The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 11 May 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230511-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:353-356.


3. Moray-street, Sunday-morning. [11 May 1823]

My dear Jane,

If I wanted to preach on the emptiness of human hopes, the history of yesterday might afford the best of commentaries on that most stale of texts. How differently the sun rose and set upon me; what I looked for at six in the morning, what I found at six in the evening! But it boots not to murmur: let us submit quietly to what cannot be avoided, and dwell rather on the bright side than the dark both of what is past and coming. This visit of yours has been sadly marred; yet I have much to thank it for. I dreamed of it pleasantly for three months; I saw you four times; we had an hour to ourselves, and such an hour is worth months of life as it usually passes. We are parted now, vexatiously enough; but we shall meet again ere long, under happier stars; and I still keep looking forward to a glorious time, when we shall feel independent of other people's arrangements, and be to one another all that Nature meant us to be. Never mind it, my dear Jane: what are a few days, when one has a life to lead, and knows how to lead it? Cast away your anger, clear up your countenance, and accompany your Mother with a cheerful heart. She should have let you stay; but guard yourself from believing that she did not mean it kindly towards you. Who knows what anxieties she entertained respecting you, what benefits she thought might follow to you from this journey. If you consider her conduct as capricious, it becomes you to pardon what yourself would have been above committing, and always to love and honour her, who can never cease to love you but with her life. I pay no compliment to your mother, beyond what any mother merits, when I remind you that no human being can ever have your interest more truly at heart than she has. Do not quarrel with her, therefore; go to the South since she requires it, and blithely because it is but acquitting yourself of a debt to make her happy.

For your Nithsdale friends, you do well not to heed them. Thank God! you are nowise dependent on them for protection or patronage, or any thing but kindnesses—which you can requite richly if offered, and dispense with easily if withheld. There are hearts now beating in the world that would be blessed in doing for you, what nature and gratitude called on them to do. If the call has been neglected, conceive yourself to be elevated far above the influence of such poor proceedings, and your contempt will gradually change into pitying toleration. Do not vex yourself with their selfishness and shallowness; enjoy the grain of goodness and real affection which you will find in every one of them, and look upon their accompanying alloy as the concern of those who feel so meanly, not of you.

I know but dimly what difficulties you have to dread from the present twelvemonth. It is easy indeed to see that you have always much to strive with. I hope I should feel an admiring sympathy with one so situated, tho' she were nothing in particular to me. It is as if an eaglet were condemned to mix with creatures of a lower wing, and to be ruled over by them for a time. But it is only for a time! I commit you to the guidance of your own clear understanding, and noble heart; and I feel no fear that you will fail in the trial. Nor will it seem presumptuous if I put forth my humble claim to share in all that distresses you. God knows I have little power to help with counsel or otherwise; but Jane does not doubt that I am true to her from the very bottom of my heart, and it is always something, when one suffers, to know that another suffers with us and on our account. Trust me, my own dear Jane! I have examined myself, and I tell you I am not all made of clay. The world holds nothing in it, for whose fate I am more anxious than yours. I have this merit, if scarcely any other.

But wherefore am I drawling it in this most elegaic strain? Mercy! you would think the one of us was dead or wedded or under sentence of perpetual exile[.] Are we not alive and loving one another? Are we not free agents, with right and reason on the side of will? What then are we afraid of? There is nothing that can frighten us; no might or dominion upon Earth or below it (those Above are with us) that can take from ourselves the direction of our destiny. We will both of us do as we please, in spite of all that can be said or sung to the contrary; and both of us, if it so please God, be happy and dignified in our day and generation. Fear nothing, my best and dearest Jane; this year will pass as others have done, only with more fruit of your exertions; and every thing will be as we would have it, in the end. What have we to dread, seit wir uns rund umschlungen fest und ewig [since we have clasped each other firmly and forever]!1 Are we not “two originals in our own humble way”?2 And who the Devil shall prevent us from “aiding and abetting” each other in all lawful purposes, and bringing them all to a fortunate conclusion? No man or thing shall prevent us. Fear nothing!

I have not told you the half of my disappointment, or you would admire my philosophy. The Bullers are to set off on Thursday, and they had given me the subsequent week to spend here as I thought proper. I calculated on spending sixteen hours per day of it beside you— All gone now!—and nothing left but what [is] doubly hateful to me! I have determined to forsake this wretched place, which wanting you has little in it that I care to waste good hours upon: I set off for Mainhill about Wednesday morning. To-morrow I shall order the Book of Volksmährchen3 for you: it is going to answer rarely; the tales seem very good, they will employ all your gracefulness and humour of style to translate them properly. I will read them first, and then send them down to you: out of five volumes of good stories, we shall certainly succeed in gathering one of excellent. Meantime go on with Egmont and Faust and Gibbon. You will have a busy and pleasant summer; I must hear of you weekly at the seldomest; if you forget me, you are but a dead woman. Sie wissen wohl dass Lafontaine sagt (or might have said) “gross ist die Macht eines Mannes im Scolden und Sulken und Räsupadusten.”4 So think of it my bonny Bairn, or it will be worse for you. I too am to be very busy. I purpose finishing Schiller and translating Meister in spite of all its drawbacks. Meister will introduce us to its Author; for you must know that you and I are to go and live six months at Weimar, and learn philosophy and poetry from the great von Goethe himself: I settled it all the other night; so there is nothing farther to be said upon the subject. I intend like my old friend Joseph Bonaparte “to oblige you to go voluntarily”!5

But I must quit this trifling, for the paper is done, and we have—to part! I wish to hear from you the very moment you receive this. If on surveying the ground, you judge that it would not prejudice the “commonwealth,” I should propose to walk out to Corstorphine on tuesday evening, and see you once again. Five minutes spent near you in talking of our own concerns in our own way, would amply recompense me for all the toil. Even a stiff and formal interview before unconcerned spectators is not without its value. I leave you to decide entirely. If you think it will not answer, say so; if otherwise, it shall go hard but I will make it out in spite of all arrangements. Write to me any way: and if within eight days you have a moment's time, write also to Mainhill, and tell me how I must direct to you from the North. You will have entered my native County before I leave it: I shall climb Burnswark at sunset, and see its red light shining on your dwelling-place, and think prayers for your welfare. God bless you my dear Jane! and keep all evil far from you! Shall we not meet again? Forget me not, my Dearest! Farewel[l] and love me! I am your's forever and ever,

Thomas Carlyle.