1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 11 August 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240811-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:128-132.


Haddington 11th August [1824]

Thou art indeed my guardian Spirit! my good Angel! Forget or separate myself from thee! that will I never while I retain my senses. Am I not bound to thee by a thousand obligations? Whom have I to direct me, to console and encourage me but only thee? Woe to me then if I let go thy helping hand, if I hearken to another voice than thine, my Brother, Protector Friend!

I have kept you waiting, but do not blame me. There has been such a tragedy performing here! and I could not think of writing till I saw the end of it. I declare one would need a heart of flint to bear a destiny like mine. I flattered myself that I should live this summer in peace, and was resolved to turn it to some account; but alas! alas! ‘man purposeth, God disposeth,’ my evil Genius has been at work again, and I am neither more happy nor more diligent this summer than I was the last.

The Devil put it in my head to go to Musselbro' races1— I had been ill of bile or vapours for a day or two before, and I imagined that amusement and exercise would do me good. It was the Devil too that tempted me to go on horse-back, by which means I drew a multitude of eyes on me— Oh the folly of men! if I had written a book, or made the most delicious pudding in the world, they would not have admired me half as much, as for this idle display of my horsemanship and pretty riding-dress— Can you believe it? one young gentleman (a Sutherlandman) fell in love with me in good earnest—thro' my veil too (Lord help his simplicity)— He had been once in a room with me some eighteen months ago, on the strength of which acquaintance and of his quality he joined me on the race-ground; and from that hour till this he has been seldom from my side: in Edinr he haunted me wherever I turned myself, and before I had been at the Bridge of Earn two days, he was there also—there was no escaping his ubiquity— During the time which we spent together at that disgusting wateringplace, he quite won my Mother's heart, so that she invited him and his Sister (whom, soit dit on passant [let it be said in passing], neither she nor myself had ever set eyes upon) to visit us on our return to Haddington— I could have wished my Mother's prudence more or her hospitality less; but when she takes a fit of fondness for any one, it is vain to interfere with her in the indulgence of it, while it lasts— Well! on the day appointed my Gentleman arrived, accompanied by a little smiling girl from an English boarding-school, and what I had foreseen and dreaded came to pass: the first time that I was left alone with him, out came a matrimonial proposition in due form. In my life, I never felt such difficulty in giving a refusal—not that I had the smallest disposition in the world to consent—oh dear no! my new lover has neither the fire of Lord Byron, nor the wit of Mr Terrot, and in point of elegance he cannot be compared with my steamboat Colonel:2 but then he has fair silky locks, the sweetest eyes in nature, a voice like music, and a heart so warm and true and so wholely, wholely mine! all which had such a softening effect upon me, that I could not bring myself to say I did not love him; I prefer[r]ed telling a lie of any magnitude to wounding him with such cruel words; besides my Mother had told me that the handsomest way of refusing a man was to say that I was engaged, so I did not scruple to say so in the present instance. Fortunately the distress which this declaration threw him into, saved me from further questioning; I should have found it rather troublesome at the moment to have furnished my beau ideal with a name. Poor youth he threw himself down on the sopha beside me, and wept and sobbed like a child. I called him ‘dear Dugald,’3 to pacify him, and kissed his forehead at least half a dozen times (was not that good of me?) but he would not be comforted: he lay in bed, and cried all the rest of the day; my Mother sat and cried beside him; and his Sister and I cried in another apartment. About ten o'clock at night my Mother prevailed on him to rise and take a walk! she thought the cool air would do the poor Boy good, for he had cried himself into a fever. I was sent on with him before, that he might say out what he had to say to me, and be done with it; my Mother & Catharine followed at a little distance—what a dark, silent, sorrowful walk it was! We were on the way back, he had not spoken for several minutes, when all at once he gave a sort of cry, and fell down at my side; I shut my eyes and stood motionless; I could not stir to assist him; I thought he was dead. Fortunately my Mother had more presence of mind; she ran up to us when she saw him fall, and lifted him off his face. God! how he looked! He was as white as ashes and his eyes were wide ope[n] and fixed. He stirred and spoke at last; but he could not stand without supporting himself on my Mother, and what he said was quite incoherent: however I was thankful. His sister behaved heroically on the occasion: she adores her Brother, yet instead of occupying herself with him, or increasing my agony by any expression of her fears (as it was natural for her to have done) she threw her arms about my neck, and besought me not to distress myself; for that he would get ‘better sense’ in time. My Mother half carried him home and, he went to bed delirious, but his fever left him before morning; however no entreaties could prevail on him to rise or take a morsel of food. He lay for three days and nights without sleep and almost without sustenance, tossing on his bed and crying his lovely eyes out: his sister and my Mother began to get dreadfully alarmed, for he positively assured them that he would never rise again, and, if he abstained much longer from eating, it was probable that he never would; for me I had been nearly distracted ever since the night-scene at the water-side. I resolved to try my influence with him, as theirs had been tried to no purpose; it was not a time to be thinking about etiquette, so ‘I girded up my mind,’ walked deliberately into his room and sat down by my Mother & Catharine on the side of his bed. He gave me a great stare; then hid his face in the bedclothes; I asked very gravely what ailed him? He stared again, and answered was I mad? I repeated my question; he laughed; then cried; then scolded me for making him laugh. I asked would he take some tea? he said he would— Would he rise and come into the drawingroom? yes, yes, he would do any thing I bid him— So he rose and took tea with us— In about a week, by skillful treatment we brought him to a more reasonable frame of mind. then came your letter, which made matters worse than ever— It seems I turned pale when it was delivered to me (I always do when I get a letter which I have been looking for) and then I blushed (the most natural thing on earth for I noticed Mr Gilchrist staring at me) from which aspects he concluded like a sensible young man that this must be a letter from his favoured rival. His agitation became so distressing that I was obliged to leave the room; and I was no sooner gone than he tumbled off his chair. I heard him fall and my Mother throw up the window; I ran back; he was lying on the floor with the same deathlike look which I had seen before. He came to himself in a few minutes, but the fainting fit was followed by spasms which lasted near an hour. and to complete the business as soon as he recovered and my Mother could leave him she came into the room where I was and took hysterics. Imagine if you can my feelings all this while. you will have some idea of them when I tell you, it entered my mind for one instant to promise that I would be his wife! Well for me that it was only for an instant! This however was the last trial of my fortitude. The poor Boy is not ungenerous—he is only weak; he saw the distress which he was occasioning us, and was sorry for it. Since that evening he has struggled manfully with his grief and with such success, that he left us today, almost the same as before this unlucky affair took place—only that he looks more thoughtful more manly as if in a few days he had lived years.

