TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 22 October 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18231022-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:457-462.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Kinnaird House, 22nd October, 1823—
My dear Jane,
I had brought out this sheet last night, with intent to enjoy your company for an hour by means of it, when my conscience spoke up and told me it was shameful to waste your time and mine in such unprofitable tho' delightful reveries; that “Schiller's Life” was not begun, and to tell you that I was still in the bonds of idleness would but provoke your sorrow and contempt. In consequence of this sagacious admonition, I actually shoved in the little papers and took out the large ones; I commenced that unheard of enterprize, toiled at it till my eyes fell together; and tho' out of extreme dulness my advance was scarce perceptible, I make that achievement of half a blotted page the pretext of scribbling to you this evening without let or hinderance. You are more to me than all the Schillers of the Earth: I turn to you in all my hopes and undertakings, and have no pleasure in the world like that of talking to you.
What a blessed vision is this which my own beloved Jane contemplates for us two! Three months beside each other—three months employed in gathering knowledge, seeing wonders, interchanging all our thoughts—together, never parted by business or by ceremony—delighted with the world and with each other—you growing in improvement, I shewing you by words and deeds a thousand times a-day that I loved you more than any thing beneath the sky! This, I declare, were a prospect which could it be realized might almost turn one's head with happiness. Three months spent in such pure felicity would contain more heartfelt joy than many a lengthened life, and might make a man surrender all the hopes of more distant years for the sake of so much present satisfaction. But alas! alas! there is clay in all things that dwell upon this nether Earth. I have reflected on this project in various moods; I have seen the great Divine and studied him; the sunshine of your letter is freckled with a thousand clouds. As yet I can decide on nothing; nor will I, till we meet and talk two days together: you shall have all my reasons and exposures; and then you shall decide yourself. We have but one interest in this as in all things.
But whether I go or stay, there appears to me abundance of inducement to take you thither[.] Irving contemplates I know not what advantage from submitting you to the example and kindly influences of this seraphic Mrs Montagu; for the whole of which I would not give three straws: I already know this eternal Mrs Montagu; take some two or three thousand a year, a graceful demeanour, a kind disposition, and a boundless admiration of His Reverence, I could bet that these are all the leading features of that terrestrial angel: and I run no risk of flattering when I say that your character neither will nor should assume another form from hers. I rather incline to think she will have more instruction to get than to give from the proposed conjunction. But independently of such chimerical advantages, the benefits of this journey do really seem considerable. You will see new forms of life, you will converse with cultivated men, you may gather much insight into character and manners, and what is equally desireable into the nature and extent of your own powers and the best mode of turning them to use. Not that I think this essential: patient study, constant, long-continued, earnest endeavours will bring forth your genius in its native brightness without this fostering, and nothing else will even with it. Still it cannot fail to help, and therefore has a certain value. Another thing I look to is the happiness which you may realize along with these improvements. Storing your mind with so many novelties, some of them so instructive, you cannot fail of being comfortable. Edward Irving you know as well as I: with all his unspeakable absurdities and affectations he has the warmest and most beneficent heart of any man I ever saw. He loves you as a sister, and will treat you as one. His wife you will hardly like, but neither can you well dislike her. She is unbeautiful; has no enthusiasm, and few ideas that are not prosaic or conceited: but she possesses I believe many household virtues; she loves her husband and will love his friends. On the whole, you must go. I will escort you thither in the month of May; and if I cannot stay with you, I will return and bring you back in safety to your Mother's hearth, whenever you grow tired. It will grieve me deeply if we determine that I am not to abide with you; the home of my mind is where you are; would that my bodily home were there too! But I shall live in hope that future days will use us better; that we shall not leave the world without tasting in more unfettered intercourse the blessedness of this affection which makes us one. Yes, my darling Jane! I feel as if there were something sacred in the love I bear you; as if Providence could not mean that this last streak of heavenly brightness should fade away in vain from my tempestuous sky. I have told you we were made for each other's happiness, ordained for one another from the beginning of time. Let mutual faith and devotedness and true honour be our constant guides: if they conduct us to happiness, such as Earth has seldom witnessed or mortal hearts enjoyed, our part will be thankfulness to the Beneficent Creator and love stronger than death to one another thro' all the dark vicissitudes of our being: if not, we cannot help it, the blame will not be ours.
