The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO ELIZA STODART; 15 January 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220100-JBW-EA-01; CL 2:16-19.


Haddington [January 1822].

My Dear Bess

I return the two first volumes of Julia1 with many thanks— It seems to me, that the most proper way of testifying my gratitude to the amiable Jean Jacques for the pleasure he has afforded me, is to do what in me lies to extend the circle of his admirers— I shall begin with you— Do read this book— You will find it tedious in many of its details, and in some of its scenes culpably indelicate; but for splendour of eloquence, refinement of sensibility, and ardour of passion it has no match in the French language. Fear not that by reading Heloise you will be ruined—or undone—or whatever adjective best suits that fallen state into which women and angels will stumble at a time—I promise you that you will rise from Heloise with a deeper impression of whatever is most beautiful and most exalted in virtue than is left upon your mind by ‘Blairs sermons’ ‘Pailey's Theology’ or the voluminous ‘Jeremy Tailor’ himself2— I never felt my mind more prepared to brave temptation of every sort than when I closed the second volume of this strange book— I believe if the Devil himself had waited upon me [in] the shape of Lord Byron I would have desired Betty to show him out— Sages say that every work which presents vice in the colours of virtue has a tendency to corrupt the morals— They are without doubt in the right But when the[y] say that Julia Etange is vicious the[y] are in a most egregious mistake— Read the book and ask your heart or rather your judgement if Julia be vicious[.] I do not wish to countenance such irregularities among my female acquaintances but I must confess were any individual of them to meet with such a man— to struggle as she struggled—to endure as she endured—to yield as she yielded—and to repent as she repented—I would love that woman better than the chastest coldest Prude between Johnnygroats House and Land's end3— —One serious bad consequence will result to you from reading Heloise—at least if your soul-strings are screwed up to the same key as mine— You will never marry! Alas! I told you that I should die a virgin if I reached twenty4 in vain— Even so will it prove— This Book this fatal Book has given me an idea of a love so pure (Yes you may laugh! but I repeat it) so pure, so constant, so disinterested, so exalted—that no love the men of this world can offer me will ever fill up the picture my imagination has drawn with the help of Rousseau— No lover will Jane Welsh ever find like St Preux—no Husband like Wolmar (I dont mean to insinuate that I should like both—) and to no man will she ever give her heart and pretty hand who bears to these no resemblance—George Rennie! James Aitken! Robert MacTurk! James Baird!!! Robby Angus!5— O Lord O Lord! where is the St Preux? Where is the Wolmar?— Bess I am in earnest— I shall never marry—and after having laughed so at old maids, it will be so dreadful to be one of the very race at whom I have pointed the finger of scorn— Virtuous Venerable females! how my heart smites me for the illjudged ridicule I have cast on their pure names! What atonement can I make? what punishment shall I undergo? Let me think!— I will—I will write a novel & make my Heroine a Beauty—a Wit—a very Monster of perfection—an Empress of a thousand male hearts—and—she shall live a Maid—and die in an elegant little garret— But I will talk no more on this melancholy subject— So you saw my Aunt!6 what did you think of her? Poor thing she does not understand love— She never read Heloise—but she has got a husband—such as he is—

Mr Craig Buchanan7 has put me to the expense of postage twice within the last fortnight— He is improving in his Style and displays some ingenuity in finding out subjects to write upon— He threatens me with a visit in a week or two— It will surely come to a crisis—what do you think of it— He is about the age of Wolmar—but Wolmar had not a bald head—nor a lame leg—neither did Wolmar make puns or pay compliments— I have just had a letter from Thomas Carlyle[;] he too speaks of coming— He is something liker to St Preux than George Craig is to Wolmar— He has his talents—his vast and cultivated mind—his vivid imagination—his independence of soul and his high souled principles of honour— But then Ah these buts! St Preux never kicked the fire irons—nor made puddings in his teacup— Want of Elegance— Want of Elegance Rousseau says is a deffect which no woman can overlook8— It is the decree of fate! dear Eliza. it is the decree of fate! so look about for a nice pleasant little garret that has a fine view unclouded by the town smoke and out of reach of the camera obscura9 and we will take up house together— When I commenced this letter I did not intend to write above three lines—the dertimined [sic] and somewhat unkind manner in which you declared you would carry on no further correspondence with me still sticks in my thrapple [throat]— I allow you however an opportunity of mending your manners[;] take care that you do not abuse it— My Mother sends her kind compliments and will be glad to hear from you[;] love to Brady & Maggy[.]10 Send me if you please on the first opportunity the third volume of Julia—

I have never seen him11 since I came home— His mother & Janet12 called one day and I saw John13 at the Foxhounds— Oh wretch I wish I could hate him—but I cannot—I despise him but I do not hate him—and when Friday comes I always think how neatly I used to be dressed—and sometimes I give my hair an additional brush and put on a clean frill just from habit— Oh the devil take him— He has wasted all the affections of my poor heart—and now there is not the vestige of a flirt about me—but I will vex that renegade heart of his yet.

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