The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO ELIZA STODART; 12 February 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220212-JBW-EA-01; CL 2:36-39.


[ca. 12 February 1822]

My dear Eliza

I thank you for your letter which gave me much pleasure, and would have given me still more had it wanted the professions of humility at the beginning. Once for all Miss Eliza Stodart I give you to understand that sincerity is my favorite virtue— You know whether it could be consistant with sincerity to ask—nay, urge a person to write to me whose letters afford me neither pleasure nor amusement.—— I have finished Julia—Divine Julia!1— What a finished picture of the most sublime virtue!— If ever I have a child (which God forbid! my resolutions against matrimony holding out) she shall “read it by day, and meditate by night.”2 If ever I am rich enough to furnish a library, it shall be the first book I buy, and shall occupy the same shelf with Chalmers and my Bible— This is no joking— Julia is decidedly the most moral book I ever read— We quite mistook its nature formerly— In the 2d & 3d volumes there is not one word that the most squeamish woman could be ashamed of— Julia never relapses!—to the last hour— last minute of her life, she is pure and bright as the silver Moon when the dark cloud that obscured it for a moment has passed away— Oh she is a glorious creature!—is?—would to God she really was! I would travel far to see her! I would never leave her till she vowed to be my friend— But Alas! She is a vision! like every thing perfectly glorious and beautiful she is a vision!— But back to beings of this world! George Rennie—read—wonder—but be silent—George Rennie is on the sea! and will soon be in Italy!— What does he seek there? you will ask— His friends answer ‘improvement in the art of Sculpture’— I answer—‘ruin’— Yes! the die is cast—his fate is decided!— This liberty—this fatal liberty that his too indulgent Father allows him can lead only to ruin. False—heartless as he is I tremble to think on all the dangers—the allurements to which he is about to be exposed— And in such a frame of mind! How little fit to offer any resistance!— It is some weeks ago since Nancy Wilkie told my Mother that he meditated going abroad for the purpose of improving his taste in this stucco buisness, which, it seems, he means to prosecute as a profession— Chantry and Joseph3 have cruelly told him he has a genius for it—and who is unwilling to believe himself a genius? This report was afterwards confirmed by Dr Thomson who had been at Phantassie4 and told us he thought of writing Benjamin by a Dr Quin or George Rennie who was to leave Phantassie on the Saturday following— Can you believe it? this intelligence afflicted me— We had not seen each other for months, and yet it seemed that we were now for the first time to be quite parted— I had not heard his voice for many a day—but then I had hea[r]d those who had conversed with him—I had seen objects he had looked on—I had breathed the air that he had breathed— But now seas & countrys were to lie betwixt us— The sun and the moon were to be the only objects we could behold in common— This looked like separation! Yet do not blame me or think me weak it was the recollection of the past that made me weep at his departure and not the pain of the present— I supped at the Davidsons that night James Wilkie told me he had called with George at our house some days before! but found us out— I had not heard of this— My Mother had concealed it from me— What did she fear?—absurd!— Next day was the day preceeding his departure— I resolved to return him his letters lest I might never have another opportunity and I scorned to keep them like a sword over his head— I sealed them and scarcely had I finished when I heard a rap— I knew it at once—long long I had not heard it and yet I recognised it in an instant to be his— I ran out of the room—on the stairs I met Janet Ewart who was staying here— She is very nervous and thought proper to utter a loud scream— ‘I looked so pale’ she said ‘she took me for a ghost’—idiot—you may suppose such a folly, which must have had a most strange appearance to him (for he could not but hear the scream) was not calculated to restore my composure— I told her that the hurry in which I had run out of the room to change my shoes had made me sick—but I added as resolutely as a Roman ‘as I hear it is only George Rennie we may go down’— Down we accordingly went— He half advanced to shake hands with me— I made him a cold bow— He placed a chair for me—and went on conversing with my Mother— He looked well—handsome—quite in high health and seemingly in high spirits— I s[c]arcely heard a word he said my own heart beat so loud—at length he rose— He took leave of my Mother then looked at me as if uncertain what to do— I held out my hand he took it and said ‘Good bye’!—I answered him ‘Farewell’ He left the house!—such was the concluding scene of our Romance!— Great God He left the house—the very room where—no matter—as if he had never been in it in his life before—unfeeling wretch!— It was a dreadful trial to me to be obliged to save appearances even for some minutes after he was gone but I went through it bravely!— I returned his letters that night with a note (on account of which you would have blushed for me) so that he might recieve them just immediately before his setting out which would effectually prevent any reply—and now am I done with him for ever

Mr Buchanan5 has not yet been here— I forgot to answer his letters— No wonder he has not come when I never said he would be welcome— Mr Carlyle was with us two days during the greater part of which I read German with him— It is a noble language!— I am getting on famously— He scratched the fenders dreadful[l]y—I must have a pair of carpet-shoes and hand-cuffs prepared for him the nextime— His tongue only should be left at liberty his other members are most fantastically awkward6

A very laughable thing happened to me lately but as my fingers are cramped with writing so long I will delay the recital till another time— If you have any curiosity (and what woman is without) you will write me forthwith for you shall not have this good story till you ask it

Kindest love to Maggy and your Uncle.7 She and you have quite mistaken my character since you laugh at my chaste views— I will be happier contemplating my ‘beau ideal’ than a real, substantial, eating, drinking, sleeping, honest husband— My Mother joins my kind wishes for you all

Your Affectionate friend

Jane Bail

They say a postscript is the most important part of a lady's letter8— If this be a general maxim I need not make an apology for writing what I am about to say outside my letter— My Mother & I anxiously desire—hope—or feel—that You & Maggy will come out for a week or so before she leaves town— She has never been here yet and it will be very unkind in you if you do not bring her