The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 17 June 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220617-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:131-134.


3. Moray-street, Monday-night [17? June 1822].

My dear Friend,

After a very admirable display of patience, I was rewarded one evening, while I thought of no such thing, by the sight of your much valued packet. “That Ass”1 I never liked; but then I absolutely hated her, and wished fervently that she had either delivered you from her inane presence altogether, or at least timed her visit better. As it is, I give you thanks from the heart for your letter. It is quite delightful, in its way, for me to enjoy those little peeps you afford me here and there into your domestic doings. I see the “feathers” overshadowing your hat; I tremble at the “four angry notes” inflicted on your dressmaker; imagine the “nose & ear” of the Conqueror of the Goths; and think what I would give to hear you practicing never so “badly” the Themas of Mozart & Beethoven. It is when letters are thrown off in that gay cheerful social way, that one has some pleasure in them.

I viewed your poetical despatches with a feeling made up of pleasure & surprize. This is greatly the best collection you have ever shewn me: if you go on at any thing like the same rate, I indeed may wish you “a good journey”—but I shall not the less rejoice at your reaching the promised land—tho' myself still lingering in the wilderness. In fact I am quite ashamed, on considering your verses, to compare them, either in quantity or quality, with my own performance in the same period. I am certainly an idle knave, and shall never rhyme, or do any thing else, to right purpose. Your “Wish” is quite an emblem of your usual treacherous disposition. There you go on persuading us that you are growing a delightful romantic character—alive to all the simple enjoyments of existence—and prizing them above all others as they ought to be; and when you have fairly led us in, and we are beginning to admire you in good earnest,—we hear a suppressed titter, which dissipates the whole illusion, and tells us that we are—poor fools! I like the accompanying pieces better; the lines beginning with “I love”2 the best of all. In these the ideas are brilliant, the language emphatic & sonorous, the rhythm very musical & appropriate. The little epigram from the Provençal Satyrist is also a favourite with me: it seems to be rendered with great spirit & liveliness.3 Ferdusi & the hesitating Lover are subjects which interest me less; but you have succeeded in translating both extremely well.4

It is truly gratifying to me to contemplate you advancing so rapidly in the path of mental culture. Proceed as you have begun; and I shall yet see the day, when I may ask with pride: Did not I predict this? There are a thousand peculiar obstacles—a thousand peculiar miseries that attend upon a life devoted to the task of observing & feelings, and recording its observations & feelings—but any ray of genius however feeble is the “inspired gift of God”; and woe to him or her that hides the talent in a napkin! that allows indolence or sordid aims to prevent the exercise of it, in the way designed by our allbountiful Parent—the elevation of our own nature, & the delight or instruction of our fellow-mortals—on a scale proportioned to our power! And look to the reward, even in the life that now is! Kings & Potentates are a gaudy folk that flaunt about with plumes & ribbons to decorate them, and catch the coarse admiration of the many-headed monster, for a brief season—then sink into forgetfulness or often to a remembrance even worse: but the Miltons, the de Staëls—these are the very salt of the Earth;5 they derive their “patents of Nobility direct from Almighty God,” and live in the bosoms of all true men to all ages.

Alas! that it is so much easier to talk thus than to act in conformity to such rational maxims! I verily believe you are quite right in your estimate of me: I seem indeed to be a mere talker—a vox et pr[a]eteria nihil [a voice and nothing more]. Look at these most unspeakable jingles that I have sent you; and see the whole fruit of my labours since I wrote last. I declare it is shameful in myself; and barbarous in those stupid louts that waste my time away in their drivelling. Here was the best-natured & opaquest of Glasgow Merchants with me for a whole week!6 He talked and— But why should I trouble you with it? Simply I say this must not last. In a few weeks I shall be done with that blessed treatise on Geometry; and then, if I do not attempt at least, I deserve to die as a fool dieth.7

These are shadows: let us turn to the sunshine. The siege of Carcassonne will hardly do, I fear; tho' you shew a right spirit in aiming at it. The persecution of the Albigenses has little to distinguish it from other persecutions more connected with our sympathies, except a darker tinge of bloody-mindedness, and a degree of callous ferocity which would tend rather to disgust the mind, than to inflame or exalt it. Simon de Montfort & Fouquet are horrible rather more than tragical. To be sure the Count is a fine subject: but there are no peculiar incidents to work upon, and to paint the manners & feelings of those people, even if they were worth painting, would involve you in long laborious researches which would yield no fruit proportionate to the toil of gathering it.8 I rather advise you therefore, to dismiss the subject altogether. Yet if you feel any deep emotions, see any magnificence of accompaniment which you could combine with it,—tell me, and I will search you out all the information possible. So much depends on the natural bent of your own inclination—it is so important to have this along with you in whatever you undertake, that a suggestion of your own should be preferred under many disadvantages to one from any other. A subject from our own history would answer best—if we must have a historical subject. But why not one of pure invention? Or Why not try a Comedy, originating wholly incidents & characters from yourself?

You do not mention what Play of Schiller's you are reading, or whether I can help you in it at all. You also forgot to select any theme for our next poetical effort; a speculation, in which, tho' as I have said you are going to leave me entirely behind, I feel determined to go on. What if we trust to Fortune next time, and engage only to write something—name not given?— I hope you will not keep me long: it was very kind in you to think of my wishes, & send the first volume the moment it was finished. I would not harrass you or burden you however with my impatience; write to me when you can; only think, if I were an absolute Monarch, how often I would have you write.

Are you never coming back to Edinr? Some moments I am seized with the most vehement desire to see you once more; at other times I am very quiet.— But surely I must conclude this most ugly & absurd of letters. I beg you to believe that I have not been so stupid for six months—sore throats &c &c have quite undone me for some days.— You will write when you have done with “Bracebridgehall,”9 and send me your verses. The rest of Sismondi, I shall transmit forthwith.— If you cannot conveniently read Washington [Irving] without farther cutting the leaves—do it without scruple. Farewell! I am half asleep—so excuse my blunders & miserable penmanship.

I am always your's /

Thomas Carlyle—