The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 13 May 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260513-TC-JBW-01; CL 4:87-94.


Hoddam Hill, 13th May, 1826—

Dearest and truest of Believers,

I owe you many thanks for your letter, which relieved me from a multitude of half imaginary distresses, and has again opened the way for a prosecution of this treaty of perpetual union between two of the most perverse contracting parties that the world ever saw. Let me beg of you whatever you do not to fall into any of your “negligent desperations” again: remember the maxim of philosophy Ex nihilo nihil fit [From nothing nothing comes]; for here it is not nothing but something, and that a very good thing too, that will serve our turn.

If I was disappointed in any thing connected with your letter, it was that you did not forthwith order me into your presence; not to enjoy your society, but to take deepest counsel touching the state of our affairs, and to determine viva voce, and once for all, about what was to be done. I had a week of perfect idleness; and my arrangements were all made for starting towards Haddington the moment your letter should arrive. Such a chance may not return for a long time: however, the present one is lost; and indeed your order at this time could not have recalled it; for I understand the German books, which I have waited for so long, to be lying for me this morning at the post-office of Ecclefechan; and a journey to the north in such a case would have been but a game at cross-purposes. It is better I am not gone. For eight weeks, I must labour like an hireling: if I have done even then I shall think it good work.

Yet I doubt greatly if we shall prosper by letters; there is something sadly ineffectual in epistolary correspondence for such a purpose. I come miserably ill at writing on this theme: it is a great and most frequently an abortive labour to express at once kindly and distinctly what I want. This rigorous formal statement of our own sovereign will and pleasure carries in it something so like selfishness, that we are apt to become selfish in our fear of being suspected of it. Would you believe it, I cannot love you in a letter of that kind. No, Liebchen, I do not love thee at all, when talking of houses and poverty and so forth; and I long to give the letter to the Devil, and take thee in my arms, and force thee by the very look of my eyes to say in that wicked heart of thine that thou wilt go with me to live in Greenland if I like. Alas! And I must take to this sorry work again! Well, let me trust it is the last time; for really having said this, I see not that I have any thing more to say. Attend to it, with an open and considerate mind.

I have not altered my calculations as to the expence of supporting a wife; nor has my wish to call my Dearest by that dear name any whit abated. I know as I before knew that wives are supported, some in peace and dignity, others in contention and disgrace, according to their wisdom or their folly, on all incomes from fourteen pounds a year to two hundred thousand: and I trusted in Jane Welsh and still trust in her for good sense enough to accommodate her wants to the means of the man she has chosen before all others, and to live with him contented on whatever it should please Providence to allot him, keeping within their revenue, not struggling to get without it, and therefore rich, by whatever arithmetical symbol, whether tens, hundreds or thousands, that same revenue might be expressed. This is not impossible or even very difficult, provided the will be truly there. Say what we like, it is in general our stupidity that makes us straitened and contemptible. The sum of money is a very secondary matter. One of the happiest most praise-worthy and really most enviable families on the Earth at present lives within two bowshots of me, that of Wightman the Hedger, on the produce of fifteen pence per diem, which the man earns peacefully with his mattock and his bill, not counting himself any philosopher for so doing. Their cottage on our Hill is tidy as a cabinet; they have a black-eyed boy whom few squires can parallel; their girnel [grain bin] is always full of meal; the man is a true honest most wisely conditioned man, an elder of the Congregation, and meekly but firmly persuaded that he shall go to Heaven when his hedging here below is done. “What want these knaves that a king should have?”1 It is not miscalculation of expences, then, that frightens me; the perplexity arises from other misunderstandings.

I mentioned with due solemnity to my Father and Mother the mighty event that was hanging in the wind; and received from them, what I had anticipated, an affectionate assent to our purpose; but at the same time a foreboding from both that at Scotsbrig even in summer it would be difficult for you to do, in winter altogether impossible. This winter part of it I had myself calculated on; but the means of obviating the inconvenience, taking a furnished house in Edinr at the beginning of the season, I saw too well was not to be depended on, with my present knowledge of the matter, resulting solely from a casual phrase of Dr Brewster's, and incapable in my present circumstances of being cleared up by investigation on the spot. At the same time it was too clear that you totally misconceived the condition of Scotsbrig and our only possible manner of existence there. You talked of your Mother visiting us! By Day and Night! it would astonish her to see this same household. O No, my Darling! Your mother must not visit mine. What good were it? By an utmost exertion on the part of both, they might learn perhaps to tolerate each other, more probably to pity and partially dislike each other; better than mutual tolerance I could anticipate nothing from them, and is there not the fullest tolerance existing between them already without effort? The mere idea of such a visit argued too plainly that you knew nothing of the family circle in which for my sake you were ready to take a place.

