TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 12 October 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18231012-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:445-450.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Kinnaird House, 12th October, 1823—
My dear Jane,
Had you seen me last Tuesday, it would have paid you for the trouble of writing that delightful letter to me, and almost made you vow to write more liberally than ever. Your letters are always “like dew on the mown grass”1 to my heart; and the last was doubly welcome. The former one had cast such a cloud over me, and given rise to so many unpleasant speculations, that I waited with extreme anxiety to hear from you again. Often, often did I watch the “ship of the Desart,”2 our old gray postman, mooring upon the lawn every alternate day, yet bringing not a word of tidings from Jane. But I held myself in patience; and patience had at length its rich reward. No! My Dearest, I do not think you will forget me; I were very miserable if I thought so. Oh let us never dream about forgetting; it would be little less than impious to renounce this heavenly feeling that unites us. Has not a kind Providence created us for one another? Have we not found each other? And might not both of us go round the planet seeking vainly for a heart we could love so well? It appears to me that I have found in you what all enthusiasts long for, another and a nobler self: on looking at your character I seem to behold the image of my own, beautified in all its lineaments, exalted, transfigured, invested with a thousand charms; the ideal beauty of my mind, which I could almost worship, if I had not dared to love it. Let us never mind the caprices of Fortune; the future may take its course: our souls are linked together by the holiest ties; and what on Earth shall part us? For myself, I am determined, whatever it may lead to, that I will love you more and more every day I live. What else can I do? This affection which I bear you is the most precious feeling of my nature, it enlivens and inflames all that is worthiest in my soul; it gilds my horizon with visions of hope more glorious than belong to this lower world. The idea of Jane, my noble Jane, illuminates and cheers the desolation of my thoughts as with the light of a summer's dawn; without you all were bleak and sullen and desperate even now, and with you I feel as I could stand against innumerable enemies. No! My darling, we will never part! I trust we shall live to be the highest of earthly blessings to each other; and be happy, in spite of all obstructions, for many glorious years. God grant it, or teach us to exist without it!
Your delay in writing has been but too well accounted for. I noticed your Grandfather's death in the Papers; and anticipated all that you would feel. There is a strange mellowing influence in the mandate of that last gloomy Messenger who “changeth our countenance and sendeth us away.”3 The harshest and sternest spirit appears with an imploring and tender look to our reflections when it has yielded to the stroke of death. Unkind feelings are forgotten, faults are cast into the shade, and love alone sicklied over with the pale cast of thought4 hovers round the tombs of our friends. The idea that all my deformities shall be hid beneath the grass that covers me, and I shall live like a stainless being in the hearts of those that loved me, often of itself almost reconciles me to the inexorable law of Fate. With the hope of meeting in a brighter scene of existence, I look on Death as the most inestimable privilege of man. O God! if we are not to meet there, if those that have gone from us are but a mockery and lost in everlasting nothingness,—wherefore hast Thou created us at all?
Had I known that you were sick, I had been wretched with a witness. How is it, my dearest Jane? Have you been sitting too closely at your books, and must I vex you by my prayers and entreaties again? I do conjure you to beware of excess in the article of study: a black experience gives me fearful right to do so. For my sake, if not for your own, be counselled in this matter. If you lose that priceless treasure of health, what will become of us both? I will never cease to plague you till you promise to pass three or four hours every day in mere recreation—two of them in the open air.
You are very good to feel so anxious about my sickness. I think I might find some better topic to entertain you with; yet it were unfriendly altogether to abstain from mentioning this most paltry one, in which my general happiness is so awfully involved. Do not vex yourself, my beloved Jane, with fears about my dying. Of this there is not the slightest danger. No one ever dies of such disorders; the real object of dread is that of dwindling by degrees into a pitiful whining vale[tu]dinarian, which is far worse than death. There is not in nature so poor a class of persons as the valetudinarians: they cannot live, without continual annoyance to themselves and others; and have not heart enough to take a dose of arsenic, and so conclude their syllabubs and pills and boluses and candles by one efficient drug. What a charming thing it would be to see me enrolled among that worthy body! But be of better hope: I am neither going to die, nor be laid upon the shelf in that mean manner. I am far better, since I wrote to you: I expect to keep improving till quite recovered. Neither you nor I must leave the world yet: we have many thousand things to do, and to enjoy; our history is scarce begun. Do not fear, my best Jane, that I will neglect any precaution. The punishment indeed which follows close upon the smallest omission is your abundant security. I grieve to be obliged to spend so much thought and time, in studying for health, and riding, and regulating all my movements: but it is a necessary tax, sternly enforced, and I pay it punctually. What boots it to complain? I have sworn to conquer