candlestick

1824- 1825


The Collected Letters, Volume 3


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TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 10 August 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250810-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:366-370.


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH

Hoddam Hill, 10th August, 1825—

My dearest little Ruth!— I owe you many thinks for your kindness of heart, for your true unflinching love of me, unworthy as I am “by destiny or by my own deserving” of such bounties. Your faith in me is great, greater than I ever can fulfil, or pay with due gratitude. So we are not to part! O my Darling, how could we ever part? Do we not love each other? Does not your fervid trembling spirit cleave to mine as to its pillar of hope in the darkness and tempests of life? Are not my arms about you, is not my breast your pillow? If you love me with the whole strength of that noble heart, it were unwise in you to leave me. No, we will never part, betide what may!

In truth, I believe, I should not be so generous with my offers to that effect, were it not for some secret persuasion that they had little chance to be accepted. I feel as if there were no sacrifice which I could not make to see, still more to cause, your happiness; but sacrifices in idea, and sacrifices in deed are different matters; and this would in truth be a sacrifice of almost all that still binds me to the world by any tie of hope, that still tinges my sky with a streak of dawn amid the gloom that overshadows me. Who knows, too, but we may still be happy? In calm hours, hope has not yet forsaken me; for we are still in the land of the living which is the place of hope, and more perverse destinies than ours have changed to smoothness and serenity. The evil is deep and dark, but it is one, and I see it clearly. If this accursed burden of disease were cast away, nine tenths of my faults and incapacities would pass away with it.1 Life might still lie round me like a huge quarry; but I should have my strength to labour in it, and form its shapeless masses into an edifice. Nay perhaps this same deathlike cold eclipse under which my youth has passed away in heaviness and woe, might not be without its uses in my future fortunes, tho' I have stormed at it as the blackest most unmingled curse with which the wrath of Heaven could have visited me. “Ye shall become perfect thro' sufferings,” says the Scripture,2 and Experience is beginning to shew me the truth of the maxim. Thou too, my Darling, hast thy share! Repine not at it, Jane; it is the lot of all mortals; the curse of fools, but sometimes also the blessing of the wise. How wild are our wishes, how frantic our schemes of happiness when we first enter on the world! Our hearts encircled in the delusions of vanity and self-love, we think the universe was made for us alone; we glory in the strength of our gifts, in the pride of our place; and forget that the fairest ornament of our being is “the quality of mercy,”3 the still, meek humble Love that dwells in the inmost shrine of our nature, and cannot come to light till Selfishness in all its cunning forms is banished out of us, till affliction and neglect and disappointment have sternly taught us that Self is a foundation of sand, that we, even the mighty we, are a poor and feeble and most unimportant fraction in the general sum of Existence. Fools writhe and wriggle and rebel at this; their life is a little waspish battle against all mankind for refusing to take part with them; and their little dole of reputation and sensation, wasting more and more into a shred, is annihilated at the end of a few beggarly years, and they leave the Earth without ever feeling that the spirit of man is a child of Heaven, and has thoughts and aims in which self and its interests are lost from the eye, as the Eagle is swallowed up in the brightness of the sun, to which it soars. Let us be wise, let us admit this painful but medicinal conviction, and meekly learn the lesson which it teaches us. O Jane! Why should we murmur? Are we not rich in better things than silver or gold, or the vain babble of stupid men? We have found each other, and our hearts are one, our beings are one; for we love each other with a love not grounded on deception but on truth, and no force can part us, or rob us of that blessing! Heavenly affection! Heavenly trust of soul to soul! This can soften all afflictions, if it is genuine and lasting as it is in noble hearts. The summer sunshine of joy is not its chosen place; it burns with its clearest light in the dark winter of sorrow; when heart is pressed to heart, and one has no hope but in the other, no care but for the other. Do you know this as it is? Do you dare to front it, not decked in the stage-light of the imagination, but in the squalid repulsiveness of the actual world? Then, my little Ruth, thou art a heroine, and I would not give thee for a kingdom!

It is thus I change from week to week, and from day to day! Heaven knows I have no wish to deceive you; but to shew you all that is in me, all my feelings and fantasies as I view the brightest or the darkest side of our fortunes. By and by you will learn what manner of man I am. As yet I sometimes scarcely know myself.

But now is not the time for speculations with pen and ink, since we are so soon to meet face to face! O that this were a palace of the Fairies, with rosy gardens and velvet lawns, and stately chambers full of sumptuous delights! Not an insufficient farm-cottage, surrounded with oats and cattle! You will come to it, however, and your love of me will make it pleasant. But when? when? Are you arrived at Dumfries? How long are you to loiter there? No small impatience on your account prevails here; I am asked day after day: “Hast thou got a letter yet, and when is she coming?” Do come as soon as you are able: I know you will. The pony has ceased to kick, has had a serious distemper in the throat which has brought all its ill humours away, and it now munches oats and clover and ambles to and fro “as temperate as a lamb.”4 I do believe a week or two of it would do you more good than all the Doctors of the country. Or if you want gallopping, there is Larry the flame-coloured colt will fly with you like a “perfect” Pegasus while his strength holds, nay leap gates and swim rivers. Besides the clegs (gadflies) are all dead now; the “Lammas-flood”5 also is over, the fields are growing white for Harvest, and the season is at the finest. Come Meine Liebe [my love]! I long to see thy fair face again, and to have that little kiss, which by all laws human and divine belongs to me by imprescriptible right. Dost thou mean to cheat me, thou infatuated creature? I swear thou shalt not!

You talk of a “day or two”; but we will appoint no time; for this I fear will be found a very stinted allowance. A day or two! You will stand amazed here for the space of three days and nights at least, and be unable to utter any word of intelligible import. Stay so long as you can hold it out, and then you shall go with my best blessing. Bring chin[t]z or drugget gowns with you, lest your silks be spoiled here; also a stock of needles. We have books for wet weather; and if you speak me fair, for the matter of ten kisses or so, I will give you a Mährchen of Ludwig Tieck's to render into English. Besides, it seems, we have a considerable stock of quarrels to accomplish and abolish. On the whole, I doubt not, the time will not hang very heavy on our hands. So come and try.

Now write to me and say when I am to look for you. If you like it any better, I will bring the ponies up to Dumfries in person some morning, and take you down with me that very evening. We are but fourteen miles off, and a carrier (to Ecclefechan) passes close by us every Thursday morning. Perhaps you will still think the coach preferable: either way you like; only do not linger. Let me hear, at any rate, as soon as possible.

I meant to write three lines, and behold my sheet is full to the very edge! Next time, I shall be brief as a Grace before meat. I am not as the Scribes and Pharisees that think they shall be heard for their many words.— This journey to Bolton Abbey is of no unpromising description, if it had a little more certainty. I think it would give you pleasure, tho' perhaps far less than you anticipate, and might also do you good. The “noble Lady” has a spice of real nobleness in her, tho' it is so veiled in waving folds of sentiment and rhetoric that you can never tell its quantity or quality with any accuracy. Perhaps she will teach you to—rest. Mr Montague, I prophecy, will not delight you. He is a good-natured carricature of a philosopher; headstrong as a mule, with immense playfulness which is not half so charming as he thinks; and Bacon, everlasting Bacon hovers in every second sentence that he utters. He and I stood aghast at one another for many months; till at last I resigned myself to fate, and was content to come and touch the worthy man as it were with the point of one of my fingers. Bolton Abbey is an inn.— But basta! basta! [enough! enough!]— Write to me directly, lest I cease to love you in the interim. For the present I am thine entirely,

Thomas Carlyle