The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 21 July 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230721-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:402-405.


Templand 21st July [1823]

My dear Friend

In the letter I wrote to you from Galloway I promised you a longer and more legible one in a day or two— I hoped to have a little time to myself on my return hither. but in this very moderate expectation I am disappointed— I have found the house full of company— There is my uncle from Liverpool,1 his wife, the most horrid woman on the face of the earth,2 and five such children. in addition to all that were here before—what with the Mother's scolding, and the children's squalling, and my uncle's declaiming, and my Grandfather's fidgetting I am half demented—and if no immediate alteration for the better takes place in my condition, you may expect to hear of me being drowned in Nith or hanged in my garters— In vain I seek refuge in my own apartment— Uproar is in every part of the house; and I am no sooner amissing, than the cry of “Cousin Pen!3 come down, come down!” reminds me ‘I may not be my own mistress here— Good Lord deliver me!’ I am sore afflicted.—

I have risen at six this morning, for the purpose of fulfilling my promise to you, before the hubbub commences for I might as well think of flying to Ecclefechan on my quill, as of writing a connected sentence after ‘Babys’ first scream has announced her waking—

Such a week I spent in Galloway! There was no amusement within doors, and the weather precluded the chance of finding any without— “Cœlebs in search of a wife4 was the only book in the house; and even that was monopolized by a young Lady who came to my Uncles (I strongly suspect) on Cœlebs's errand— The rest of us had no weapon of any sort to combat time with. and for four whole days I sat counting the drops of rain that fell from the ceiling into a bowl beneath, or in burbling [twisting] the chain of my watch for the pleasure of undoing it— “oh Plato! what tasks for a philosopher!5 At length in a phrensy of ennui I mounted a brute of a horse that could do nothing but trot, and rode till I was ready to drop from the saddle—just for diversion— I left my companions wondering, when it would fair? and when I returned they were still wondering— how very few people retain their faculties in rainy weather!

I stayed two days in Dumfries on my way back. / and these two days were not so uninteresting as the preceeding ones. Who do you think was there at the same time? but the gallant Artist6 I took a fancy to last July, and whom I had imagined still breathing the atmosphere of Goëthe— But I did not see him! or rather I did not speak with him—for I actually saw him—on the opposite bank of the river! Let any one conceive a more tantalizing situation! Saw him—and durst not make the smallest effort to attract his notice! tho' had my will alone been consulted on the matter—to have met him “eye[s] to eyes, and soul to soul” —I would have swam—ay! swam across—at the risk of being dozed [dosed] with water-gruel for a month to come— Oh this everlasting etiquette! how many, and how ungrateful are the sacrifices it requires!

Tomorrow I am off again on another visit!—to be tormented (I have no doubt) after some other fashion[.] Alas! my beloved German! my precious precious time! but if ever my good Mother gets me wheedled here again! three weeks indeed! I conjectured how it would be from the very first— Long ago, when I was always at home, and happier than I shall ever be again, how I envied my companions who went about visiting and seeing sights! how I repined when my Father silenced my petitions for the same indulgence, telling me it was time to be idle when I had nothing more to learn! the very last time that he refused to gratify my idle inclinations, I felt so disappointed! fool that I was! and thought him so severe! I remember he took my hand and said to me “you are vexed Jane; but you will thank me hereafter for the restraint you now repine at— Oh! you will have enough of these unprofitable pleasures, before all's done—you will not always be at home with me”— These were prophetic words! there was something so mournful and tender in his look and voice when he pronounced them, that I could not restrain my tears— I know not how it was—from that moment my heart was heavy; as if I had had a presentiment of the calamity that approached me— The very same day, his illness commenced, and I was forced away from him—but I sat by the door of his room, and heard his voice—and when it was opened I saw his face —and sometimes I stood an instant by his bed in spite of their efforts to remove me—and then he looked so anxious, and said to my Mother “will you not send her away?” Oh my God the recollections of that short awful period of my life will darken my being, to the grave— I I have indeed had “enough” of the unprofitable pleasures I so much longed for!—

Here is another letter from you!— my head ached; so I went to bed again, and was enjoying one of the finest dreams imaginable, when the breakfast bell summoned me back to less agreeable reality— I had seated myself at table in no very ravenous mood, when what should I perceive upon my plate but a letter bearing the external marks that always ensure to yours a hearty welcome— Well! you are an inimitable correspondent! but you must not come here!—— on considering the circumstances I am placed in you will perceive the nonsense of the project— there can be no objection to our meetting at Haddington, if I am there at the time you mention—but of this I am as doubtful as yourself— as long as our friends here press my Mother to stay she will not stir—my only hope is in tiring them— who told you the people I am with are “sensible” they are no such thing—neither do they love tho' they treat me civilly— fewer people love me than one might imagine— You do—my mother does—Mr Irving does and one or two more that shall be nameless—but depend on it love is by no means the general sentiment I inspire— “speaking of Swine” what is become of our gigantic Friend?7 where is his book?8 I wrote to him some months ago; but he has vouchsafed me no reply—he has not a head for these London flatteries— I would write him again—a letter of admonition—yea verily—a letter of admonition to the “great centre of attraction”! [great underscored twice] to the Spanish Adonis!9 to the reverend Edward Irving himself! if I were sure of his address—do you opine he is still in Grosvenor Street?— It is all over with him if he forgets his earliest and best Friends— You must send me “Bride-kirk's ahunting” in all haste my Mother was expressing her surprise, the other day, that you had never thought of transcribing her song in any one of the ‘many’ letters I had received from you since you mentioned it— I told her it was lying for me at Haddington (is it?) but that I would beg of you to forward another copy without delay— Write nothing on the same page that may not meet the inspection of a dozen people— I was so hurried when I wrote last that I forgot to thank you for the beautiful little Tacitus—it was sent me with some other articles from Edinr where, I understand it had been lying for some time— It is a pity there is no other Language of gratitude than what is in every body's mouth— I am sure the gratitude I feel towards you is not in every body's heart— I have a good deal more to say at this present moment—but the children oh the children, if you only heard them!— Kiss little Jane for me and remember me to your Brother— Yours always Affectionately Jane B Welsh

I have only fulfilled my promise in half—my letter is ‘long’ but s[c]arcely ‘legible.’10