The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO ELIZA STODART; 30 March 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230330-JBW-EA-01; CL 2:316-319.


Haddington Sunday [30 March 1823]

My dearest Cousin

I have commenced two letters for you during the last two weeks, and each time I have been interrupted by that Ass of Asses John Wilkie— To day I am safe till the church comes out— Was there ever anything more provoking? we are to have no war after all;1 our travellers on the Continent will be exposed to no inconveniences and so—well! no matter! it is better to keep company with Schiller and de Staël for one half year, than to “suckle fools and chronicle beer2 for half a century—I am going to forget him immediately. I could have done so long ago, but for one little action, that has made a strange impression on my senses— My spur required to be shifted from my left foot to my right; and you cannot think with what inimitable grace that small manœuvre was accomplished—whenever his idea occurs to me, I fancy him with one knee on the earth—his horse's bridle flung across his arm—his hands employed in fastening the spur—and his eloquent eyes fixed—assuredly not on what he was doing— Dear Bess is it not very extraordinary that a philosopher as I am, or pretend to be, should be so taken with an attitude? However I will forget him—hitherto I have been twice as constant as Penelope— She was encouraged by the assurance that as soon as Ulysses came, her troubles were at an end—but I have no such comfortable certainty—.

Really there is nothing at all amusing in one's mode of existence here. A tea-party, a quarrel, or a report of a marriage now and then, are the only excitements this precious little Borough affords— However I battle away with Time pretty successfully—my lessons employ the greater part of the day, and a little trifling with the “professional Callers” or a game at chess or battle-door with our constant man of physic Dr Fyffe, consumes the rest— Often at the end of the week my spirits and my industry begin to flag—but then comes one of Mr Carlyle's brilliant letters that inspires me with new resolution, and brightens all my hopes and prospects with the golden hues of his own imagination— He is a very Ph[o]enix of a Friend!— Sometimes too Providence prepares me a little extra entertainment—for instance: about a month ago—in one of the dirtiest darkest lanes in a most untidy part of the town—I found—you could never guess what! I actually found a Genius! the said Genius is a beggar-boy about fifteen years of age—he lives with his Mother (an ugly old sinner) in a sort of cell about four feet square— Never had Genius a more unpromising abode! a palsied table, a one legged stool, the wreck of a bed, and a sort of wooden-press are all the articles of furniture it contains— But in spite of its abject poverty the place has a look of comfort, I may almost say, of taste— Its black mud walls are plastered over with heads, maps, landscapes and caricatures—a neat little model of a man of war is mounted on brackets above the chimney, and the table is oppressed with books so smoked & so tattered! they might to all appearance date their antiquity from Noah's Ark— All the drawings and the Man of war are the boy['s] own work, and the most of his time, in spite of the obstacles of poverty and ignorance, is devoted to the cultivation of taste far superior to his state & education—

My ideas of talent are so associated with every thing great and noble, that while I admired the boy's ardour and ambition, it never once occur[r]ed to me, a Genius might possibly be a knave—and so I spent my leisure time for one whole fortnight in laying plans for his improvement in the arts, and anticipating the splendid career of successful enterprise that lay before him—but about the end of that time I began to suspect my subject might disappoint my lofty expectations—he discovered a mortal aversion to all kinds of vulgar labour—that is genius-like—he had never undergone the operation of baptism—that was quite romantic—but there were other points of his character and history which I could not easily away with—he is greedy, cunning, and ungrateful—this disgusted me—and when I found no power on earth could prevail with him to refrain from lying or to wash his face I lost all patience— My plans had given him so much eclat that my patronage was no longer necessary and so I left the patient in the hands of his new admirers— The Genius was suc[c]eeded in my affection by an Irish pack-man with a broken back—eight years old and a few inches high—a calm, correct decided character—the very reverse of the artist— he hops about with a cru[t]ch under one arm and a basket on the other; and with his profits on tape and chapel needles3 helps to maintain three sisters younger than himself

but my paper is getting filled and I have not given you one word of news— poor Jane Lorimer4 Margarets only sister is just dying of fever—she has been past hope for the last week— Miss Richardson5 is to be married on the first of April— The unfortunate couple have shown the little sense they have in selecting that day— poor girl she is apparently in a galloping consumption and it will be a miracle if ever she set her foot on Indian ground but if her purse is safe David6 will not vex himself about her lungs[.] I had a letter from Mrs Keith the other day—she is quite in the second Heavens— I wonder you have not heard of Dr Keith— he is brother to the Knight Mar[i]schal7 and has a library as famous as the Marischal's little pony— he is very clever and frightfully plain. but then he has a carriage and a fine footman—and what defects do not these supply?— my Mother has said nothing of the day tho' we are always speaking of the grand visit— I am so out of humour about it that I am resolved I shall not ask again but I fervently hope she will tell you when before long— kind love and kisses to Bradie & Maggie— I fear you will not be able to decipher this fearful scrawl— do you know I have got a fine head of hair lately—altogether I am looking rather more captivating than usual— I pray Venus it may last till I get to town

Yours affectionately for ever & ever / Jane Baillie Welsh

There is some chance of George Rennie paying a visit to Phantass[i]e during the spring or summer— I was surprised to hear it but I do not believe he will come