The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 6 June 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230606-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:368-372.


Templand1—6th June [1823]

My dear Friend

The pleasantest moment I have enjoyed for the last two weeks was when the Post-mistress at Thornhill handed me your letter— I had conjectured various causes for your silence; but none that entitled me to take offence— I have too proud a consciousness of the place I hold in your remembrance to imagine you could forget me for a single day— If ever yo[u] do you will be very ungrateful for every day and every hour of the day I think of you— Forget you by August!— What an idea! My best Friend! be assured you can never be forgotten while I recollect myself— Your idea is so identified with all my projects and pursuits that it can only be effaced when I have ceased to feel or when my being has undergone a change even worse than annihilation— Oh no—we shall never forget each other—our friendship is no paltry intimacy, contrived by interest or idleness— I am persuaded it was planned by Mother Nature before we saw the light, and founded on a surer basis than fortune or caprice— There is no doubt of it—“we shall be friends for ever”— This assurance often comforts me when I have need of consolation— These people's heartlessness, in spite of all my efforts to despise it, gives me pain— here indeed—I am better treated than past experience gave me leave to hope—and if my Grandfather could compliment my Mother without eternally wondering how she came to have a daughter “so very short, so very sallow, and altogether so very unlike herself,” I believe I should have nothing to complain of— But I have less cause to congratulate myself on my reception at Penfillan—It was my Father's birthplace,2 and when I saw it again, I forgot my former visits there had ended in vexation— It was his Father, his Mother and Sisters I was about to see, and at that moment I could have pardoned their past indifference to my welfare[.] I could have pardoned even their insensibility to their own irreparable loss, had they but met me with one look of true affection for his sake. My Grandfather was coming along the avenue—he is the very image of my Father, and never did the likeness seem more striking—had he received me as he would have done—I should have worship[p]ed him—fool that I was to hope it for a moment— He gave me his hand with such a cruel smile! “Miss Welsh I'm glad to see you—how are you Mrs Welsh— I hope your friends are well at Templand— I am going to the village on business Ladies—but step on to the house—I will be with you by and by”— My God I thought my heart would burst, the strong affection which had sprung to meet him recoiled on it with such a sickening violence— But what had I to expect? his own Wife, his own children are nothing more to him than so many living creatures that must be clothed and nourished with his precious gold—even his eldest-born, admired and loved by strangers, was only interesting to him as the future heir of his possessions— I need not wonder at his indifference to me— Nor is this all that vexes me— I have revolved it in my mind a thousand times whether I should acquaint you with the rest— The disclosure must lower me in your esteem, the concealment in my own— it is so hard to discover all my weakness to the one in the world whose approbation I most desire, and it is equally hard to endure your commendations while conscious that I better deserve your censure— I have chosen that alternative which seems the most consistent with the character of our friendship. You shall know the whole—cost me what it may—

