TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 7 March 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240307-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:40-45.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
1. Moray-street, 7th March 1824—
My dearly beloved Critic,
Your letter came to me on Tuesday morning: it found me bending under the weight of Meister like an Ass below two dust-paniers, and relieved me with a touch of nourishment and hope. I determined to answer it on Sunday: and here accordingly I sit scribbling to you, as if there were no gospel in the country. I know, it is very wrong; but how am I to help it? Throughout the week, it is second only to the Brixton Treadmill;1 nothing but write and walk, walk and write from morn to midnight. Besides I have no seat in their Kirks, nor are their parsons of the kind I like to hear. From all which premises, the inference is plain.
I [n]oticed your sarcastic looks in the coach, and expected your new sally on my genius. But alas! if you knew the whole history of that adventure, what obstacles I had to overcome, what exertions to make, I know you would feel your mind subdued with reverence for my dexterity, despatch and savoir faire, as it is already struck with admiration of my graces and chivalrous accomplishments. I have magnanimity enough to pass it over in silence! You praise the Indian Rubber, and ask me what your debt is. A question easy to answer! Simply a dozen (shillings,2 for books paper &c &c), a dozen, lying out at the highest rate of legal interest, and payable on demand. I suppose you design becoming bankrupt; but you had better not.
Our friend the Tiger seems to be a genius also; at least he usurps the privileges of one. I have seen no glimpse and heard no whisper of him, since you went away. This is somewhat unlucky, as I go to the country very soon, and wished to take Gillies' books with me. To complete the matter, Dr Irving3 has taken a stitch in his side, and cannot be spoken with. To morrow I am going to write to Pierce4 for his tomes: if he like to lend them,—well; if not, no harm is done: I have no other matter with him
I heartily wish you were back among these Tigers and people, to amuse yourself here. Haddington is not the place for you at all. Both your mother and you would be infinitely happier in Edinr. Would she not send you hither to look out for some beautiful cottage in the middle of a garden, down about Trinity5 or some other of the suburbs? I do hope she will ultimately be prevailed upon. Heaven knows, I have little cause to like Edinburgh; and I do for my own sake in general heartily despise, or sometimes what is far worse, detest it: yet I feel that you would be much more in your element here; much more pleasantly as well as advantageously situated for all the purposes you have in view. Do not tell me that I am meddling with an affair which I am not concerned in: nothing that might render your life more comfortable or successful can be indifferent to me.
Meanwhile, I am glad to observe that you have fallen upon the only plan which can drive away the tedium of your present residence; a sedulous practice of study and intellectual amusement. It is pity on the whole that you have abandoned Gibbon; but it is of no use to struggle against the stream. Dr Johnson said with considerable justice, that it was hardly ever adviseable to read any book, against your inclination.6 Where the inclination is averse, the attention will wander, do as you will. I recollect reading Harte's Gustavus Adolphus7 with an immense sacrifice of feeling to will; and I remembered less of it than of any book I ever perused. I trust by and by you will resume Gibbon, and finish both him and Hume. Do you like Robertson?8 I used to find in him a shrewd, a systematic, but not a great understanding; and no more heart than in my boot. He was a kind of Deist in the guise of a Calvinistic priest; a portentous combination! But if you are for fiery-spirited men, I recommend you to the Abbé Raynal,9 whose History at least the edition of 1781, is, to use the words of my tailor respecting Africa, “wan coll (one coal) of burning sulphur.” Of this by and by. Meantime, I fear you are again erring in excess. Four hours a-day you ought to regard as a complete allowance for serious study: the rest of the day, you should not employ in any thing but what yields you enjoyment for its own sake. Tell me most minutely how you get along; what portions of your plan you find executeable; when you rise in the mornings; what part of Rubezahl is done; and what are your general occupations. I do not think, you should rise till you like, each particular morning. Life has many hours and days in it; tho' you and I consider it, in our imaginations, as a thing that is travelling more swiftly than a hyppogriff.10 If I could get any “feathers to sit upon,” I should let your “fame” travel whither soever it listed. But there is no rest for the wicked. Necessity like a strong “Black-whipper” drives us all before him: when hope has sunk or faded in front of us, his scourge is heard cracking in our rear. But what I meant to say has not much to do with him or his scourges: it was merely that four hours daily is more than one literary man out of a thousand gets bestowed on purely intellectual operations. Therefore be content. The student is always studying: but of book-learning there are limits. I think a person in four years might gain nearly all the really valuable and original ideas that can be drawn from books. Mercy on us! What preaching!— I am done.
