1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO MARGARET A. CARLYLE; 14 November 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18251114-JBW-MAC-01; CL 3:410-413.


George Square / Monday [14 Nov 1825]

My dear Mrs Carlyle

In the busy idleness1 of my present situation I have little leisure to write or do any one rational thing; but it is best I should fulfil my promise to you now, rather than wait for a more quiet season, that you may know even the turmoil of a great City cannot seduce me into forgetfulness of The Hill. Indeed the more I am in the way of what is commonly called pleasure, the more I think of the calm days which I spent under your roof— I have never been so happy since—tho' I have been at several fine entertainments where much thought and pains and money were expended to assemble the ingredients of enjoyment. And this is nowise strange since affection is the native element of my soul, and that I found in your cottage, warm and pure, while in more splendid habitations it is for the most part chilled with vanity, affectation and selfishness— For “There is nothing but a mixture of good and evil in the world Mother” and thus some have the “dinner of herbs where love is,” others the “stalled ox and hatred therewith.”2

I left Templand on Thursday last, after many delays; but in no such downcast mood as at my departure from the Hill. Indeed I was never in my life more pleased to turn my face homeward, where if I have not suitable society any more than in Nithsdale, I can at least enjoy more freely that which is next best—solitude. But all my impatience to see Haddington failed to make the journey hither agreeable, which was as devoid of “Christian comfort” as any thing you can suppose— Never was poor damsel reduced to such “extremities of Fate”—I was sick—woefully sick—and, notwithstanding that I had on four petticoats, benumbed with cold; to make my wretchedness as complete as possible, we did not reach Edinr till many hours after dark—Sixteen miles more, and my wanderings for this season are at an end! Would that my trials were ended also! But no! Tell Mr Carlyle my handsome Cousin is coming to Haddington with his sister Phœbe, and his valet Henley and his great dog Toby, over and above Dash, Craigen, Fanny and Frisk— My heart misgives me at the prospect of this inundation of company; for their ways are not my ways,3 and “what is amusement to them is death to me”— But I must just be patient, as usual—patient! Verily I should need to [be] Job instead of Jane Welsh to bear these everlasting annoyances with any degree of composure. Mr Carlyle must write next week, without fail—to Haddington, lest in vexation of spirit I curse God and die—4 Moreover he must positively part with Larry, and get a horse of less Genius in his stead;5 if he would not have me live in continual terror for his life. If the Fates are kind and our good Doctor a man of his word he will be in this city tomorrow so that I have some hope to feast my eyes on the broad Atlantic of his countenance and hear all about my dear friends at the Hill before I go— How does Jane's Latin prosper—tell her to write me a postscript in her Brother's next letter—my kindest regards to my Friend and all the rest— You must excuse this hurried epistle—I am writing under many eyes and in the noise of many tongues— God bless you[.] I am always affectionately yours

Jane B Welsh


Letter V [I had thot to mark it “Lr IVa,” for it did not get to me (from Nephew John at Dumfries) till end of jany 1869, after the others on to end of 1826 were redacted and reposited. Incidt whh may readily agn occur. Howr in this instance it happens to be easily rectifiable. And is well worth doing: a beautiful and tenderly welcome memorial to me, suddenly become lucent in the dim Past!]6

‘George Square, Edinr,’ is Bradfute,—Publisher Bradfute, an opulent, innoct, rather whimsical old Bachelor, with [beaul?] Niece, “Bess Stoddart,” keeping house for him:— Mrs Welsh's Cousin's House; my Two are resting for a day there on the way home. There are snatches of what I called Coterie-Speech in this Letter; two quite of new date, brot from Hoddam Hill, which I must explain.

‘Broad Atlantic of his countenance’ was a phrase I had noticed in some stupidly adoring Life of Fox, and been in use to apply to my Brr John,—whose face also was broad enough (and full of honesty and good humr, poor fellow!)—he is now, as will be seen, daily expected in Edinr, to the Medical Classes. From him also comes the other phrase, ‘mixture of good and evil’:—he was wont in his babbly way, while at breakfast with Mother and me, to remark, when the least thing was complained of or went wrong, “Nothing but evil in the world, Mother!” Till one day, “Mother” took him sharply up on theological grounds;— ever onwards from whh he used to make it, ‘Nothing but a mixture of good and evil’ &c! He had many mock-utterances of this kind: “Comes all to the same ultimately”; “What d'ye think of Life, this morning?” &c &c &c; over whh we had our laughing & counter-mocking; borne with perfect gravity always, and perfect patience; but producing no abatet of the practice. One morning however, he did get a retort whh rather stuck to him; addressing Mother with his “What d'ye think of Life, Mother?”— “What does t'ou (thou) think o' Death, tho'?” ansd she, with a veritably serious, and crypto-contemptuous tone; whh was not forgotten agn!—— ‘Christn comfort’ comes (thro' Frank Dixon, I think,—concerning whom Infra) from a certn “Mrs Carruthers of Haregills,” a Cousin of my Mother's,— Bell by maidenname,[—] solid, rather stupid, Farmer's wife by statn; shd have made good cheeses, in quantity, did make the worst in nature; her grand employt, that of riding, on her showpony far and wide abt the country, to converse with “thinking persons” on all subjects:—one of the most singular, much meditating, much reading semi-wise, semi-foolish Originalities & Fantasticalities I have ever met with in the world. Dresses like no one else;—veils, multiplex wrappages and appendages, all as if thrown on by a pitchfork; spoke like no one else, in wild low chaunt or lilt (cadences not unmelodious) in words largely borrowed out of book, high-flowing, sure to be at least mispronounced; loftily devout, but had private spleen enough, and a malicious little sting of sarcasm now and then; was more laughed at than respected by the public,—tho' a little envied and privately hated withal. Smoked a grt deal of tobacco, in her thinking and even talking hours: little pipe always in her pockt as abt she rode, in this wise, among the hills & dales in search of speculative objects and persons;—I have seen her as far as Edinr, once at least did, on that errand,—greatly to the wonder of Edinr! Strange old “Jean C'ruthers” (as the unadmiring called her), she rises on my memory at this moment, she and her environt, strangely vivid, singular, peculiar, not witht worth,—and of a richness of comic & tragic meaning, fit for any writing Fenian or Hogarth (had I the least call that way at prest, whh I am far from having!)— Enough that meeting once with Frank Dixon (a speculative Tartar, he, unluckily for her!) she had been heard to wind up some lofty lilt with, “Sir, it's the great soorce of Xtian comfoart!”—accent on the last syllable, and sound of oa: Annandale only, and the deceased Frank, cd pronounce that word:—ah me, ah me!—

‘My handsome Cousin,’ with his &c, is James Baillie, at that time splendent in the Guards, and a King of Dandies; still living, unsubduably cheerful & dandiacal, tho' now sunk low enough, poor soul: concerning whom some notice farther on.