The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 6 December 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221206-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:220-222.


Haddington—Friday [6 December 1822]—

My dear Friend

Write to me wheneve[r] you have headach[e]—it makes you the most amusing of human beings[.] Poor Petrarca! as long as I live I shall not see a snuff-box without thinking of him! i1 am glad you do not like his “puffing and sighing”— i never could endure it—

Many thanks for ‘Werner,’ of which I might never have heard in this barbarian borough. is it not a masterly performance? he is my own matchless Byron after all!—

You wish to be acquainted with the arrangement of my time—well then attend— I rise at nine—(a promising beginning!) till ten i dress, breakfast, and play with Shandy or my reticule— from ten till two I read Rollin. i cannot not say with all my heart; but, with all my understanding—referring, as often as occasion is, to my ancient maps and classical dictionary—i have felt the want of this dictionary, or something of the sort, for a great while; but before you mentioned it i did not know of its existence— from two till four (our dinner hour) I walk if the day is fine; if not I spend these two hours on drawing, music, talking, chess, or any other lady-like accomplishment— After dinner i have two hours for light reading, or light writing, and four (dont be angry) for Schiller, Tacitus, and Alfieri—

This routine is liable to interruptions, and, while one lives in society, these interruptions cannot be avoided; but I content myself with repairing the evil I cannot prevent— i have always a stock of spare time, consisting of four hours, and on this i draw when i am hard pressed with callers, teabibbers, and such like hereditary encumbrances— Before my hours were thus disposed, i generally spent one half the day in dressing and visiting, and the other half in deploring my idleness— By cutting my hair in a new fashion, and sewing my waists to my skirts (you bid me be minute) i have so expedited the process of dressing, that it costs me on no occasion above ten minutes—as to visiting, without declaring my intention of refusing all invitation, i refuse each on the plea of cold, the weather, letters to write (God knows you are my only correspondent) or on any other plea that my wits at the moment suggest—thus i avoid both the misery of sitting, for hours, stuck up among imbecelles, and the odium which a professed distaste for their amusements would procure me— During this last month I have gone through a large portion of Tacitus, Rosmunda, the second part of Wal[l]enstein (the first i left in despair) and five volumes of the ‘Ancient history’— What glorious beings these Greeks are! I think, instead of eternally harping on the blindness of the heathen, Mr Rollin had more occasion to deplore the degeneracy of our race; since he and his christian bretheren with all the advantages of their boasted religion, come so far short of the heathens in talent, heroism, and every noble quality that likens men to gods, does he moralize through the whole thirteen volumes? I will persist, come what may!— Did you never think of writing a tragedy on the death of Socrates? While i was reading his life, i was seized with a sudden desire to become a philosopher—the noble contempt of the pomp and luxury of wealth particularly struck me, and when i came to that exclamation of his, “quantis non egeo” [“how much is there that I do not want”] i began to think seriously of laying aside all my superfluities as a first grand step towards the accomplishment of my design—with my head full of this sage resolution i went to walk, and while i was talking to a Lady i missed a bunch of amethysts, the most valuable jewel in my possession—my first thought was ‘quanto2 egeo’ [‘how much I want’] my next ‘let me begin to be a philosopher’— accordingly i finished my story (a long story it was!) without pausing, or changing countenance— on my way home i reflected that all the gold and jewels in the world could not be converted to one grain of wisdom, a[n]d wisdom being the only real good it followed my amethyst broach was utterly worthless—therefore it was unworthy a rational being, and most unworthy a philosopher to regret its loss— So far Socrates himself could not have thought or acted more philosophically— Now, in what do you think these wise reflections ended? in sending the bellman through every quarter of the town to proclaim my loss, and promise a great reward to whoever should give intelligence thereof— However i am not persecuted with good fortune like the the king (I forget his name) who found the ring he cast away in a fish's belly3—my beautiful amethysts have never been heard of more— I am reading ‘Merope’4 and the third part of Wal[l]enstein— Max Piccolomini is, to my taste, a finer person than either Mortimer5 or Carlos— i think i will read Faust when i have finished Wal[l]enstein if you think me fit for it— i am very desirous to be acquainted with what you so much admire. i expect to like it better than any think [thing] i ever read (not even the review of it excepted)—

You bid me collect my ideas on the subject of the Heroine and then listen to what you have to propose. Now i think it is better to hear you first, and collect my ideas afterwards— Proceed then! Have i not already told you i am willing to attempt anything. What more of the Professorship? i have a thousand things more to say and ask, but it is impossible fo[r] me to write another word at present—i wish you may be able to read or understand what i have written—my pen is diabolical—and no fewer than three blockheads have been talking in the room ever since i commenced: but i was resolved to write to day being ashamed to detain your books any longer— Is your brother like you? give him my compliments. Write to me soon and never apologize for the length of your letters— Oh I had a great deal more to say and i should like to have said what i have said better

Yours Affectionately

Jane Welsh

Will you be kind enough t[o] put the note for my uncle into the post office when you have occasion to walk that way