The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 24 October 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221024-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:178-183.


Haddington Thursday [24? October 1822]

My dear Sir

I should not think you unreasonable though your [you] were in very bad humour with me at present— This unfortunate O'Meara, It was the merest chance he was not sent to extend his localities in the Highlands. I would have returned the book immediately, finding how long it had been here, had the subject been any other than Napoleon—however I made what haste I could with it; but though I read whenever a temporary cessation of civilities on the part of the inhabitants left a minute at my own disposal, I only finished it at twelve o'cloke the night you wrote for it— I meant to send a note with it in the morning, but I never awoke till the coach was ready to start— Mrs Buller like Napoleon better than I do!—how do you know that? I do not think any human being can love and admire him more than I do— when a mere child I could have sacrificed my life to free him from captivity, and win for my name one line in the history of his life—do not in future make such gratuitous assertions—

I liked Milman's books better than your scanty recommendation led me to expect— The gentleman is certainly a poet—he excells in description—the outlines of his pictures want charecter but his colouring is rich and brilliant, and on the whole his manner is very graceful—he fails sadly when he makes his personages speak and feel—however “the Bright City” is not without heart—the episode of Lilian and Vortimer1 is very natural and pathetic, and Rowena's love is quite Byronical— I think if you have not read it, it is worth your time— How very presumptuous it is in me to attempt criticising such an Author as Milman!—

We only came home a week ago2—my heart has never been glad since—the atmosphere here is as heavy as lead—several deaths had happened during our absence—all the faces we met looked sorrowful—all but my little Shandy's he received us with the most ecstatic joy—capering, whining, worrying my gloves, and performing such rapid evolutions on the floor, that I really feared for his intellect—were it not for the magic in that word home which rivets the heart to the spot where it first beat, I verily believe I should emigrate to the North— Oh the ‘Land of hills, glens and warriors,! it's wild, romantic grandeur forms such a contrast with our flat, wearisome cornfield’ and the people there are so frank, natural, and true-hearted! so different from the cold selfish well-bred beings one lives among!

I was very fond of the military people in the Fort—one Lady in particular—she vowed everlasting friendship for me, and we have commenced a correspondence since my return—she is about twice my age, and twice my size—fat, frank, lively, and kind-hearted—with a considerable share of highland pride—and not one spark of genius or romance in her composition. I can give no other reason for liking her than that she likes me.

Nothing worth recording occur[r]ed on our way home except that one of our horses, named Lady Ann—(after Lady Ann Fraser3 I presume) committed a cruel outrage on a duck on the streets of Elgin— We spent a day at Fort George4—and three days in Inverness during the northern meeting 5— I was introduced to the King of the Isles,6 who is worth knowing as a curiosity of folly—he told a friend of mine who was blaming him for not uncovering his head in the presence of his Sovereign ‘that the people made Kings but only God Almighty made a Chief!!’ We were two days in Aberdeen. Our one acquaintance there, to whom my Mother had written our intention of returning that way, was disabled from attending us—on the preceeding day, elate[d] with the hope of seeing us so soon he performed a somerset over a horse seventeen hands high and cracked a stone with the back of his head—

The most unpleasant part of our journey was a night we spent in the Star Inn at Perth. they brought us, for supper, a feathered hen that might have laid eggs in the reign of George the second; and gave us a bed in which we were nearly drowned by the rain that poured in through the ceiling— I dare say you are sick to death of my travels—but I assure you to me the subject is very interesting—

