The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO ELIZA STODART; 8 March 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230308-JBW-EA-01; CL 2:303-307.


Haddington—8th March [1823]

Well! my beloved Cousin, here I am once more at the bottom of the pit of dullness, hemmed in all round, straining my eyeballs, and stretching my neck to no purpose.

Was ever starling in a more desperate plight? But I will “get out”—by the wife of Job, I will!1 Here is no sojourn for me! I must dwell in the open world, live aamid life; but here is no life, no motion, no variety. It is the dim[m]est, deadest spot (I verily believe) in the Creator's universe: to look round in it, one might imagine that time had made a stand: the shopkeepers are to be seen standing at the doors of their shops, in the very same postures in which they have stood there ever since I was born; “The thing that hath been is that also which shall be”;2 every thing is the same, every thing is stupid; the very air one breathes is impregnated with stupidity. Alas my native place! the Goddess of dullness has strewed it with all her poppies!

But it is my native place still! and after all there is much in it that I love. I love the bleaching-green, where I used to caper, and roll, and tumble, and make gowan necklaces, and chains of dandelion stalks, in the days of my “wee existence”; and the schoolhouse where I carried away prizes, and signalized myself not more for the quickness of my parts, than for the valour of my arm, above all the boys of the community; and the mill-dam too where I performed feats of agility which it was easier to extol than to imitate, and which gained me at the time the reputation of a sticket callant (un garçon assassiné)3 which I believe I have maintained with credit up to the present hour; and above all I feel an affection for a field by the side of the river, where corn is growing now, and where a hayrick once stood—you remember it?4 For my part I shall never forget that summer's day; but cherish it “within the secret cell of the heart5 as long as I live—the sky was so bright, the air so balmy, the whole universe so beautiful! I was very happy then! all my little world lay glittering in tinsel at my feet! but years have passed over it since; and storm after storm has stript it of much of its finery. Allons ma chère [Come my dear]!—let us talk of the “goosish” man, my quondam lover.6

He came; arrived at the George Inn at eleven o'clock at night, twelve hours after he received my answer to his letter; slept there “more soundly,” according to his own statement, “than was to have been expected, all the circumstances of the case considered”; and in the morning sent a few nonsensical lines to announce his nonsensical arrival. Mother and I received him more politely “than was to have been expected, all the circumstances of the case considered”; and we proceeded to walk, and play at battledoor, and talk inanities, about new novels, and new belles, and what had gone on at a splendid party, the night before, where he had been (he told us) for half an hour with his arm under his hat; and then he corrected himself, and said, with his head under his arm! it was of very little consequence where his head was; it is not much worth; but the Lord defend me from visitors so equip[p]ed, when I come to give parties! Before dinner he retired to his Inn, and vapoured back, in the course of an hour or so, in all the pride of two waistcoats, (one of figured velvet, another of sky-blue satin) gossamer silk stockings, and morocco leather slippers—“these little things are great to little men.”7 I should not like to pay his tailor's bill however. Craigenputtock8 could not stand it. Next morning he took himself away, leaving us more impressed with the idea of his imbecillity than ever. In a day or two after his return to town, there came a huge parcel from him, containing a letter for Mother, expressed with a still greater command of absurdity than any of the preceding ones, and a quantity of music for me (pour parenthèse [by the way], I shall send you a sheet of it, having another copy of “Home sweet home9 beside) and in two days more another letter, and another supply of music. Hitherto there had been nothing of hope, nothing more of love or marrying; but now my gentleman presumed to flatter himself, in the expansion of the folly of his heart, that I might possibly change my mind. Ass! I change my mind indeed! and for him! Upon my word, to be an imbécille as he is, he has a monstrous stock of modest assurance! However I very speedily relieved him of any doubts which he might have upon the matter. I told him ce que j'ai fait je le ferois encore” [“what I did I would do again”], in so many words as must (I think) have brought him to his senses—if he has any. He has since written to Mother begging of her to deprecate my displeasure—there the transaction rests and peace be with it!

I have neither heard nor seen anything of “Doctor Fieff10—the Lord be praised! He not only wasted a very unreasonable proportion of my time; but his fuffs and explosions were very hurtful to my nervous system.

Talking of nerves, we got a horrible fright in church on Saturday. An old Lady dropt down in the adjoining seat, and was carried out as dead. Mother screamed out ‘Oh’ so stoutly, that Mr. Gordon was obliged to stop in his prayer, and sit down: She seems destined to make a distinguished figure in all church hub-bubs. Witness the scene of the repenting-stool! The old Lady has got better—

What of Wull?11 is he coming out soon? a visit from any man with brains in his head would really be an act of mercy to us here.

There is a long letter for you! Now will you write to me soon? I cannot recollect your excuse without some feeling of displeasure— “You cannot write letters that I will care about” Surely this compliment to my understanding (if it was meant as such) is at the expence of my heart. It is not for the sake of grammar or rhetorick (I should think) that friends, like you and I, write to one another. When your letters cease to interest me, credit me, I will not ask them.

My Mother has quite got rid of her cold. It was as bad as need be after we came home. For myself I am quite well, still suffering a little from the maladie des adieux [illness of farewells]; but that is all. Both of us unite in kindest love to your Uncle and yourself. Will you kiss him for me?

Ever most affectionately yours /

Jane Baillie Welsh

Mother bids me say that all the difference betwixt your manner of making marmalade and hers, is that she gives double the quantity of sugar to the fruit. If you think however that she h[as] any art in it which you are not up to, she w[ill] be exceedingly happy to make it for you. Speaking of marmalade will you give my compliments to William Watson[?]12

Mother is never to be done with bidding me say she bids me say, next that Betty's13 Mama's hens stand very much in need of pills. However she means to look about on Monday—(there's one of my old blunders)14 to see if the hens are more laxative in another quarter—how dirty!

Will you put the note and the letter into the postoffice[?] The Lord give me patience! Mother bids me say again that there is abundance of fruit and sugar to be had here so that if she is to have the pleasure of making the marmalade for Bradie15 you need not send any; More over—oh16—she has plenty of cursed ugly wee black pigs12 at your service. Not one word more will I write for her, by God.