1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 28 February 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250228-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:286-291.


Birmingham, 28th Feby, 1825.

My Dearest,

I must seem to you very little worthy of the kind punctuality with which you have attended to my wishes: it is a fortnight since you wrote, and for nearly a month you have heard no whisper of tidings from me. Yet in truth, I am but little to blame. The perversity of circumstances detained me in London till yesterday morning, for the last two weeks in the Orator's house; and tho' I well remembered you and your anxieties, I found it next to impossible to take the simplest step for calming them. Twice I attempted writing to you; twice the chaotic tumults of the Orator's hospitable but distracted mansion forbade me to proceed. A third time, almost laughing at my own ineptitude, I took my pen, and determined to tell you, tho' but half intelligibly, that I was well and loved you; but just as I had finished the second page of my sheet, a messenger arrived with news that I must instantly set out on my way homeward, and of course postpone all talk with you till I reached Warwickshire! I came last night; and this morning your dear little letter, after travelling thro' Dumfriesshire, hither, then to London and back again, was at last put into my hands. So that I am bound to expedition by a double tie; and tho' Badams' great chemical tub itself (a thing somewhat larger than a parish church) should burst, and overflow the premises with oil of vitriol, I will not rise from this spot, till I have quieted your good heart, and done away with all unpleasant calculations and misgivings on account of me. It is a shame that I should cost you a single moment's pain. How many men are there in England that have such a heart to care for them? To me it is worth more than kingdoms: I were worse than mad, if I did not prize it beyond all earthly things, and consider the duty of providing for its happiness as the soul of all my earthly purposes.

My projected movements, you perceive, have been altogether overturned; far from the danger of surprising you by my presence, I am yet a week from Annandale, and perhaps three weeks from you. The poor Book was ready on my part at the time predicted; but just two days before the appointed time of publication, our Engraver discovered that the plate was incomplete, and could not be properly rectified in less than a fortnight! As I had myself recommended this man to the job, on the faith of Irving's testimony that he was an indigent genius, I had nothing for it but to digest my spleen in silence, and to tell the feckless speldring of a creature [awkward fellow], that as his future reputation depended on the work he was at liberty to do his best and take what time he needed for so doing. I settled with Hessey for my labour; had ten copies done up in their actual state for distribution in London; and so washed my hands of the concern, after exacting a solemn promise that they would lose no time in forwarding the rest to Edinr. The fortnight is already past and another fortnight to keep it company; yet I left Bull still picking and scraping at his copper, still “three days” from the end of his labour! So much for the patronage of genius! Yet I suffer willingly; for my purpose was good, and this poor Cockney has actually a meritorious heart; and a meagre, patient tho' dejected wife depends upon the scanty produce of his burin. In two weeks from the present date, I calculate that you will see Schiller; sooner I dare not promise. It will do little, I conjecture, to justify your impatience; yet as the first fruit of a mind that is one with yours forever, I know that it will meet a kind reception from you; and with your approbation and my own, the chief part of my wishes in the way of fame are satisfied. I have not put my name to it; for I desire no place among “the mob of gentlemen that write with ease”;1 and if mere selfish ambition were my motive, I had rather not be named at all, than named among that slender crew, as the author of a lank octavo with so few pretensions. I seem to see the secret of these things. Let a man be true in his intentions and his efforts to fulfil them; and the point is gained, whether he succeed or not! I smile when I hear of people dying of Reviews.2 What is a reviewer sitting in his critical majesty, but one man, with the usual modicum of brain, who thinks ill of us or well of us, and tells the Earth that he thinks so, at the rate of 15 guineas a sheet? The vain pretender, who lives on the breath of others, he may hurt; but to the honest workman who understands the worth and worthlessness of his own performance, he tells nothing that was not far better understood already, or else he tells weak lies; in both of which cases, his intelligence is one of the simplest things in Nature. Let us always be true! Truth may be mistaken and rejected and trodden down; but like pure gold it cannot be destroyed: after they have crushed it and burnt it and cast it on the waters, they cry out that it is lost, but the imperishable metal remains in its native purity, no particle of it has been changed, and in due time it will be prized and made to bless mankind to all ages. If literature had no evils but false critics, it would be a very manageable thing. By the way, have you seen the last number of the London Magazine? Taylor told me it had a ‘letter to the Reviewer of Meister’ by some man from Cambridge.3 I suppose it may be very stupid: but I have not read it, or the criticism it is meant to impugn. Goethe is the Moon and these are penny-dogs; their barking pro or con is chiefly their own concern. I mean to send the venerable Sage a copy of this Schiller: I like him better than any living “man of letters,” for he is a man, not a dwarf of letters.