Now for my new friend7 who had almost escaped my memory— What shall I begin with? his height? I think it was what I first remarked— well! he is about six feet two—rather slender and very graceful—his features are not regularly handsome; but his countenance is extremely pleasing and intelligent—he dresses somewhat fantastically—wears an amethyst ring on one of his fingers—a steel chain with a very ingenious, portable perspective (to denote he is an artist)—and a shining black leather belt with silver lion's heads in front—in spite of all this his exterior is gentleman-like without puppyism—and his manner elegant and highly polished without affectation— His judgement is accurate—his taste exquisite—and he is gifted with a very quick perception of the ridiculous—he has read twice as much as most young men of his age; but his studies do not seem to have been properly directed—nor has his mind sufficiently digested the knowledge it has acquired[—]he is clever, enterprising, and ambitious—that expression of yours “all in good time” is never heard from his lips— I recommended to him to study german, one Saturday, he commenced it under a Master on Monday, and by the Monday following he had read half of one of Schiller's plays— I think he is affectionate for he loves to talk about his Mother, who is one of the lov[e]liest women in Edinr, and famed for her superior understanding— In short he is no every-day person—but—he has no genius— I have just seen him twice!!—our acquaintance commenced three months ago— We rode to Presmenen Lake8—a beautiful rider he is!—and his practice of looking in the heavens for cumuli and strata and nonsense, affords him many opportunities of displaying his horsemanship at the risk of his neck— On his return to town he sent me “Hooker's ec[c]lesiastical polity,’ ‘Reynold's Works’9 and some sketches for my Album, executed by himself in a masterly manner— a fort night after he rode with me to Lammerlaw10—and behold our whole acquaintance! He set out for London the day before the King's landing—set out tho' he might have supposed I would be in town that very day!— He is gone to Germany and Italy— It will be eighteen months before he returns—no matter—

You ask me my plans for winter, and what I wish to study or to write— At present my life is without a plan I may almost say without an aim— I wish to study every thing—and to write poems, novels, tragedies, essays, &c &c &c

These last two months of idleness have done me a deal of mischief— I cannot study seriously for an hour—I have even forgot the way to rhyme— I shall die in a few years without having written anything—die—and be forgotten— Do take my case into consideration—and tell me what to do— Write me a long letter as soon as you like and let me know all your design. It is with a feeling of regret, you would scarcely give me credit for, that I see your days fleeting away unmarked by one struggle for im[m]ortality— Oh if I had your talents what a different use I would make of them! But I will not blame you; for you seem sufficiently sensible of the sinfulness of your own inactivity—

I was horrified the other day to find Lord Byron's letter11 among my books—how it happened to be there God only knows; for I am firmly persuaded I returned it to you three months ago—

The newspapers may have informed you of poor Benjamins death12—we have long anticipated this result of his illness—and have no cause to regret it—by his unfortunate marriage with a woman worse than an idiot he had doomed himself to a life of misery— God knows what will become of his poor infant! its Mother is unfit to have the charge of any thing human—

Send me all your verses—and tell me—are those on the night moth a translation?13— I send you some lines that I want your opinion of— upon my honour they are not my own— I will tell you the Author when you have told me what you think of them—

Your Sincere friend /

Jane Baillie Welsh—

Song [on the rising of the Tyrolese]14

Come Sons of the hill, leave the chamois and Roe
For the harvest stands thick in the valley below:
Bavaria and Gaul they have mingled their might;
The slave and the Tyrant are harness'd for fight.
Then gather up here mid the mist and the snow,
On the tower of your strength, oer the head of the foe;
Should the sound of your watch-word be heard through the night
They will think it the echo of winds from the height.
Should the glance of your bright arms be seen through your shroud
They will think it the lightning that breaks from the cloud—
And the tramp of your feet as ye rush to the plain
Will sound like a winter brook swell'd by the rain—
And gather ye eagles, ye wolves of the hill;
The banquet is set, ye shall revel your fill:—
Come down like the whirlwind, come down like the flood
For the reapers are gone to the harvest of blood—

A farewell to a new acquaintance—

The anchor's up, the topsails swell,
Sweet songstress I must say farewell,
Our ways lie diverse o'er the sea—
Ive seen my first and last of thee.
'Tis but a day! and thou to me
Wast more than one of things that be;
Another day, and all will seem
The memory of a morning dream.
The [sho]oting star of yesternight.
This morning's dew-drop pure and bright,
The cloud that caught the sun's last ray
Were fair, but they have passed away.
And fairer things will come, and pass
Like shadows o'er a magic glass,
And time will teach the softest heart
Unmoved to meet, ungrieved to part.
I never sigh, come weal come woe,
Or if I do let no one know;
But this I need not blush to tell
I'm sorry I must say farewell—