TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 2 September 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240902-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:144-149.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Birmingham, 2nd September, 1824—
Meine Liebe— Your letter, you will easily believe, delivered me from a thousand perplexities. I could have sworn, when old Barnet came tottering in with it, that some dreadful calamity was to be revealed; that you were sick or unhappy, or what was little better for the time, that you were out of humour with me, and about to give me my discharge. No one of these fine things was true! You are still good, still kind, still sending me assurances that you are good and kind. Blessed be Cadmus King of Thebes that first imported letters into Europe; blessed be my true hearted Jane that makes such noble use of that invention! Tho' parted, we are still together; you transport me from the smoky furnaces of Birmingham, home to clear skies and souls that love me; I live with you for a season in scenes we have both lived in, and bright recollections give birth to brighter hopes. Blessings on your head my bonny bairn! You have long been good to me: I pray more and more earnestly that you may always be so.
What a strange tragicomedy is that of Dugald Gilchrist, which you describe so neatly and with such graphic touches! Poor soul! one knows not whether to laugh at him or weep for him; his heart seems so affectionate and innocent, and at the same time so very weak. I trust, for his own sake, he will trouble you no more: it is painful to be the cause of pain; but with you there is no remedy. “Therein the patient must minister unto himself.”1 Another year or two will shew your unhappy friend that the Earth is not entirely a bower of roses and myrtles; and that men have many thousand things to do and to endure which love has no concern with. I feel for the poor youth; his lesson will be hard but not uninstructive or useless. The visions of eighteen are beautiful as the path of Aurora; but transient and baseless as they are beautiful. A little while and the glories of the East2 are clean gone; and after all, what matters it so much whether one fell gust of tempest or the silent march of the Hours have chaced them away? Yet tell me if you hear again of Dugald: I love a kind nature, and feel for its sorrows not less because I know that universal Destiny not single accidents are to be blamed for them. For your conduct in the matter, I should admire it, tho' I had no farther interest in it. What a pretty mixture of mercy and gracefulness and female cunning! So, you are engaged, are you? Would that I had a cast of the Sybilline Books, or the Linen Books, or the future session Books, or any book that would tell me to whom! Is he a genius and “elegant”? Is he a poet or a philosopher or both in one? Let him look to it that he be a worthy man, and love you with a faithful heart! If he do not, I myself will pull the varlet's nose, and tell him that he merits not to dwell upon our planet! Well! ere long, old Time will try: how many things will he try!
But I must leave my speculation, and take to practice. What are you about in Nithsdale; what are you employed in or amused with? Have you taken into serious deliberation the task I assigned you? I am still as bold on it as ever; I can yet admit of no denial. Tell me soon and punctually what I am to look for. Fear not to speak to me of indolence and tardiness: ever since I came to Warwickshire, I have been the idlest man myself in the united kingdoms. Schiller is still, except some vague ideas and a few faint and altogether bootless attempts at translation, exactly where he was. My learned Bibliopolists3 are on their side not a whit more active: it was but this very morning that I received their final ratification of our bargain; their books, from Bohte4 and other Germans, are still to come “in a day or two.” Blame me not, dearest Jane! I feel deeply enough that life is short and art long;5 and oh how small, very small a way have I yet advanced in this same art! Nevertheless, Badams and physical prescriptions and the Devil and my own foolish heart keep me as it were enchanted to the spot. Nondum [not yet], should be my motto, with poppies argent and three sloths dormant on a tree disleaved! I do little but ride and sleep and read the most unutterable trash of novels, cursing as I read. Badams says I am recovering: the perpetual gnawing of pain with its confused irritation and obscuration of the soul have in truth I think somewhat left me; but weariness and weakness and a passion for repose have succeeded. I am growing quite an Asiatic. I seem as if I could dream away my life amid citron groves and the perfumes and spice-trees of the East; with visions in my silly head, such as all poetry and all painting and all harmony were but feeble to express. And alas! this is not Araby the blest, but brickbuilt sooty Brumachem; nor am I a genie of the King of Soloman, but a hapless dyspeptical philosopher from the moors of Annandale! After all it were better for me to be quiet: there is a progress in all things; and if I reach but the fiftieth part of what I sometimes meditate, I shall be a happy man. This pitiful book must be printed in November; then: “To-morrow to fresh fields and pastures new!”6 I tell thee, our culture is but as it were beginning; there are regions of thought and feeling which have scarcely as yet loomed on the edge of our horizon; thither let us tend unweariedly, never never parting by the way! What may we not accomplish! In hours of happy musing, I figure myself as the interpreter of truth and manly integrity and imaginative beauty to thousands of my fellow men; and Jane, my fair and pure Egeria, my inspiring Goddess of the Fountain, to originate, to perfect, adorn and recompense my labours! Call this gasconading and vain dreaming: I know it is, my dearest; yet something of it may be realized; and if we both live, shall.
