TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 28 October 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241028-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:178-183.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Paris, Hôtel de Wagram, 28th October 1824—
“Paris?” I hear you exclaim: “Unhappy soul! what has taken thee to Paris? Art thou frantic? Art thou dreaming? Or has the Hindoo Princess actually bewitched thee that thou hast brought thy acid visage and most atrabiliar philosophy into this land of fops and pastry-cooks, where vanity and Sensuality have set up their chosen shrine, and every one that falls not down to worship them is as an alien and an interloper! What hast thou to do with Paris?”1 In truth, my Love, I have very little to do with it; yet here I am, and little less suprised than you are at my journey hither. The case, however, is not very marvellous after all. You must know, the daily sight of the French coast from Dover had awakened the travelling propensities of certain of our party; particularly of the little fidgetty, higgle-haggling, good-hearted, logic-chopping Mr Strachey and of the fair Princess whose name I must not mention; between whom after infinite consultations a trip to vanity-fair was at length arranged; I by dint of multiplied solicitation and persuasions being as it were half forced to accompany them. Through delays and entanglements, thro' perils by land and perils by water, we accordingly proceeded on our way; Strachey and I riding on the dickey of the Princess' carriage, herself and maid within; Strachey scolding the postillions and inn keepe[rs] in French that would have made even Rhadamanthus laugh, the rest of us taking the matter with extreme equanimity, and all enjoying such raree-shew delights as an excursion of that kind affords. We arrived last saturday; and continue I suppose till some days after next. The confusion, the tumult, the hubbub of our situation words give a poor idea of: since the building of the Tower of Babel I do not think it has been equalled. But your thirtieth of October is arriving; and I would not let it pass without assuring you that here or yonder I am still thinking of you with the feelings which become us both; that my spirit flies joyfully away from this jingling chaos of frivolity to join in communion however interrupted with the spirit that is dear to it beyond all others. Is not this the chief and most precious purport of all our letters? That we love one another, and will love one another thro' all the changes and chances of our existence in time or after it? Blessed truth! Glorious certainty! The words or ideas by which it is conveyed are of small importance, when such a meaning is attached to them.
In the middle of such an uproar you are not to expect that I should tell you any thing worth telling of myself or the scene that is still so strange to me. Our journey, as you have seen, was planned upon a very humble princple, the hope of seeing with the bodily eye alone; and on this small scale I think it succeeds as well as could be expected. France has been so betravelled and beridden and betrodden by all manner of vulgar people that any romance connected with it is entirely gone off ten years ago; the idea of studying it is for me at present altogether out of the question; so I quietly surrender myself to the direction of guide books and laquais de place [local flunkeys], and stroll about from sight to sight, as if I were assisting at a huge Bartholomew fair;2 only that the booths are the Palais Royal or the Boulevards, and the shews the Theatre Français instead of Punch, and the Jardin des Plantes3 instead of the Irish giant or Polito's menagerie. For a few days such a life is tolerable enough; in a month, I think it could not fail to kill me with utter tedium. Of my adventures and impressions I will talk to you for many days when we meet; nay you and I, you know, are to go and see all these curiosities in company: but for the present I must occupy my sheet with other matters. Suffice it to observe that I am moderately patient of the business, far more so than I anticipated; in rather better health than when I set out; and daily growing more and more contemptuous of Paris, and the maniere d'être [way of life] of its people. Poor fellows! I feel alternately titillated into laughter and shocked to the verge of horror at the hand they make of life. Eating, everlasting eating from the hands of patisseurs [pastry-cooks], restaurateurs, traiteurs [restaurant-keepers] and cooks of every size and shape; with gambling ad infinitum, and looking glasses to the same extent seem to form the great staple of their enjoyments. They cannot live without artificial excitements, without sensations agréables. Their houses are not homes, but places where they sleep and dress; they live in cafés and promenades and theatres; and ten thousand dice are set a-rattling every night in every quarter of their city. Every thing seems gilding and fillagree, addressed to the eye not the touch. Their shops and houses are like toy-boxes; every apartment is tricked out with mirrors and expanded into infinitude by their illusion. This parlour is about twenty-feet square; but glass and tinfoil spread it out into galleries like that of the Louvre; and not one but twenty score of men are writing to you. The people's character seems like their shops and faces; gilding and rouge without; hollowness and rottenness within. They are elegant, the pink of elegance; polite as ushers of the black rod;4 full of lofty talk about generosity and delicacy, yet openly addicted to the basest practices and most beastly vices. Oh the hateful contrast between physical perfection and moral nothingness! Between the extreme of luxury and the extreme of wretchedness unrelieved by hope or principle! Yesterday I walked along the Pont Neuf; jugglers and quacks and cooks and barbers and dandies and gulls and sharpers were racketting away with a deafening hum at their manifold pursuits; I turned aside into a small mansion with the name of Morgue upon it; there lay the naked body of an old grey-headed artisan whom misery had driven to drown himself in the river! His face wore the grim fixed scoul of despair; his lean horny hands with their long ragged nails were lying by his sides; his patched and soiled apparel with his apron and sabots were hanging at his head; and there lay fixed in his iron slumber, heedless of the vain din that rolled around him on every side, was this poor outcast stretched in silence and darkness forever. I gazed upon the wretch for a quarter of an hour; I think I never felt more shocked in my life. To live in Paris for a fortnight is a treat; to live in it continually would be a martyrdom.
