TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 8 January 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240108-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:8-11.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Kinnaird House, 8th Jany, 1824—
Ma bien-aimée [My well-beloved]! I write to you in the greatest haste, rather than miss writing altogether. Owing to some infatuation, which I hardly pretend to account for, much less to excuse, I absolutely could not fix myself to any vigorous exertion of thought till within the last three days. I did nothing but read useless books, and dream, and gossip with Mrs B[uller] about the literary men of the age, or with her husband about “Hume's philosophy,” and Jeremy Bentham, and “the force of public opinion.” Now Schiller is to be called for in a fortnight; and I am just about to burn the only three pages of it that are yet written. Judge then if I am hurried!
Who would have thought that you possessed such a melancholy gift of imagining? I conceived that I myself had been the only adept in that profitable science: but I now find that you are not a whit inferior. Lost my affection? O Jane! that you were equally secure against all other losses! My affection for you is not grounded on vague and transient delusions, but on congruity of disposition, on respect for your qualities, and tender concern for your fate: it is calm and steadfast; and will not change, till you are tired of it, or I am become a very miserable creature. At all events we will not part so long as we can help it. I will correspond with you to the end—if your future Sovereign will permit so pleasant an arrangement; and if he will not, he must be a churl undeserving the happiness of such a wife. As for the aimiable Mrs C. that shall be, it is not likely that she will disturb us for several years yet.
I need not say that I rejoice to hear of the new facilities for study, and the general accession of comfort you have lately acquired. Are you still well? For God's sake take care of yourself: it is the most dreadful thing out of the Pit of darkness, the only thing that can completely ruin you and make you miserable, to lose your health. One great point is to keep as free as possible from all disquieting thoughts; a prescription indeed easy to give, but difficult effectually to follow. There is no mastering of these vexations by open combat; the best way in general is to avoid them, to give them the slip by diligence or dissipation of any kind. But the misfortune of people such as we are is that we can find no proper dissipation; the persons about us have other aims, other ideas; their conversation is not of the kind we seek; we reject it entirely, and chuse rather to dwell in the solitude of our own chagrin than in the midst of such inane tho' comfortable follies. This I believe is altogether wrong; tho' few can at first perceive it to be so. One should have company—communion and fellowship with our kind—even if it were but with the drivellers of the earth. My dearest Jane! if you would avoid being wretched, never estrange yourself from the beaten ways of men: mix in their concerns, participate in their interests, imitate their common habits, however poor and mean. No one knows more bitterly than I the consequence of neglecting this. Observe it, be diligent, cherish honest thoughts, and with health and competence you will be happy. Burton's precept in his Anatomy of Melancholy is, “Be not solitary, be not idle”; with my whole strength I repeat to you, “Be not solitary, be not idle.”1
You speak of the decay of ambition. I do truly believe that you never will be perfect as you should be till your ambition is considerably lessened. Fame is a pleasant thing to get, as all men, indeed all living creatures know: but I am persuaded that the love of it was never yet and never can be the moving principle of any genuinely great action. This appears to me as certain as the fact of our existence. If I thought you were impelled towards literature by no higher principle, I should feel very sorry: and as it is, I look forward with great hope of benefit to the mitigating influence of years, the flight of which is sure to diminish this feeling in you. For myself I declare I often feel that one hour of deep, deep rest were worth all the glory in the universe.
This, you observe, is nothing but the old song; and you do not value it a jot. I confess I do not love you less for your unbelief; tho' for the sake of your own happiness and true dignity I wish very much I could convince you. I would prove that literary fame, even when it can be gained in all its fulness, is by no means the most enviable thing for man or woman; that life has other far more solid, and I hesitate not to say, more noble enjoyments and attainments; that [it] forms a beautiful enhancement to these more general blessings, but that without them it is worse than nothing. Will you not believe this? I pray God that a more mild experience than usual may teach it you. But let me not weary you with sermons; you have enough for once. You know in your heart that it is a trembling anxiety for your happiness that prompts me, therefore you will not take it ill. I often wish I could live three calendar months beside you: it seems to me I could correct much much in your philosophy of life, that I greatly fear may yet work you pain. One thing you should drive away from you: it is the excessive vehemence with which you regret your small proficiency and the flight of time. This is very natural, but erroneous. Life is not so short as that amounts to: I believe no literary man ever spent the fiftieth part of his time or attention upon literature. Cowper was near his grand climacteric2 before he began to write at all. Think what forty years of diligence will do, if you employ them well! I swear to you there is no danger: you want only a little experience to give you confidence in your own powers. You live at present shut out, absolutely shut out, from all communication with minds like your own: this is the greatest evil in your lot; it is this which I hope your journey to London will do much to remedy. You see the world as it were thro' a telescope: no wonder that you know not how to touch it, or produce effect on it. All this, however, Time will remedy. Exercise your own judgement, consider, calculate calmly and solemnly what is best to be done in every emergency; do it steadfastly; I predict unflinchingly that Jane Welsh will yet be an honour to her sex and country. Only be patient and firm; and there is no danger. Be kind, obliging, good-natured to all about you, and diligent at your tasks, and never fear.
I am coming down to Edinr against the first of Feby, when Meister is to go to press. Of course you will write to me within two weeks; for after that, my “whereabout” is not determined. Will you? Then I send you the Jungfrau3 from Edinr, with much “chirography.”— Whether I go to Cornwall or not is uncertain. Brother Alick and I are talking about renting a farm by the still waters in the bottom of Annandale. I am to be sleeping partner; to have a horse and fit apartment &c; Alick to care for all the rest. This plan I know will not answer; but it pleases me for a moment. Some thing must be done for this miserable frame of mine: the want of health is almost driving me mad. Adieu my own Jane! I am ever your's
Tell me carefully concerning Rübezahl and Gibbon (what a pair!) and all your other studies and pursuits. You must be very punctual and circumstantial. It is a great evil that we live so far asunder, and there is nothing but the pen to help it. Are you well? Are you happy? Poor Goethe, I observe, is “dangerously sick.”—
Washington Irving, I now hope, is not dead.4 Do you hear any thing of it? Write soon—and be very good.