Till this wretched Book of mine arrive in Edinburgh, and be at hand as a reference in my proposals, my own presence there cannot be attended with any tolerably satisfactory result. That consideration has occasioned or facilitated by [my] loitering till now in the South. Irving wished to have “a week of talk” with me; and I easily consented to make it two. Do not cease to love him, but do not think of visiting him. I feel sympathy for Irving: he is a true-hearted man at bottom; but beleaguered with imbecillity and folly and difficulty on every side. He has already had many distresses to encounter, and many more are yet laid up for him. But they are lessons which he needs; for prosperity is a thing he cannot do with. Disappointment clips away his vanity, makes real friendship precious to him, and brings out the true manly energy of his own character, which flattery and success never fails to pervert into a thousand inconsistencies. I have a new sermon4 of his for your mother and you jointly. Let us not forget to love him; for with all his faults, where shall we find his fellow?

On the whole I have left him and London with regret. I regret London, not for the noisy excitement, which its immensity is ever holding out; these indeed I hate; but for the fraction of true friendship which has been established for me in one or two of its many hearts, and which will keep a certain place there for me now when I am gone. You shall know Mrs Strachey ere the world is done. She is to correspond with me; she has given me a fine gold pencil with a still finer farewell letter for a memorial! The “noble lady” too, Mrs Montague, does seem to have a touch of kindness for me, which she has striven by many elegant methods to express: she is a flatterer, but not a cozener intentionally; you shall know her too by and by. When I contrast these things with icy Edinburgh, my heart upbraids the coldness of my true but hard and forbidding fatherland. I will try once more: I will seek for friendship in my own country as for hidden treasure, but if I cannot find it, I will stay no longer there. At[hens] is dear to me as the centre of all that is best in Scotland; but in my former state of frightful solitude [I] will never more abide in it. Nous verrons [We shall see]!

My present purposes are firm as iron in their object, but still somewhat vague in the matter of their execution. In the country in about a year I expect to have regained my health. That blessed result is still far off, but I now think I distinctly see it. It seems to depend upon mys[elf] and what am I, if I have not will enough to suffer any thing or do any thing for such a consu[m]mation? A few days, I stay with Badams to receive his final precepts; then hasten into Anna[n]dale to arrange some plan of residence with my Brother and my Mother, for my abode if possible must be my own. Here I will live as by geometry; “exercise and temperance” (as the spelling-books have it) shall be my laws, unalterable as those of Fate; I will work with moderation in my calling, and live in the firm hope that useful and happy activity will return to me. Believe it, my darling, our happiness is in [our] own hands! Let us arouse the wisdom and good principle and serviceable endowments that are in us; let us lay aside every weight,5 above all let us utterly break with Vanity and all its poisonous progeny; and never doubt that we shall bless and be blessed in one another. Are we not already rich? Has not each of us a faith in the other? Do we not belong to one another, so that Destiny itself cannot sunder our hearts? Then I say, if we are wise, we may be happy, in spite of all that can oppose us. It is not in external success, in wealth or fame, or any of the modes of reflected excitements and solaces to self that the matter lies: it is in being right at heart, in following out the good and true, in limiting our ends to our means, and making our very purposes their own reward. We will try, at any rate; and if there is a Providence that cares for the well-intentioned among his creatures, He will prosper our endeavours.

As to my literary employments, I have still various plans before me. The translation of Schiller I continue to think, might prove a useful enterprize; and with proper encouragement, I am not disinclined to undertake it. Some people have been counselling me to translate Wilhelm Tell (the death of Gessler from it is in the Book) and have it brought upon the stage in London. Taylor & Hessey too have made me a sort of offer for a Life of Voltaire on the same principle as this of Schiller: it might be printed in Edinburgh; they would give £ 100 for the first edition, provided I would let them have all the other editions (if any) at £ 130 each. I declined, for the present, disposing of the other editions at all; and here we rest. If I can find nothing better, I may close with their offer: but they are drivelling men, and I love them not. Besides as I wish to live in Edinburgh, it were good that I attempted to form relations there, rather than elsewhere. A few weeks will decide.

Meanwhile I am contented, and better prepared than usual for any sort of fate. In about three weeks, I will have your kiss of welcome! You will hide yourself, will you? Depend on me, for seeking out your haunts! It is the will of Fate, and what can a poor girl do? Submit with a good grace to the unavoidable; and be thankful that [it] is not worse!— I rejoice to hear of your precious gifts in the scolding line. What heavenly music we shall make! What a melodious concord of treble and bass! But you are a good creature in spite of Lady Warrender's,6 and I will try to be no more a fool.— It is dark; and I must end this miserable letter, which I pray you to forgive its unspeakable ineptitudes, for I have written it in the midst of confusion and hurry. Will you write to Mainhill, in a week after this arrives? I will tell you more particularly of my plans. Do now like a good lassie as you are. Put away these odious Gilchrists if you can; and love me forever. God bless you, Jane! I am yours auf ewig.— Thomas Carlyle—