The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 9 January 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260109-JBW-TC-01; CL 4:8-10.


Haddington—Monday [9 January 1826]

My Dearest

It is very, very hard that I must content myself with writing; when, with a speedy horse I might be in your arms in less than two hours[.] Sixteen miles is such a little way! And yet you must not come hither for the world; nor can I go to you till the middle of next month, at soonest. Indeed, perhaps it would be wise not to think of it even then; for those brief interviews before a cloud of witnesses are more tantalizing than satisfactory to either of us, and alackaday! I must not keep house with you in Salisbury street, as I did at Hoddam Hill—dear, delightful Hill, where we lived together so happily,—so married-like! Oh when shall we have such sabbath weeks again? not, I suppose, till we are married in good earnest.

Your felicitations on the subject of Mr Johnston came in the very worst possible time,—just when I had got news of the desertion of about half his party; so that it is more than possible he may not be the successful candidate after all. I cannot help it, no more can Gilbert Burns, who is as heartily grieved as myself at the turn things have taken. You will think I was premature in pronouncing so confidently on the event; but how should it have entered into the head of any honourable person, to calculate on such unfair dealing as this? Mr Stewart of Alderston, who was fully determined to vote for Mr Johnston, is now as fully determined to vote for his opponent—out of pure illwill to Gilbert Burns whom the other was found guilty of having engaged in his interest; Lord Wemyss too, and, I believe, Mr Fletcher, whom your friend thought himself sure of thro' the recommendation of the Ruthvens, have left him in the lurch, in a most abominable manner. To recall the Earl, if possible, to a better mind, I made my Mother write to his Lady, with whom she used to be intimate: but, unluckily, “it is quite impossible for his Lordship, situated as he is, to do himself the pleasure of meeting her (my Mother's) views.” The devil confound them, every one! The decision of the matter seems now to depend on the breath of Sir John Hepborn,1—a born-idiot, who stoutly declares that he will give his vote according to his conscience; if he keep in this mind, born-idiot tho' he be, he must give it to Mr Johnston— But I fear much!

Never think, Darling, of employing me as your Ariel again! I am the most unlucky of creatures! nothing that I set my heart on ever prospers; no one that I wish success to ever succeeds. Would to Heaven we knew the upshot of Schawbrae! It would have been but civil in Mr Crighton to have answered my letter, or have made his Wife answer it— Their silence, I fear argues no great zeal in the service— Oh that I were an absolute Sovereign for one half hour!

With respect to my health, which you are not yet weary of enquiring about; I have reason to be thankful it is no worse, all circumstances considered. My nerves have had a tremendous time of it lately; it began on the last night of the year. My Mother had invited a party of young men or rather big boys, and we were making ourselves very merry, sitting round the table at a game of cards; when all on a sudden one of them,—a Nephew of Mr Donaldson, and a gentle creature as ever you saw—became distorted in the most shocking manner, and would have fallen off his chair if the Boy next him had not caught him in his arms. In the whole course of my life, I never witnessed any thing so appalling. One moment he was laughing as heartily as any there, and the next apparently in the agonies of death. In the greatest confusion and terror our little card-party flew asunder; one ran to seek Mr Howden, another Mr Donaldson, and I ran for —Dr Fyffe! How the amiable Doctor looked,—whether he turned red or pale, when the figure of his lost love stood so unexpectedly before him, I was not just at the moment in a condition of mind to remark; moreover, it was dark as pitch. All I know is that he came instantly to the assistance of the poor Boy, and staid with him while the convulsion lasted which was nearly an hour; every moment of which I expected would be his last— Not till my terror subsided and the Doctor was about to depart, did it occur to me I had done any thing at all extraordinary; and then, to be sure, I was somewhat puzzled as to what I should do next[.] It ended in my holding out my hand to the creature, who, to do him justice, took it with the best possible grace— “But I am at the end of my paper”; and the last and most serious half of the story is yet to come— “Console toi”—you shall have it next time. I will write to your Mother in a week or so, as soon as I have finished the long projected Cap. Thank you for sending Mrs Strachey's letter—it was so considerate—! I have been greatly more tranquil on this subject however, since I read the comedy of the “Prince jaloux.”2 My Second best love to Johnathan3 whose kind letter shall be answered before he has time to forget me—

Do not fail to send me some of this book as soon [as] you possibly can— I would like to read it in your hand rather than in print— Thank you for Undine which I will begin the day after tomorrow—when I shall have finished the thirty years war[.]4 God bless you darling—

J. B. W.