The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 24 December 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221224-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:247-248.


Haddington / 24th December [1822]

My dear friend

You cannot fall on a more effectual [way] of making my kindness for you less, than talking so much about it— I see you do not understand how to manage us women; no wonder!— You ought above all things to beware of seeming grateful for any favour we may please to confer on you; for, you must know we value our favours just in proportion to the gratitude they are paid with. By thanking a Lady, however humbly, for any mark of her esteem you at once alarm her pride—her prudence too—if she happen to have any; whereas by receiving it with indifference you pique her vanity: and what miracles may not that work in your favour?— Would you continue to enjoy the sunshine of my smiles you must also abstain from flattery (at least of the common sort)— I have been stuffed with adulation since ever I left the Boarding-school; (at that time I was as ugly a little bundle of a thing as ever you set your eyes on) and adulation like sweetmeats palls the appetite when presented at all hours of the day— I value one compliment to my judgement above twenty to my person (for the latter, my glass declares to me every morning, is totally unmerited, whereas I may be tempted to believe the former has some foundation)—now what more delicate compliment can you pay to any one's judgement than to show you esteem it inaccessible to flattery? Here is a lesson for you! see that you profit by it!—

Oh this book! this book!— I dream on it all day and wake on it all night— you and it together will assuredly drive me mad—(One of my great grandaunt's (she had been taught latin too) died in a straight-waistcoat)— Write tales indeed, to be placed side by side with yours! as foils I suppose!— You must either think me monstrous silly or generous beyond example for You cannot but know that were I to rack my heart and soul I should never be able to extort anything worthy of being mentioned in the same century with the story you have sent me. Unmerciful that you are! thus to throw me back on my own weakness after deluding me with the hope of getting my stupidities enlightened by your wit and genius. I cannot even commence—so many sunny mornings in the month of may, and stormy nights in the month of december have shone and snowed at the commencement of works by ladies ‘yo[u]ng’ and ‘very young’ that without com[m]itting plagiarism I cannot avail myself, for a first line, of any one day of either summer or winter: Spring and Autum[n] have also been already appropriated—to be sure there is a still more convenient way of beginning—I mean plumping right into the midst of the business at onc[e], as in “No fictions” 1 for instance, which, I think, begins with “this is a fine day” said Mr A to Mr B, as they met (I really do not remember where; but somewhere they certainly did meet, and Mr A remarked, “the day was fine,” and Mr B replied “it really was very fine indeed”!!) but then my love of order prevents me from imitating this lively, and humourous mann[er] of setting out, for I have an insurmountable dislike to all stories that begin just where one natural[l]y expects their end— I should be content to open the business with a moral reflection—but; (always a “but”)—I never reflected in my life, and it would be the height of presumption to begin on paper— For mercy's sake help me in[.] If you do not you shall hear some morning I have hanged myself in my garters2 for an ambitious ass—

I return you Wal[l]enstein with many thanks— It is the most tragical tragedy I ever read and has cost me as many tears as might have wet my whole stock of new handkerchiefs— this german is a glorious language; while I live I shall bless my old music Master whose starvation first suggested to me the idea of learning it— I am in a desperate hurry tonight as you may see—I would have delayed writing until I found time to compose a letter worthy of being got by heart—had I not been in want of more german—if you have Faust I will thank you for it—if you have it not I desire you will not get it; but send me anything you have in the mean time and I can get it and some other books I want when I am in town the beginning of spring

[No signature]

[Written above address:]

Ein ruheloser Marsch war unser Leben,
Und wie des Windes Sausen, heimatlos,
Durchstürmten wir die kriegbewegte Erde.3
was there ever any thing so beautiful?