The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 10 August 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230810-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:411-415.


Mainhill, 10th August, 1823—

My dear Jane,

Unless you have a letter for me already on the road, you need not send any hither to find me. I leave this place on Wednesday or Thursday1 at farthest; I must be at Kinnaird against this day week. You are not gone to Haddington, or you would have given me notice; I can therefore entertain no hope of seeing you at this time: I must return into the Highlands with all my projects of that sort unfulfilled, applying the old and very ineffectual remedy, their everlasting “patience,” and looking forward to a kinder future, most probably that I may again be disappointed. If it were not that Fate is an inflexible thing, and calmness of mind a very great blessing, I should even now be tempted to break forth into something like the curse of Ernulphus2 against all the arrangements of this lower world. But it is far wiser to apply to you by way of intreaty, than to such a power as Fate by way of compulsion[.] I beg therefore and pray that, in consideration of all my late mischances, you will write letters to me more frequently and largely than ever. If you think me impudent in uttering such unconscionable wishes, consider that you are almost all that yet survives to me, in a living shape, of the poetry of life. Year after year and tempest after tempest has passed over my little world, till it is grown grim and savage like the middle of a wilderness.3 But with you to enlighten it as a “golden all-rejoicing Sun,” its “rocks bogs caves and dens of death”4 lose their horror, to become in some degree sublime; and the green oases that besprinkle it shew like islands of the Blessed. No wonder that I long for your presence, or any emblem of it, more than aught in the world beside. If I were a great poet I would sing of it in strains that should live forever: but alas! I am a proser in every sense, and cannot speak of it, you see, except “in King Cophetua's vein.”5 In prose therefore let me repeat my prayer, and leave the fulfilment of it with your own goodness, ever lenient to all my faults: Do not forget me, do not, above all things—till you cannot help it; and write to me as nearly once a-day as your more important duties will possibly allow. Never dream that you have nothing to say: I like you best of all when you begin writing without a word to say; I am sure of a thousand delightful things when you abandon your soul to me without reserve, and send me all your “diabolical” thoughts and feelings just as they arise.— Now is it not strange that I am ever wasting paper on this subject, long ago fixed as the law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not;6 ever corresponding by talking about correspondence? Is it not strange that the Miser goes fifty times a-day to unbolt his strong-box, and see if his guineas are there? Strange, if it were not frequent; and so it is with me. I can never make myself thoroughly believe that our correspondence will last, as I know our affection will; and anxieties on this point continually beset me. I perceive that by and by I am going to love you about ten times as well as I have ever done; and yet my hopes, if they deserved the name, are growing fainter every day. What will be the end of it? God only knows! In the mean time, let the end be as it will, do, for Heaven's sake, do shew me some plan of doing you useful service, and ten times more effectual than any thing I have yet accomplished. It is absolutely becoming in my view one of my most sacred duties to watch over your interests and improvement, to foster you, my bonny flower, that are yet wasting your sweetness on the desert air,7 but will in time be seen of all the world as well as me. Oh! if it were so; and I your protector and chosen stay, where is the man, or was, that I would change conditions with?

One thing I wish heartily, that you were home again, and once more settled at your employment. Poor Musäus! you will hardly get the smallest impression made upon him till winter will be here. And what is worse, this idle mode of life will be driving you entirely distracted. Patience! patience! yet a little while, and you will be secure from all these vexations; and happy, because employed in useful tasks. Translate these Volksmährchen in your best style, and they will answer admirably. You have also much to read and write, to consider and arrange. Be diligent and ever watchful: I will yet crown you with laurels with this hand, and steal twenty kisses for my pains. Forward! forward! let us both press towards the mark with unwearied perseverance; we shall both be happy, and by each other's means. This is the fixed persuasion of my reason, let the Devil tempt my imagination as he will. I will hold it fast as my integrity, till the last moment that I can hold it.

Have you actually “admonished” the great Centre of Attraction? If not, wait for two months, and you will see his “raven locks and eagle eye” as you have done of old, and may admonish him by word of mouth. I was at Annan; and found the Argument for Judgement to come,8 in a clear type, just arrived, and news that Irving himself was returning soon to the North—to be married! The Lady is Miss Martin of Kirkcaldy—so said his Mother.9 On the whole I am sorry that Irving's preaching has taken such a turn. It had been much better, if without the gross pleasure of being a newspaper Lion and a season's wonder, he had gradually become, what he must ultimately pass for, a preacher of first rate abilities, of great eloquence and great absurdity, with a head fertile above all others in sense and nonsense, and a heart of the most honest and kindly sort. As it is, our friend incurs the risk of many vagaries and disasters, and at best the certainty of much disquietude. His path is steadfast and manly, in general only when he has to encounter opposition and misfortune; when fed with flatteries and prosperity, his progress soon changes into “ground and lofty tumbling, ” accompan[ied] with all the hazards and confusion that usually attend this species of movement. With three newspapers to praise him and three to b[lame] with about six peers and six dozen right Honourables introduced to him every Sunday, tickets issuing for his church as if it were a theatre, and all the devout old women of the Capital treating him with comfits and adulation, I know that ere now he is “striking the stars with his sublime head”:10 well if he do not break his shins among the rough places of the ground! I wish we saw him safely down again, and walking as other men walk. The comfort is he has a true heart and genuine talents: so I conclude that after infinite flounderings and pitchings in the mud he will at last settle much about his true place, just as if this uproar had never taken place. For the rest, if he does not write to his friends, the reason is, not that he has ceased to love them, but that his mind is full of tangible interests continually before his face. With him at any time the present is worth twenty times the past and the future; and such a present as this he never witnessed before. I could wager any money that he thinks of you and me very often, tho' he never writes to either; and that he longs above all to know what we do think of this monstrous flourishing of drums and trumpets in which he lives and moves. I have meant to write to him very frequently for almost three months; but I know not well how to effect it. He will be talking about “the Lord,” and twenty other things, which he himself only wishes to believe, and which to one that knows and loves him are truly painful to hear. See that you do not think unkindly of him; for except myself, there is scarcely a man in the world that feels more true concern for you.

Happy Irving that is fitted with a task which he loves and is equal to! He entertains no doubt that he is battering to its base the fortress of the Alien, and lies down every night to dream of planting the old true blue Presbyterian flag upon the summit of the ruins. When shall you and I make an onslaught upon the empire of Dulness and bring back spolia opima11 to dedicate to one another? Some day yet, I swear it! Let us fear nothing: but believe that diligence will conquer every difficulty, and act on that belief.— Heaven grant I may get a letter from you are I go. My solitary ride will otherwise be full of vague and unpleasant speculations. At all events, you will not keep me waiting at Kinnaird. Tell me what are your purposes and proceedings, your hopes and fears. I send you all the crudities that enter my head: are we two not friends forever? I will also see you soon tho' I should ride from Dunkeld for that special purpose. God bless you, Jane! I am ever yours

T. Carlyle.