wife’s happiness. For giving her a decent home and, with it, protection, respect, kindness; these things a wife has a right to expect from any honest husband; but happiness — that is in a very different category.
One cannot even blame Mrs Carlyle for mentioning her husband’s faults, as a relief to her burdened heart, only she might have done it with a difference. For it is possible not only to love the faults, but to speak of them in a loving way; but anything that savours of censure of one of our own ought not to go outside the family.
Most of us are not above remarking to our intimate friends on the little “ways” of our men-folk; not their faults, strictly so called, but those little habits of temper or action which fall short of perfection but which make them humanly dear to us. One always knows from the tone and the expression whether the critic speaks in love or no.
Ballad Upon a Wedding:
by Sir John Suckling
Her feet beneath her petticoat,
Like little mice stole in and out.
As if they fear’d the light.
But oh she dances such a way.
No sun upon an Easter Day.
Is half so fine a sight.