1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 4 April 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240404-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:54-56.


Haddington Sunday [4 April 1824]

Dearly Beloved

I trust you have not been taking it into your head that any thing tragic is come to pass in our commonwealth: all is going on excellently well; only I have been pushed for time this day or two. I bear in mind what you told me of Frederick the Great, and am quite aware that this excuse for not writing to a friend looks immensely absurd; but it is God's truth nevertheless. On Sunday week I brought out my writing parap[h]ernalia with the best intentions in the world, and actually wrote a page of a letter to you; but I had been to church twice that day in honour of Grace (my Aunt),1 and had rode a great way the day before on a fractious horse, from the same courteous motive, and with all this I was so worn out that I fell asleep holding the pen, and like the foolish virgins in scripture slept away my opportunity.2 Every day since, I have had to undergo a tea-party, an infliction which according to Haddington etiquette lasts three good hours. Now three hours, with half an hour more, which is little enough in all conscience, for the intricate operations of a young lady's toilet and two hours which I am obliged to walk that I may keep myself in good health and my young Aunt in good humour, make up all my spare time. The six hours which I have set apart for reading, I have said that nothing less than fate shall interfere with—and heretofore I have kept my word—

Have you finished the second volume of Meister and are you in life? I wish I had been in your place that week just that I might know what driving would do for me. I suspect I should behave myself in such a breeze, much as a grown Lady of my acquaintance does, when the bells ring for church before she has finished dressing herself, lift up my voice and weep. I devoutly wish that you were done with this Meister. I like ill to see your fine genius engaged in such a service —one might as well set a mettled racer to draw in a dust cart. Do not think me an ass because I cannot swear allegiance to your “thrice illustrious Goethe”: by and by, when my understanding gets more enlarged, it is to be hoped I shall admire him to your heart's content and think Wilhelm Meister worthy of such a translator—but in the mean time, I confess, the only thing that reconciles me to your expending so much time and trouble on it, is the money which it will bring you in. I would rather be able to make £180 by my wits than fall heir to a million; it must be such a proud consciousness to know that one is independent of the favour of Fortune, that one carries at all times a gold mine within one's own breast! Do you think they will give me a hundred and eighty pence for my tales?— The unaccountable propensity to kissing which runs through all your dramatis personae perplexes me sadly. I wish people may not think you a terrible fellow for having any hand in such work— By the way, what is the reason that you kept back the countess's kiss?3 The prelude to it gives promise of something extremely pretty. I wish I had all of it. That poor little Child with St. Vitus'-dance!4 I cannot possibly imagine what is to become of her. So far she seems to play much the same part in the piece which the text does in the generality of sermons—is perpetually recur[r]ing without having any visible connexion with what goes before or after. How long will it be, for God's sake, before she is done learning Geography? Do tell me her end will you? I have a notion she is to die of eating sticks— Mother has made a nice binding of boards and white ribbonds for the loose sheets. I could not help kissing her for her ingenuity. She talks of you in the most friendly manner. I wish May was here that we might make hay while the sun shines!

I am not in quite such commodious circumstances as when I wrote last—however my case is still far from desperate; only Grace is here, and I would much rather that she was any where else— She is very illmannered and unamiable—moreover she is mortally jealous of me and cannot hear a word said to my praise, even by my Mother, without discovering the bitterest spite: all this makes her anything but a pleasant companion for me— It is merciful that I am not obliged to behave pretty to her. Mother lets me have a fire in my own room and sit there when I please—so that her being here is no interruption to my plan and for six hours in the day I am quit of her intolerable spleen and impertinence. Mother tells me that whenever I take myself off, to my place of refuge, she sets to work to rail against learned ladies and expatiate on the utter detestation which they are held in by the gentlemen. God grant that her ignorance may recommend her to their good graces!

I am getting on with the Tales at a slow but regular rate—what I have translated of the Legends of Rubezhal is certainly nothing like so heart breaking as my sublime Lybussa—tho' it is still far from what it should be— That is a blessed secret you let into of the point of interrogation! whenever I come upon a passage that I cannot manage or word that is not in my Dictionary, instead of getting into a turmoil as I used to do, I merely set down the little crooked thing and comfort myself with he will tell it me when he comes—when he comes! I am not quite done with Charles5 yet—my memory is so bad that I require to learn a book of that sort almost by heart, that I may retain any part of it. What would you advise me to get next? and what shall I do with the volume I have of Schiller— Oh that divine Maid of Orleans! if you would translate that since you will not write a Tragedy of your own! I cried over it two whole days whenever I had an opportunity— And made a solemn vow to the Name of Schiller that if you do not translate it I will myself— as soon as ever I am strong enough for such an enterprise— you will write presently? I shall be very tired before this week is done, and will need some encouragement— I have two long forenoon rides and five evening parties in prospectu. God bless you my best and Dearest friend—ever ever yours

Jane B Welsh