TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 18 February 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230218-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:289-293.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
3. Moray-street, 18th Feby, 1823—
My dear Friend,
I am certainly a very idle person; or I should not again so soon be troubling you with my lucubrations. It were far better to profit by the wholesome excitement which your words and still more your presence never fails to inspire me with, than to speculate about it; better to obey the favourable impulse of my impressions than to spend time in recording them. But tho' “the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak”:1 you must let me talk to-day; to-morrow I shall rise and be doing.
In spite of bad health and all its wretched etceteras, I am greatly pleased with this visit of mine. The kind hospitality of your Mother, the affectionate friendship of my own Jane are delightful to look back upon, in spite of all obstructions. To you I know not how I can be grateful enough for the pleasure which you have both the power and the will to diffuse over even the most desolate portions of my existence. If I did not trust that there was a long and brighter future before us, I should feel quite overburthened with my debt. Another genuine gratification which I have derived from this excursion is the conviction it has given me of your rapid and constant improvement. It seems to me as if your mind were almost doubled in power and real wealth since I talked with you last year. I am proud to think of your noble devotion, to compare the way in which you spend your hours with that in which most young women spend them. The spectacle of so many temptations vanquished, so much ardour expended in such a cause, would interest me for the meanest of my fellow mortals. I pray that you may long continue so gloriously employed: you have reason in the mean time to be thankful that you have at last fairly entered on so extensive and so praiseworthy a field of exertions; I feel more and more certain that no other could have offered any free and profitable expansion to your faculties; as a mere Lady you must have felt even in the most brilliant station completely unhappy, your utmost efforts might have been required to prevent your very gifts from degenerating into vices. But it is not merely in an intellectual point of view that I congratulate myself on the progress you are making. As a woman, it strikes me, that, your improvement is not less marked. Your affections I think are becoming more catholic, your tastes more simple; you seemed far more kindly and affectionate and every way amiable. Perhaps my individual experience corrupts my judgement; but I certainly hope more confidently than ever that you are yet to realize all my anticipations of you—to be not only a shining ornament of literature, but what is even better, the happy and happy-making Wife of some gallant character that will know how to prize you;—to gain both the laurel of intellectual reputation, and what our Schiller calls the crown of womanhood, “liebend eines Mannes Herz beglückend” [“by loving making glad a man's heart”].— I have often thought of Sundaynight, and wondered what it was that pleased me so in it. We said nothing worth remembering, the scene was simple, our employments still simpler: what then made me happy? The French say truly: Le plus grand des plaisirs, c'est l'abandon de soi-meme [To lose self-consciousness is the greatest of pleasures]. It is such hours as those that I look back upon as on something far finer than the common stuff that life is made of. If I thought we two could always spend our evenings so, I fear I should be tempted to forget my own principles and your interests both; and assail you with all my rhetoric to fly with me to some Highland or Lowland glen, no matter where or of what kind, so we had it to ourselves!!!— But ah! But ah! What would my rhetoric avail? Nor am I such a ninny as to wish it should avail. I know well that there is no rest which is not purchased by toil; the first great want of our mind is vigorous action, the next is outward means: but vallies and glens are places of idleness and privation; and pleasure without its fit attendants is but a curse the more. So I must not think of glens: we are far better as we are.
But really I am prosing very unaccountably: I must proceed to business. Here are the first two volumes of Delphine2 for your Mother; and I have sent John to see if he can get Boc[c]accio3 for you. Even yet I am in doubt about the sending of it: four years ago I should have at once decided in the negative. As it is, however, you must venture. The book after all has not many impurities; and over your mind, these will pass like breath across a mirror, darkening it for a moment, and only for a moment.4 I believe ladies do read the work whenever they can: Mrs Buller speaks without hesitation of having perused it in French. After all, perhaps you may not get it, or if you do may not like it; and more preliminaries are superfluous. Boc[c]accio is the least of all like Schiller or your other favourites.
Now have you finished Las Cases5? I long to hear of your having procured de Staël, and being fairly set forth in your literary enterprize. I have even some fears that the book will not be forthcoming; for I tried yesterday, and found that except from Mr Aitken there was no chance for it. I pray you ascertain this as soon as may be; and if you succeed not, we shall strike out something else as good. The title of the work I think is: Mad. Necker's Life of Mad de Staël.6 Mr Bradfute was the Publisher here, and so is likely to have a copy of it.
