Then, by degrees, as Jane Carlyle’s mind began to wane, she transferred her jealousy to her husband himself. She hated to be out-shone, and now, in some misguided fashion, it came into her head that Carlyle had surrendered to Lady Ashburton his own attention to his wife, and had fallen in love with her brilliant rival.
On one occasion, she declared that Lady Ashburton had thrown herself at Carlyle’s feet, but that Carlyle had acted like a man of honor, while Lord Ashburton, knowing all the facts, had passed them over, and had retained his friendship with Carlyle.
Now, when Froude came to write My Relations with Carlyle, there were those who were very eager to furnish him with every sort of gossip. The greatest source of scandal upon which he drew was a woman named Geraldine Jewsbury, a curious neurotic creature, who had seen much of the late Mrs. Carlyle, but who had an almost morbid love of offensive tattle. Froude describes himself as a witness for six years, at Cheyne Row, “of the enactment of a tragedy as stern and real as the story of Oedipus.” According to his own account:
I stood by, consenting to the slow martyrdom of a woman whom I have described as bright and sparkling and tender, and I uttered no word of remonstrance. I saw her involved in a perpetual blizzard, and did nothing to shelter her.
But it is not upon his own observations that Froude relies for his most sinister evidence against his friend. To him comes Miss Jewsbury with a lengthy tale to tell. It is well to know what Mrs. Carlyle thought of this lady. She wrote:
It is her besetting sin, and her trade of novelist has aggravated it—the desire of feeling and producing violent emotions. ... Geraldine has one besetting weakness; she is never happy unless she has a grande passion on hand.
There were strange manifestations on the part of Miss Jewsbury toward Mrs. Carlyle. At one time, when Mrs. Carlyle had shown some preference for another woman, it led to a wild outburst of what Miss Jewsbury herself called “tiger jealousy.” There are many other instances of violent emotions in her letters to Mrs. Carlyle. They are often highly charged and erotic. It is unusual for a woman of thirty-two to write to a woman friend, who is forty-three years of age, in these words, which Miss Jewsbury used in writing to Mrs. Carlyle:
You are never out of my thoughts one hour together. I think of you much more than if you were my lover. I cannot express my feelings, even to you—vague, undefined yearnings to be yours in some way.
Mrs. Carlyle was accustomed, in private, to speak of Miss Jewsbury as “Miss Gooseberry,” while Carlyle himself said that she was simply “a flimsy tatter of a creature.” But it is on the testimony of this one woman, who was so morbid and excitable, that the most serious accusations against Carlyle rest. She knew that Froude was writing a volume about Mrs. Carlyle, and she rushed to him, eager to furnish any narratives, however strange, improbable, or salacious they might be.