The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 28 February 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230228-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:294-296.


Haddington Friday [28 February 1823]

My dear Friend

I flatter myself you will, by this time be out of all patience— I should and would have written to you sooner could I have got it done— Since ever the fine weather commenced we have been paying for the respite we enjoyed during the storm— The “Callers by profession” of whom our friend Doctor Joralic1 speaks so disrespectfully have been swarming in every quarter and so extremely lavish of their civilities to us that I have scarce had time to learn my lessons let alone scribbling— You have positively smothered me with books— I entreat you will send me no more till I have done with those I have got which will be—I should think—about this time next year— I return Gillies—when I have made some acquirements in philosophy I shall perhaps have fortitude to attempt it again— At present—I would as soon undertake to climb Ben Nevis2 as read it to the end— I am staggering through Goethe as fast as I can—that is very slowly— Schiller was nothing to this— Goe[t]z puzzled me so excessively that I thought it adviseable to let it alone for a little and try something else— I chose Stella as I had read it in french—and with great difficulty I have got through it and part of Clavigo3— I do not think I shall like Goethe much unless he improves greatly—he has fire enough but it is not the celestial fire of Schiller— I have read no more of Boccac[c]io than his description of the plague which is extremely powerful from the hesitation you seemed to have in allowing me to read him I felt inclined to return it immediately—but on reflection I thought it silly to deprive myself of the pleasure of reading a clever work because it contained some exceptionable passages which I might pass of[f] even if I found them disagreeable—so I shall go on—at least as long as I find it for my good— I like Dr Joralic very much—and I would like him still better if he was not so immoderat[e]ly fond of tropes and figures— One cannot serve God and Mammon and I should think Fancy and Metaphysics are not less distinct—the ingenious Dr perplexes both himself and his readers in trying to combine them—

I have found such a prize since you were here—at the top of a dark lane in a back part of the town I have discovered—you would never guess what! I have actually discovered a Genius!!! Was there every [ever] any thing so fortunate?— I was so much in want of something to give an interest to my leisure hours—and what could fill up the vacuum better than this? even a lover would not have answered my purpose half so well!— The said Genius is a beggar-boy about sixteen years of age— He lives with his Mother an old miserable woman in a kind of cell four feet square or thereabouts— Never had Genius such a habitation—one stool, a palsied table, a sort of wooden press and the womans bedstead compose the whole furniture of their little sorrowful dwelling—and yet it has a look of cleanliness I may almost say of taste that keeps one from shuddering at its abject poverty— the black clay walls are almost entirely covered with drawings—heads—globes Landscapes, caricatures—all sorts of things—many of them displaying great invention and a considerable knowledge of the principles of the art—a very perfect model of a Man of war stands in the window place and the table is loaded with a number of books—so tattered—so smoked they might have been the property of Noah—the ship—the drawings—are the handiwork of my Genius—and the books have been collected by him from—God knows where!— Nor are these all his treasures—the wooden press contains many more—you would be amazed to see this humble imitation of an artist's Cabinet it[s] motely contents are arranged with so much order and taste!—from this repository he produced a small budget of manuscript poetry which he got from a woman he said that could not read it— no wonder! such a manuscript! such poetry!— however he seemed to set a high value on it—most likely—because it is the only factual work in his library— I asked him if he was fond of poetry—the creature's eyes sparkled as he answered me “Oh grand! I like it better than any thing— unless it be drawing and histories![”]— If ever there was a genius in the world this is one!— It cannot be education still less example that has given this bent to his mind—he has had no instruction except a few lessons in reading and he never saw any body draw in his life—and then what obstacles has he struggled with in the gratification of his tastes! His whole life has been one fight with want[.] In summer he used to work for his bread in the public gardens—but at present all the subsistence of himself and his Mother is eighteen pence a weekfrom the town—and the uncertain charity of individuals—he says he cannot get work but I suspect the truth is the poor Genius has a most Genius-like distaste for all kinds of vulgar labour—and besides his mothers infirmity (she broke her leg five weeks ago) requires his constant attendance—yet all the misery of his situation cannot drive him from his employments within doors— He is at his books early and late and tho' he seldom knows what [it] is to have his hunger satisfied there is scarce a day he does not defraud his stomach—by spending a part of his little subsistence on drawing-paper— He is a genius beyond all doubt!—and I expect I shall live to see my beggar boy a great man!— Mr Aitken declares he never heard of the life of Madame de Stael—how provoking— I am sure if I were in the shop I could find it—but no matter—think of something else— I was delighted with Las Cases—you must read it—it gives the perfecting stroke to Napole[on's] character. Others have granted him a brilliant Genius and a lofty soul— Las cases has added to these a noble and a feeling heart— will you call at Dicksons and buy half a pound of Mustard!!! send it in the next parcel— My Mother will be in your debt till we come to town— I am glad you are satisfied with your visit here— I cannot say I thought it was made so agreeable to you as it might have been—but that Mad girl! I could not help it— write me long and soon—send your tale—and take care of your health— I have heard from Mr Irving I will tell you about him next time[.] Yours affectionate[ly]—in excessive haste

Jane B Welsh