The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 3 May 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230503-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:344-346.


Moray-street, Saturday, 10 P.M. [3 May 1823]

My dear Friend,

I am to be in your side of the town, to-morrow morning; so I may as well leave you this. According to the sage proverb, if it do no good, it will do no harm.

I received your kind letter about two hours ago: it was “like water to a thirsty soul.”1 I do almost believe that you are some Good Angel sent into this world for my especial solace, no less than for the many great and beneficent purposes which you are yet destined to accomplish. Never did a letter come more opportunely. I had been maintaining a stout battle against the Fiend, all day since five in the morning. From you I was separated; and Brother Jonathan,2 the only other soul of these parts that truly cared for me, was then as I calculated sitting down to tea with his mother at Mainhill. It seemed hard to be left alone, even in this most “intellectual” of cities,—among the hundred and forty-nine thousand hearts that beat within the bosoms of its indwellers, not one beating with a faithful pulse for me, the great the important me! It is true, Mistress Wilkie's Cat is in exactly a similar case, and complains not a syllable; but the Cat is much more a Philosopher than I. It did seem very hard. I must either have written a longer and more stupid letter to you, or have grown exceedingly sulky in fighting out the contest single-handed.

My dear Jane, you talk of “gratitude”—in a style which is worthy of you: but I know well that if we should part to-night forever, it is I that have been the chief gainer. Since the day when I first saw you, there has always been one sunny place in my thoughts, when often all the rest was dark and surly enough. The frank upright and kind manner in which you have uniformly treated me, I shall not easily forget, while I remember any thing. It is one of my dearest hopes that I may live to thank you as I ought.

But I must not wander—for you know all that already—and the night is waning. We have business to discuss. I have almost decided about these Translations: and how, think you? That you must not meddle with them. In the first place there is your mother's will, which we should consider and respect, if merely because it is hers; and this has already determined against us. But independently of any such determination, the task seems to me unworthy of you. To translate Elizabeth3 is an enterprize which, in Samuel Johnson's words, many men, many women and many children could effect;4 from which therefore you could reap no credit; to which you could not even put your name. And what is worse than all, worse at least to me, there is something intolerable in the idea that my noble Jane should officiate even in appearance as a kind of subaltern to the hacks of Oliver and Boyd, should send forth the first fruits of her pen (yet by God's blessing to be known over all the land) under the wing of any small prefacing Editor—a creature of paragraphs and shreds, a maker of Scrap-books—a mere thing. I declare I cannot abide this: if there were no other reason, I would almost vote against the undertaking upon that ground alone.

On the other hand, doubtless, I cannot but admit the sound sense of what you say about employment: but I think we shall be able to provide more suitably for that want, by other means. There is Meister, for instance, which I long much to consult you fully upon: if the project take effect, I count on your cooperation. Or perhaps it was a better thought which struck me to-day. You have heard of the Baronness de La Motte Fouqué,5 a German Authoress of many pretty Tales, one or two of which I have read and liked; there is Christian Wolf by Schiller,6 and possibly one or two similar stories in Goethe: what would you think of a Book appearing next winter with the title “Tales from the German, translated and selected by Jane Baillie Welsh”? A beautiful foolscap octavo—with prefaces &c &c by your illustrious pedagogue—ushering you with his cap in hand and in his gracefullest mood into the great drawing-room of Literature, and standing between you and the brunt of all criticisms whatsoever! Is not this worth fifty such schemes as the other? If you think so, I will go on Tuesday, and inquire about this Motte Fouqué, and send to London for her book if it is not here—immediately. Never fear that you shall want work: if this plan will not do, we shall devise a hundred better, whenever we have room to speak and act with freedom. O! that you were at liberty: at present it is really tormenting. But there is a time coming, let us never fret. I know not what I would give for leave to speak with you unmolested for the space of one solar day. I believe I shall grow quite demented, if I part from you thus. But we will not. Esperance! Esperance! We shall meet at last, and be the kinder to each other for these vexations. Meanwhile never mind me and my conveniences: write to me—one of your own little letters—whenever you cannot see me: and be a good bairn, merry and cheerful; I shall be as patient as a stoic. On Monday-night I see you, if possible: let me know in the forenoon, if you do not like my decision, and it shall be as you would have it. At present I am half-sleeping, and tired as need be, and dull—but not dull enough to hate you altogether, tho' I confess you are a very hateful character, if I were not prejudiced. There is no end to this monster Prejudice. The Socinian Ministers say it is going to be the ruin of the nation at last;7 and sure enough it has inveigled me into your witcheries, and heaven knows what a dance it will lead me there. After all you must be a very wicked person—but I cannot help loving you—so there it rests.— Good night My dear Jane!— I am ever your's,

Th: Carlyle—