1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 5 October 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241005-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:170-175.


2. Liverpool-Terrace, Dover, / 5th October, 1824—

My Dear,

I am sure if you knew with what eagerness I look for your letters, you would take a pleasure in writing to me more frequently. For some hours after a letter from you arrives, there are few happier men in England than I: the distresses and vexations that keep up almost a perpetual firing in my inward world, making me in general the dreariest and sulkiest person in the parish, for a while withdraw their black squadrons; the sun of hope comes forth in vernal beauty, and light and affection and peace hover over the scenes of my imagination. Is it you that are an enchantress or I that am weakling? Neither: it is simply that we love one another; and that love and kindly feelings even in this world can make crooked things straight and rough places plain.

Your last letter found me on a quiet Sunday morning at Birmingham, meditating a speedy departure to the south. Had I answered it then, as I at first proposed, I should have written with much more composure and singleness of mind than I can hope to do at present; but preparations and arrangements violently displaced my purpose; and ever since my inward like my outward man has been hurried in speedy vehicles from place to place, without leisure to think of Jane or any thing so precious to me, with the smallest continuity. I had ugly weather for my London journey; I passed thro' Stratford upon Avon, I saw the house where the infant Shakespear was cradled, the very pavement where he spun his tops; I looked also upon the old monastic domes and minarets of Oxford; but sick nerves and pelting rain were fast banishing all romance from my feelings; I at length retired from the “roof” of the conveniency, postponing the picturesque to the comfortable; was annoyed to death by the cackle of a French blue-stocking, and arrived at Pentonville in a state of mind truly sulphureous. The good Orator was sitting like a bittern by the pools of water; Isabella with Miss Kirkpatrick and “him”1 (not your him, but one whom I have since known to my cost) had set out for Dover, carrying all the household gear along with them, and leaving the venerable Pastor in the desolation as of a sacked city, to follow them two days afterwards. I had books to get and much pitiful business to settle with Turks of Booksellers; so I did not follow him till last Thursday, and it is yet scarce two days since I recovered any thing like my usual frame of mind. The strange sights and the much cattle I have seen, I refer [sic] speaking of till we meet face to face, when I will tell you every thing in all its breadth and length. My own small circle of present objects and present occupations is all I can undertake on paper.

We are here a very social and prospectively a very pleasant party. The strength of our forces, however, is not yet arrived. Mrs Strachey and her husband and suite do not come till Thursday, when some new disposition of our quarters will be necessary, and time must elapse before we are all settled on a proper footing. For the present, we are all Miss Kirkpatrick's guests; that young lady, Mrs Strachey's cousin, having gone before to convey “Isabella,” and provide a house, and now not judging it suitable to be left there till her friends arrive. This Kitty is a singular and very pleasing creature; a little black-eyed, auburn-haired, brunette, full of kindliness and humour, and who never I believe was angry at any creature for a moment in her life. Tho' twenty-one, and not unbeautiful, and sole mistress of herself and fifty thousand pounds, she is meek and modest as a quakeress; with a demure eye she surveys the extravaganzas of the Orator, laughing at him in secret, yet loving him as a good man, and studiously devoting herself with a diverting earnestness to provide for the household cares of the establishment. Good Kitty! It is like pitchy darkness between rosy-fingered morn and tallow candle-light, when I stroll with her, the daughter of Asiatic pomp and dreamy indolence, and the Fife Isabella, skilful in Presbyterian philosophy and the structure of dumplings and worsted hose; spreading my unrestful imaginations over these chalk cliffs and the far-sounding ocean and the distant coast of France, as I have done over other scenes as lovely. Would, you or I were half as happy as this girl! But her mother was a Hindoo princess (whom her father fought for and scaled walls for);2 it lies in the blood; and philosophy can do little to help us.

The Orator is busy writing, and bathing, persuading himself that he is scaling the very pinnacles of Christian sentiment, which in truth with him are little more than the very pinnacles of human vanity rising thro' an atmosphere of great native warmth and generosity. We have many and long confabulations: I find him much as he was before, and I suppose will always be; overspread with secret affectations, secret to himself, but kind and friendly and speculative and discursive as ever. You will have much to tolerate and much that will amuse you when you see him. It would do your heart good to look at him in the character of dry nurse to his first-born Edward! It is a feeble, shapeless slut3 of a thing, as all children of six weeks are; yet Isabella and her spouse could not be more attentive to the infant Lama, were they high priestess and priest of Thibet. The waking and the sleeping and all the operations of “him” (as they emphatically name it) form a most important item in the general weal. “Isabella,” said he, “I think, I would wash him with warm water to-night?” “Yes, Deer,” said the compliant Isabella; Kitty smirked in secret; and I made bold to dissent totally from the suggestion; declaring that in my view this was the wife's concern alone, and that were I in her place I would wash him with oil of vitriol, if I pleased, and take no one's counsel on it. Oh that you saw the giant with his broad-brimmed hat, his sallow visage, and sable matted fleece of hair, carrying the little pepper-box of a creature, folded in his monstrous palms, along the beach; tick-ticking to it, and dandling it, and every time it stirs an eye-lid, “grinning horrible a ghastly smile,”4 heedless of the crowds of petrified spectators, that turn round in long trains gazing in silent terror at the fatherly Leviathan! You would laugh for twelve months after, every time you thought of it. And yet it is very wrong to laugh if one could help it; nature is very lovely, pity she should ever be absurd. On the whole I am pleased with Irving; and hope to love him and admire him and laugh at him as long as I live.

