TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 6 April 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230406-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:324-327.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
3. Moray-street, 6th April, 1823.
My dear Friend,
You judged quite correctly in supposing that a short letter or any letter at all would satisfy me more than none. The one you sent me had more delightful things in it than some that I have got of thrice the bulk. You are a very excellent person—when you please: it is altogether charming to be your servant in these moods. May heaven bless you for thinking that “we shall never never quarrel more”! I myself design that we shall quarrel many thousand times, before all is done; each quarrel to last for fifteen minutes at the utmost, then we to kiss and agree and be better friends than ever. Any longer feud I would not for the world. You and I are two originals for certain “in our own humble way”: it is very kind in Fortune to have brought us together; otherwise, we might have gone on single-handed to the end of time. The day when you finally cast me off I shall regard as the very blackest in my history.
“Angry at you”! My dear Jane, I was never angry at you in my life, and do believe I never shall be seriously so. I cannot understand what sort of clay the man is made of that could be angry at you: I would have him drummed out of the Earth as an interloper and a counterfeit. My worst feeling towards you is pain at seeing you uncomfortable, and anxiety lest you may spoil your future happiness. Even on this subject I have no serious fears; but there is no end to one's scruples and suspicions. Formerly, I used to feel afflicted at your contemptuousness and want of constancy in your emotions; now I am turned to the other extreme, and begin to dread that you are growing too serious. In fact I think I have noticed in you of late a tendency to contemplative melancholy, and what they call a romantic turn of mind—not the romance which milliners experience when they think of becoming actresses or running off with young grocers; but that sickness of noble hearts, that deep and sad feeling of the nothingness of the world, which is apt to arise from too exclusive a pursuit of things high and spiritual, and too great an isolation from the every day interests and enjoyments of life. I fear there is some truth in this. If so, My dear Jane let me entreat you with the earnest voice of affection to guard against the approaches of this black demon, which has poisoned the existence of so many men of genius, and converted the world which they might have enlightened and adorned into a prison-house which they have deformed and disgraced. It is an evil of the first magnitude—the want of which almost compensates to the servum pecus1 for all their other wants. Fight against such thoughts, and fly where you cannot conquer. There is no efficient remedy but mingling ourselves as much as possible in the solid living concerns of our fellow creatures: these shadows disappear when we come forth from the cell of our own meditations into the cheerful light of day. You may feel that the people about you are frivolous and shallow and unworthy of your sympathies: no doubt they are so; but still they are our brethren, and it is the inflexible law of nature, that whoever withdraws from them is miserable.
As to your literary hopes, entertain them confidently! There is to me no better symptom of what is in you than your despair of getting it expressed. Cannot write! My dear Pupil, you have no idea of what a task it is to every one, when it is taken up in that solemn way. Did you never hear of Rousseau lying in his bed and painfully wrenching every syllable of his Nouvelle Heloise from the obscure complexities of his imagination. He composed every sentence of it, on an average, five times over; and often when he took up the pen, the whole concern was vanished quite away! John James2 is my only comfort when I sit down to write. I could frequently swear that I am the greatest dunce in creation: the cooking of a paragraph is little better than the labour of the Goldmaker; I sweat and toil and keep tedious vigil, and at last there runs out from the tortured melting-pot an ingot—of solid pewter.3 There is no help but patient diligence, and that will conquer every thing. Never waver, my own Jane! I shall yet “stand a-tiptoe”4 at your name. Not write! I declare if I had known nothing of you but your letters, I should have pronounced you to be already an excellent writer. Depend upon it, this is nothing but your taste outgrowing your practice. Had you been born a peer's daughter, and lived among literary men, and seen things to exercise your powers of observation, the world would ere this have been admiring the sagacious humour of your remarks and the graceful vigour of your descriptions. As it is, you have only to begin and to go on: time will make all possible, all easy. Why did you give up that Essay on Friendship? For my sake, resume it and finish it! Never mind how bad, how execrable it may seem, go thro' with it. The next will be better, and the next, and the next; you will approach at each trial nearer the Perfection which no one ever reached. If I knew you fairly on the way, I should feel quite easy: your reading is going on as it ought; there wants only that you should write also. Begin this Essay again, if you love me!
Goethe lies waiting for your arrival. You make a right distinction about Goethe: he is a great genius and does not make you cry. His feelings are various as the hues of Earth and sky, but his intellect is the Sun which illuminates and overrules them all. He does not yield himself to his emotions, but uses them rather as things for his judgement to scrutinize and apply to purpose. I think Goethe the only living model of a great writer. The Germans say there have been three geniuses in the world since it began—Homer, Shakespear and Goethe! This of course is shooting on the wing: but after all abatements, their countryman is a glorious fellow. It is one of my finest day-dreams to see him ere I die.
As you are fond of tears, I have sent you a fresh supply of Schiller. His Kabale und Liebe5 will make you cry your fill. That Ferdinand with his Du Louise und ich und die Liebe [Thou, Louise, and I and love]—is a fine youth; I liked him well—tho' his age is some five years less than mine. You will also read Schiller's life: it is written by a sensible and well-informed but very dull man.6 I forget his name—but Schiller once lived in his house,—near Leipzig, I think.
That miserable farrago of mine on the same subject goes on as ill as any thing can go. I have been thrice on the point of burning it, and giving up the task in despair. Interruption upon interruption, so that I have scarcely an hour in the day at my disposal; and dullness thickening round me till all is black as Egypt when the darkness might be felt!7 There is nothing for it but the old song Patience! Patience! I will finish it.— By the way, I wish you would think of the most striking passages you can recollect of in Karlos, Wallenstein, Tell &c: I design to give extracts and translations. Have them at your finger ends when you come.
Alas! Alas! this coming is a weary business: but I were a Goth to accuse you, for I see you have my contentment honestly at heart. Well, I will wait; and the time will come when I shall be repaid for it. One thing only I am afraid of; that these Bullers may carry me away from Edinr before your time! They speak of setting out for the country early in May—sometimes, on the first day of it. I was quite enraged at them last week: they talked of living thro' the summer at North Berwick, and I kept dreaming day and night about seeing you perpetually, and being happy by your side;—till behold! it turned out that North Berwick would not do, and we must away to Dunkeld or some undiscovered spot among the Grampians! These are hard things for flesh and blood: but better days are coming. Blessed future! one always turns to it. I have yet seen little of you—but enough to make me pray that I may never lose sight of you, while I live in this world—or any other. I am always
Your friend and brother, /
You must write immediately. I am in an immense hurry, and as usual have concluded at mid-way. Byron has sent us a new poem the Age of Bronze:8 it is short, and pithy—but not at all poetical. Byron may still easily fail to be a great man. You shall see his Bronze (a poetical squib) when you arrive; and another Liberal which is on the way. Come speedily,—lose no moment you can help losing. I know you will, being in the benignant aspect at present,—which is your natural one, makes all the world love you, and if my prayers be heard will last forever. Adieu my dear friend! Be diligent and c[ome!]
Alas! the Kabale und Liebe is not here; you must content yourself with the Robbers9 and the Life for this time, I will send the other instantly if you require it.