The Collected Letters, Volume 1


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 29 December 1821; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18211229-JBW-TC-01; CL 1:420-421.


[29 December 1821]

Chance seems leagued with conscience in preventing me from writing you. My Mother has been beside me this whole day, and to sit down to deceive her before her very face required more audacity than I possess. Even now she is gone for a few minutes only, and should she return and ask me who I am writing to! Oh Mr Carlyle how I am plagued with you! Why will you not let me live at home in peace? By what right do you extort from me promises which after sober reflection I find it as painful as imprudent and difficult to fulfil, which I cannot break without failing in my word, which I cannot keep without failing in my duty?

You say there is no harm in our correspondence and I believe it: But assuredly there is harm in disobedience and deceit, the only means through which it can at present be maintained. And is it for you who profess to be my friend to teach me these? Is it for you who talk of generosity so well to require of me the sacrifice of my own esteem to your selfish gratification? What have you done for me to merit such a sacrifice? What proofs of regard have you given me, greater than I can command from every fool who comes in my way? My friend, before you draw so largely on my gratitude do something for my sake. Render your friendship as honourable in the eyes of the world to my Father's child1 as it is already honourable in her own eyes to Jane Welsh and then you may exact as your due favours you have as yet no claim to ask. Oh Mr Carlyle if you wish me to admire—to love you (admiration and love is with me the same feeling) use as you ought your precious time, and the noble powers that god has given you, and waste no hours or thoughts on me— And do not laugh at fame— It is indeed a name—perhaps an empty name—but yet it is the object of no low ambition, and ambition is the crime of no low soul—

I will not write again— Do not urge me least you wear out my patience and with it my esteem. You may think it unlikely that should ever happen—as you have sometimes found me weak and thoughtless you may expect to find me always so— But there are moments when the weak are strong, and when the thoughtless think, and such moments are more frequent with me than you suppose. When you have finished your review of Faustus2 send it to me with such a letter as my Mother may read without anger—and when you have written four and twenty pages of your book bring them— I have nothing more to say and you will not be satisfied with this—but I cannot help it— I dare write no longer. I am as nervous as if I were committing a murder, and my ideas, like my pen, are dancing about at such a rate I cannot stay them— God bless you— Do your duty— Let me do mine—and leave the rest to destiny

Your sincere Friend

Jane Baillie Welsh

I know not how I shall get this to the Postoffice as I never go out[;] my going to day voluntarily would excite surprise[.] What a purgatory you have placed me in!