About a twelvemonth since, I was annoyed with a nonsensical proposal from a Gentleman of my acquaintance3— To reject it was my immediate decision—but how required a little longer thought— To refuse him in the usual form, I knew by experience, was to break with him for ever, and this I was desirous to avoid—the kindly feelings I entertained for the young man, and our neighbourhood which exposed us to continual meetings would have rendered any coldness betwixt us painful and inconvenient— to discard the matter as a serious jest appeared to me the most delicate way of expressing my aversion to his project, and the way least likely to disturb the friendliness of our intercourse— the plan seemed to succeed—he refrained from any expression of particular regard, and continued to meet me as cordially as ever— For a whole year I applauded myself on having effected what women so seldom are able to effect—on having retained as a friend the man I had rejected as a lover— but at last my sins against the etiquette of prudence were revenged by the discovery that he loved me more than ever— He was about to leave this country, and one day that I was alone he came to tell us his intention— his look and manner betrayed excessive agitation—he was pale and red by turns—spoke loud and fast, one moment, and the next was scarcely able to articulate— I talked of every thing I could think of to divert him; but my efforts were received with such a look of suffering and reproach that I felt at last ashamed of seeming cheerful— We spoke of his departure— “you do not care whether I go or stay” he said in such a tone! I answered he was mistaken, that he had not an acquaintance in Eastlothian that would regret his going more than I should— “An acquaintance”! he repeated “and is that all? Jane Jane”—he sprang from his seat beside me and throwing himself on a couch at the other end of the room, sobbed as if his heart would burst— You cannot imagine how I felt— it was so easy to make him happy for the time! one word, one look of kindness had been enough—and I was with[h]eld by every consideration of the future from any effort to alleviate his distress— The sense of his own weakness and the fear of exciting my contempt seemed ready to turn his head—he swore I made him weaker than any child—stormed through the room, talking with violence on the most trivial matters, and completed my dismay with a fit of laughter that made every drop of blood in me stand still— I had stood his tears with tolerable firmness, but his frightful mirth entirely overcame me— forgetful of every thing but pity and terror I threw my arms about his neck and besought him to be himself— The instant this frantic action was committed, I was aware of its imprudence— I perceived I had inspired him with a hope I never meant to realize— I hesitated how to undeceive him— I trembled at the idea of again witnessing his despair, and while I stood silent and irresolute in an unlucky moment we were interrupted, and the possibility of explaining precluded for the time— I saw him the following day—it was our last interview in private— A circumstance had occur[r]ed to change his plans—he did not go— He gave me no opportunity of expressing my mind and I had not courage enough to seek one— once only when we were talking of my absence he entreated me to write to him— at first I positively refused, till it occur[r]ed to me I could explain myself best in writing, and then I said with emphasis yes I would write— my manner seemed to alarm him—he fixed his eyes on my face and said hurriedly with a terrible effort at composure, “take care Miss Welsh—take care Jane what you do—write to me as to one who loves you more than his own being—who has no hope, no wish that is not bound up in your single self—or do not write at all— My God! the hour that brings me another such letter as your last will be the last of my existence—” I felt all the importance of the moment; yet I heard him say ‘God bless you’ saw him linger as he left the room, saw the door close behind him—without having power to utter a single word—

And now my confession is made—and what must you think of it? “Your noble Jane”! will you call me so any more?—how weak how ridiculous must I appear to you! fancying myself so wise, I might disdain the forms of prudence, and acting like any boardingschool idiot of fifteen!— I have simply told the particulars of my conduct—without commenting on its errors or its effects—yet I am fearfully sensible of both— It is plain I have given a sort of tacit consent to this Man's pretensions or at best encouragement to his hopes—and therefore that my honour is concerned in realizing them— But it is as plain to myself, that I have not fortitude for such an act of self-devotion—that I cannot, cannot sacrifice my liberty and all my brilliant visions for the future for any consideration whatsoever— How I may extricate myself from the situation to which my want of firmness and decision has reduced me, I think I see—but how I may preserve the happiness of this unlucky being who has placed his destiny at my disposal, God only knows!—

Write soon soon—your letters always give me a new being— Befal me what may I cannot be utterly wretched while I have such a friend—

Ever yours /

Jane Baillie Welsh

P S address to me here— before we left Edinr My Mother talked of returning in three weeks—and now that we are here she has no such intention— Would to God we were at home— I can have no peace till then— Tell me about my German— Something shall be done this year in spite of all— J W

I forgot to say why I have not written sooner— my hands have been full of business—writing and thinking of matters I know little or nothing about— my most lazy and most indifferent Uncles are letting our property run to ruin— If the management of it is longer lef[t] to them, there will not long be any thing to manage. Oh dear me! I wish I were with you at Dunkeld—one of my happiest days was spent in its neighbourhood—

Excuse the untidiness of my paper— There was not a sheet come-at-able that would have held a half of what I had to say—there was nothing for it but to apply to my scrapbook— Write instantly— God bless you