He is really a love-able creature this Dugald Gylchrist—now that his whim of marrying me is past—his affection for me is of no common sort; it is tender, devoted, hopeless: even his nervous sensibility which I would despise in another man, is in him excusable nay almost inter[e]sting, for it has been occasioned (I am persuaded) by a misfortune which befell him at his outset in life and which gave a shock to his young mind from which it has never yet recovered. I will tell you about it if you care to know some other time[;] for the present, I suspect you have enough of him—

Then have I more than filled my paper with this long history which tho' deeply interesting to me, may perhaps be the very reverse to you; and I have still a thousand things to ask and say. I have a story to tell you about the abominable little Dr, of his meaness, and ‘hypocrisy that would shame the morals of a crocodile.’ I have some curious matter too, which concerneth the West[s]— Ony think they wanted to send me as a sort of wife-nursery-maid with their Boy-officer to Malta! I think the people are all gone mad at present— Will you write speedily, and tell me about yourself— You cannot think how well I liked your last letter—it had more the aspect of hope and happiness than any I ever received from you— My heart is softened towards that vexatious Orator by what you say of him; I will answer his letter tomorrow so please the fates— He has got a little son it seems—have you heard if it has discovered genius yet? I sometimes think it is possible that I may go to London after all! would you be glad to see me there? I think so— Have you got rid of that infamous accent of yours? remember I can never enjoy your society to the full until you do—my poor ears are in a fever every time they hear it— Why do you speak Annandale[?] why are you not as elegant as Colonel Alix?4 my beau-ideal would then be found— Him5 is returned—you were right, he has not forgotten me! this much I know and no more— I have not seen him— I am sure you are sick of deciphering my hieroglyphics— Address to Miss Baillie Welsh—Templand—Thornhill. Am not I very goodnatured or very simple?

God for ever bless you—

Jane Welsh

Your last letter was read with some degree of favour—my Mother bid me make her compliments to you and say that she had neither forgotten you nor did she esteem you less—what wonderful condescension! I hope you are sufficiently gratified. I can tell you you may be grateful to me for this great letter—or for any letter at all to day— The handsomest and most fashionable man6 in Britain is to dine here—he is one of the Life-guard and a Cousin of my Mother's—he wears mustachios and four huge rings, and chains and the Lord knows what and he is six feet, two inches high and only eight and twenty!

If this Dr cures you I will bless him all the days of my life—