1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO JEAN CARLYLE; 17 November 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18251117-JBW-JCA-01; CL 3:413-415.


Thursday Haddington [17 November 1825]

My “affectionate Child”

It grieved me to learn from your good little postscript, that the poor Latin was already come to a stand: for I would fain see the talents, wherewith Nature has intrusted you, not buried in ignorance, but made the most of. Nevertheless I do not blame you, because you have despaired of accomplishing an impossibility; for it is impossible for you, sure enough, to make any great attainment of scholarship, “in the circumstance you are at present placed in.”

You must on no account, however, abandon the idea of becoming a scholar, for good, because it is beyond your ability to carry it into effect just as soon as you wish: for your circumstances, by the blessing of Heaven, may in process of time be rendered more toward; but should the noble desire of knowledge die away within you, you would, indeed, cruelly “disappoint my hopes”— Moreover, tho' the acquirement of a foreign language has proved too difficult a matter for you, in the time being, I see nothing that there is to hinder you from reading many instructive books on your own. For your Mother cannot be so hard a Task-mistress that she would refuse you two hours or so in the day to yourself, provided she saw that they were turned to a profitable account.

Here is a copy of Cowper's poems for you with which, I expect, you will presently commence a regular course of reading; your Brother is able, and, I am sure, will be most willing to direct you in the choice of books; and on this account you ought to be exceedingly thankful, as many, for want of such direction have to seek knowledge by a weary circuit.

Had Providence been less kind to you in the relations you hold in life, you should get many an epistle from me full of the best advices I have to give. For I love you, my good little girl, from the bottom of my heart, and desire earnestly that it should be well with you, in this world, as well as in the world to come. But when I consider the piety and goodness of the Mother who has you n[ear] her bosom; and that He, whose wisdom I bow myself before, is your Brother; I feel it idle and presumptious in me to offer you any counsel; when, in the precepts and example of those about you, you have already such light to your path.

Do but continue, my dear Jane, a dutiful Daughter, and a loving Sister, and you are sure to grow up an estimable [w]oman. If we can make you also an accomplished woman, so much the better.

One thing more, when I am about it. Look sharp that you fulfil the written promise which you gave me at parting; for, know, that I am not disposed to remit you the smallest tittle of it. And now God bless you and keep you—I am always your attached Friend

Jane Baillie Welsh


This ‘Jane Carlyle’ is my second-youngest Sister; then a little Child of 12. The youngest Sister, youngest of us all, was Jenny (Janet); now “Mrs Robt Hanning,” in Hamilton, Canada West. These little beings, bits of [brightness in] their grey-speckled (black and white) strawbonnets, I recollect as a pair of neat brisk items tripping abt among us, that summer at The Hill,—especially Jean (only by euphemism, “Jane”) the biggest of the two, who was a constant quantity there. The small Jenny, I think, on some pet, had unexpectedly flung herself off, and mostly preferred native independence at Mainhill. Jean, from her black eyes and hair, had got the name of “Craw Jean” among us, or often of “Craw” (Crow) simply;—that was my Mother's complexn too; but the other seven of us, like our Father, were all of common blond. Jean was an uncommonly open-minded, gifted, ingenuous and ingenious little thing; true as steel “(never told a fib, from her birth upwards)”; had once or so shown suddenly a will like steel, too (when indisputably in the right,—as I have heard her Mother own to me); otherwise a most loving cheerful amenable creature, with a hungering & thirsting for all kinds of knowledge, had a lively sense of the ridiculous withal,—and already something of what you might call “humour,” poor little Craw! She was, by this time, in visible favr with me; whh doubtless she valued suffictly! One of the first things I had noted of her was, five or six years ago, in one of my rusticatns at Mainhill, when in the summer Evgs, Brothers Alick, John & I used to go out wandering, extensively, and talking do over the fields, till gloaming settled into dark:—always I observed [little Craw] turned up, either at our starting, or somewhere aftds, trotting at my side, head hardly higher than my knee, but eagerly thrown back, and listening with zeal and joy,—no kind of “sport” equal to this for her. “Pursuit of knowledge under difficulties,” poor little Craw!—

My Darling took warmly to her, for my sake and the Child's own; this was the first time they had met. “Such a Child ought to be educated!” said she with generous emphasis, and felt steadily; and indeed took herself for some years onwds a great deal of trouble and practical pains abt it,—as this Letter may still indicate. Little Jean was had to Comley Bank for a good few months, got her lessons &c; attended us to Craigenpk, hoping to try farther there too; but in the chaos of incipience there (a rather dark and even dismal “Chaos,” had not my Jane been a Daughter of the Sun! [Sun underscored twice]), this was found impracticable, & Scotsbrig (Father's place) coveting and almost grudging the little Jean's bit of labr, within doors & witht, she had to give the project up, and return to her old way of life; whh she loyally did. Grew up a Peasant Girl; got no farther special “educatn,”—tho' she has since given herself, consciously and otherwise, not a little both of the practical and of the “speculative[”] sort: and is, at this day, to be named fairly a superior woman; or superior in extent of reading, culture &c, and still better, in veracity of charr, sound discernt, and practical wisdom. Wife, for above 35 years now, of James Aitken, a prosperous, altogr honest valiant, intelligt & substantl man, House-painter in Dumfries by trade;— Parents they too of my bright little Niece “Mary C. Aitken,” who copies for me, and helps all she can, in this my final Operatn in the world.