I heard of you since you wrote to me: the Orator was here two days ago, and said he had been corresponding with you. He did not seem to feel particularly gratified by the ditty you had sung to him: he said “he once thought you had no other view but to laugh at him.” By degrees, however, it appeared, he had taken up a more rational interpretation of the matter, and written to you, assuring you that you were wrong, and he not less your friend than ever. It must be owned the man is nearly mad on some points, especially on that of writing letters. He said he was ever ready at a moment's warning to do every thing in his power for his friends; but that he really had not time or topics to write. I scouted the idea of time; and told him that as to doing, none but prime ministers and Asiatic Monarchs could pretend to make or keep friends by that expensive method. I teased him and posed him, as we rode along together to the Leasowes, till he drew down the corners of his mouth, and growled in a style too ominous for my proceeding farther. I do not know that he will yet reform; nor is it of essential moment. Of his friendship for you and me I no more doubt than I do of our own; it should be our part to pardon him a multitude of faults and affectations, as we ourselves may have a multitude to be pardoned. Tell me how you feel towards him, and that you have forgiven him. Of late he has occupied too many paragraphs of my letters: but I hold any semblance of a friend, however distant it may be, too precious to be parted with for any price; and I cannot rest till I have made the offender's peace with you. Do, let us all love one another! The world is but a peopled solitude, without kind affections; and of these how few hearts in it are even partially susceptible! This Orator will mend, must mend in time, as the carriages and coronets forsake him; he is already half recovered since I saw him in the north.
Doubtless, my dearest, you will come to London; and I of course will fly f[rom your] approach as from the pestilence! In London you will find a thousand things to dra[w] improvement from; characters to study and emulate, modes of life to investigate, knowledge of all sorts to make your own. Many times I wished and prayed you had been there, tho' it had been only for a little space; I am still bent on being your Cicerone, still confident in your employing me. This matter must be studied farther: we will have it all arranged in time. Of my own stay in London, or proceedings there, I can yet say little definite. My first movement must be farther to the south. Mrs Strachey and the Orator have been combining a watering party to go down to Kent for five or six weeks, and I have almost consented to be one of them. I expect we shall be happy in some degree, tho' excepting these two leaders of the expedition, there is no other whom I value very highly. Mrs Strachey must know you in due time, and love you when she knows you. She is a woman of no ordinary faculties; earnest, warm-hearted, decisive, contemptuous of all that is insignificant and mean, reverential of all that is great and noble. She is Mrs Buller's sister; but no more like her than the diamond of Golconda is to that of Bristol.7 She and I almost swore a friendship for one another at our second interview! This from a religious lady, with a revenue of five thousand pounds per annum! In time, I fear she will become a sceptic; she likes Irving, but sees and laughs at all his vagaries. In three weeks I will tell you more.
For the present, however, I must be done. Tho' I write in a type almost invisibly small, my paper is on the point of ending. These are but points and heads of intelligence; I have not head enough to put them into better order. Pardon them for their confusion and inanity: what skills it how we write to one another, so we write enough, and with sufficient want of care! You will send me tidings instantly? Consider, Liebchen, by all laws human and divine, you are a letter in my debt: a fortnight also used to be the time; why should it be lengthened? But is it not already three weeks since you wrote? Take your pen the first moment you can spare: about the twentieth of this month, I shall be leaving Birmingham. Tell me all that you are doing or concerned with. What is this of the Doctor body?8 I fear I shall begin to hate the Doctor, if he carry not his little spiritie in a more honest fashion. What has the thing been doing? Tell me fully when you write. Perhaps I overrate the matter, for his deeds can scarcely be of any moment: nevertheless tell me. Has the unhappy mortal been telling lies of you, or what? For me within very large limits, he is altogether welcome; but for you it is different.— What wise people are the Wests with their baby officer! Did not your heart leap for joy at such a brilliant destiny? Seriously, these things are more than jokes. Tell me punctually about that Schiller and his poems. Do not hesitate; for you must. Fix upon something, or if you cannot, explain yourself fully and I will help you. It must be done, love; the book comes out in winter; and my little “J. W.” comes in the middle of it.9 So take your measures, madam; and see you get out of this entanglement as best you may. Set to work and write your verses; and mine will encircle them, and protect them, and “deave the flattery [be deafened by the applause?].”—
How is your Mother, and how do you relish Nithsdale? I expect your news impatiently. Will you keep me anxious? No, you will not; seeing you are the best young woman now alive, and I am— Yours forever & ever,
My kindest regards to your Mother: she is happy with her friends; let me hope you too find something to delight you. Did you bring books with you? Think of Schiller, and yourself, and me, and be good and happy. God bless you, Dearest!