“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – 7th March 1867

In her letter of this date, Lady Helen speaks of a knitted finger guard that she has sent her husband, worried that it might not be the right size. One can only assume that this is a cover for an individual finger to protect it from cold or wear when performing some activity that precludes the wearing of gloves, possibly when finger dexterity is required. This may be for fishing or some other outdoor activity that Malcolm undertakes regularly, as we know he does from other letters.

It would appear that the weather is cold in Surrey as Helen speaks of snow stopping her from going out of the house, as well as the demands of their baby daughter:

‘I didn’t go out today tho’ it cleared for ¾ an hour in the afternoon, for just as it did so, Margaret required me & by the time she had had enough of my society, the snow came on again.’

She also tells Malcolm about their dog, Dan:

‘Poor old Dan seems very miz he’s sat all day as close to the fire as he could & would not come down with me this evening to dinner… I’m sure he misses you for he’s never seemed in really good spirits since you went.’

She also speaks about her youngest daughter Margaret’s development:

‘I think you will consider Margaret improved when you see her – she’s really a pretty baby & even I can see it. I think her mouth a wee bit like Lady Londonderry’s [likely to be a relative on Lady Helen’s side of the family] & hope it may continue so & today she gave me a flash of her eyes so like Emmie, but I don’t think her “peepers” will be as fine as E’s.’

Helen is missing her husband:

‘Oh my Malcolm, what wouldn’t I give for a sound of your voice! It is so dreary not to hear it…and believe me your ever constant and devoted wifie.’

Malcolm writes of having to go to Edinburgh initially but his concern soon turns to domestic matters. It would appear that the household at Thames Villa is to lose their cook, something that appears to be a bit of a problem:

‘I am very sorry that we are to part with Rhoda – but I thought she was too good a cook to remain long with us. However, one can’t grumble at the cause and I hope she may be happy. We must think of something useful to give her.’

This indicates that the most likely reason for her leaving is to get married. Women at this time stopped working on getting married as it was thought proper for a married woman to concern herself with running her household and looking after her husband and children. This stricture did not extend to the working classes, where women frequently worked as well as caring for home and family.

It is possible that Helen and her cook referred to the popular work Mrs Beeton’s book of household management at this time as it was published in 1861. It gave guidance on every aspect of running a home and included recipes for every kind of meal.

The problem of finding a new cook is discussed at length – Malcolm is clearly used to being involved equally in domestic matters:

‘I think perhaps you should set about one as soon as possible, and try to get one who has no objection to move probably no one would for a short time object to coming to Scotland tho’ she might not care to remain long after she got here. I think in making terms we might say that if she stopped over a year we would pay her return fare, but if she left before she must find her own way back.’

Malcolm is also involved in the ongoing discussion about increasing a servant’s wages. Again, from this we can infer that their marriage was very much an equal partnership in every aspect of their lives.

The letter ends with his usual affectionate valediction:

‘I must say good night my own precious one and with kisses to the bairns, I remain, my darling Helen, your ever loving husband.’