candlestick

1824- 1825


The Collected Letters, Volume 3


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JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 2 February 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240202-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:24-27.


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE

22 George Square / 2d February [1824]

My own dear Brother

I do not know in what mood I like most to have your letters—whether in joy or in sorrow; for somehow they have the power both to deaden my sensibility to pain and to enliven it to pleasure. When I received your last I was in excellent glee, and after reading it I felt as if I could have jumped over the Moon— On the whole I am enjoying life at present more than I have done for a very long time. the weather is fine, a great many people are kind to me, and my Mother is in capital good humour— My mind too is free from any weight of anxiety, and tho' I am still delicate the most painful sensation of my illness, a continual violent beating at my heart, is quite removed; and then I am not bored with dressing myself, and driving about to parties—to be sure I am idle nevertheless; but an industrious future is before me, and a determined purpose within my breast. I will study will if the Fates are but pleased to spin the thread of my life a little longer; so no matter for a week or two more of idleness— You see you will really make a Philosopher of me at last—

I will not leave town till you come unless you are all the longer—I told my Mother so the other night. but when will you come? On Saturday the tenth you say—now I do not know how you reckon time in Perthshire; but with us in Edinr Saturday is the seventh and the tenth is Tuesday—so which day is the right one? The earliest I hope—send me a note as soon as you arrive and I will tell you the where and when— I will see you and Meister and Schiller and all in spite of the Devil

You are looking for the rest of my Tragedy of the little Physician— Well then, get ready your handkerchief and volatile Salts and you shall have it—such as it is—

I believe I told you that we parted with one another in dudgeon, after the high words that passed betwixt us concerning you— Well, he absented himself for three days, and in the interim I became seriously ill. As I was not minded to solicit his return, I applied to his Partner, who was in the way for advice. Now these two worthy Sons of Æsculapius are never by any chance of the same mind as to their patient's disorders, and always make a point of reversing each other's prescriptions. So whereas Dr Fyffe had ordered me cold bathing and beef; Mr Howden1 ordered warm bathing & a milk diet—and when the fuff [windbag] of a creature at last vouchsafed to call he found a bason of slop (instead of his specified beefsteak) on the table beside me—and at the very instant he entered the room Mr Howden was sitting on my soffa (terribile visu!) [terrible to behold!] feeling my pulse— ‘Black choler filled his breast.’ He surveyed his Partner, the slop, and myself with one long glance of ineffable scorn, then twirling on his heel like a totum, sat down at as great a distance from us as the dimensions of the room allowed—and there he remained in a most noli me tangere [do not touch me]2 humour, for one whole hour (I am sure it was not less; for I looked at the clock a hundred times at least) ad[d]ressing no word or look to me, but “discharging his stomach” at every one else that was present—an[d] then we parted proudly on his part, and coolly very coolly on mine— From that hour to this I have not seen his face— In the evening he sent me a tattered copy of ‘The Robbers’ which I gave him God knows when and a letter that very near frightened me out of my wits— I had driven him (he said) to a fearful alternative; for he prefer[r]ed forfeiting his existence, to subjecting himself to my cold salutations again— He swore he loved me, in such an extravagant degree, as never was heard of out of a Romance and then he took a solemn leave of me for ever calling down all the blessings of Heaven on my head—(5th [February]) in short it was a letter two pages long cram-full of love, resentment, and despair— it was clever really wonderfully clever—indignatio facit versum [indignation moved him to rhetoric]3—his passion had inspired him with rhetorick all at once— If to it's other merits had been added common-sense, it might have served as a model to letterwriting, desperate Lovers in ages yet unborn. I read it three times over however before I could see into what he would be at—the first time every thing grew dark around me, and images of horror swam before my sight—pistols and blood, and turned heads, and broken hearts, and Lord knows what! Oh dear me I never doubted but he meant to blow his brains out at the least— However on examining it more attentively I found that I was alarming myself without cause—for it was a clear case, that no man driven to despair and looking in the face of death, (Not John Thurtell4 himself) could have written such a letter—people so utterly wretched as he represented himself to be, do not express their anguish in metaphors and smart antithesis and elegant climaxes; neither do the[y] stop in the very middle of their pathos to mend their pens or to erase a misspelled word; and as fast as all this occur[r]ed to me my terror gave place to indignation and contempt. It was so unfeeling! So unmanly! to attempt to work on me by my fears, when I was so weak and ill— Hotbrained Ass! his cruel folly might have cost my life in the state which I was in—and it did do me a deal of harm; for several days I was so nervous that the least stir in my room made me cry like a very infant—however he was nothing the better for my weakness— I did not answer him a single line— So there, this was one trial withstood, and bravely—for I really had not fair play in the business— For three weeks all went right— I sometimes heard my magnanimous lover calling his Groom, and I heard his horses go out and come in as usual; so it was certain that he was still in the land of the living, and for the rest I gave myself small concern about him; on the contrary I was quite overjoyed to have got myself rid of his love with so little ado. But at the end of this period another trial awaited me. The unhappy little being became ill—so alarmingly ill that his life was despaired of; and his distemper (the Dr said) was a troubled mind. and Betty5 declared it was trouble for me; for he had sent for her (she said) to his bedside and asked for her Brother; but he looked in her face as if he wanted to ask about me, and could not for shame— Who would have imagined Betty so skilled in physiognomy? You cannot think what I suffered during the first four days of his illness when the answer to all our inquiries was still ‘no better’— It was possible that distress about me might have brought him to this extremity—and if such was actually the case, possibly it rested with me to save him, to save a fellow creature, the hope of an indigent family, the kind Son of an affectionate Mother the elder Brother of seven little Sisters—but at what a price! these thoughts were continually in my mind and tortured me— I sickened when the[y] talked of his bleedings, and his faintings, and his delirium—and at last I took to my bed and lay there for two days, in a state of agony worthy of the Inferno— Had he died I could never have enjoyed tranquillity again, and neither could I, had I saved his life by the sacrifice of my self—but alls well that ends well— it began to be said that his ailment was inflam[m]ation of the bowels and in a day or two he was declared to be out of danger— I have heard of him frequently since I came to town, and he is continuing to recover strength— God be praised— So now you have my story, what do you think of it?— did you ever hear of such a vexatious Doctor in all your life?

You will observe that part of my letter was written several days ago— I looked pale in the midst of it, and my Mother sent me to bed— it was a pity (I thought) to be laid up for nothing, and so I took a violent cold that has played the very deuce with me ever since. I have not been able to finish it till today, and now it is too late to address to you at Kinnaird if you are to be in Edinr on Saturday— However I shall send my letter to your Brothers to wait your coming; that you may see my delay has not been willful— God bless you ever

faithfully yours

Jane B Welsh