What then was to be done? Instantly the vacant house at Haddington occured to my recollection like a sort of God-send expressly suited for our purpose. It seemed so easy, and on other accounts so indispensable, to let it stand undisposed of for another year, that I doubted not one moment but the whole matter was arranged. If it turned out, which I reckoned to be impossible if you were not distracted in mind, that you really liked better to front the plashes and puddles and thousand inclemencies of Scotsbrig thro' winter than live another six months in the house where you had lived all your days, it was the simplest process imaginable to stay where we were: the loss was but of a few months' rent for your mother's house, and the certainty it gave us made it great gain. Even yet I cannot with the whole force of my vast intellect understand how my project has failed. Have I miscalculated my importance to you, Jane? No, I swear I have not: and I will bet you ten to one that if you seriously ask your heart, it will tell you that to get possession of me your elected and predestined husband is really a far better thing than to get quit of Haddington. Is it not, now? I wish not to undervalue your objections to this place, or your opinion on any subject whatever: but I may confess my inability, with my present knowledge, to reconcile this very peremptory distaste with your usual good sense and your deep entire and most precious love of me. I cannot with my utmost imagining discover any rock of offence in Haddington, which I have not to front here, which persons intent on living wisely will and must have to front everywhere, and will everywhere also contrive with no great pains to remove out of their way. Impertinent visitors! Let us not name it again, my Love; for in the circle of difficulties and duties into which you will soon be introduced, this difficulty will vanish like thin smoke in the tempest of the elements. They are gross and low-minded, the people? Here they are fifty times grosser and lower-minded; connected with me too by bonds of kindness, some of them by bonds of relationship; yet I contrive without a struggle to manage them, and none seeks me of whom I do not wish to be sought.2

But after all there must be something in the matter which I do not see. Your Mother and you are no unwise or uncalculating persons: and that you should both wilfully strip yourselves of a home, and stand in a few weeks houseless in the world, merely for certain dislikes of place and so forth, which among the actual ruggednesses of life one very speedily learns the necessity of disregarding, seems to me entirely inconceivable. I say there must be something in it which I do not see.

Let me beg of you therefore to reconsider the business, and after weighing me and Haddington for six months longer, to say whether the acquisition of the one or the freedom from the other will be more precious to you. Decide for your own happiness; and believe me, Darling, I will acquiesce quietly in the result whatever it may be. But I must repeat that without this house or some equivalent of the same sort, I have yet no plan for our marriage. Scotsbrig (of which by the way our obtaining at all was dubious when I wrote last, and only became certain two days ago) is unknown to you; but I know it and the nature of life there; and it becomes me to say in both our names that there we cannot live for any length of time with either comfort or wisdom. If the house were to be our own, tile-kiln as it is, I should let you venture on it; but even this is not the case; for I am not head there, so much as partner, first-partner but no absolute ruler.

When I speak of Haddington and living there, you must not suspect me of love for that obnoxious burgh. Except one fair denizen of it, I know nothing which it ever produced that I would give three cherry-stones for. God knows I dislike the place and that very heartily; for I have never been in it but the highest feelings of my mind have been thwarted and embittered by the most paltry contradictions till my very happiness became a misery.3 But what then, the poor place is not to be blamed for this: God's fair sky stretches over it, his winds visit it, and his waters refresh it, like other places; and it offers an asylum to my loved one and me, for which I should be grateful to Neva Zembla or Cayenne. Propose me a substitute of the same conveniency elsewhere, and I shall cheerfully engage never to set foot in Haddington any more. A house in Edinburgh on the same principles I should like infinitely better: but not having it, and having the other, I should be a fool, it seems to me, if I determined otherwise.

Can you not procure for us such a house in Edinr? Can you not revise your judgement with regard to Haddington? Can you devise no equivalent for it in any part of our resources? Then alas! we must just wait till these our resources increase, or we have learned to be contented with their indeed very scanty product. Really, my Love, this does seem so true and plain, that I cannot but feel as if in talking to you one quarter of an hour on the subject I must bring you altogether over to my own opinion. I have never found you walk by whims and crotchets, but by your best perception, which you were always eager to have strengthened and enlightened, of what was true and adviseable. Yet believe not that I wish to controul your will: I would not plead in this matter; but rather have you to enter upon it with your own entire conviction, seeing it is still a matter of conjecture to us both, and certainly the most important we can well have to decide on.

