TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 18 September 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230918-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:432-435.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Kinnaird House, 18th September, 1823—
My dear Jane,
If I were not a fool of some standing, I should not have vexed you on this occasion, or given you this fresh opportunity of testifying how true is the affection which you bear me. Your letter has set me a-thinking about matters which, with my accustomed heedlessness, I was letting take their course without accurate investigation, tho' conscious that a right understanding of them was of vital consequence to both of us. I honour your wisdom and decision: you have put our concerns on the very footing where I wished them to stand. So be of good cheer, for no harm is done.
When I placed the management of our intercourse and whatever mutual interests we had or might have entirely at your own disposal, making you sole queen and arbitress of the “commonweal,” I stipulated for myself as much freedom of speech as you could conveniently grant, leaving to you an unbounded power of acting, then and in all time coming. It is to the terms of this compact that I still adhere in their widest acceptation. I know very well you will never be my wife. Never! Never!— I never believed it above five minutes at a time all my days. “Tis all one as I should love a bright particular star, and think to wed it.”1 My fancy can form scenes, indeed, which with you to share them were worthy of a place in the heaven above; but there are items wanting, without which all these blessings were a curse, and which not your consent (if that were ever to be dreamed of) nor any influence of man can assure me of realizing. Such illusions do in truth haunt me, nor am I very sedulous to banish them. The harsh hand of Time will do it speedily enough without help of mine, and leave no truth behind that will ever give me half the pleasure. I grant it is absurd, and might be more than absurd, to utter them so freely: but what then? They give a momentary pleasure to myself, and do harm to no one. Strip life of all its baseless hopes and beautiful chimeras; it seems to me there would be little left worth having.
Thus then it stands. You love me as a sister, and will not wed: I love you in all possible senses of the word, and will not wed, any more than you. Does this reassure you? If so, let us return to our old position: let me continue writing what comes into my head, and do you continue acting now or forever after just as you judge best. I seek no engagement, I will make none. By God's blessing, I will love you with all my heart and all my soul, while the blood continues warm within me; I will reverence you as the fairest living emblem of all that is most exalted and engaging in my conceptions of human nature; I will help you according to my slender power, and stand by you closer than a brother: but these feelings are entertained for myself alone; let them be their own reward, or go unrewarded—that is my concern. So long as you have charity to hear me talk about affections that must end in nothingness, and plans which seem destined to be all abortive, I will speak and listen; when you tire of this, when you marry, or cast me off in any of the thousand ways that fortune is ever offering, I shall of course cease to correspond with you, I shall cease to love Mrs ——, but not Jane Welsh; the image she will have left in my mind I shall always love, for even this tho' the original is gone forever, will still have more reality than mere fantasies that would replace it. In all this I see no blame; and if there were, I cannot help it. Had it pleased Providence to plant some other standard of excellence in me, or make you different from what you are, then I should have felt and acted otherwise: but as it is, I am no free agent. For the rest, do not fear the consequence so far as I am concerned. My heart is too old by almost half a score of years, and made of sterner stuff than to break in junctures of that kind. Had it not been harder than the nether millstone it must have shivered into fragments very long ago. I have no idea of dying in the Arcadian shepherd style, for the disappointment of hopes which I never seriously entertained, or had no right to entertain seriously.
Now, in the name of the ever blessed Trinity, have I done with these preliminaries? Ass that I was in forcing you to ask them! I confess it grieves me to address you in this cold formal style, as if writing to my Taylor for a suit of clothes, and directing him where to cut and where to spare; not to my own best Jane, the friend of my soul, from whom I have no secrets or separate interests, and whom I love because she has no secrets from me. Let us forget it altogether, and be as we were! If you will part with me, do it; but not for my sake! For my sake, I call God to witness, you never shall. Again I say, let us forget it utterly, forever and ever!
These woful explanations I judged it right to send without a moment's delay: your comfort seemed to be concerned in their being given you instantly. You must not count this as any letter or your last as any: but write to me again in your own careless style, about Musäus and all that, just as if this thing had never happened. I long to be again introduced to your home at Haddington, to share in all your tasks and difficulties, to cherish your fainting hopes, and tell you a thousand times without stint or fear of reproof that you are dearer to me than aught in life, and that united we will conquer every difficulty, and be two glorious characters—if it so please the Fates.
This last proviso seems a needful one for me at present, tho' in your case I esteem it little. I appear to be fast going to the devil here; my health is getting worse every week; I sleep at the easy rate of three or four hours per night, and feel throughout the day in the most beatific humour! If it had not been that the people are kind to me as if I were their son, I had been gone ere now. They design staying here all winter: I will try it another month; and if without improvement, I mount the horse Bardolph, and turn my face back again to the plain country. I was looking out, while there, in the valley of Milk,2 for some cottage among trees, beside the still waters; some bright little place, with a stable behind it, a garden and a rood of green,—where I might fairly commence housekeeping, and the writing of books! They laughed at me, and said it was a joke. Well! I swear it is a lovely world this, after all. What a pity that we had not five score years and ten of it!
Meanwhile I go on with Goethe's Wilhelm Meister; a book which I love not, which I am sure will never sell, but which I am determined to print and finish. There are touches of the very highest most etherial genius in it; but diluted with floods of insipidity, which even I would not have written for the world. I sit down to it every night at six, with the ferocity of a hyaena; and in spite of all obstructions my keep-lesson is more than half thro' the first volume, and travelling over poetry and prose, slowly but surely to the end. Some of the poetry is very bad, some of it rather good. The following is mediocre—the worst kind.
And now my own best Jane, before leaving you, what more have I to ask? That you would love me forever, in any way, on any terms you please; that you continue while we both live to make me the confidant of all your sorrows and enjoyments great and small; and above all that you would find me means of doing you some essential service—something that might make our intercourse and affection more than a pleasing dream, when God shall see meet to put an end to it forever. Shew me, O! shew me how I may benefit you. I declare I shall not be able to die contented or sleep in my grave if I have done you no good. Write to me instantly, to “reassure me.” Tell me all things that concern you—, all things. God bless you my dearest! Do with me as you like, I am ever yours with all my soul!
This will be at Haddn on Sunday morning: I know you will not keep me waiting. Write as of old de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis [about everything and then some more]. Have you actually begun The Tales? How do you like them? Will they do? Have you arranged any hours for your studies? Do the gossips interfere with you? Are you happy? Are you? Tell me every thing: I am your B[r]other, and more than fifty brothers, to the end of time. Farewel[l]! Be good and diligent and fear not.