The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 16 April 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230416-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:331-335.


Haddington [16 April 1823]

My dear Friend

You are entitled to double thanks this time. your little note was a most agreeable surprise. I have been wishing to write every day for a week past and have always delayed till the next in the hope of having something positive to say respecting our will o' the wisp visit—but my patience will hold out no longer, and so I write again without being able to give or get any satisfaction on the subject— The gowns are made, the weather is fine, and there is nothing under the sun to detain us here that I can imagine—and still my Mother does not fix— The only symptom I can discover of our departure being at hand is the terrible hub-bub that is going on in the house, and which I have observed is always a prelude to our leaving home— we have as much noise and bustle, and as many workmen employed—about nothing—as if we were preparing against a siege— These “redding ups”1 are fearful affairs and to my unhousewife perceptions they produce no other effects than confusion discomfort and dirt—but no matter—

So we are to have no reading of German this summer after all—it is all one where we go now—as far as you are concerned— My Mother will not make out her visit to Dumfriesshire till after the beginning of May and till then my time in town will not be at my own disposal— Well it is very very provoking—but fretting will not mend the matter— This fine weather is very unfavourable to my studies—people come in and I am forced out at all hours of the day—there is nothing for it but to rise earlier—by the help of the Lord I got over my bed at seven—twice during the last week— I am busy with Gibbon, my adorable's life of Necker (not yours)2 and Fiesko[.]3 Either Schiller's prose is much more difficult than his verse or my head is much thicker than it was in winter— I hope it is not putting you to inconvenience my detaining these books so long[.] If you want them tell me instantly— “Speaking of swine4 a very ludicurous and rather annoying circumstance occur[r]ed to me the other day—you must have it for I think it will make you laugh— I was in the drawing room alone—fretting over the Robbers when, the door opened, and Betty an[n]ounced ‘a stranger gentleman’— A young man of fair complexion, dressed in a green surtout stepped forward— I rose—bowed—blushed and looked foolish as people do on such occasions—and stood a few seconds in expectation that he would relieve my bashfulness by pronouncing his name or business—but he did not seem inclined to break the ice, nor was I inclined to stand to be stared at, and so I motioned to him to take a seat and resumed my own— After some minutes of perplexing silence my ears were startled by a volley of my beloved German but the stranger gentleman spoke so fast I could not catch his meaning and my dilemma was extreme. At last he asked in English if I was not Miss Welsh and if I did not understand his language? Being satisfied on these points he drew a book from his pocket and said with an undaunted smile “You are rich Lady! I am poor. I have far to travel and am very poor indeed—buy this book of me—give me six and sixpence for this book!” What a dénouement to my conjectures! how prosaic! I was mortified beyond measure—it had not once entered my head ‘the stranger gentleman’ was a beggar however I gave him half a crown as he begged in German but declined buying his book (a sort of vocabulary) which could be of no use to me— He seemed well enough satisfied but did not like a Scotch beggar, immediately march off with his booty— He talked on for a whole hour and a half— There was so much of the Gentleman in his appearance that I felt a delicacy in desiring him to go away and besides his conversation was so animated it discovered such a curious mixture of talent and meanness levity and sentiment that I did not find his company tiresome— Among other passages of his history he told me of an affair he had in France with a young girl who was Beauty's self and goodness's self and who was friend of his heart and dearer to him than all his mondains friends together— She was an orphan and her guardian was a knave and embezzled her little fortune (very little I have no doubt)[.] The poor injured girl wept to him (to the stranger gentleman) and what cannot a beautiful woman effect by tears? a woman that loves? Her tears cost her guardian——here he made a long and fearful pause— What? I asked with some impatience; for though I did not half believe his little orderly romance I was interested in its catastrophe—what did they cost him? his life Lady!— I told him to restore, or by mine soul and honour and by the powers of the living Got[t] before the next sun went down he should be calt—calt as ice— I told him if there was any man in his human body to meet me in the Champ de Mars and give me vengeance! He cam Lady! pal as this (touching his shirt collar) but I left him paler— You killed him then? ay Lady! killed him through here (pointing to his belly)—and you feel no remorse? Ah Mädchen my soul is dark as the middle of night—had I one little glimmer of hope to guide me back to France! Ah esperance! esperance! but I have no hope no friend—Amalia mein Amalia is dead! keine hoffnung keine Freunde mehr [no more hope, no more friends]!—— From time to time he relieved the cunningly devised cruelties of his fate with the most humorous satire on the English— speaking of their passion for crushing (cursing) he said it was quite proverbial on the continent— when a John-bull appears on the streets of Paris the French say to each other “le voila! un Got-dam” [“there is one! a God-damn”]. Ah it is a crushing nation!—

