The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 18 January 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230118-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:271-273.


Haddington Saturday [18 January 1823]

My dear Friend

They are away! thank god! they are away Dargo1 and all! and I am once more free to prosecute my will. But how long shall I be so? A person from the Highlands, calling himself my cousin, is coming next week—that literary character Capt Spalding2 too is threatening us with a visit—and he will keep his word; for in spite of his religious horror at ‘Bluestockings’ he likes me well ‘in his own humble way’— And then there is the visit to Edinr which, it defies my ingenuity to avoid much longer. Miserable me! What waste of time and temper in prospectu! God grant me christian resignation! “O rus, quando ego te aspiciam quandoque licebit nunc veterum libris, nunc somnis, (I could dispense with the inertibus horis) ducere sollicitae jucunda obliviavitae?”3 It may not be! Never Never! My lot is cast with the profanum vulgus,4 and I have nothing for it but to suffer and submit—

Of all the pretty women I ever saw this Aunt in law of mine is the least amiable— So vain! so cold! so selfish!— I have no patience for her affectations and insipidities— ‘My soul is above her’!5 What d'ye think she calls my friend in Germany,6 (who, by the way, I have not forgot yet, nor mean to forget for a great while) the most witty, dashing, ac[c]omplished person I dare swear she ever set her eyes on? she calls him a tall, heavy, stupid looking lad!! Oh the indiscriminating Ass! but what could one expect from Port Glasgow? She may have skill in the physiognomy of muslins; but the “luminoso caractere dell' alma in fronte impresso” [“luminous character of the soul etched upon the brow”] is beyond her understanding— Could you but have had a peep of us! there was my precious uncle, that pattern of a wise Man, sneering, snarling, and sometimes snoring, his Lady yawning and kicking the fire irons, and practising postures. My Mother wearying her heart to entertain them—all in vain— Dargo prancing, capering and overthrowing with all the impudence to be expected in a town-dog on a visit to friends in the country— Shandy watching the movements of his townbred cousin with his back bristled like a very cat's and ever and anon testifying his dis[s]atisfaction at his freedoms with an eloquence of indignation that my ears still tingle to think of—and our sorrowful self casting many a wistful look towards the little table where William Tell and all the rest lay neglected, and heartily wishing our cold visitors in hotter quarters than they might have found to their liking— Oh it was a week of purgatory. But thank god it is over!—

I never thought I should have come to wish myself born in a land of pigs and peat-moss, and brought up among people, the prose of of whose life (I have heard you say) is pork, and whisky the poetry—but so it is! I envy you being a native of Annandale! You could never guess why! You must know then I have been persuading myself, that this splendid imagination of yours, which is, to me, a never failing subject of admiration, owes a part of its lustre to the fostering it has found from infancy in the traditionary lore in which—I have been told—your fatherland abounds—It is so consolatory to be able to attribute the fine qualities in others, we do not possess ourselves, to external circumstance! Who knows what my imagination might have been had it grown up in a land of tales instead of a land of turnips? had it been fed in its earliest years on border songs, and border legends instead of starving on ‘Molly with the golden arm’ and ‘The little wee wiffy that lived in a shoe’?7 This is a preamble, you will perceive to the old story— My incapacity for writing, a subject which I fear will soon excite as little interest as ‘Warren's blacking.’8

If you have one spark of humanity within your breast send me an outline of some tale to work on; else I shall never get on; for no sooner has my brain got up something like a plot, than I perceive it to be the veriest imbecility, and cast it away for some other, that is, in its turn, discarded with no less contempt. I have no heart to set about building my house on a foundation of sand; but mark out some spot to me that will not give way beneath my labour, every step that it advances, and than I shall go on con amore— You laugh at me for being in ‘such a turmoil about my writing’—you may laugh but you cannot wonder— How can I enjoy a morning[']s peace, knowing myself engaged in a pursuit, I have no longer the power to give up; yet do[u]btful—almost hopeless of success? Were I sure that my idol Fame, however distant, however difficult, is actually within my reach, then indeed I would not care how I loitered on the way—but I am not sure, on the contrary I begin to believe myself the greatest ass in God's creation—what a destiny I have chosen! how full of difficulties, disquietude, and danger! and, perhaps, to end in dissappointment! but I cannot turn back now, and I would not if I could— I could find in my heart to be singularly pathetic at this present moment—but I have not time—and it is just as well— “So ben tacer, ma non saprei dir poco[.]”9

I have finished William Tell—and mean to commence Turandot10 on Monday— I could read Schiller for ever—who but himself could have made such a play as Tell on such a plan?— Metestatio is improving I finish Themistocles and the second book of Annals today also—what tempted you to send me that deplorable (these blots are no work of mine) volume of calamities?11 it was enough to throw any one in my case into the blue devils for a twelvemonth to come— I do not know if the poor people would have had so much of my sympathy had I not hoped to become one of their fraternity, but certain it is I could not help tearing (to use a favorite expression of my Aunts) very bitterly over their misfortunes— Have the goodness to send me the second volume of Vertot on Monday that I may not lose time, but do not write unless you have time how horrible! unless you are at leisure— I am quite distressed at the trouble you have with these books—we will make some other arrangement when I am in Town. in the mean time I can only thank you— My hour is done— Yours Affectionately Jane B Welsh