The Collected Letters, Volume 1


JBW TO ELIZABETH WELSH; 5 October 1819; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18191005-JBW-EWE-01; CL 1:200-203.


Haddington5th October / 1819

My Dear Grandmother 1

I cannot allow my Uncles to return to you without writing to assure you that the example of resignation to the will of God which you have given has not been total[l]y lost upon us— It has been a great consolation to me under this dreadful trial to see my poor Mother support it so well— From the very delicate state of her health for some time past, from the great fatigue which she underwent during my dear Father's illness and above all from the acuteness of her feelings on the most ordinary occasions, I had little reason to expect so much fortitude. I will ever be grateful to her for the exertions which she has made (I am convinced in a great measure on my account) and still more grateful to Him who has enabled her to make them—this has indeed been a most overwhelming and unexpected blow—my Father's death was a calamity which I almost never thought of—if on any occasion the idea did present itself to me, it was immediately repelled as being too dreadful to be realized for many many years, and too painful to occupy any present place in my thoughts— Untill this misfortune fell upon me I never knew what it was to be real[l]y unhappy—the greatest error & misfortune of my life hitherto has been, not being sufficiently grateful for the happiness I enjoyed.— You my Dear Grandmother have had many trials, but if I mistake not you will still remember the bitterness of the first above all others—you will still be able to recall the feeling of disappointment and despair which you experienced when calamity awoke you from your dream of security, and dispelled the infatuation which led you to expect that you alone were to be exempted from this worlds miserys—but you are good, & I am judging of your feelings by my own—when young as I am, perhaps, you were not as I was thoughtless & unprepared for the chastisement of the Divine Power— The ways of the Almighty are mysterious—but in this instanc[e], though He has left thousands in the world whose existence is a burden to themselves & those around them—though He has cut off one who was the Glory of his family, & a most useful member of society, one who was respected & beloved by all who knew him—& though he has afflicted those whom we thought deserved to be happy—yet his intention appears to me clear and intelligible— Could the annihilation of a Thousand useless and contemptible beings have sent such terror & submission to the hearts of the survivors as the sudden death of one whom their love would if possible have gifted with immortality— Oh no— Hard it is—but we must acknowledge the wisdom of his sentence even while we are suffering under it— We must kiss the rod even while we are writhing under the tortures which it inflicts——

I expect we will be in Dumfries[s]hire in the course of a month or three weeks— I need not say that it will give me pleasure to be with so many dear friends—& I am sure my Mother will benefit by the change[.] Benjamin2 returned yesterday looking much better than when he left us— My Mother will answer your kind letters as soon as she feels able for it— With kind love to my Grandfather and Aunts in which my Mother & Benjamin join—and every wish for your health & the restoration of your peace of mind

I remain My Dear Grandmother /

Your Very Affectionate Child /

Jane Baillie Welsh


John Welsh died 19 Septr 1819; after an illness of only four days: fever caught from a poor old woman whom he had charitably taken charge of, —and who, I think, recovered. He was in his 44th or 45th year; in the prime of his strength and activity; one whom all witnesses report to me as a man of sterling integrity, uncommon insight, fidelity and ingenuity in his Professn,—extensively a Helper of his Fellow Creatures, not willingly a Hinderer of any. Evidtly to me a noble, sympathetic, valiant, clear and luminous man. His eldest Sister mentioned to me last year (1868), what I had not known before, that he was of noble and distingd presence withal, tall, lightly graceful, self-possessed, spontaneously dignified,—so that people, if he entered a theatre or the like, asked Who is it?— “a face like yr late Wife's,” it was added, “black hair, bright-hazel eyes, bright, prompt-looking, beaming features, pale pure complexn, if we translate all that into the masculine.” His Daughter was not admitted to the sick-room; sat on the stairs close by. To the last, hopes were strong; fever gone, said all the Edinr Drs: but, alas, the strength too was gone. She herself believed, all her life, that his youngest Brothr, the “Benjamin” aftds soon to be mentioned, was the involuntary cause of his death, by far too copious bleeding in the earliest stages[.]

Two weeks and two days after the event this Letter was written. To those who knew her, and what the event was to her, a sudden plunging of her hitherto bright and altogr happy and beautiful existence into blackness of total eclipse from whh it never wholly recovered, this Letter is abundtly pathetic; to me especially who know her common tone in regard to death & the like, it is painfully so,—heightened into my pain, and the image of utter bereavet, by the religious expressions I find here! Such feelings she had in her degree; but in her noble instincts of veracity, in her perfect avoidance of cant, she seldom or never gave utterance utterance [sic] to them; felt that they were not fit for utterance in words. Myself she wd answer only by her look on such occasns, look still eloquent to me; but, in spite of my evidt wishes almost never otherwise. In her Letters, this (to a religious Grandmr, as may be noted too) is the first and the last instance I have met with.— The Letter was sent to me by her Aunts, in 1866, soon after my irretrievable calamity.