The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; December 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18221200-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:212-214.


[Early December 1822]

My dear Friend,

I hope this Tragedy of Byron's1 will amuse you for an hour or two: I meant to send it on Saturday, but was too late by some minutes in finishing it myself. You must not entirely “give up” his Lordship yet; he is a person of many high and splendid qualities, tho' as yet they have done little for him: I still hope he will improve. If I had his genius and health and liberty, I would make the next three centuries recollect me. Tell me what you think of this Werner [underscored twice].

I have spent a stupid day in reading the Abbé de Sade's Memoirs of Petrarch.2 What a feeble whipster was this Petrarch with all his talents! To go dangling about, for the space of twenty years, puffing and sighing after a little coquette, whose charms lay chiefly in the fervour of his own imagination, and the art she had to keep him wavering between hope and despondency—at once ridiculous and deplorable—that he might write Sonnets in her praise! Did you ever read his Rime?3 I find it quite impossible to admire them sufficiently: to me they seem a very worthless employment for a mind like Petrarch's—he might have built a palace, and he has made some dozen snuff-boxes with invisible hinges,—very pretty certainly—but very small and altogether useless. But the Italians call them divine, and that is every thing.

If you reckon this criticism impertinent and out of place, impute it to a complication of headaches &c &c enough to make a man turn Manichean or worshipper of Satan altogether,—much more grow tired of Sonnets and little Abbés who write books in three volumes quarto.

I must ask for your Rollin however: for I am in great anxieties about it. Do you still persist? What volume are you in? I feel for you, and often ask myself if I am not a barbarian to set a soft gentile spirto4 like yours on such an undertaking. Yet what can I do? You are miserable without the hopes of literary honour before you; and there is no royal road to attain it. Labour, perseverance, moderate but constant industry, these are the means; and the end—is it not enough to excite ambition which no toil, no disappointment can extinguish? Proceed, then, my dear and noble heroine! If you feel strength within you to make the sacrifices, to meet the risks, which this career demands from all—proceed in it, and never waver! Avoid excess on both sides; it is this which ruins you: be stedfast, neither exhausting your ardour by over-[l]abour nor wasting it in idleness, and be sure the day will come when you shall have your reward. I perceive that if you go on steadily with this plan, I shall be forced to esteem you more than I ever did; a superfluous result, you will say.

I have much to say about Writings and Tales and so forth; but not to-night. One thing is certain;—like another friend of yours “I have no genius,” not a whit:5 yet I have planted myself at my desk, and almost sworn that there I will sit during my three free hours, every morning, with no book before me, nor other instrument but pen and paper, that whether bright or stupid, sick or sicker, I may write something, or undergo the pain of total idleness whichever I prefer! This is surely what you call the [mood?] sublime, or something better. Next time I will [write?] you all concerning it. When will you write to me? And when—when am I to see you? never? Well, God bless you, my dear friend! Whether seeing you or not seeing, I am always Yours,

Thomas Carlyle—