The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 11 November 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221111-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:196-199.


Haddington—11th November [1822]

My dear friend

If ever I succeed in distinguishing myself above the common herd of little Misses, thine will be the honour of my success. Repeatedly have your salutary counsels, and little well-timed flatteries roused me from inactivity when my own reason was of no avail. Our meeting forms a memorable epoch in my history; for my acquaintance with you has from its very commencement powerfully influenced my character & life. When you saw me for the first time, I was wretched beyond description—grief at the loss of the only being I ever loved with my whole soul had weakened my body and mind—distraction of various kinds had relaxed my habits of industry—I had no counsellor that could direct me—no friend that understood me—the pole-star of my life was lost, and the world looked a dreary blank— Without plan, hope, or aim I had lived two years when my good angel sent you hither— I had never heard the language of talent and genius but from my Father's lips— I had thought that I should never hear it more—you spoke like him—your eloquence awoke in my soul the slumbering admirations and ambitions that His first kindled there— I wept to think, the mind he had cultivated with such anxious, unremitting pains was running to desolation; and I returned with renewed strength and ardour to the life that he had destined me to lead— But in my studies I have neither the same pleasures, or the same motives as formerly— I am alone, and no one loves me better for my industry—this solitude together with distrust of my own talents, despair of ennobling my character, and the discouragement I meet with in devoting myself to a literary life would, I believe, have, oftener than once, thrown me into a state of helpless despondency; had not your friendship restored me to myself, by supplying (in as much as they can ever be supplied) the counsels and incit[e]ments I have lost— You see I am not insensible to the value of your friendship, or likely to through [throw] it away; tho' you have sometimes charged me with inconstancy and caprice—

There is no plainer way of testifying my entire approval of the matter contained in your last letter than rigidly adhering to the plan you have sketched for me. This I am endeavouring to do— I immediately commenced an active search through the libraries of my acquaintance for some of the books you named. Hume I have commenced and recommenced so many many times, that I cannot now look with patience on a volume of the same shape and colour. therefore I prefer[r]ed acqu[a]inting myself with the history of England through the medium of Clarendon. Clarendon however is ‘out of fashion.’ My next attempt was on Rollin and that proved more successful. I read his Ancient History in my infancy; but remembered no more of it than the number of volumes. I have already finished the first volume, (writing little foolish reflections as I proceed)—during the last week I have also read the latter half of ‘Maria Stuart’—some scenes of Alfieri—and a portion of ‘Tacitus’ (which by the way is the hardest Latin I ever saw)—when you devoted four hours of my day to the study of history, what did you mean should become of my Italian and my dear dear German? I have no inclination to part with these, and accordingly I mean to devote four hours more, equally ‘constantly, faithfully and inflexibly’ to the study of languages. What is the reason I cannot read the first part of ‘Wallenstein’? I was just beginning to congratulate myself upon my progress in the German Tongue (‘Maria Stuart’ was so intelligible) and now I find I know nothing at all about it. Have you ever read ‘Rosmunda’?1 if you have not you never saw women in a proper rage. Oh! it is a furious, bloody business— I think Alfieri must have written it with a live coal in his Stomach— I had almost forgot the Curse.2 I cannot make up my mind about it—my judgement is quite bewildered amid its striking beauties and gross deformities; But though I cannot decide upon the work, I can upon its author. He must either be the craziest or the most conceited mortal that ever invented rhymes. Nothing but derangement or unbounded admiration of his own genius could have emboldened him to violate as he has done all laws of criticism and commonsense, I should like well to have conceived ‘The curse of Kehama’— But I would not have written it for a thousand guineas.

I believe I told you I had got a sort of friend in the highlands— You must understand I had not been at Ardachy a day till I for[e]saw I should find little favour there in propria persona; and so I thought it adviseable to play the part of a lively, dashing, goodhumoured, thoughtless blockhead of a girl— you cannot think how this character took—it won the hearts of the women and turned the heads of all the men in the place. This Mrs Spalding3 was the greatest of my admirers. She showed me so much confidence and kindness that I really felt exceedingly obliged to her, and inclined to like her as well as I possibly could like so fat a woman. All sorts of civilities were exchanged betwixt us, and, at parting, we agreed to continue our intercourse by letters. accordingly I wrote to her immediately on my return home; but mark the sequel!—yesterday came her answer, cold, short, and formal. I could nowise account for the seeming change in her dispositions towards me, until I discovered she was activated by the same spirit as the young Lady that could do something. She tells me that “she feels her own inferiority at the pen; but will always be glad to reply to my letters in her humble way[.]” She then proceeds to ask my advice about the education of her daughter, and begs me to look about for a governess for her. On the same sheet of paper is a letter from her husband (an english officer in the Fort)4 which begins with “If you choose to be a blue stocking do you think or expect we common people can answer you in the same style?” the whole letter is filled with allusions to my “blue-stocking talents” as he is pleased to style writing grammar. Here is all the kindliness of our intercourse frozen at once by this wretched jealousy. Something like this has been the history of all the attachments I ever formed with women—— However; the episode of the Governess is quite original—

I should like above all things “to make a hero and heroine such as the world never saw” do let us set about it! the creatures of our joint imaginations will be a most singul[ar] mixture of genius and imbecillity.

Would to God the alacrity of your execution was equal to the boldness of your projects!— Your last verses are very like Campbell—pray send me some more. you cannot think what pleasure they afford me. I am ashamed to say I have nothing to send you even ‘in my humble way[.]’ I inserted some of your verses (without your name) in the Album of one of my acquaintances, and I understand they are figuring in the albums of all the little Ladies and right honourables in the county. Are you angry? I assure you no one knows by whom they are written.

Is your history of Faust printed yet? if it is I wish you would procure me a reading of it. Ah poor poor Byron—I—even I must give him up. Tell me what you have decide[d] on with respect to the proposal of the fat Bookseller

Write soon

Your very sincere friend /

Jane Welsh

tell me what you think of the critic on William's picture5 and send it back