At last some other visitors came in and my German was constrained to take himself off— On the evening of the following day a parcel (paid) was brought me from Dunbar which to my great surprise contained the stranger Gentleman's vocabulary and a letter which I shall transcribe for your edification5

[My dear good little lady!

You know I visited you, and begged a favor from you. You were ever so kind and listened to my plea— I told you of a young lady whom I loved, her name was Amalia Dorothea, Baroness de Richére, whose guardian I stabbed in a duel.— In that very moment when I entered your chamber, an ice-cold shudder shook my entire body, for such a resemblance as you bear to my Amalia (may her soul rest in peace) is indescribable; like one drop of water to another!— To be sure I am poor in money, but merry and contented in my soul! Indeed all is lost! Father! Mother! My Amalia! My everything! Forever! Yes, forever lost! but today I felt as though I was in paradise! I scrutinized you closely, but found only exactly the same features as my Amalia! Good little lady! Do you know what the word “Love” means? have you ever thought about it? You probably know what La Fontaine says “Great is the power of a woman in love!” As proof that I treasure you much more than everything else in the world, I make you a present of this book— May God be with you my good little lady! May love be your watchword! (Amen) Write me an answer at Berwick by the next post!!!!

I remain yours forever

James Robinson

N.B. I would be passionately disturbed, if you paid me for this book or sent it back; it is a memento.]

Mein Gott! what a strange stranger gentleman! I did not know what to do— The Antwort [answer] was out of the question. I could not bring myself to write a friendly letter to a beggar how everrich he might be in soul— To return his confounded book was the next thing; but then the carriage of it would have cost him more than a beggar might have found convenient to pay:—and according to the coach regulations I could not pay it further than Dunbar— I then thought of sending him the price of it in a blank cover but that would have subjected me either to insult a fool or be duped by a knave— I did not know what to do—and so I did nothing at all— But the stranger gentleman had no notion of letting me off so easily—two days ago I received another epistle from Newcastle (he is getting on) complaining of my cruel silence—wondering if I had not received his parcel, [or] if I could not read his German and praying me to relieve his anxiety by the very next post—the most of this letter was written in queer english—but the concluding sentence in which lay the cream of the jest was in German— It ran thus (as I translated it) “best, loveliest dearest of all women I ever saw! would that Fate had designed thee for my Bride”! (a modest speculation for a german beggar!) “Is then gold the only heaven gift that confers happiness? or is it not rather love?” (Wie kommen Sie zu dieser Wahrheit? [And how did you arrive at this truth?] “dear Lady be not offended with my German liberty—it is the practice of our nation to speak the heart's meanings rather than the heads.” Well they are a wonderful people these Germans! Dr Fyffe has an uncle a Baron at Vienna and I am sure he would have no objections to take me to him— I do think I will consider of it—but the German— Now what do you think I wrote—for I did write— Consider my romance—my admiration for the language and sentiment of his Fatherland—consider also that “a woman (at least so Goethe says) hates no one that courts her favour”6 and then guess what I wrote?——his address on the back of his own letter—and there the affair rests for the present— Are you very tired?— I have written no essay on friendship or essay on anything and nevertheless I love you sufficiently— I am a very shuttlecock of a creature— I have no stamina—but I will not plague you with my wants and faults and follies just now— I have something more worth while to tell— since I began to write my Mother has said something of going to town on Friday or Saturday— God grant it may be so for I am sick to death of these putting offs— I will send you word as soon as I arrive but I expect to hear from you before then write tomorrow or next day— What am I to do in Edinr all the time my Mother is in D[umfries]shire[.] I have some mind to go with her after all—but I wont; for they dont like me there— I will take lessons from some painter and Italian and leave the German till some other opportunity— What a monstrous lubberly letter! My love to your ampli[fi]cation7

Your Affectionate Friend / Jane Baillie Penelope8 Welsh