JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 29 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250129-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:263-267.
JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE
[29 January 1825]
Well! Dearest you have criticised my letter—it is now my turn to criticise yours. Be patient, then, and good-tempered, I beg; for you shall find me a severer critic than the Opiumeater—
First then, you complain that I have but an imperfect view of your situation and purposes— Now I think, I may complain with equal justice, that you have but an imperfect view of my meaning— This, indeed, is, most probably, no fault of yours. I wrote to you after a sleepless night, with an aching head, and an aching anxious heart, and it is no wonder, if, in this condition I failed to express myself as perspicuously as I wished— Thus, in what I said about self-denial, it certainly was not my meaning to reproach you with any want of it; but on the contrary to express my confidence in your magnanimity—your willingness, at all times to prefer my happiness to your own. To say that “had you foreseen how unhappy your letter was to make me, you would not have written it” surely implied that “in writing it, you had not foreseen how unhappy it was to make me”; now, in this case there was no occasion for self-denial; and consequently you could not be charged with any want of it— Neither did I imagine, that your proposal was grounded on my jest or taken up in a moment of selfishness. I have too good an opinion of your sense, to suspect you of making a proposal like this, with no better foundation, and conceived in no better spirit to any one; and too proud a consciousness of your esteem to suspect you of making it to me. It was not the idea of our union, but the idea of living at Craigenputtock, which I took to be grounded on my jest; and this was reasonable enough, seeing that my words were gravely quoted, by way of text to your letter— This much in justice to my understanding!
In the next place, you assure me, that you are not “hurt or angry.” Thank Heaven you are not! But does not this imply that there is some room for your being hurt or angry—that I have done or said what might have hurt or angered another less generous than you? I think so. Now, room for disappointment there may be; but surely there is none for mortification or offence— I have refused my immediate, positive assent to your wishes; because our mutual happiness seemed to require that I should refuse it; but for the rest I have not slighted your wishes, on the contrary, I have expressed my willingness to fulfil them, at the expence of every thing but what I deem to be essential to our happiness: and so far from undervaluing you, I have shown you, in declaring I would marry no one else, not only that I esteem you above all the men I have ever seen; but also that I am persuaded I should esteem you above all the men I may ever see— What, then, have you to be hurt or angry at?
The maxims I proceed by (you tell me) are those of common and acknowledged prudence, and you do not say it is unwise in me to walk by them exclusively— The maxims I proceed by are the convictions of my own judgement, and being so, it would be unwise in me were I not to proceed by them, whether they are right or wrong— Yet I am prudent, I fear, only because I am not strongly tempted to be otherwise— My heart is capable (I feel it is) of a love to which no deprivation would be a sacrifice—a love which would overleap that reverence for opinion with which education and weakness have begirt my sex, would bear down all the restraints which duty and expediency might throw in the way, and carry every thought and feeling of my being impetuously along with it— But the all-perfect Mortal, who could inspire me with a love, so extravagant, is nowhere to be found—exists nowhere but in the Romance of my own imagination! Perhaps it is better for me as it is— A passion, like the torrent in the violence of its course, might perhaps too, like the torrent, leave ruin and desolation behind. In the mean time, I should be very mad, were I to act as if from the influence of such a passion, while my affections are in a state of perfect tranquillity. I have already explained to you the nature of my love for you; that it is deep and calm, more like the quiet river, which refreshes and beautifys where it flows, than the torrent which bears down and destroys— Yet it is materially different from what one feels for a statue or a picture—
“Then why not attain wealth and rank”—you say—and it is you who have said it—not I— Wealth and rank (to be sure) have different meanings, according to the views of different people; and what is bare sufficiency and respectability in the vocabulary of a young Lady may be called wealth and rank in that of a philosopher: but it certainly was not wealth or rank, according to my views which I required you to attain. I merely wish to see you earning a certain livelihood, and excercising the profession of a gentleman—for the rest it is a matter of great indifference to me, whether you have hundreds or thousands a year, whether you are a Mr or a Duke— To me, it seems, that my wishes in this respect are far from unreasonable, even when your peculiar maxims and situation are taken into account: nor was it wholely with the view to an improvement in your external circumstances, that I have made their fulfilment a condition to our union; but also with a view to some improvement in my sentiments towards you, which might be brought about in the meantime. In with[h]olding this motive in my former letter, I was guilty of a false and illtimed reserve. My tenderness for your feelings betrayed me into an insincerety which is not natural to me. I thought that the most decided objection to your circumstances would pain you less than the least objection to yourself; and accordingly let my denial seem to be grounded wholely on the former, while, in truth it is, in some measure grounded on both. But I must be sincere, I find, at whatever cost!
