The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 11 September 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220911-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:160-163.


3. Moray-street, 11th September 1822.

My dear Friend,

I returned to Edinr four days ago,1 in order to take my appointed place in the family of the Bullers; and tho' confused and stupified by the many changes which this arrangement has introduced into my condition, I cannot allow my present inept and tenebrific state of mind any longer to prevent me from informing you that I am still in the land of the living, still full of zeal to serve you, and more anxious than ever to hear some tidings of you. If during these six weeks, so trifling a matter as I or my letters ever formed the object of your contemplation, you may sometimes perhaps have imputed this long silence to anger at the sharp note2 you sent hither the day before I left Town. My first care is to assure you that it was not so. The only anger I felt on that occasion was directed against myself, for having even inadvertently given you a moment's vexation; and I still profess my entire and cheerful submission to your dictates in this as in every other circumstance connected with our correspondence. Be sole and absolute mistress of its laws; only do not renounce it! When I commit some great crime I shall deserve that punishment; and then I give you leave to inflict it—if not till then. As it is, every new day but shews more forcibly what a treasure I possess in your friendship, every new character I study but reveals some new superiority in yours; and the more calmly I reflect on the nature of our relation to each other, the more clearly do I perceive how fraught with enjoyment and profit our intercourse might prove to me, without harm or blame to either of us. I would fain avoid heroics, I know your wicked laugh when I transgress in that particular: it is enough therefore to say that I long for the continuance of our correspondence with more earnestness than I have been accustomed to feel of late for any blessing that my life held out to me, and still entertain the fixed hope that in after days we shall never repent having trusted each other so far.

I purposed while in Annandale to have a long series of poems ready for your perusal against my return—to have shaped for myself some plan of regular exertion during winter—perhaps even to have traced out the outline of some Book which I might commence the writing of without delay. Alas! that it should be so much easier to purpose than to execute! So far as regards any intellectual object, the period of my rustication has in truth proved a total blank; and the best I am able to say of it is, that, it passed away pleasantly if not profitably; and innocently—in the exercise of simple and genuine affections—tho' undignified either by the contemplation or the execution of any great enterprise whatever. I chatted whole days with my kind and true-hearted Mother, listened with no small interest to the rude sterling genius of my Father, made the youngsters sing to me or tell me their “travel's history” since we had parted, and strove by every method in my power to give old Care the slip for at least one month of my life. Not that I succeeded absolutely either. By times the Enemy would fasten on me fiercely and tell me that I was but a drivelling sluggard, that all I longed for most on Earth was fleeting fast away from my hold and I not even making an effort to grasp it. Sad truths! but what did they avail me? I tried rhyming repeatedly, but it would not answer. Once I had reached the third stanza of a hymn on the Battle of Morgarten;3 another time I commenced an address to the Kirk of Durisdeer—the aspect of which as I saw it planted so calmly in the sunshine on the hill-side, with its simple belfry, its churchyard, and the lowly cottages around it, might have caused my passing eye to linger on it, even if I had not recollected a certain sermon written there; but nothing of the sort would prosper in my hands. Not even the Glen Kens of Galloway which Burns asserted might make a poet of a blockhead could inspire me. I still recollect the view which burst on Brother Jack and me as we rode steadily over the brow of Kinnick—the vast and solemn ampitheatre of stern heathy granite mountains rising in successive ridges behind each other, with a black pall of storms over-shadowing the peaks of the highest and hindmost—the blue melancholy lakes, the solitary streams that glanced and winded among the rocks below us—all this is still fresh in the tablets of the mind: but what does it produce there? I could almost break forth in tears when I think of the wild and lonely grandeur of my Mother Earth—but that were mawkish; or in songs of wonder—but words fail me, and so I live with a “most voiceless thought.”4 Since returning in Edinr, I have toiled in one continued scene of bustling and disquietude, perplexed and confused by the change of my condition to a degree that renders all exertion of the understanding or the fancy quite a hopeless undertaking. By degrees, I trust, some regularity may be introduced into my proceedings; in hours of leisure I even yet hope to effect something permanent before winter expires: but for my late operations, as the case stands at present, I must submit to your rebukes, and for my future projects implore your good wishes and your pity.

With yourself, My dear Friend, I feel assured that things are widely different. Long ere now you must have finished Tasso, Maria,5 Wallenstein, and many others of the sort; and I already anticipate the pleasure of perusing the ample collection of poems and essays which you must have composed since our parting. Tell me all that you have done, and all that you intend doing. I consider my own credit as partly implicated in your progress; I have pledged myself as to the extent of your natural endowments, and if I do not live to see you by far the most distinguished female6 of all I ever knew, I shall die disappointed. Go on then, and prosper! The career you have chosen is beset with griefs and dangers; but it is the career of the great and noble-minded: the very wish to be numbered among those Elect of the world is honourable; how glorious to have it gratified! At some future day, you will recollect these predictions—with a feeling towards me that I would not sell for the favour of Kings. May it soon arrive, and long continue!

I know not whether you regard this late seeming negligence of mine in the light of a merit or a fault. If in the latter, I pray that mercy may be mingled with justice;7 for I am dying to hear from you. How easy were it to make a packet of your compositions, and send me a long frank charming letter with it any day you liked. I wait your time—patiently as I am bound: only do not keep me longer than is needful, and remember me when you estimate the need.

It is many a month since I saw or heard of your mother: yet I well recollect the time I passed near her; it seems to grow brighter as it removes. Present my affectionate respects to her, and my hope to shew some time that I have not forgot her kindness.— Excuse this most inane and bombastic epistle; think how it was written, and believe that the sentiments it is meant to convey are true, tho' the dress of them is awkward. I shall write more rationally next time, but cannot be more sincerely.

Your Friend, /

Thos Carlyle.