The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 4 March 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260304-JBW-TC-01; CL 4:46-49.


Haddington Saturday [4 March 1826]

My Dearest

You were right in supposing that your letter would give me pain; but as for the “peaceable fruit,” if any, it is yet to come. It was an unfortunate affair for both of us, that the only fit of jesting I have had, during the last three weeks should have overtaken me just when I was in your grave presence; for if my “tearful smiles” have given so deep an wound to the heart of my Friend, the tearful frown which they have called forth has as deeply wounded mine. But, as poor Napoleon used to say, “complaint is beneath my dignity,[”] and besides, being the first aggressor I have no right to make any—

Let me rather, then, in as far as concerns myself, if possible, put your mind at rest, and, if possible relieve it of misapprehension— In the first place, I have not,—can never have the semblance of a wish to part my fortunes from yours;—at least, till I know for certain the separation would promote your happiness. It was not without many hesitations that I took you for my acknowledged Partner,—not without consulting my reason as well as my affection,— not without viewing both the dark and the bright side of the cloud: but when I did; it was was [sic] for better for worse, for poorer for richer, in sickness and in health, for ever here and (please God) for ever and ever in the world to come. You might never, perhaps, take me home as your Bride; you might even cease to love me, or you might follow my Father to the grave: all these things I knew were too possible; but none of them was to alter the case; you were still to be the Partner,—the chosen, only Partner of my heart and soul; if not in wedded, in unwedded love, or, at worst, in remembrance which would still be love— This, once for all, was my determination, when I accepted your heart and hand; and do me the justice to believe, it knows no shadow of change.

But surely, surely Mr Carlyle, you must know me better, than to have supposed it possible I should ever make a new choice! To say nothing of the sentiments I entertain towards you, which would make a marriage with another worse than death; is there no spark of honour, think you, in this heart, that I should not blush at the bare idea of such shame? Give myself to another, after having given myself with such unreservedness to you! Take another to my arms, with your image on my heart, your kisses on my lips! Oh be honest, and say you knew this would never be,—knew I could never sink so low! Let me not have room to suppose, that possessing your love, I am unfortunate enough to be without your respect! For how light must my open fondness have seemed; if you doubted of its being sanctified by a marriage-vow—a vow spoken, indeed, before no Minister, but before a presence, surely as awful, God and my Conscience— And yet, it is so unlike you, the sworn enemy of cant, to make high-sounding offers, in the firm confidence of their being rejected! and unless I lay this to your charge in the present instance how can I help concluding that there is some virtue in me, which you have yet to learn?— For it is in no jesting, or yet “half-jesting” manner that you tell me my hand is free— “If there be any other—you do not mean whom I love more—but whose wife all things considered I would rather be; you call upon me as my Husband—(as my Husband!) to accept that man.” Were these words really Thomas Carlyle's, and addressed to me? Ah! ich kenne dich nicht mehr!1 Dearest! Dearest! it will take many caresses to atone for these words!

I am not surprised that you feel hurt by my raillery on the subject of your plans; since you view it as an indication of an unfair theory of your character. But, in truth, it is nothing of the sort—I think you neither whimsical nor unstable,—think you nothing but what is noble and wise; I know full well you have more serious distresses than idleness and a diseased imagination; and, at the bottom of my heart, far from censuring, I approve of your whole procedure: but I cannot help, sometimes, getting provoked at the Fortune which keeps us asunder; and when this happens, I am too apt to vent the spleen of the moment upon you; tho' the next moment I am ready to fall at your feet and wash them with my tears. Such a behaviour, I grant you is very wrong,—unworthy a woman of sense and feeling: yet, surely, it is not the sin against the Holy Gohst that it should be punished with such a heartbreaking lecture—

You say you are “the very worst match I ever thought of[”]; that “it is reasonable and right I should be concerned for my future establishment” and that I do not know you as “the poor, unknown, rejected Thomas Carlyle; but as “the prospe[c]tive rich, known, and admired”— Alas! my brother, you were wont to call me ‘generous,’ ‘devoted,’ ‘nobleminded’: how comes it you address me now as a vulgar creature whose first object is “a good settlement”? Such sayings from another would have found with me no gentle hearing; and probably called forth an indignant exposition of my mind: but when the man I have loved with a love so pure from all worldliness,—for whom I am ready to sacrifice every thing on earth but my sense of right,—when he talks to me of matches, and establishments, and riches and honours, it is the thrust of a Brother which it would be ignominy to resist—

There is another expression in your letter which I cannot pass without noticing. “If (you say) your hand and heart appear after all the best in my offer (if they appear the best!) to take you, and be content with you (quel homme brusque [what an abrupt man]!) and not vex myself with struggling to alter what is unattainable.” Now, with all due gratitude for this absolute leave, I must be bold to observe that I have taken you, for already some time; and was never otherwise than content with you since you came into my possession. If I weep when I think what is to become of us, it is not because you are poor and unknown and may possibly continue so all the days of your life;— there needs no Apprenticeship to train me to disinterestedness of heart—it is, because in the actual state of things (and we know not when they may alter) the duties,—the unavoidable duties of a Daughter and a Friend keep me from your dear side,—keep me from sharing your destiny whatever it be. It is unwise, I own, to weep on any account; and doubly so to vex another with one weeping; but, methinks, you should have some allowance for my tears since a woman in love is the very weakest of live creatures—

One thing more; and I am done[.] Look cross at me, reproach me, even whip me if you have the heart; your next kiss will make amends for all: But, if you love me, cease I beseech you to make me offers of freedom; for this is an outrage which I find it not easy to forgive. If made with any idea that it is in the nature of things I should take you at your word; they do a wrong to my love, my truth, my modesty, that is, to my whole character as a Woman; if not, they are a mocking better spared; since you know my answer must be still: “permit me O Shinvarig, to wear out my days in prison, for its walls are to me more pleasing than the most splendid palace!”2— But ohe jam satis!3 Farewell my Beloved! I am still yours

Jane Baillie Welsh

It may not be amiss to mention that I am recovering strength— Write without loss of time if you can write as my own kind Husband[;] but if not delay a day or two till I have got my nerves a little braced in the open air[.] I have by no means told you “all I know” but my paper is already overfull[.]