“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – 10th March 1867

‘My own dearie husband. I meant of course to go to church this morning, but it is pouring, thick fine rain & there’s also such a fog I really can’t venture out, so now having read my prayers I’ll have a chat with you. I shall be so glad my Darling when you return, not for myself of course (!!) but for poor old Dan’s sake as he seems so low and seedy: sitting close to the fire looking at it, or lying as near the fender as he can…’

The pain of separation appears to be biting from the tone of Helen’s letter to her husband, even if she is expressing her feelings via the mood of the family dog, Dan. The situation must have been hard on Lady Helen, with two small children to care for, even if she did have staff to help her with household duties.

Helen discusses the requirements she would like in their next house with regard to the children:

‘I hope it may have a room for a nursery rather bigger than the one the bairns have here, for now Malvina is always toddling about she is perpetually under one’s feet in so small a room as Lucy’s bed [one can assume Lucy is the nurse or nanny], the cot & the crib take up the greater portion of it.’

Helen comments on current fashion:

‘They say nobody in London has any crinoline, or at least only a hoop or two quite at the bottom to support the train which is longer than ever.’

A crinoline is a hooped petticoat that made the skirts of dresses very full at this time.

There are more problems with staff vacancies:

‘Kate has just told me that I’m sorry to hear that “John” is leaving Mammie. Kate is very indignant as she says Ma has been very kind to him, giving him no end of things; & of course he must know she’s only kept him all this time in order to have him for the season & now he goes & gives warning just as he will be wanted.’

It is clear that Helen is not a little disgruntled at what she sees as this disloyal behaviour:

‘I do think servants, footmen chiefly, grow more and more odious – they’ve no gratitude at all and show no consideration for their employers however kind they may be tho’ they expect every consideration to be shown them.’

This is a very typical attitude from a time when workers had very few rights in any sector, particularly domestic service.

Malcolm appeared to be having a very similar day in terms of the weather at Scone:

‘It rained so hard this morning that nobody went to church.’

Later in the letter, Malcolm tells Helen that he has been proposed for membership of the exclusive Travellers’ Club, which had its premises at number 106 Pall Mall in London.

Established in 1819, membership of the club was limited to those who had travelled at least 500 miles away from London. It boasted various politicians and explorers amongst its members and a place there was much sought after. The person who proposed him appears to have been Charles Lennox Grenville Berkeley, who is the ‘GB’ referred to in this letter. He was a liberal politician and appears to be a friend of the family.

The main worry for Malcolm at this time regarding this proposal is the question of the subscription, which was high.

Most of the rest of the letter has Malcolm deliberating over financial matters and the pros and cons of the various properties that they are considering in Scotland. It is clear that this is done so that Helen is in the position to send Malcolm an informed opinion on all the options on offer. At one point Malcolm insists:

‘Please read all this carefully and give me the benefit of your opinion.’

The letter ends on a heartfelt note:

‘I do so long to see you and the little ones again. Kiss them for me my own. Good night my precious one.’