1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 3 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250103-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:237-239.


Haddington— 3d January / 1825!

So you will not give me two letters for one if you can help it. Perverse Mortal! you would defraud the revenue rather. “Schreiben sie andermahl”! [Write another time!] A most full and satisfactory answer to my close-written sheet! considerately inserted too in the midst of Foreign intelligence; as if I ever looked at the foreign intelligence of a newspaper in my life! If it had not been for Dugald Gilchrist who reads any thing (or nothing) and wears spectacles besides, I should undoubtedly have curled my hair with your Examiner, without discovering that it contained such interesting news. NB I did not send the Blatt [newspaper or journal] to Mainhill; from motives of economy: in case of the writing being discovered, there would have been two pounds something to pay for it; and it is incomparably easier to pass thro' the eye of a needle than to elude the spirit of research of a Country-postoffice.

Thank you, Dearest, for all the contents of the packet, and in an especial manner for your own delightful, long letter. The Autographs, you have sent me, have all of them a value in my curiosity-loving eyes; but Byron's handwriting—my own Byron's—I esteem, not as a curiosity merely, but rather as a relic of an honoured and beloved Friend. Will you believe it? it is more precious to me than even Goethe's letter; flattering tho' it is for you to have received, and for me to be made the Depositary of such a letter from so illustrious a Personage. How could you part with it? Mercy if the object of my adoration had written a letter to me, I would not have given it away for a charter of nobility.

I expect to find you grown monstrous vain when we meet. And pray, when will that be? The same Mail which brought the newspaper brought me a letter of fifteen pages from my Cousin. The time of his marriage, he tells me, is not fixed yet; on the contrary the Ladies relations are exerting themselves to break of[f] the match: in the mean time he has sold the cream-coloured ponies in his Phaeton, and got a ‘brilliant’ pair milk-white, with long manes and tails. He entreats, however, that I will come to him in Sussex immediately: he will meet me any where I like between this and London; for the etiquette part of it, there is one of his Sister's keeping house for him; and as to his marriage, there is no earthly use in waiting for it, as, if it does take place my presence will be an addition to his happiness, and if it does not, there is none so able to sooth[e] and comfort him— Alle guten Geister [All good spirits]—— Take care of yourself Mademoiselle; to comfort the handsomest most fascinating young Man in England would unquestionably be a very pleasing task, but are you quite sure it would be a safe one? perhaps you had as well not try. You cannot think what an alarming whirl this letter put my wits in—I was quite beside myself for about the space of one hour. In this critical situation I applied to “Smith's moral sentiments”1 but the Devil was not to be cast out of me by abstract reasonings. and I was obliged to have recourse to Beethoven's most difficult Sonata, one of my last resources when I am fancy-possessed[.] In the present instance it worked a miracle in my favour, I rose from the Piano-forte sound in mind, and wrote to my bewitching Cousin that I would not come.— There now! am not I a prudent creature after all? if you knew what a dazzling host of temptations beleagu[e]red the council-chamber of my thoughts, while the affair was in debate, you would wonder (I am sure) at the magnanimity of this decision.

I am going on in my studying and teaching at an ambling sort of pace. I give my pupil lessons in the morning, which she forgets at night, and in the intervals of this Sisiphian labour, read history and German. My plan is as good a one as the circumstances admit of. I am resolved to adhere to it inflexibly while Miss Gilchrist is here, and to improve upon it when the Lord is pleased to remove her— There is another resolution I have made which I know you will approve—to finish in some way every thing I begin. My taste has so far outstripped my other faculties that I get disgusted with all my performances at the very outset; and for want of motives strong enough to force me to persevere, I have got into a habit of flying from one thing to another always flattering myself with the hope of succeeding better. I perceive the pernicious effects of this, not only in the sad reflection how much of my life has been already wasted in profitless attempts; but likewise in the fainthea[rted]ness with which I enter on every new undertaking, and which is enough of itself to preclude all chance of success — Languescet industria si nulla ex se spes2—I have determined then, to get the better of this mental malady; and will tho it should prove as inveterate as the ring-worm. My first operations to this effect have been vigorous and successful. I instituted an inquisitorial visit to my writing-desk—and—condemned to the flames every unfinished Manuscript which might serve as an evil precedent. in this way perished the first scene of one tragedy, and the outline of another together with the beginnings of five novels in various stages of progress. From the pure Spirit of burning I closed the auto de fe3 with the whole budget of my baby-verses[.] So not a single trace of my Genius remains— From my writing desk I proceeded to my portfolio and exercised the same summary justice there. A portrait of Mrs Siddons4 with an incurable squint, my laboured Belisarius5 whose beard would look like feathers, a Saviour which was taken for an old woman twice in one day, and diverse other half-done pieces were stripped of their silk-paper, and thrown under the cushion of a sopha, as the Rebel-Giant of old beneath Mount Ætna6—and now I have a clear field to build in after my own good pleasure—we shall see what sort of edifice I will erect!

The Dugald creature has been here—self-invited for a week— I do not think he will repeat the experiment— Do you know he is terribly addicted to lying—and that in a Gentleman is so odd! I like to tell people my mind and so I mentioned to him one day that I was of opinion he very seldom spoke truth— What do you think he did? he kissed my hand! impertinent, meanspirited wretch— I have regarded him immeasurably du haut en bas [disdainfully] ever since—

My Mother appeared highly flattered by your remembrance of her—and desires me to thank you in the prettiest manner I can, and to say that if she had not had an opportunity of doing so thro' me she would have written herself

And now when will you write? immediately? I am dying to know what decision you will come to in your own affairs—cosa fatta ha capo!7 think of that— Tell me what plan you have determined on and then I will tell you how I like it— God bless you dear! and may this new year be kinder to us than the last has been! ever ever your

Jane Baillie Welsh