I am reading a fun and unusual book called Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff. Now, I’d never heard of her, though it says she’s the author of 84, Charing Cross Road. And–having read the book–I know it was a big seller and was turned into a BBC show. But at the top of the book it says “a delightful account of a lifelong love affair with books.”
So I opened it up and read the first page. And I was intrigued. I was interested.
Just now, over halfway through the book, I found the story behind the poem, “Jenny Kissed Me.” It’s one of the poems I read in lit class and make my students read. And now I know the backstory. It turns out that Jenny is Jane Carlyle, wife of the famous literary giant of the 184os and 1850s, Thomas Carlyle.
The chair is still there, near the door as it is in the painting, as it was on the day Jane jumped up from it when Leigh Hunt came.
The Hunts lived around the corner and Leigh used to drop in regularly. But he was sick one winter and was absent for so long that when he finally recovered and appeared in the Carlyle’s doorway, Jane jumped up and kissed him. And a day or two later, one of the Hunt servants delivered a note. From Mr. Hunt to Mrs. Carlyle. The note read:
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in:
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add
Jenny kissed me.
I think he was the only one who called her Jenny. Her friends and family, including Thomas, called her Jeannie.