The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 10 February 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230210-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:284-287.


Haddington / Monday [10 February 1823]

My dear Friend

There is not a sheep-farmer in the whole country has more cause than I have to cry out about this storm—it has untuned my instrument—killed my passion-tree1—detained that highland Schaafskopf [muttonhead] here beyond all patience—and, worst of all it has greatly impeded my communication with the only person whose sage advices might have enabled me to bear all these disasters with becoming fortitude— When I saw the snow rising higher and higher I really began to fear Providence a second time weary of the wickedness of the Earth designed to try choking with us instead of drowning—but to day I am greatly relieved—the snow is beginning to tumble off the houses and the roads will surely be open before Friday— I have told my Mother that you are coming and she seems in perfect good humour— What generalship it has required to bring matters to this point! my Mother took it into her head when you was last here to dislike you with all her heart—as my regard for you increased her's seemed to diminish in an inverse ratio— I must either give up my friend, or disoblige my Mother there seemed no other alternative—now my friends are not so plenty that they should be lightly parted with—and my Mother is not so easily pleased that she should be lightly offended. The case of the Ass between the two bundles of hay was not more puzzling—she had to choose between two goods. I between two evils—but the Ass was an Ass and I am a young lady—“full of devices”— The storm that threatened “the commonwealth” was truly terrible—but, you may thank your stars! I have brought it into a safe port—when (I make bold to say) a less sanguine and less skillful Pilot would have abandoned the helm and left it to its fate— Truly I admire your good sense in trusting our affairs to my guidance for the future!—

Besides the highland impediment we have had daily visitors for a whole fortnight so that I have got nothing read except Turandot2 and Napoleon's memoirs3— I assure you I have made a violent effort to keep my temper— Had you seen me playing at battle-door—pitch and toss—Tig— Brag—& Blind-harry4 with my Cousin and Dr Fyffe —overthrowing tables & chairs and fright'ning my Mother and Shandy out of their wits—you would have thought I stood nowise in need of your many exhortations to learn to be idle with a good grace— But you would have thought wrong— I wished my cousin with his perfumed handkerchief, and the little Tom Thumb of a Dr at the devil all the while! Poor little man of Phisic!5 it was cruel to wish it any harm—he likes me so very well! and is so very, very civil to Shandy!— Now—do not be angry. I really am not ungrateful— When he speaks nonsense (which is not seldom) I never laugh— I give him all my fingers when I shake hands with him—and when we walk together I always do him the hon'or to take his arm— What more could any reasonable little man desire?— I was greatly afraid we should have had another week of merriment; but fortunately the Highlander got off on Saturday in a chaise that carried the mail— He has heard me speak of you, and expressed a great desire to see you— I once thought of gratifying him; but on reflection it seemed cruel to inflict on you a moment of such company—so I told him you looked much like other men, and recommended him to ‘Belshazar's Feast’ and the Panorama of the Procession6 as objects that would better repay his curiosity— However I should not be surprised if he contrives to stumble on you after all—for he is as obstinate as Balaam's Ass7— I wish I had the letter that is lying for me— Be sure and send it whenever the coach begins to run— If you have any more German books I will thank you to bring me another—as I have read all this, except Macbeth which I mostly know by heart. What a plague I am! I hope you have thought on something for me to write— I am very sorry for myself— I found among my papers the other day some chapters of a little nonsensical novel written in half text when I was thirteen or there abouts— [A]bsurd little idiot! I had no doubt, while I was writing it, that it would im[m]ortalize me— I remember I read it aloud with the airs of a full grown Author—they all praised it—and He praised it, and called me his dear clever child—my heart was ready to burst with joy & pride and well it might for I valued nothing in the whole world so much as his approbation—no success however brilliant could yield me another such moment now— I was going to say that this attempt at composition though truly ridiculous proves to my great dis[s]atisfaction that my talents have by no means improved as might have been expected in so many years— I do fear I am fit for nothing— I wish I could refrain from teazing you with this incessant subject—

My Mother will be much obliged to you if you will take the trouble to call at my Uncle Robert's office8 in Thistle Street—on Thursday or Friday forenoon— She has written to him to give you some money matter which— Now that I think of it—I need scarcely have plagued you with such a letter when I am to see you so soon— Adieu till Friday— Yours Affectionately

Jane B Welsh

I am practising a new hand to day—as you will see to your cost