The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 13 July 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220713-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:147-150.


3. Moray-street, 13th July 1822.

My dear Friend,

I am sorry to own that I have not written a single line of poetry or even of metre, since the time you last heard from me. Indolence, and excessive occupation, and stupidity both of my own and from others, have held me in complete bondage. In obedience to your injunctions, I did my besst endeavour to conceive the feelings of poor little Ada, and throw some ornament over them; I had even proceeded so far as to intend saying something of the Stork with her bosom torn up to feed her young, of the Greenland bear whose cubs the English sailors interfered with—greatly to their cost; and I intended to draw a very notable moral from the whole: but alas!—just as I was beginning, the “Devil” came for copy, the Bullers came and wanted some arrangement (which is not made yet) about their boys, and lastly Irving came, and leaving his worthy tho' at times somewhat tiresome companion1 to my charge—went eastwards as you know for better entertainment.

Under these circumstances, I should hardly have presumed to trouble you at present, but that I feared you might want the other volume of Sismondi, which I would have you to finish before taking up any thing else; and that I am your debtor for a charming letter which ought to have been acknowledged long ere now. I was very sulky when this favour reached me: but the perusal of it dashed every cloud from the mind, and left me cheerful as summer; it has amused and enlivened me every time I have thought of it since. Your tragicomedy of the W.S. is quite a perfect thing; and related with the same easy gracefulness, with which it was originally transacted on your part. What a touching scheme of life the man of Law had laid out for himself! A little money and a house already—wanted only an “agreeable” young woman to look after the cooking of his victuals and the darning of his stockings:—and all this, you (cruel beauty!) have levelled with the earth by one fatal no! Seriously, I could pity the Notarius; but his presumption exceeds all measure. A thousand masters of Conveyancing and even of the mystery of Tounge-fence [debate] may wed, and grow rich, and eat meat, and die and be annihilated; and the world no jot the better or the worse: but one trueminded woman of genius—accomplished in character and understanding, as you may yet be if you will,—is a more important object in the universe, worth more in the estimate of genuine taste, than all the Lawyers that have flourished from Ulpian & Trebonian2 inclusive down to this very writer to his majesty's signet! I do not praise you therefore because you have denied: but it does delight me to see such things.

At the first glance of your fall, I formed a hasty wish that Dr Fyf[f]e had been in much hotter quarters than so civil a gentleman deserves. I am happy to learn from Irving that you feel no worse. Let me beg of you, however, to undertake no such experiments in future. Next to the misery of wedding a prosaic Lawyer would be that of dying in the very bud as it were; while the beautiful creations of intellect and fancy, which all your friends are looking for, continue still in prospectu. It is hard to die at any time: but at such an age, and for such a cause—!— I do entreat you to make no hazards of that nature any more.

I spoke of your powers being in prospectu: I am happy to be again reminded, and convinced if I had needed conviction, that the period of fulfilment is drawing near and nearer. Those verses you have sent me are proofs at once of your genius and diligence. You can already versify with great ease and correctness; and where you commit yourself to the expression of your own feelings, the result might please a far harsher critic than I am. The lines “written at midnight”3 have something in them which is to me exceedingly beautiful and pathetic: I have read them over often; and found much to admire and not one expression to blame. You seem at present to be following the proper course; acquiring the ready command of your pen—which is fully one half of a good education, and gathering fresh knowledge and new feelings from every source that can afford you any. This is the other half of education; and, without the former, comparatively of little value: with it, you make the individual all that Nature meant him to be; and the meanest individual if so trained would cease to be mean. I know not of any definite plan of reading that would suit your case better than any other; you are well employed if you are conversing with great minds or contemplating exalted thoughts, at all: yet it strikes me that your present materials of study are in danger of leading you too much away from actual things; and of preventing your acquirement of those solid foundations of real knowledge, on which the right conduct of life equally with the right employment of the mental powers must all be built. I recollect of recommending History to you more than once: I still look upon it as the most instructive and interesting of all studies; equally improving to the understanding the imagination and the heart. What if you should recommence Hume, when Sismondi is finished; and so make a complete and memorable summer of the present? You might write a Sonnet upon every exalted character you fell in with, an essay upon every striking national change; you would have a real scene before you, in which to insert the productions of your fancy, from which to draw your opinions of men and things; and I am certain, from my confidence in the strength of your judgement and the reasonableness as well as force of your emotions, that you might thus open up to yourself an almost boundless store of mental nourishment—of new objects to study, new characters to admire, and to admire more strongly because more definitely and rationally than any one can admire those poetical and fictitious heroes and scenes with which at present your interior world is chiefly replenished. I express myself badly, but I mean something which I feel convinced is very reasonable; so I beg you to consider it maturely. I see a niche in the temple of Fame—still vacant or but poorly filled-which I imagine your powers will yet enable you if so cultivated to occupy with glory to yourself and profit to others—and that as a proper Woman; which is more than our favourite De Staël ever did. “Nous sommes tous deux deguisés en femme”—was one of Talleyrand's jokes, and not without some justice, against Delphine (thought to represent Wilhelmina herself, Mad. Vernon representing Tally).4— But, like poor Nichol, I am burbling my discourse: Besides my paper is done, and I had a thousand other things to say. Send me all the verses you have written—with any letter, the first day you have time to write one. I give out no subject of versification: I have no right, being a craven at present; and besides, except on great occasions, it is best to leave that part of it, I find, to the direction of whim. Above all, tell me when I shall see you: consider, I have been a “reasonable person” for a very long period now—about half-a-year as I reckon; and a few more such periods will put us both—God only knows where! I am not going to dun you and vex you with this matter, however: I felt just now as if I could promise never to see you more—if you required it of me. God bless you my dearest friend, whether I see you or not! I am ever your's,

Thomas Carlyle—

You will rejoice to learn that I am positively to be done with this most wearisome Legendre next week. Till the Bullers take up house at least, I shall then have a short period of comparative freedom to write verses or do what I please.— Tell me what you think of Sismondi. I perfectly agree with your view of Washington—a smooth polished clever amiable man—excellent for an acquaintance—but for a bosom-friend—no!