The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 13 February 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220213-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:39-41.


3. Moray-street, Wednesday-Afternoon [13 February 1822].

My dear Friend,

The Traité des Passions1 appears to be in great requisition among the reading population of Edinr at present: I cannot find it unoccupied in any of the Libraries to which I have access. It is vain for me to harrass the Librarians with repeated inquiries: I must wait till it come in before I can send it you.— Your dismissal of Irving has produced the effect anticipated from it: he inclosed me the letter which accompanies this2—because “he knew not where to find you.” I wrap it up within a volume of the French Sallust, the Abbé St Real; hoping that you may derive some amusement from perusing Doni Carlos, or the ground-work of Venice Preserved;3 or if not, that you will write me a few words on returning the book, and inclose me something which I dare not ask for, but trust you have not forgotten. I have not detained Irving's letter: it arrived only yesternight.

The better part of a sheet still remains to me, and I have a volume of things to express to you: yet I scarce can find one word to say. It is shameful to own that I have already written two long letters to you, and burnt them both, so soon as they were respectively finished. I value your correspondence so highly that I should grasp eagerly at the privilege of continuing it, under any terms: but my present state of mind is at once painful and contemptible. After that unfortunate visit, it seems as if our connection depended on a single hair; and I tremble lest some unguarded word may dissolve it forever. Surely if you knew into what a state of helpless agitation your anger reduces me, you would reserve the infliction of that severe chastisement for graver crimes—for offences against you, not of form but of deed. I appeal to the tribunal of my own conscience, and plead not guilty of any intention ever to displease you. Why then am I so unfortunate?4

You bid me write to you as a friend. Vain injunction! I must exhibit the true state of my feelings when I write, or else write like a shallow fool: and I never felt friendship of this sort towards any one. After the view I have obtained of your character, and the honours to which you have admitted me, I should be the dullest of the sons of men, if I could degenerate into what they call a friend. Be not displeased however. I am as far from pretending to be a lover as a friend. That pastime is not for me, at this period of my history, any more than you. I have had too much experience of the emptiness of all sublunary things; have felt too often and too bitterly, how the clay insinuates its low impediments and corrupting deformities into all the lordliest conceptions of the soul,—ever to find much enjoyment in the languishings and happy tho' weak delusions of boys and girls. Besides, do I not know how we stand related to each other? I understand what is your rank and what your prospects: I understand too what are my own; and perhaps there are feelings of integrity and honest pride within me, which I am as chary of, as some who make more noise about them. Do not you look upon me as a slave, however others look upon me.

In fine I beg earnestly for one sentence from you, somewhat in the shape of encouragement. I am a perfect wreck at present, and know not what to do or think. There are wild retreats, indeed, in which all minds may seek refuge. I know it but too well—the feeling of recklessness and stormy self-help, when friends grow cold, and the world seems to cast us off, and the heart gathers force from its own wretchedness, converting its “tortures into horrid arms.”5 There is strength here and dignity—tho' full of pain:6 but alas! do I need to say that you are the last of all earthly beings against whom I could wish to entertain such sentiments. Once more, then, I entreat for one word of kindness. Forget the roughness of my exterior, if you think me sound within. Let me write to you with frankness and from the heart—if you would not have me altogether despicable. The Graces cannot live under a sky so gloomy and tempestuous as mine: I lament their absence, since you lament it; but there is no remedy. If Nature had meant me for a courtly person, she would have made me richer and more impudent. In this latter point, you think she has been liberal enough: how widely, how cruelly do you mistake me!

I have left no room for details about myself or inquiries about you. Write as you once would have written to me, and I shall know how to tell and how to ask.— There is a kind of engagement for six months at least, entered into with regard to those boys: their greek and their vanities take up my time too much.— I pass Mr Bradfute's door every day; and seldom without thinking of the last time I saw you there. Would I had never seen you since! I should then still think what perhaps I must never think any more.— Excuse all this incoherence: I am hurried and confused in a thousand ways. Farewell! May the Great Father of the fatherless, ever have you in his keeping! Farewell!

I am always, / Your's from the heart, /

Thomas Carlyle—