TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 15 April 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240415-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:57-60.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Mainhill, 15th April, 1824—
Dearest— Had it not been that you and I so well deserved some “encouragement” by our late conduct, I should not have attempted writing to you at present. But we are both growing very exemplary characters, in my opinion; and it seems fair that this correspondence of ours, one of the most pleasant items in our lot, should not be allowed to stagnate in the general reformation. I meant to write last Sunday: but hail storms detained me at Annan, whither I had trotted down the previous evening, on some slender business; and next morning, sermons, civilities and especially native indolence so acted on me, that the day was altogether spent before I left that ancient burgh. I might have waited till next Sunday; but I have got into long trains of speculation about you; and I cannot rest at my business till I have written to you! So casting all my tasks to the right and left, I am here this fair and blessed morning with the full purpose of inflicting three close pages on you.
I think this is the longest spell of study you ever had. I do congratulate you on your regularity, the quality which I hold to be the most essential of all others for realising any result in life. Of course I advise you not to relax; or rather I should advise you not to overstrain, for that is generally the source of your relaxing. The great point, as you well know, is constancy of moderate exertion: see that you do “let nothing less than Fate interfere with you.” Independently of future effects, the effect upon your present feelings must be sufficient to repay your diligence. There is no fame or rest for you, save in vigorous endeavour. “The end of man is an action not a thought,” saith Aristotle.1 You have thought of literature from your very cradle: it is time you were trying to act in it, according to your power. Is Rübezahl done? Spare not the little “crook”! We shall answer all his questions in the Ides of May. Have you done with Charles V? It is not at all bad work, if you can answer yes. I know not whether you have seen Robertson's History of America: if not try to get it, in preference to almost any other. Watson's two Histories of Philip II and Philip III you must also read as soon as possible: they form a very pleasing and instructive and amusing (tho' also very shallow) continuation to Charles V. There is Millot's History of France;2 Russel[l]'s Modern Europe; Schiller's Thirty Years' War (translated or in German); any of Voltaire's Historical works. Tell me which you have selected. The convenience of getting them must direct your choice: so you study them faithfully, it matters little in what order. Did you ever read De Foe's works? They deserve reading. I suppose you dare not think of recommencing Hume? Oh! no!
Is the unlearned lady gone? Mortals were surely made for being happy: Vanity is cheap as air, yet it diffuses joy thro' all the corner of creation. Be tolerant to Grace while she is with you: she must have some good qualities, or I am no physiognomist. Her face always reminded me of yours; enlarged and rusticated, with Scotch sonsines [cheerfulness and healthy good looks] instead of dignified refinement It is pity she were envious: but this is so general a failing that on ought not to condemn her for it utterly. Be good to her for your own sake. In time, I expect to see you altogether catholic in your sentiments towards others. There is nothing like it, in the present state of affairs. Do you like this counsel? I myself am so immeasurably patient of dulness and contradiction, that I have a right to advise it upon all the earth.
So you laugh at my venerated Goethe and my Herzenskind [heart's child] poor little wood-eating Mignon! O! The hardness of man's and still more of woman's heart! If you were not lost to all true feeling, now, your eyes would be as a fountain of tears in the perusing of Meister. Have you really no pity for the Hero, or the Count, or the Frau Melina, or Philine, or the Manager? Well! it cannot be helped. I must not quarrel with you, do what you like; but taken on the whole, a more provoking young woman is not to be met with, I am sure, between Cape Wrath and Kirk-Maiden.3 Will you not cry in the least? Not a jot! Not a jot!—— Seriously you are right about this book, it is worth next to nothing as a novel; except Mignon who will touch you yet perhaps, there is no person in it one has any care about. But for its wisdom, its eloquence, its wit; and even for its folly, and its dullness, it interests me much; far more the second time than it did the first. I have not got as many ideas from any book for six years. You will like Goethe better ten years hence than you do at present. It is pity the man were not known among us. The English have begun to speak about him of late years; but no light has yet been thrown upon him, “no light but only darkness visible.”4 The syllables Goethe excite an idea as vague and monstrous as the word Gorgon or Chimaera.— It would do you good to see with what regularity I progress in translating. Clockwork is scarcely steadier. Nothing do I allow to interfere with me; my movements might be almost calculated like the moon's. It is not unpleasant work, nor is it pleasant. Original composition is ten times as laborious. It is an agitating, fiery, consuming business when your heart is in it: I can easily conceive a man writing the soul out of him; writing till it evaporate “like the snuff of a farthing candle,” when the matter interests him properly. I always recoil from again engaging with it. But this present business is cool and quiet; one feels over it, as a shoemaker does when he sees the leather gathering into a shoe; as any mortal does when he sees the activity of his mind expressing itself in some external material shape. You are facetious [about] my mine of gold: it has often struck me as the most accursed item in men's lot that they had to toil for filthy lucre; but I am not sure now that it is not the ill-best way it could have been arranged. Me it would make happy, at least for half a year, if I saw the certain prospect before me of making £500 per annum: a pampered Lord (e.g. Byron) would turn with loathing from a pyramid of ingots. I may be blessed in this way: he never. Let us be content! When I get that weary Cottage erected, and all things put in order, who knows but it may be well with me, after all? Will you go? Will you? “Not a hairs breadth!” Well, it is very cruel of you.
It would edify you much to see my way of life here; how I write and ride, and delve in the garth, and muse on things new and old. On the whole I am moderately happy. There is rough substantial plenty here: for me there is heartfelt kindness in the heart of every living thing, from the cur that vaults like a kangaroo whenever he perceives me, and the pony that prances when he gets me on his back, up to the sovereign heads of the establishment. “Better is a dinner of herbs with peace, than a stalled ox and contention.”5 Better is affection in the smoke of a turf cottage, than indifference amid the tapestries of palaces! I am often very calm and quiet. I delight to see these old mountains, lying in the clear sleep of twilight, stirless as death, pure as disembodied spirits; or floating like cerulean islands while the white vapours of the morning have hidden all the lower earth. They are my own mountains! Skiddaw and Helvellyn, with their snowy cowls, among their thousand azure brethren, are more to me than St Gothard and Mont Blanc: Hartfell and Whitecomb raise their bald and everlasting heads into my native sky; and far beyond them, as I often picture, in their bright home, are Jane and her Mother, sometimes thinking of me, cheering this dull earth for me with a distant spot of life and kindliness!— Bless me! the sweet youth is growing quite poetical! C'est assez [Enough]!
So I have played truant all the morning writing to you! When will you answer me? Do you recollect your debt? The day is coming! I am
Thy evil Genius, /
Make my kindest compliments to your Mother: it is very good of her to speak of me at all— Schiller you may send to John. 35. Bristo-street. Has he written for it? He will get you any other you may desire. Adieu! Soon!