1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 19 December 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241219-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:227-231.


Haddington 19th December [1824]

Best and Dearest,

I have been putting off writing from day to day, that I might be able to tell you of the arrival of the parcel; but as I am wearying already to hear from you again, and as you may, possibly, be feeling anxious about me in the meantime, I will not put off an hour or minute longer. What can have befallen this precious parcel? I begin to dread it is gone to the bottom of the sea, or somewhere equally beyond my reach. It is really exceedingly tantalizing,—the more so, as I had persuaded myself you would have the consideration to send some of your verses in it, which I am dying with impatience to see. The Books I can more easily make up my mind to lose: the greatest pleasure which these could afford me,—the pleasure of one more proof of your mindfulness and affection— I have already enjoyed in knowing that you sent them. However it may cast up: perhaps “The Queen of Love doth watch its way, doth pity me, and will it safe convey here to my bosom.”1 Did you ever see Edward Irvings “sonnet to a lock of my Lady's hair which reached me thro' hair-breadth 'scrapes”[?] It is quite Petrarcean (and what is odd) there is not one word of Isabella in it from beginning to end.

So you would have me either come to London forthwith or give up the darling project altogether. Why give it up, pray? seeing it does harm to nobody, and serves to enliven the dullness of my life in the meanwhile[—] “Why? because I shall possibly begone when it suits your convenience to come, and in that case I would rather you should stay where you are.” Eh bien! I really cannot go South this week,—not even to accomodate you Dear—or any week before the month of February; for two reasons, first because I have no fancy for a journey in the dead of winter, and secondly because I shall not be quit of my Pupil any sooner. However it is by no means my intention to renounce the project; tho' you have done your endeavour to strip it of all poetry, it is still sufficiently attractive to me. There is no intellectual person you say on the Orator's list! Why, what has befallen his acquaintance? Where are all the eminent personages, the very salt of the earth whom you and he told me of? The Johanna Baillie who makes plays and puddings with the same facility and shines alike as a Genius and a Sicknurse, the Mrs Montague who combines the majestic virtues of a Roman Matron with the meek graces of a Christian Lady of the nineteenth century, “who might have been the Mother of the Gracchi” and “is the Mother of all excellence,”2 the Mrs Montague, in short who taught Edward Irving ‘to rest’? Your “rosy-fingered Morn” too, the Hindoo Princess3—where is she? and Mrs Strachey, the only woman to whom I ever heard you give praise without some mixture of sarcasm, and Barry Cornwall, and the “single-minded Wilkie,”4 and Col[e]ridge “the first of Talkers,” and your ‘dear Allan Cunningham’ who speaks Annandale in such perfection, all the people in short who were to “show me the road to excellence” and to help me to that “spiritual blessedness which my heart hath not yet found.” Do they yet live? and if they do how dare you hold them so cheap? Discontented mortal that you are! if like me you had lived all your days in a little provincial town, you would know better how to appreciate such good company. Oh no! it is not the fear of being disappoin[ted] in the people and still less is it the vulgar fear of being ill-accom[m]odated which disinclines me to this London visit; it is the little dependance which I have on the Orator's and his Wifes feelings towards me. I have ceased to feel offended with his Reverence, but still I cannot forget that he has given me cause of offence; and past experience makes me hesitate about placing my happiness again in his power. Besides I strongly suspect that this invitation proceeds not so much from any present wish, as from the necessity of fulfilling a long engagement. For his Wife, unless she is a very different woman from what I take her to be, she will hardly forgive me for the good I have done her: the recovery of a faithless Lover, I should think, is a benifit for which one woman is not likely to be very grateful to another— But, in the name of verbosity, what is it to you and me whether Isabella Martin loves or hates me; or whether Isabella's husband is disposed to ‘help me to the uttermost’ or to leave me to assist myself? Thank Heaven I have “a heart for either fate5 I shall see from the Orator's manner of renewing his invitation if he wishes me to come or not, and I will go or stay accordingly— Do you say nothing more to him about the matter, and unsay anything which in the imprudence of your heart you may have said.

