The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 3 January 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230103-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:258-260.


3. Moray-street, 3d Jany 1823—

My dear Friend,

The year commences with me inauspiciously; I am in ill luck at present. I could not get Faust for you yesterday, I have little hope of getting it to-day—unless the Librarian lied; and now that I enjoy the privilege of writing to you, my time is so short and my head so confused that I must part without saying above three words. The sweet people hereabouts, with their junkettings and jiggings, their fiddling capering carousing1—all for joy that they are got a step nearer the conclusion of their pitiful existence—have put me into the most wonderful quandary. Is it not hard that so excellent a gentleman should be driven from his aims by the movements of that low canaille? Quietness and fresh air—quietness deep as of the grave, and breezes free as they blow over the summit of Cairngorm—these with food and raiment, are the humble blessings for which I have fatigued the ear of Heaven so long and to so little purpose. Perhaps the answer is coming after all. Who knows but in some green sheltered nook of the Earth a peaceful home may yet arise for me! A fair yet modest mansion it shall be; with books, and things convenient, and those I love, within; with woods and waters and lofty mountains round it, and the blue canopy above; and no vulgar biped to approach within a furlong of it under pain of death. How you turn up your nose at all this!

Well! how fares it with Monsieur Rollin?2 I am in great pain for him during the late revelries. Remember that you are under a vow to go on with him to the end, how dull soever he may grow. Against this time twelvemonth, if you continue studying, I promise that your stock of solid information will be increased beyond your hopes. Persist then, my dear Jane, and let nothing daunt you! If I once saw you the woman that Nature intended you to be, I should feel a pleasure which nothing else could give me. What pride that I had contributed to make you! I pray with more earnestness than ever that you do not baulk me. It would be the worst of all the jade's-tricks Fortune has ever played me.

And have you fairly begun the story? “No Sir! not a jot of it; and I beg you will hold your impertinent tongue on that subject.” Well, never mind; do not fret yourself about it; things will mend in time. Read, think, gather knowledge and ideas from every source: you will find the task of composition grow easier every day. And is it not a noble art! Our natural horizon is a circle of some few miles, our earthly date a few brief years; and yet by this, our thoughts go from us to the utmost bounds of space and time; hearts that beat in the remotest borders of the world are fired by the sentiments that our[s] have conceived, they love us tho' unseen, and “being dead we yet speak.”3 I had rather be a great philosopher or poet, if I were ambitious, than be the Emperor of all that lies between the Poles. Courage, then! Esperance! Esperance!

Do you know I am longing vehemently for February: I want to talk with you for about half a century then. When will you write to me? Let [your letters be] as long and careless as you possibly can. I [have been all] but completely idle for the last ten days. God help me! and mend me! I deserve your contempt. Yet I am impudent enough: I had almost begun a—what do you think?—a tragedy last week! The subject was— But it is going I feel, and we need not speak of it. Write me the first moment you have. I am ever your's

Thomas Carlyle—