Monday Morning.—They have sent me down the remaining sheets of Meister; which I must now wrap up and send to you. “Out of economical motives” do not send me back any of them. Keep them all lying together in some of your desks or drawers; and when the number is complete, we will have them bound together by way of curiosity, and keep them as a monument of pleasant times. In other respects they are worth nothing: so if you happen to lose one or two of them, do not fret about it: you are to have another copy the moment the book is finished. I fear, however, you will never read it: the romance, you see, is still dull as ever. There is not properly speaking the smallest particle of historical interest in it, except what is connected with Mignon; and her you cannot see fully, till near the very end. Meister himself is perhaps one of the greatest ganaches [block-heads] that ever was created by quill and ink. I am going to write a fierce preface, disdaining all concern with the literary or the moral merit of the work; grounding my claims to recompense or toleration on the fact that I have accurately copied a striking portrait of Goethe's mind, the strangest and in many points the greatest now extant. What a work! Bushels of dust and straws and feathers, with here and there a diamond of the purest water!11
My chief wish at present is that it were done. We get along dreadfully slow: the creatures are printing what they call “Session”; that is law-papers, & unless I went to bully them every second day, I believe they would stop altogether. As it is, I perceive we shall not be done in April, scarcely even in May. In consequence of this combined with my determination to spend at least a month in Annandale for the sake both of my health and my heart, we have changed our plans a little. So soon as the second volume is concluded, I retire to Mainhill to translate the remainder at my leisure; it is to be printed when I return hither on my way to London. Then also I will come to Haddington, and stay till your Mother and you are heartily tired of me. I think it will be very pretty for a time, however; so you must try if you can make room for me. I hope to be in Annandale about three weeks hence; a fortnight was the time specified, but I see clearly, it cannot be. For the present I am higgling with the well-fed bibliopolist about pecuniary terms. We went into the business without a word formally said on the matter; but in a day or two the thing must now be finally reduced to black and white, and these money-changers prevented from cozening me out of sixpence that is mine. Brewster, the other morning, disclosed to me such a scene of the villainies of these base earthy bloodsuckers the Booksellers, as was enough to make one's hair “to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porcupine.”12 Boyd sent me a long paper of terms; thro' the fair exterior of which, illuminated by the experience of the scientific doctor I was enabled to descry a thousand inlets for pettyfogging. So I appended two small and simple conditions, on which the man has ruminated since Saturday without reply. The first was that £250 should be my net share of the proceeds of the first 1000 copies: the second that after 3000 copies had been sold, the book was to be mine and my heirs' forever and ever. Thus it stands at present. I will reduce the £250 to £200, if they entreat for it; but no lower: if they do not like my terms, we shall part company and get another tradesman: Brewster offers to be my half in the speculation, upon reasonable terms. Do you dare you unreasonable tyrant to call me a genius any more? I swear I am no genius at all; but a most expert youth. My conduct like that of her late Majesty is guided in all points by “perfect wisdom”:13 I know of nothing foolish in it, except perhaps my love f[or] you—which I often think will lead me a wild dance yet. Yet I do som[etim]es think you an Angel. At any rate, Fate not I am to blame in the matter. Ich kann nicht anders [I cannot do otherwise].14
Now when will you write to me again? Consider Madam that you are your own taskmistress: what is to hinder you from writing me a sheet, per day? Yet I must own you are very good to me; and I ought not to press you farther. Will you write this week? I beg you will excuse this most barbarous letter: you know how I am hurried and spurred to death. At any rate we have now been friends for centuries, and will be to the end of time. What matters it how or what we write? Will you present my kindest regards to your Mother: is she recovered completely? Be sure you tell me. If she mishappen, que deviendrez vous [what will become of you]! God b[less] you meine Eigene [my own]! I am ever yours,