“A perpetual state of honeymoon” – snapshots from a Victorian marriage – 12th March 1867

In his letter, Malcolm responds to the suggestion made by his mother to Helen that he is overstaying his welcome with the Murrays at Scone Palace:

‘I am sure of my welcome here, not only by E & W but by Lady M who I feel certain is glad to have me… I think probably Ma thinks I am neglecting you, staying away doing nothing but amuse myself… I am sure I am as sensitive as Ma could be upon the subject of being where I ain’t wanted… I certainly have been away longer than I expected but that is not my fault.’

Malcolm answers Helen’s concerns from her letter of the 10th of March about John, the footman, who is leaving his mother’s service:

‘What a provoking shame John’s leaving Ma is. I think the next man we engage should be at lower wages with a promise of a yearly increase if he turns out satisfactory.’

Malcolm describes going out ferreting again and catching 20 rabbits. The weather in Perthshire in March is clearly colder than we are accustomed to now:

‘There was a bright sun – very cold – with heavy squalls of snow.’

The rest of the letter is devoted to housing matters. Malcolm is planning a visit to Lochearnhead and St Fillans to look at houses there.

Lady Helen wrote two letters on this day in 1867, one in the morning and a further one in the evening. In the first letter, her main concern is the discussion of finances.

It has been worked out for them by their accountant, that as a household, their expenses are £1 per day. This is interesting as it gives us some idea of what kind of standard of living they expect to have. The National Archives currency converter tells us that £1 in 1867 was worth £62.61 and represented 5 days wages for a skilled craftsman. Interestingly, at this time a sailor in the Royal Navy would have earned less than this per week, making only 15 shillings. The Bank of England currency converter, based on rates of inflation, has the current worth of the 1867 £1 as just over £119.

This puts any notions of the couple being poorly off into perspective, but for them it was relative, as they had appearances to keep up given their status and the expectations of their families and friends.

The plaid that Malcolm told Helen about in his letter of the 6th of March had arrived in London by this date:

‘The plaid has this instant come, I think it a great bargain as it is much finer than I expected from what you said – my own pet thank you so very much for it.’

Much of the rest of the letter is taken up with discussion of the figures and options that Malcolm had set out in his previous letters in response to his request that Helen consider these.

‘The more I look at my plaid the better I like it & the more astonishing I consider its price… Mr Baker came this afternoon & vaccinated Margaret having got some good “lymph” I think they call it, she’s exactly 8 weeks old today. Malvina is growing very mischievous but I think on the whole is a shade less shy than she was. That old wretch Dan walked off this afternoon to HC on his own hook and took Rough [presumably another dog] with him; Mr Baker met them at the bridge gate. Rough returned alone almost immediately & Dan made his own way back in about an hour… I didn’t get out today, the weather continued so very bad all the afternoon. My precious dear, you know quite well when you say you’re afraid I only go out to please you & you want me to please myself, you’re talking nonsense as I can’t do the latter unless I do the former too & as far as going out’s concerned I know you’re right & I ought to do it for my own sake to say nothing of Margaret’s – it is late duckie and I am oh so peepums therefore I shall say goodnight & retire to dream of “Somebody”. “Far’weel” & believe me ever your very loving Wifie’

Included with the letter is a separate sheet with some working out of costs and savings on it which gives an interesting look into the costs of Malcolm and Helen’s household.