The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 22 December 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18231222-TC-JBW-01; CL 2:490-492.


Kinnaird House, 22nd December, 1823—

My dear Jane,

I have been in such a weak insipid humour ever since I left Edinr, that till now I could not determine to afflict you with my dulness. The oxide of mercury and the devil and the storms of winter and the ill nature of my own heart are all against me: it requires a degree of philosophy scarcely inferior to that of Epictetus himself to keep from dying of the spleen. I hope it is better with you in Haddington; but here it is dreariness itself. There is a day of piercing frost, then a day of snow, then three days of sleety vapour; and then we begin our cycle as before. I declare it is quite tempting to go abroad: you wade to the ancles in half melted snow, with a drizzling fog overshadowing the whole universe, or a howling tempest of drift and snow and whirlwind coming roaring thro' the pass of Killiecrankie, as if the very genius of Winter were riding on the blast. Except Buller and I (condemned men) no mortal stirs abroad: it is true you here and there meet with some ancient weatherbeaten smuggler beating up against the storm, on the outside of his garron [broken-down horse or pony], with two kegs of whisky, and a truss of straw by way of saddle, —his face of a mahogany colour, and whiskers jingling with a load of frozen sleet; but it is his element, you cannot say he is abroad. Oh it is a delicious season of the year; and then the place affords so many special recreations! I read nonsensical books, being unable either to think or write; I walk to and fro, muffled up in a thick great coat, with galoches and a huge hairy cap; I talk ineptitudes with the people, and drive away the time till February come, as best I may. It is essential to my comfort that I smother all sparkles of ambition within me: if I looked beyond the present quarter of a year, or attempted any thing more than merely existing I should be completely wretched. It appears to me that rest were well exchanged for fame at any time. What matters it that one is stupid and ignorant and void of genius, so one had but peace and rest, and could say to his soul: Soul take thine ease, thou hast goods laid up for many years!1 I maintain that you and I are far too ambitious: one of the first steps in our improvement will surely be the diminution of that feeling. If we are ever to be happy, it must be so[.]

I do not recollect that I ever thought more, or more anxiously, about you than since we parted last. It still seems to my alarmed imagination that the crisis of our fate is at hand, that we are to be dashed asunder by the strong arms of Destiny, and driven ere long into everlasting separation. In fact it is clear enough that things cannot stand as they are. For me I have long looked on pitiful Misery as my companion for life; there is little hope of my recovering even health, and without this the sceptre of the universe were not worth a pin. So I have laid my account with endurance and a perpetual train of despicable suffering—till the end—which is not very distant. But for you, with such advantages and such aims, it is infinitely harder that you are unhappy. My late visit has convinced me too well that this is the case with you: would that the remedy were equally plain! No, my dearest friend, you are not happy: indeed how could you be so? What communion has light with darkness; or you with the inane people your lot is cast among? You are encircled with drivelling and folly; nothing that your mind can relish or care for; companionless, tho' your heart is full of warm affections: you have sacrificed all for the sake of your improvement, yet you are obstructed almost stopped in your progress towards it. My dearest Jane!2