this wretched impediment too: address, dexterity and stubborn patience are the weapons I must fight it with; I have daily better hopes of coming off victorious. Oh! if it were but so; if you once saw me triumphant over all these miserable evils! If we were both hastening forward in that noblest career to which we are devoted; both, hand in hand, approaching that resplendent goal where all our wishes lie! Fear nothing, my heroic Jane; it shall yet be so; you shall yet be numbered among the ornaments of your sex and country, and I the happiest of all preceptors shall say proudly, she was my pupil, and it was thus I prophecied. Diligence I have told you a thousand times, will accomplish every thing you aim at; and with that unquenchable ardour, for which I love you tho' I often scold you for its excess, I hold it to be impossible that you should relax in diligence. Blame not Nature, for making you ambitious: praise her rather for fixing your ambition on the worthiest of objects, and giving you strength to contemn the shallow prizes for which others in your state are striving. Ambition is a sourc[e of] endless disquietude; but it is the parent of great and glorious actions: I declare I have often no hope of escaping the Beotian existence into which increasing years and hard fortune force many an honest and once ardent man—except that there is a fund of bitterness and unrest within my heart, which would not let me sleep two days upon the softest bed which all the pomp and luxury of earth could spread for me. So likewise is it with you! I know you are unhappy, except when earnestly endeavouring in the great cause: and strange as it may seem I wish you to be unhappy in those cases; I should love you less, if you were less exalted in your tastes, less exclusively bent on the glorious things which will yet be your immortal crown. Go on, then, my Princess! Rest not, tire not! Your name shall yet be great upon the earth; and what is far more to the purpose, the aim of your existence will have been fulfilled.
Yet I confess it is a sorry task I have set you. I should not be in the least disposed to scold you, tho' I learned that you were sick of that Musäus. Translating is a weary business; the turning of a sentence gives no scope to the better faculties of the mind: it helps to still the conscience and that is all. Nevertheless you must proceed. Despise not these small beginnings; there was a time when Milton did not know his alphabet, and Rome was once a hamlet. Do tell me all about your difficulties, and your progress. Four pages a-day seem a very fair allowance; in time you will do more. The only cause for greater speed is the time of going to the Press. The Bullers wish me to go with them in May down to Cornwall; it seems likely enough that I may do so. Oh! What multitudes of gloomy thoughts—forebodings and forecastings I have had. Provoking Enemy! You wish you were with me in the hermitage! Would you go? Not you—one foot's length, tho' it were to the happy valley of Prince Rasselas. But tho' I went to the North Pole, you should not have leave to cast me from your thoughts. Jane's heart is my heaven of heavens; it is the refuge and resting-place of my soul, I will abide there forever and ever.5 Judge if I long to see you, amid these perplexities. I was within an inch of bolting off to Haddington last Friday, when they all set out to see Loch Ketterin [Katrine], and could prevail on me to go no farther than Loch Tay. I absolutely cannot live thus estranged from you. Do contrive, if you love me, to let me behold your face, when I come next to Edinr. I must be down for a few days in November, perhaps also at Christmas: I pray you for Heaven's sake to be visible—to have all things smoothed, and to meet me in your own bewitching way. You are an angel of light, and will have mercy on me; you are also very cunning, and can effect any thing you like. Meister is to be printed between March and May, when I must be beside you again. I will come gallopping out to Haddington every other day, and talk with you, and plague you till your very heart is sore. Will Musäus be ready then? Will you have Lybussa done, when I see you in November? Oh that I were beside you this moment—you should see, you wicked creature, if you could cheat me as you did that poor unfortunate “pug-faced Turk” that came to you in search of happiness.— Now tell me about every thing that comes into your head, or in the very slightest concerns you; and tell me the first spare instant. I cannot exist without your letters—at least I do not think I can. Write also without the smallest care; nonsense from you is the best of all. Do I not set you an example? Tell me how your studies are arranged, if you read any thing, if you feel contented and keep diligent—all, all I wish to know. Did you ever read so tedious a letter? I am done at last. God bless you my own darling!
I am yours forever /
Meister was going on like steam-machinery, when a letter from the Editor of the London Magazine6 put a stop to it in a day. He has actually printed that meanest life of Schiller, and expects the other parts without delay. I have idled for a week, as is my custom, when changing employment. I expect to have the business done when we meet. It can scarcely be worse than the first portion, which I have just now read with a most “vinegar aspect.”7 It is generally very bad—the best is barely tolerable.
So you have seen the Mighty Orator8 and His “for judge &c”? Tell me, tell me, about him and it, next time. To-morrow unless the day is bad, I am going out to meet him at Dundee or Perth, on Wednesday after he is married. His book is a gigantic monster!
Now will you write very soon? I know you will. At the same time heed not my importunities for I am never satisfied, or satisfiable. To-morrow, I am at Dundee, then with Irving for a day, and home the next. I am very idle: be merciful, and I promise to labour like a negro, Adieu, Jane! I must off.