But no one at present threatens me with such a consummation: so let us leave Paris and Parisians till a fitter opportunity; and betake ourselves to something nearer home. By an accident which I now consider as most fortunate, I missed my passage to Calais by a minute and a half's delay; and—got your letter! Before proceeding to Boulogne next day, I wrote an answer; but it was so very wild that I durst not risk sending it, lest you should cut me forever and a day. So, you are not jealous then? Provoking creature! already should Corruption like the worm have been feeding on your damask cheek;5 if indeed you had not preferred making your quietus at once with a bare bodkin,6 and leaving the Princess mistress of the field! It is clear enough that you care next to nothing for me, or something of this sort would have followed so alarming an announcement as my last. Will nothing move that flinty heart of yours? I swear I will have amends of you, if any can be had on Earth.— Seriously, I do not think you have any reason to be very jealous. If you choose to alter in all the leading features of your character, I may cease to respect and try if I can cease to love you; but till then, the danger is not pressing. No, Jane! I have more skill in people than you think. I know you have some hundreds of faults; yet with the whole of them ten times told, thou art worth any twenty women in the world[.] Housewives and vanitarians, unnaturals and naturals, Saints and worldlings, or whatever else their species may be that have passed in review before me, have each their several merit and attraction; but a heart and a spirit like my own Jane's I have seen nowhere. Is that heart mine, my own? Oh what a paltry knave were I to mock its generous affection, and cast it from me as a worthless thing—like the base Judean to throw a pearl away richer than all my tribe!7 No, mein Kind, we were set apart by Destiny for each other; we have chosen one another; we are one, and nothing shall part us. Together, we may fail to be happy; separate, we can hardly fail to be miserable. Let us abide by one another, befal what may! If we are wise, the world may yet be a place of blessedness for both.
This journey to Paris has scattered all my projects to the winds; at least has interrupted not only their fulfilment, but even their planning. Something notable, however, I will do; and that shortly. If this pitiful book were off my hands; my fortune and circumstances shall be remodelled, or I may as well give up the cause entirely. Is it not hard for both of us? There is a genius in you, there is a genius in me; yet I feel as if it would never, never see the light at all, far less attain expansion and maturity, so many and so grievous are the obstacles that war against it! One, by far the most tremendous in my own case, the want of health, I am resolved, irrevocably resolved to conquer, if the means of conquering it can be accessible to man. I will not sit any longer with this infernal nightmare paral[y]zing all my faculties of mind and heart; I will be free [as] other sons of A[dam] are, let the cost be what it may! It seems so easy too: a residence in the [country] with quietne[ss and] regularity, and fit succession of bodily and mental labour could not fail to set me quit of this quintessence of all curses. Do you know what I am thinking of, actually meditating as a scheme of life? I am meditating to engage with some literary Tradesman for a full translation of all Schillers works dramatic and philosophical to retire with the necessary apparatus into Annandale or any other dale; and there alternately writing and riding, reading and gardening and conversing with kind Christian souls, and living according to the strictest letter of the Birmingham code, to let poor old nature rally her forces and restore me to my pristine strength and serenity of heart and head, before attempting farther in the fight of life, which at present I wage with such tremendous odds. Now what do you think of this? Is it a wise plan or utterly foolish? Tell me, give me your advice; for the interest of one is that of both. What think you of it? Will you take a share in the concern, and become a philosophical recluse yourself? Will you? Would you? O Heavens! what a thing it might be, if it prospered! But I fancy you are laughing at me, wicked enemy that you are; and I have nothing for it but to hold my peace, and let you have your way. Write to me, however, largely and frankly: it were good for us to understand these matters more completely. What good is there in seclusion and reserve between us? Write, my dearest, to me! Ihre B[r]iefe, errinnern Sie, sind immer ganz meine eigene: ob die gegenwartige diess seyn für Ihnen oder nicht, ist ungewiss; so muss ich mich enthalten!8 The Germans are correct in this.
But here are Strachey and Kitty (precious names as you observe!) returning from the Louvre; and I must be about my business. You will have a letter waiting for me at Liverpool Terrace, Dover? I shall be there in eight days, and shall be dreadfully disappointed if I do not hear from you. Will you write directly? Tell me all your occupations, projects, wishes! Despise the little imp of a Doctorkin; banish the inane Gäel, or tolerate him if he will not banish; follow your purposes in spite of every difficulty. Trust in me to the end, as I trust in you! Fortune will shine o[u]t on us; we will force her to shine, and we shall both be happy. God keep you my Dearest! Farewell and love me! I am ever ever yours,
Go on with your Schiller as rapidly as possible: I begin printing forthwith on my return. I have given some scenes of Karlos and the Maid of Orleans &c; but the book will be a very mean one, do for it what I can.— Excuse this worst of letters—the pen is execrable, the time short, and the place the Rue de la Paix, in the centre of the Temple of Frivolity and Dissipation. Let me hear from you immediately. Your letters are among my chief delights in life: if it were not for you and them, I often think I should become a misanthrope in good earnest, and despair of my fortunes and of myself. Adieu my Dearest! Here they are, and I must leave you.—