Which ever way it is settled I dare say I shall outlive anoth[er] season— To be sure I have no society here, at least none that deserves the name, but I have long been learning to do without: and for the rest, my situation at present is far from desperate. I am at Home my own “sweet Home”; my head is as well as it is likely to be in this world; and I am setting all my strength to fulfill the dictates of my will and conscience. The greatest drawback to my comfort at present is Mis[s] Gilchrist. Teaching I find is not the most amusing thing on earth; in fact with a stupid lump for a pupil it is about the most irksome. I cannot think yet what tempted my Mother to involve me in such a task or me to suffer myself to be involved in it. When the thing was proposed to me, my intellect (I believe) was bewildered by the Highlander's tumbling feats; and that is my only excuse. Can you imagine a more preposterous arrangement? What have we to do with Miss Catherine Gilchrist or Mr Dugald Gilchrist or any of the Gilchrist family? Six months ago we did not know of their existence— Would to Heaven it had remained an everlasting secret!—neither are they particularly destitute, or particularly meritorious that we should take any such lively interest in them; yet here am I day after day spending time and temper upon this Dunderhead of a girl, labouring to reform her boarding-school manners and to enlighten the Cimmerian darkness of her understanding; and the best of it is she seems to think all the while she is doing me a favour by enduring my instructions and advice. Nevertheless I think I should not grudge my pains if I saw they were likely to be attended with any success; but ‘absque ingenio labor inutilis’ [without ability labor is vain] and my pupil has no genius for any thing beyond flowering muslin. I may explain and repeat and lecture and scold as long as I have lungs left, but it is all to no purpose. Her mind is like the pitchers of the Danaides it lets out faster than I can put any thing into it6— However with all its drawbacks this Governess-ship of mine has some advantages. In the first place it makes it impossible for me to study to excess, which I am somewhat apt to do when I study at all,—and overstraining you have told me, and I really believe, is the reason that I so often relax. My pupils Music and drawing and French and Italian lessons fill up so large a portion of my time that I have only four hours a day at my own disposal— Secondly it affords me a pretext for living by rule. I can now without fear of disobliging my Mother, follow out a plan of regular occupation in defiance of Callers and all such impertinent interruptions: she cannot with a good grace take offence at my regularity, seeing that it is essential to a faithful discharge of the office she herself has imposed upon me. And lastly it helps to keep me in good humour with myself. my abilities mean as they are, are so gre[a]tly above Miss Gilchrists, that when I compare myself with her, which I have perpetual occasion to do, I cannot help entertaining a sort of self satisfaction, which in some degree counterbalances the humiliation I feel on comparing myself with you or anybody of real Genius.

Now, will you still dare to maintain that I am not a philosopher? I question if you yourself Mr Socrates could have found as much matter of consolation in so trying a predicament? There is one thing which I am heartily glad at—contrary to my expectations I have had no further molestation from the Dugald Cratur;7 except that he is ever and anon sending me books which I never read, and letters which I never answer. I fancy my behaviour at our meeting in Edinr did not hold out much encouragement to him to try a visit yet I believe all the contemptuousness of manner I am mistress of could hardly have daunted his modest assurance if my Mother had only given him an invitation. But, luckily for me, the Gilchrists are already exfavorites—the amiable Dugald has grown somewhat overfat during his sojourn in the North—that I believe is his crime—at least his embonpoint is the only change I see in him—and as for the amiable Catherine, on better acquaintance she is found to be not amiable at all. She is good humoured indeed:—imperturbably goodhumoured but that is the sum total of her virtues; for the rest, she is mean, cunning disgustingly greedy, ungrateful insensible stupid and (what is most intolerable of all) she is downright rude to Shandy; in short she no longer finds favour in my Mothers sight. But what is tempting me to cram my paper with such very uninteresting matters, uninteresting at least to you. Fortunately you are very good to me and will not yawn much at an[y]thing that touches my comfort. What a stupid illegible monstrously long epistle!—and all about myself! not a word of you or your project of turning Farmer of which I intended to have written almost exclusively— If you had Land of your own you would improve it! Suppose you improve mine?8 it is to let at present and I know none that has more need of improvement. Well! may God prosper you in all your undertakings whatever they are[.] Write largely to me in the meantime—and be quick about it for I am longing a[s] much to hear from you again as if I had not seen your handwriting for six months. I never sent you a crossed letter before I believe9—be patient with this and I will promise never to send you another. God bless you dearest of Friends and never let you forget me

Yours auf ewig

Jane B Welsh