Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane mentioning Henry Fleming in their letters to each other

Henry Fleming lived at No. 2, Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London in 1871, and was Secretary to the Poor Law Board.

Earlier posts:

1. A map and Google Street View of the house today, and the 1871 census extract

2. Who was Henry Fleming? A dandy? A heartless villain? Both? Neither? More history from Charles Street, Berkeley Square

Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish writer who gave us, among other things, "the dismal science" as a cute little name for the field of economics, wrote to his wife Jane quite frequently, perhaps as a way of avoiding speaking to her. From their over 9,000 published letters, there are a few mentioning Henry Fleming. In "Who was Henry Fleming?", we found out he was something of a social gadfly in the 1840s.

Here are a few selections from the Carlyles. My own comments are in italics. Items in square brackets within the quoted passages are my own additions. The citation for the letters is at the end of this post.

September 11, 1844, Jane to Thomas

"Yesterday was very weary — Mazzini came then Darwin, then Mr Fleming …. They were all mortally stupid especially Mr Fleming of whom one might have carried the simile of the Duc in Thunder to that still more offensive one of 'Jenkin's hen' —"

Jenkin's hen, not a very nice thing to call someone. So, Jane thinks the charming Henry Fleming is particularly morta'ly stupid.

The footnote on the Duke University Press Carlyle website explains this further:

"Proverbially a duck in thunder is said to roll its eyes or turn them upward. In Scots, Jenkins's hen is one that never knew a cock; thus an old maid, suggesting 'the maximum of pusillanimity' (Froude, LM 1:294)."

September 12, 1844, Thomas to Jane

"We are a small party, no Stranger beyond Strachey and me yet: the Howicks have 'taken cold,' or something of that sort; Buller continues silent, absent not known where. Did Jenkin's Hen say nothing of him?"

Thomas seems to enjoy Jane's nickname for Henry.

September 13, 1844, Jane to Thomas

"Do you know Bain is John Mills great man at present!!! Mr Fleming told me that he had described him to him as a person of 'the wonderfullest insight and general information that he had ever fallen in with'! — Poor Mill should be sent to Wandsworth — really. on Wednesday night I had Bolte Tizzy and Mr Fleming — with the valuable ingredient of Darwin who struck Mr Fleming with an awe which was quite edifying — It seems he (Jenkins hen) 'respects tranquillity of manner above every thing' and Darwin gave him enough of that — Mrs Buller quite regrets not to have seen Darwin in consequence of the splendid things Fleming said of him —"

Nineteenth centrury name-dropping. John Stuart Mill. Charles Darwin's brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin. One gets the impression Fleming may be the bimbo in the room, according to Jane. And certainly Henry is doing a good job of spreading news from drawing room to drawing room.

September 18, 1844, Thomas to Jane

"I read your account of Jenkin's Hen to Lady Harriet and Buller (with reservations), the former of whom was greatly amused by it."

Tsk, tsk, Thomas. Talking about Henry behind his back like that. 

December 18, 1844, Jane to her cousin Jeannie

"Mr Fleming tells me that Tizzy who is 'the most artful little Devil' in nature has got provoked with Miss Bolte for too much repressing her premature tendencies to unfortunate femalisings and tells Mrs Buller all sorts of lies to get her turned off which Mrs Buller is silly enough to believe — When they have rid themselves of Miss Bolte — if death alas do not anticipate them — they may turn their hand with that young lady of theirs as they like …"

Impressive chain of gossip. Jeannie hears from Jane, who hears from Henry, who hears from Tizzy who is provoked with Amalie for telling lies to Mrs Buller

December 22, 1844, Thomas to Lady Harriet Baring

Lady Harriet has apparently taken in another woman, Miss Amalie Bölte, who sounds like quite a pain, sickly and clinging if I read it right. Thomas has written to privately thank her, probably for ridding the rest of the gang of the responsibility and guilt.

"Poor Fleming, who seems to come here every Sunday (tho' I keep carefully up stairs), says, 'It is a noble trait of Lady Harriet':— Yes, Fleming, my man. In fact, we are all most grateful to the said Lady, and some of us, as I mentioned before, are partly proud of her in a silent way."

Perhaps Thomas feels if he stays upstairs and is very quiet when Fleming comes round, Henry will by osmosis learn to stop gossiping. However, as that seems to be what keeps him in favour with Mrs. Buller and others in the social circle, he may not be able to stop.

February 6, 1845, Jane to her cousin Jeannie

"Last Sunday Mr Fleming came while he [Richard Plattnauer, another apparent friend Thomas complains about] was here, and very soon he gave indications of thinking that his (Mr F's) visit was prolonging itself needlessly — He started from his chair at last, seized the Cat — danced her in the air a while like a Baby — then pitched her on the floor — and asked if he might go up stairs for some of his books still here — I said by all means — and he went off—not up stairs but down to the kitchen where he marched to and fro smoking and talking very loud to Helen —

"I am certain in my private mind that he went away because he felt that if he stayed he would do Mr Fleming a mischief — He told me once already how tempted he had been to 'seize the poker and dash out the brains' of a little Aberdeen man who sat 'talking the horridest stuff to me, which no woman but myself could have listened to; for three deadly hours'! Oh for a good inspiration how to put a peacable end to these visits, the chief indeed sole interest of which has come to be the question ever in my mind; will he or will he not to day or some other day do to myself or one of the others some mortal harm?