But enough of him, for once! Let me turn to one far dearer. I rejoice to hear that you have found a pleasing companion for your rustication; I hope that he will prove as true a friend as you anticipate. In one point, I shall be his debtor deeply, if he do as he proposes: do make him carry you to London, and the south! It is a project that promises abundantly, and seems so easy of execution. For you it will be amusing and instructive to see so many novelties physical, intellectual and moral; for me it will be delightful to know that you are near me, to see you and speak with you and shew you many wonders, as I hope to do in spite of all the artificial barriers with which you will be girt about among your fashionable friends. The gay world will interest your spirit of observation, but not your heart or its affections. That is not the goal towards which your ardent tho' unguided enthusiasm has all along been striving: if you marry any of these fritters of perfumery and small sarcasm, I will go far to shake hands with you for good! A fashionable wife is not perhaps more worthless than most wives are; but one views her with less toleration; she might be so much and is so very little. Nor in spite of your gay cousin's objections must you cut the poor Orator: he confidently expects you, he loves you, and his fellowship will do you good. His affectations can not infect your clear and active spirit for an instant; and there is a fund of sincerity in his life and character, which in these heartless aimless days, is doubly precious. The cant of religion, conscious or unconscious, is a pitiable thing, but not the most pitiable; it often rests upon a groundwork of genuine earnest feeling; and is, I think, in all except its very worst phases, preferable to that poor arid spirit of contemptuous persifflage, which forms the staple of fashionable accomplishment, so far as I can discern it, and spreads like a narcotic drench over all the better faculties of the soul in those that entertain it. No, my dearest, that will not do for you! Nature meant you for more serious things, and in spite of all your wanderings, you will yet attain them. O that I had power to form you and form your destiny according to my image of what you should be! O that I were a sovereign and a sage!— O that I were not a fool! What have I ever done for you, I often ask; and there is a most beggarly account, by way of answer! I have loved you three-fourths for my own sake: it is only in stern solemn hours that you seem to me like a little Mignon,5 struggling with a wild etherial ardour for the heavenly things, which you know not, and the coarse world will not let you know; and I call bitterly on Fate to put it in my power, once, once, to set you on the right path, and help you in a contest so unequal. But what avails it? Fate is deaf and dead; and we remain shut up among the grim battlements of Necessity; and time flies over us, and we are not delivered! I often wonder that you plague yourself with me for another week. My affection for you is sincere; but it has little other value. You have more faith than I, or I should have lost you long ago.

Indeed, my love, I will not scold you a jot. I know you will take to better courses, whenever opportunity is given you; and in the mean time, many things may be studied that are not written upon books. Enjoy yourself as much as you can; assured that time enough is in store, when difficulties may be absent and enjoyments no longer offered. You promise to study the duties of wifehood; which I assure you, are not confined to the gift of pudding making, yet are wide enough in their extent: have you yet mastered them? We shall see when you arrive.— My own need of scolding is far greater than yours; unless it were pity or contempt that you substituted for scolding. I have been very idle, even now I am not very busy, and my health if recovering at all is recovering with due deliberation. Nevertheless I believe I shall manage ultimately: long years of constant pain have taught me that before all other things I must subdue disease, and to this I will direct my efforts till it is subdued; a consummation which I can and will bring about, cost what it like. I think of many plans: sometimes I am for the country, and a life of mingled rustication, riding, gardening, love and literature! Meanwhile I am translating fragments of Don Karlos and the Maid of Orleans,6 the paltry Life being, after some sharp speech on my part, at last determined to go to press immediately on my return to Town. Will you translate me Hero and Leander?7 Check any other that you like better; only try. I will tell you more next time, if this answer not.—— Of Meister I have seen no review worth calling by the name; tho' it has been puffed and praised in various quarters, and has met with a reception far beyond what I anticipated. A clever but careless man exalted it in Blackwood;8 the Opium Eater in the London Magazine has done his utmost on the other side. I have not yet read his “Article,” at least not farther than a hasty glance at the three first leaves: but I design to do it; tho' the man seems ill-bred in his remarks, and sufficiently shallow, there may be a grain of information in that dusty chaff, and fas et ab hoste doceri.9 On the whole, to be reviewed, I find, is a mighty simple matter; one of Badams' emollients is as bad as fifty “articles.”—Now you prom[ised] a large batch of news: when, pray, am I to have it? Do, write immediately, and at exceeding great length. Tell me about your journey hitherward, about all you think of or care for. For this once I have done: farewell, my Dearest! vale et me ama [farewell and love me]! I am your's forever,

Thomas Carlyle—