I have read over the Rival Brothers7 [underscored twice]—and with more real enjoyment than any regular tragedy has given me of late. I am not going to flatter you with talk about the promises of genius which it affords, tho' I must say that for a girl of fourteen it seems a very curious affair: but my interest was arrested by other causes. To me it was as if I had been surveying on the mountain-tops the sources of some clear and smiling stream along whose banks I had often lingered with delight before unknown to me—whose widening, more majestic course I hoped yet to follow till the great Ocean should receive us both. For some such reasons I suppose it is that I like the little tragedy, and must ask you to let me keep it till you want it for some better purpose. I must also request you to be very careful of the small arm-chair,8 which stands in the room beside your parlour! I know not how I felt when I saw the poor little thing standing so quietly beside the hearth: it brought bygone days before my fancy; I could have rhymed like a Lake-poet over it. This is very childish? Very! but what can I do to help it? You must let me prate for once.
At length however my course is well nigh done. I must lay aside this dissipated humour, and begin to work. The day after to-morrow, I am vowing to begin another Tale. It was you that bade me, so you must answer for the issue. I have long been very idle, and am growing more and more stupid every day. Scarce any thing can rouse me, and every thing goes to wreck when I cease exertion. I wish you were beside me constantly: under your auspices I feel as if it were a crime to let sickness or any other cause keep me one moment from my speed. You are growing far more merciful of late: but should I abuse your mercy?
I look forward to the beginning of March with hopes of spending many many an hour beside you. For God's sake do get the matter all arranged as you said; send them all away, and stay here a month by yourself. You need not fear that I will incommode you too much: I promise to make you absolute mistress of my movements in that respect; to go and to come exactly as you shall require. Only you must if possible contrive to get me some employment that will keep me beside you some hours every day. You must read German or do something: I leave the whole with yourself; for you have undertaken to manage the commonwealth, and I put all faith in your administration. Exert your skill then: you have two to care for, and one of them is very sticklish about his interests.
I had a long and very hearty letter the other day from Irving,9 who professes to be dying for news from Scotland. His mind I can see is in a very foamy state, which he is evidently struggling to repress or conceal. After all abatements, he is one of the very best fellows breathing. Do you mark this paragraph? “I pray you to give my dearest affection to my beloved pupil Jane Welsh, if” (what an if!) “you are in correspondence with her. I shall never cease to love her like a Brother. Now that I have shaken off the lethargy of winter, I shall write to her.”
But when will she (this beloved pupil) write to me? I am waiting patiently and hoping well. We are now grown old friends, there should be less reserve, we ought at last to know each other. You have written excellently of late: I only ask that you do not “fall away from your first love.”
Here is John with old Boccaccio! you will get the Novelle to-morrow. Tell me all that you have done about De Staël; how you like Götz,10 and Gillies, and what other thing you want. If you would gratify me, shew me I entreat you how I may be of service to you. Hitherto [my will] has not been faulty; but alas! for the performance!— Write to [me as] soon as possible: let the letter be as long and careless and garrulous and truehearted as it can be made. You must walk out every day, when the weather is dry: you must if you love yourself or me. When otherwise, play at shuttlecock for two full hours.
The Bullers talk of going to Largs11 in Summer: I will send to Mainhill for the ambling Galloway, and ride over all the moors in the West. I expect it will make me quite whole and sound. Poor old Kemp!12 I cannot get him out of my head. Sometimes I have almost been ready to ask you to go and visit him some mid-day. It were an errand of mercy which would not disgrace you. He requires to be consoled and humoured, and fed with with [sic] hopes; and the people that go near him seem to contradict the poor soul too much. I really pity him from the heart.
But I must conclude this piebald scrawl. I am not now upon my good behavior before the Court, or I should dread the censure of my Judge for some things I have scribbled. Write soon: and believe me to be,
My dear Jane, / Ever most affectionately Your's /
Tell your Mother she can have the rest of Delphine whenever she pleases. Be sure you regulate this matter of Madame de Staël; and above everything, Remember the Ides of March [underscored twice]! If you do not come, it will go near to produce convulsions in the state. Again farewell!— “The Ides of March”—