As I have said, then, in requiring you to better your Fortune I had some view to an improvement in my sentiments towards you in the meantime: I am not sure that they are proper sentiments for a Husband: they are proper for a Brother, a Father, a Gaurdian-spirit, but a Husband, it seems to me should be dearer still. This, then, independently of prudential considerations, would make me withhold my immediate assent to your proposal. At the same time, from the change which my sentiments towards you have already undergone, during the period of our acquaintance; I have little doubt but, that, in time, I shall be perfectly satisfied with them. One loves you (as Madame de Stael said of Necker) in proportion to the ideas and sentiments which are in oneself; according as my mind enlarges, and my heart improves, I become capable of comprehending the goodness and greatness which are in you, and my affection for you increases. Not many months ago, I would have said it was impossible that I should ever be your wife; at present I consider this the most probable destiny for me;1 and in a year or so, perhaps, I shall consider it the only one. “Die Zeit ist noch nicht da!” [“The time is not yet here!”]
Thus then I have explained my mind to you as clearly and faithfully as I possibly can; and a strange, confused, inconsistent sort of mind it appears to be! However, from what I have said, it is plain (to me, at least,) what ought to be the line of our future conduct. Do you what you can to better your external circumstances; always, however, subordinately to your own principles, which I do not ask you to give up, which I shou[l]d despise you for giving up, whether I approved them or no— While I on the other hand do what I can, subordinately to nothing, to better myself which I am persuaded is the surest way of bringing my wishes to accord with yours. (And let us leave the rest to Fate, satisfied that we have both of us done what lies with us for our mutual happiness)— If nevertheless, you can point out any line of conduct, to my conviction better than this, you will find me ready and willing to follow it—
There is one passage in your letter which I cannot conclude without noticing; I mean that in which you talk about parting, and going forth upon our several paths. I have pondered this passage in various moods; and am at last come to the conclusion that it is to be understood (as we are bound to understand every thing, in the Scriptures, derogatory to the justice and mercy of God) in a metaphorical sense—for I will not believe that you ever seriously thought of parting from me, of throwing off a heart, which you have taught to lean upon you, till it is no longer sufficient for itself! You could never be so ungenerous! you, who for years have shown and professed for me the most disinterested, most noble affection! How could I part from the only living soul that understands me? I would marry you tomorrow rather! but then,—our parting would need to be brought about by death or some despensation of uncontrollable Providence— were you to will it, to part would no longer be bitter, the bitterness would be in thinking you unworthy. If indeed your happiness was to suffer from your intercourse with me in our present relation, I would not blame you for discontinuing it; tho' I should blame you, perhaps, for not examining yourself better before you entered into it— But how can that be? Your present situation is miserable; it must be altered; but is it with reference to me that it must be altered? Is it I who have made it miserable? No! you were as unhappy before we met as ever you have been since: the cause of your unhappiness then must lie in other circumstances of your destiny, which I have no connection with—no real connection, however much I may seem to have, from being frequently associated with them in your mind. It is an alteration in these circumstances which your duty and happiness require from you; and not an alteration in your relation with me—but what need is there of my most weak arguments to dissuade you from a purpose which you can never have entertained,—which, if you had entertained it for one moment, your own heart would have argued you out of, the next. Oh no! we will never part— Never!
Will you be done with this wild scheme of yours? I tell you it will not answer; and you must positively play Cincin[n]atus somewhere else. With all your tolerance of places, you would not find, at Craigenputtock, the requisites you require; The light of Heaven, to be sure, is not denied it; but for gre[en] grass! beside a few cattle fields there is nothing except a wa[ste] prospect of heather, and black peat-moss. Prune and delve wo[uld] you! in the first place there is nothing to prune; and for delving—I set too high a value on your life, to let you engage in so perilous an enterprise—were you to attempt such a thing, there are twenty chances to one, that you should be swallowed up in the moss—spade and all. In short, I presume, whatever may be your farming talents, that you are not an accomplished Drover; and nobody but a person of this sort, could make the rent of the place out of it. Were you to engage in the concern we should all be ruined together!—
You will write immediately—wont you? and for Heaven's sake say something to make me less unhappy than I am at present— There has been the weight of a mill-stone at my heart for these last two weeks— I would have written sooner, but I have been tormented with headach[e], as usual, which unfits me for every exertion of thought, while it lasts
Jane B Welsh