The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 19 August 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230819-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:415-418.


Hell 19th August [1823]

My dear Friend

Your last letter was especially welcome—it came in a lucky moment— I had just been (or fancied I had been) most barbarously dealt with, and was ready to hang or drown myself in good earnest; but the sight of your handwriting can cheat me out of ill humour at any time—it always presents so many delightful images, and excites so many delightful expectations! Oh you have no notion how great a blessing our correspondence is to me! When I am vexed I write my grievances to you; and the assurance I have that your next letter will bring me consolation, already consoles me—and then, when your letter comes, when it repeats to me that One in the world loves me—will love me ever, ever; and tells me more boldly than Hope, that my future may yet be glorious and happy, there is no obstacle I do not feel prepared to meet and conquer— I owe you much! feelings and sentiments that ennoble my character, that give dignity interest and enjoyment to my life—in return, I can only love you, and that I do, from the bottom of my heart—

You have known me in many curious predicaments but never so unhappily circumstanced as now— Every hour this unlucky visit grows more irksome to me, home more dear, and hope more distant—my precious time, that is never to return, is passing on, on, and still I am doing nothing—or worse than nothing— “Ach! dieser geschä ftiger Müssiggang, es kommt mir sauer an!” [“Ah! this strenuous idleness, it is hard on me!”]1 Were but the day fixed for our setting out, I would strive to imitate Job a little longer; but the only result of patience is still patience—it is as my little Aunt2 well defined it “to wait a wee, and wait a wee, and maybe no get what ye're wanting after a”; so I will have nothing more to do with it; but be a plague to myself and every body about me, till my visit and my vexations are at an end— How my fingers itch to pack! And if ever they unpack here again! I should deserve—to stay four months—I can think of nothing worse—but I must have done with this eternal fretting; or even your sublime patience will not carry you through—

So “the Argument”3 is out, and we shall all be convinced at last! I have a notion it will be lying for me at Haddington—keeping company with that unfortunate German (whose name I have never yet been able to read)— When our illustrious Friend wrote for the four of his sermons,4 which he had “introduced into my Mother's family, as the bequest of his parting” (or rather departing) “love”; he promised in the most affecting terms, that “these helps of our devotions” should ere long be “restored to us, under the more splendid title of Orations, and in the Garb of print” (and much they needed some other ‘garb’ than his crabbed hand; for all the time of their sojourn with us, no living soul could read them) but possibly he may not feel the same interest in our ‘devotions’ now that he has so many other peoples to attend to— Tell me—did you write the critic [critique] on his book, which appeared in the Sunday Times—5 I had not read two sentences of it till I said to myself “this is He!” do not forget to tell me— I shall be disappointed if I find I have mistaken your style— Tell me too what you are doing? and what is the fate of Meister? When shall a world know your worth as I do? You laugh at the stir I make about Fame; but I suspect my sentiments on that subject—stript of the “garb” of my expressions, which is at times fantastic enough—are not very dissimilar to your own— You are not satisfied living thus—bowing a haughty genius to the paltry necessity of making provision for your daily wants—stifling the fire of an ambitious soul with hard-learn[e]d lessons of humility; or expending it in idle longings and vague, colourless schemes— “The wheel of your destiny must turn”—I have heard you say so—and you have power to turn it—giant power— But when shall all effort be made? when will your genius burst through the obstruction and find its proper place?—it will—“as the bolt bursts on high from the black cloud that bound it”6—of that I have no fear—but when? Oh that I heard a nation repeat your name! You may call it a mistaken ambition—a weak dependance on the opinion of others—you may call it what you will—but I will wish you famous as long as there is room for such a wish—

I heard your ‘life of Pascal’7 criticised the other day— I daresay the people would have suspected I wrote it myself if they had not known me—for my face was crimson all the time— They were very intelligent people

The clock is struck twelve—and my Mother is in bed and will make a point of not sleeping till I go—so I must leave my ends unfilled— Write soon—

Yours ever

Jane Baillie Welsh—

I was dancing about the country last week, as usual or I would have answered your former letter— You seem to have such an affection for my letters that I always feel it necessary to apologize when I am more than a few days in writing— upon my word it is good of you to say they give you pleasure— I am sure I would not thank anyone for letters so full of self and a self that is eternally in the dismals—but I will write to you often—not because I believe my letters so great a gratification to you; but because I have pleasure in writing my thoughts and feelings to the only living soul that seems to understand them— Oh my Mother!