Irving and I spoke about this project of his and my share in it; but we could come to no conclusion. He figured out purposes of unspeakable profit to me, which when strictly examined all melted into empty air. He seemed to think that if set down on London streets some strange development of genius would take place in me, that by conversing with Coleridge and the Opium eater,1 I should find out new channels for speculation, and soon learn to speak with tongues.2 There is but a very small degree of truth in all this. Of genius (bless the mark!) I never imagined in the most lofty humours that I possessed beyond the smallest perceptible fraction; and this fraction be it little or less can only be turned to account by rigid and stern perseverance thro' long years of labour, in London or any other spot in the universe. With a scanty modicum of health, a little freedom from the low perplexities of vulgar life, with friends and peace, I might do better; but these are not to [be] found by travelling towards any quarter of the compass that I know of; so we must try what can be done with our present very short allowance of them. Untiring perseverance, stubborn effort is the remedy: help cometh not from the hills or vallies; my own poor arm weak and shackled as it is must work out my deliverance, or I am forever captive and in bonds. Irving said I had none to love or reverence in Scotland. Kind, simple Irving! I did not tell him of the hearts in Scotland that I will love till my own has ceased to feel; of her, whose warm and pure and generous affection I would not exchange for the maudlin sympathy of all the peers and peeresses and prim saints and hypochondriacal old women of either Sex in the creation. I told him that love concentered on a few objects or a single one was like a river flowing within its appointed banks, calm, clear, rejoicing in its course; diffused over many it was like that river spread abroad upon a province, stagnant, shallow, cold and profitless. He puckered up his face into various furrowy peaks at this remark, and talked about the devil and universal benevolence, reproving me withal because I ventured to laugh at the pretensions of the devil.
On the whole our friend's mind seems to have improved but little since he left us. He [is as] full as ever of a certain hearty unrefined good-will, for which I honour him as I have always done: his faculties also have been quickened in the hot-bed of Hatton Garden, but affectation and vanity have grown up as rankly as other worthier products. It does me ill to see a strong and generous spirit distorting itself into a thousand foolish shapes; putting wilfully on the fetters of a thousand prejudices, very weak tho' very sanctified; dwindling with its own consent from a true and manly figure into some thing far too like a canting preacher of powerful sermons. He mistakes too: this popularity is different from fame. The fame of a genuine man of letters is like the radiance of another star added to the galaxy of intellect to shine there for many ages; the popularity of a pulpit orator is like a tar-barrel set up in the middle of the street to blaze with a fierce but very tarnished flame, for a few hours, and then go out in a cloud of sparkles and thick smoke offensive to the lungs and noses of the whole neighbourhood. Our friend must order matters otherwise. Unless he look to it, he bids fair for becoming a turgid rather than a grand character; a kind of theological braggadocio, an enlarged edition of the Revd Rowland Hill,3 but no great man, more than I or any other of the King's liege subjects. However, as the preachers say “I hope better things, tho' I thus speak.” I expect something from the prudence of his wife; more from the changes of fortune that await him. There is a strong current of honest manly affection and wholesome feeling running beneath all this sorry scum; perhaps a clearance will take place in due time. I love the man with all his nonsense, I was wae to part with him. If he will keep you happy for three months, I shall forgive him every thing.4
In the mean time, you will stick close to the task that is before you. We creep before walking, the adage says; and so it shall be with Jane and me. Never faulter, my own heroic Jane; you have chosen the better part, and all will turn out as it should. Glorious employments, heavenly days are yet before us. Your mind shall yet attain its full stature, be admired of all the world, and loved by me forever as the life-blood of my own.— These difficulties in Musäus I easily understand: do not let them scare you. Never mind preserving the figure of his style, there is no peculiar beauty in it. Alter every thing according to your own notions; cut sentences into two; join two together; turn them inside out, just as seems good to you. I think you would find it adviseable to read over three or four times the passage you mean to work on for the day; to make up your mind about the difficulties, and impress the whole upon your mind, before putting pen to paper: then the words will flow as smooth as oil. Tell me every thing about this, and all and sundry. All! all! I am never satiated with hearing my other self.5
What of this unhappy Youth? My feelings towards him will soon be mingled largely with contempt and anger unless he cease to tease you with his sorrows. Why does he not forbear to see you altogether? I pray you for all sakes not to mind him or get sick again. It is pitiful in the man to act thus: but what will not disappointed affection drive one to? Tell me how it is. What length are you got with Lybussa? Do you read any thing? Will you not finish Gibbon? Brother Johnathan will be in Edinr shortly; and proud to furnish you with any book you want. I still hope to see you in November: I will set out when this miserable “Life” is completed. Look that you be good and diligent and happy, and write to me every blessed week. O that November were here, and the Highland hills behind me, and I sitting by my own beloved Jane, telling all and hearing all! God bless you my Dearest! You will write to me immediately? I am your's forever,