You talk with doubt and hesitation about “assistance” from your Mother. Indeed, indeed, my Dearest, we do nowise require assistance from her. Providence (glory to his name!) has made me sufficient for myself; and if I pray to him, it is not for more money, but for more wisdom, with which even less money would be sufficient. As it is, I have little disposition to solicit or expect assistance from any mortal, and I believe just as little need as disposition. By the cunning of my own right hand, I can earn for myself and those that like to depend on me sufficient food and raiment: I ride my own serviceable courser along his Majesty's highways, as free a subject as wears them; owing no man any thing but love; hating no one, fearing no one; and not so stinted even that on occasion I cannot part my morsel with a “needier fellow man,” and cause the heart of the poor to bless me. There are many Squires and Dukes in this world that cannot say so much. Now if your Mother see good to express the generous affections of her heart towards her daughter and her daughter's husband by gifts of money and the like, it shall be well; and far be it from me, by any pitiful vanity, to refuse such bounties, or the payment of them by feelings correspondent to the feelings of which these beneficences are the symbol. But if she shall not see good so to express the generous affections of her heart, believe me, it shall also be well: I will think merely that she has found other more desirable investments; and without pretending to the smallest right of criticism over her conduct shall remember, as I have often endeavoured to do, that she is the Mother, and all things considered, the praiseworthy mother of my own fair philosopher, whose heart if she will but be true and wise is worth more to me than all the ingots of El Dorado. Therefore, Liebchen, if you would not put my “magnanimity” to the test, let me think that you consider me indifferent as nearly as may be, so far as I myself am concerned, to any pecuniary determination on the part of any man or woman. Oh! there are a thousand things in such a life as this, which notwithstanding all you say of poverty, you yet understand only in word; but you will yet know them all both sweet and bitter; the bitter I cannot ward from you; and the sweet I will teach you, for you are a teachable spirit, and cannot but choose wisdom in place of folly when the two are laid down before you. But let us beware of cant, and so drop this head of method!

As I said, I request, desire or expect nothing from your Mother but the loan of this house for one year: if she will not give it, or you will not have it, and can find no means of supplying its place, what remains but that each content him where he is, in expectation of better times? I live in Scotsbrig among the “selvages [savages],” whose wild nature shall not divert me from my better purposes: you and your mother in—simply not in Haddington, it appears; for of all the rest I am utterly ignorant, utterly unable to form any plausible theory.

“What tig-tagging [being busy about nothing]” my Mother says, “and a comes to ae sheal [shed]-door at last!” Heaven grant it were safely arrived there! At this one door!— For the present I can do no more to help it forward, but must off for my books, and into the free air. So with a true warm kiss which I send you over the hills, and one soft pressure of your bosom to mine, I bid my own Jane goodnight for the present. I will throw you a word on monday.


Tuesday Afternoon [16 May]

Dearest— I found not only a load of Books on Saturday, but eight proof sheets besides; the consideration and alteration of which, attended with other sorry enough drawbacks, has kept me occupied to the present hour. Henceforth nothing but fireman haste awaits me, for week after week! My spare hours filled with critical meditations, and ever and anon the thought of this solemn treaty intervening!

I have read over this letter: there is nothing that I can add to it; or rather I could go on adding to it forever. The sum of the matter lies here, however: do you consider it, and determine; for with you the determination rests; you behold the extent of my present means, and if these cannot suffice us, I can do nothing m[ore.] Above all, let us not forget this is an engagement for Eternal Union, not a paction, as it were between foes, for an Armed Neutrality! Our hearts are one, so are our interests if we understood them. I pray fervently that the affair were over, and all settled and transacted one way or another; that so these cursed statements and restatements might be forever concluded.4 My whole mind in one word is this: I think it were better for us both if we were wedded; Haddington I dislike very cordially as a place, but would live there, happily I doubt not, along with you; Edinburgh I should greatly prefer on all accounts, but see not and know not how or whether so convenient a footing in it is to be obtained. For the rest, I am not shepherd enough to calculate on Love as the chief employment of life be where I may: if regular labour and diligent pursuit of duty do not make me happy, I shall be unhappy in Heaven itself. Do you consider all these things, Dearest; and if your own mind cannot assent to them, and you can think of nothing else in their stead, let us forget the whole negociation, and live in peace and hope together as we did before. But I hope better things, tho I thus speak.5

It will be necessary to submit this matter to your mother; but for the mode of doing it, I confess myself unable to give you any good advice. Plain-dealing, except when there is evil-meaning, seldom does harm: I recommend it in all such cases; and between a mother and a daughter, it is certainly doubly and trebly recommendable. Be you just and rational; and let your Mother see that you are so; and furthermore that it is for her love not her money that you are anxious; being, as it behoves you to be after what has come and gone, independent of her help in a pecuniary point of view, and this not in words only but in very deed, by readiness to take up with the humbler resource, rather than solicit her for the higher. I beg of you to be calm and discreet in your consideration and your management of this concern; and I pray God to lead it to a happy end. You will write soon. I am forever your own,

T. Carlyle—