"Poor Mr Fleming! he is the greatest coward, that man, out of petticoats! and on Sunday he was even more cowardly than usual having just transacted an inflamation of the bowels — So there he sat all in a tremble — perceptibly to the naked eye, — and then hurried off an hour before he would have gone in the course of nature —"

One wonders why the Carlyles ever answered the door.

February 26, 1845, Jane to her cousin Jeannie

Jane has been suffering from one cold after another and is down with it again.

"Certainly I am better within the last two days, I am not so weak, nor so hoarse, nor so feverish, nor do I feel such noble independence of victual, nor is my temper so very devilish — I still cough enough but Mr Fleming told me on sunday that he heard by the sound of my cough that 'it was going' — a good journey to it! On the whole I have now good hope again that I shall recover entirely when warm weather comes — last week I was rather desperate about recovery under any circumstances

"I have not tried either of your mixtures but keep them in reserve in case one which Mr Fleming brought me on Sunday fails of the splendid success he predicted for it — He is not a Dr Mr Fleming but worth a score such Drs as my Brotherinlaw. He has been urging this mixture on me for weeks back — but (as Mazzini says) I want energy — last Sunday when I told him I had still not tried it he said 'nor ever will unless I get it mixed for you myself' — On leaving he went to a chemist's, and returned in half an hour, and gave the vial to Helen with directions that I was to 'take one spoonful that night— two next day and the next day I should be quite well' — When one's natural helps prove so ineffectual; it is considerate of Providence to raise up such kindhearted strangers!"

Jane Carlyle, the original Blanche "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" Dubois

October 28, 1847, Jane to Lady Harriet Baring

"I have not seen Fleming since his return — almost dread the thought of seeing him! of witnessing the progress of his emotions —"

Getting the impression Henry was a bit of a drama queen?

February 5, 1847, Jane to Helen Welsh (her cousin)

"The last I heard of Tadpole [Anne Brown] was satisfactory thanks God — Mr Fleming went to see her last Sunday and give her some money for me — and he said she looked very well-doing and quite content in her solitude, with 'one lover and one female friend' her case is not bad — still if she were a fool she might easily think it so."

The social butterfly employed for a noble errand

September 24, 1847, Jane to Thomas

Henry has arrived at the Carlyle house at a very inconvenient time for Jane and will not go away until he delivers a message in person. He says he'll only stay for five minutes. Mainly he wants to brag about being Lady Harriet's new best friend.

"This she [Lady Harriet Baring] had told him (Fleming) when he was 'seeing her off' — And he would tell her my answer 'when he dined with her at Holland House' — 'How very odd', I said, 'that you should be acting as Lady H's Ariel'! 'Oh not at all now! — We are excellent friends now — since we staid together at Sir W. Molesworths — and there is nothing I would not do for her!! she is the dearest, playfullest, wittiest creature! I love her beyond everything.'"

Later in the same letter, some observations on Henry's manner and attire:

"Fleming's ‘five minutes’ prolonged themselves to half an hour — and then I was obliged to tell him that I could sit up no longer — and he went away in his little thunder and lightening embroidered shirt and his little new curled wig, lisping out 'I shall tell Lady Harriet that I found you in a temperature sufficient to produce a bilious fever —' It was all I could do to keep from summoning all my remaining strength together and 'doubling him up' [Yes, Jane wants to drop the gloves, as we say on the hockey rink] — prating in that fashion to me who had just come thro such a week of suffering!"

I love this:
" … he went away in his little thunder and lightening embroidered shirt and his little new curled wig, lisping out 'I shall tell Lady Harriet …'"

September 19, 1848, Thomas to his brother John A. Carlyle ("Jack")

"Our company is not worth talking about, since I wrote last: Buller, little Fleming (Mephisto in a wig, as I called him), a Lady Montague (who sings well), Lady Sandwich (who abounds in cheerful gossip, and knows all manner of women and men)"

November 10, 1852, Thomas to Lady Ashburton

"That is the historical truth;—nor is it a very strange one after what Fleming has taught me of you! Indeed I altogether agree (on reflexion) with that remarkable man"

June 1, 1854, Thomas to Lady Ashburton

"Fleming came next: 'A message from Lady Alice Peel'! cried the divine Fleming, with triumph in his eyes. Unluckily I knew nothing of this Lady, except incidental rumour of her name, thro' Another very greatly more important to me: 'Lady Ashburton is to be there,' said Fleming; 'and the Duc d'Aumale, and' —

Ah, yes, "the divine Fleming".

March 8, 1856, Thomas to Lady Ashburton

"Lady S. was quite brisk and lively, tho' rather avoiding the cruel March airs, which was wise: she expects to 'flit personally' on Monday, and is deep in upholstery, and cheery negociations with upholsterers and decorators of human life. Fleming came in while I was there; charged with gossip to the muzzle, quality clear and bitter, to a superior degree, as seemed, but my dinner hour had come, and I had to leave that interesting spiritual report."

The quality of gossip is not strain'd

All the Carlyle letters and the footnote with biographical information about Henry Fleming come from The Carlyle Letters Online [CLO]. 2007., viewed February 24, 25, 26, 2011.

Our peek at the houses of Charles Street, Berkeley Square in 1871 began at No. 1: Thomas March of 1 Charles Street: One degree from Queen Victoria.

Before that, we started with the Stoker family: Bram Stoker, author of Dracula in public records: BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death).

Next time: what the Carlyles said about Henry. Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane mentioning Henry Fleming in their letters to each other. (For what it's worth, I found it pretty funny what they had to say, and how fragrantly they could throw mud at people.)

THOMAS CARLYLE LETTERS TO HIS WIFEMonographs personal and social

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