The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 8 January 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230108-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:262-265.


Haddington / 8th January [1823]

My dear Friend

I have not been in such illhumour for a great while— I could cry all day long if crying would mend the matter; but i fear it would only spoil my beautiful eyes. No musical milliners are the cause of my discontent— We have “fiddling, capering and carousing” here also, and fratricide among geese,1 and all the rest of it; but while the whole town and country around me, are jigging and quadrilling away their senses, as if they had heard a blast from Oberon's horn;2 I (thanks to David Roughead3 the provident builder of this house) am no wise annoyed by the sight or sound of their folly—

The enemy is within doors— my Uncle Robert and his cold, prosaic, beautiful, artificial, Glasgow wife have been here a whole week; and God knows when we shall get rid of them! the one shoots and sleeps, the other yawns and dresses, all day long—they would ennuyer [bore] job himself were he living at this day. But what is worst to bear I am compelled by etiquette—eternal etiquette to take leave of Schiller, Alfieri and all my dear companions to listen in agonies of patience to their insipidities— To read, in my own house, before vis[i]tors, would be a breach of politeness never to be forgotten or forgiven—

I declare if it were not that my Mother could not well do without me i would decamp and turn Hermitess in some wild highland glen; for I find that as long as I live with society I must be its slave

I finished Rollin before these people came. I am quite distressed about my memory—after all the time and pains I have bestowed on this ancient history I find my mind retains but a faint outline of it.—I did not read the dissertation on the arts and sciences it seemed lumpish stuff, and foreign to my present purpose[.] However if you think it for my good to spend a fortnight on these three volumes I will not grudge it.4

I do not like William Tell so well as Wal[l]enstein5—the interest is so distracted—but perhaps it will improve— I was reading Metestatio6— What sentiments! “e troppo a che ben ama incommoda virtu” [“it is too much for one who loves inconvenient virtue well”]!! how that would sound from Max!7

You did not mean me to return your story?8 I hope not— I shall soon be able to say it by heart—how I envy you! I would give Shandy9 and my pearl necklace to be able to write such an other—but that I shall never be!

My Mother had a letter from Mr Irving some time since the most grotesque performance (I dare swear) that was ever penned beyond the precincts of a lunatic asylum— It begins with ‘It is past midnight’! after stating that he is suddenly and irresistibly impelled to write “by one of those strong movements coming from whence he knows not but to him like the the [sic] motions of a higher spirit” he proceeds to an elaborate description of his two candles, one of which he has extinguished that he may have light to finish his letter—while he is wasting light in narrating this new and ingenious contrivance for saving it he reminds me of a certain sagacious schoolfellow of mine, who having lost one of his two saturday half pennies, in a dark corner, bought a candle with the other to look for the one he had lost— From the candles he flies of[f] to a pack of fiddlers under his window, “breathing the most melting and most melancholy music—” The said fiddlers parade Gloucester Street till (If I may judge by the fatigue I endured in following them) they must have been ready to fall down. After playing ‘Erin go brah’— ‘Auld lang syne’ ‘Lochaber no more’ &c &c &c, they take their departure (I hoped for ever) “but again it comes! a strain more sweet from distance, and endeared by the tender associations of friendship. It is!— ‘Callor Herring’![”]— Here his soul is “entirely overwhelmed” and he winds up the article of the fiddlers by declaring “he is laid prostrate on the sofa” (a most inconvenient writing posture one would imagine!!) “given up to the silence of his own thoughts.” The candles, sofa, and soul-subduing fiddlers are followed by God, a London bookseller, his fair pupil (that's me) the vision of judgement and the caledonian chapel—all jostling each other in most disrespectful manner—just when the confusion is at the thickest his candle goes out and leaves him in the [dark], which event he relates in characters formed with scrup[u]lous nicety— Was there ever any thing so absurd? “Is it not a shame, yea a black and a burning shame” to enslave his gigantic powers to such paltry worse than womanish affectations?— but I am using my paper very unprofitably—10

Tell me, as soon as you like what history I must read next—do not plague yourself any more about Faust—I really do not want it till I have finished Tell. Have the goodness to mention where the best account of the time of Charles 1st is to be found—a young lady asked me the question last night, and I promised to tell her next week—

Have you seen little Nicol?11 What a selfish narrow soul it is!— What did he say to you about my looks? He got two very contradictory messages on the subject— Do write long and soon—as soon as my aunt is out of my way I shall certainly try to profit by your advice respecting my writing. A man has come to tune my piano so I must bid you farewell— you must go on with those tales—indeed you must— I have had no time to read the book you have sent me12—the subject seems dismal enough— compliments to your brother—

Yours affectionately

Jane Welsh