TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 19 May 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240519-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:65-68.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Mainhill, 19th May, 1824—
Dearest—do you think I have forgotten you? You were never farther wrong in your life. In various humours grave and joyful, I have thought of you of late, with due assiduity, and as I think very orthodoxly. In proof of this you should have had a long epistle ere now; but Fate and Oliver & Boyd are stronger than my resolutions, and I am forced to content myself with a brief and hurried scrawl, which I write on the faith of its being better to you than absolutely nothing, this however being all that I dare believe respecting it.
About ten days ago, three days after I received your “good little” letter, I finished the translation of the everlasting Meister. The next week I proposed to spend in visiting the few friends whom I have in this neighbourhood, that I might enjoy myself among them, void of care, for a day or two, before leaving poor old Annandale. But scarcely had I executed the fourth part even of this very slender purpose, when the wind thought proper to shift into the northeast, and bring me a villainous sore throat, which kept me gasping and gargling in the house, till the day before yesterday. And now that my holidays have been so pleasingly put by, the preface for that unhappy novel is to be written, I am to make arrangements for departure, to ride and run and write, so that if I had twenty hands and heads they would all be sufficiently employed. Pity that one cannot arrange his business better! Few except the indolent are ever hurried.
But however I get thro' all this, I am to be in Edinr on Tuesday afternoon. If you would have the charity to send me a line to No 1. Moray-street, it would find me there. I am to be a very very short time in Edinr; Meister is all printed but five sheets; and my business in Athens may very soon be transacted. Within its learned walls, I have not one single friend, not even an acquaintance that I value; which after fifteen years residence says but little for my moral qualities. In truth I care not tho' the intellectual smoke of Athens never more salute my nostrils. But I shall see Haddington, shall I not? I hope to spend a day in peace with you: I would spend all my days beside you, if it suited. Write about this; and when and how; if it suits your Mother's convenience, and whether she continues good to me. Alack! I am sad when I think of leaving you. Scotland contains two million hearts; except those which nature gave me, yours is the only one of them, where I have any abiding place. Do you mean to oust me in the end? To raise a process of ejectment against me? I swear, you must not; it will never do!
You are in a passion at the Orator, and well he merits pity and anger for his conduct to you. There is something very weak in having one's head turned by a run of vacant fashionable canaille assembling to hear sermon[s]. Irving should really bethink him that tho' the Hatton Garden Chapel is fuller than it ever was, nay though William Hone1 sits in the front of his gallery, a monument of saving grace, and Lady Jersey,2 the hack of a thousand routs,—still the Earth at large, and the other planets of the solar system are turning on their axes with no perceptible variation. Men still live and die, they marry and are given in marriage, love those that love them, forget those that forget them, hate those that hate them, and subsist on meat and drink, as they did before Judgement to Come had been handled by its last Expositor.3 I declare sometimes when he comes into my head, I feel more splenetic against him than he deserves. For withal there is a fund of goodness in the man's heart, as of real talent in his head; tho' both are overclouded with a thousand blemishes and extravagancies. I firmly believe that at this moment he loves you with a more solid affection than ninety-nine hundredths of the people who are called friends bear to one another. That is he respects you, is pleased with the image of you, and your gratitude is of high value to him. Be tolerant if you can; do not cast him off forever, till you see how he turns. The fumes of this sweet wine, which he has been drinking by the barrel, have flown to his head; they might have turned a stronger head than his. He has ceased to write, from affectation, haste, and above all indolence: and none of his friends can say they are better off in this respect than others. He scarcely even writes to his mother. Charity may exist, says Gibbon, without alms; friendship without expression of it by letters. I sent him a letter, by appointment, before leaving Edinr: it was if I recollect in the smoothflowing pococurante [nonchalant] vein which one adopts in such cases. He answered me after five weeks in a letter containing about ten sentences. A third of it is devoted to you. After inviting me very cordially to stay in his house, while in London, and telling me that they are “in the transit from one house to another, living now with one friend now with another,” he adds “this is the reason I have not written to Mrs Welsh and my dear pupil, that I have not had it in [my] power to second the invitation which I gave her to come up, and [fear I shall not] have this season. For though we be in a condition to receive [a gentleman] and one so dear to us and so simple in all his habits, we are not in a condition to receive a lady. But towards her, able or not able to show it, I must ever bear a brother's heart, and something more, as being her teacher and her friend and the friend of the family.” Be content with this touch of the pathetic! It is good enough for every day wear; and Irving was not made for being a Pylades or an Orestes.4— But why am I scribble scribbling about him? He is one of the nine hundred millions of human bipeds that inhabit this planet: he has his own fight to fight; and so have we; if he choose to stand by us, well; if not, there will be dry eyes when he departs. Ohe jam satis [Quite enough of this for the present]!
Poor Byron! Alas poor Byron! The news of his death5 came down upon my heart like a mass of lead; and yet, the thought of it sends a painful twinge thro' all my being, as if I had lost a brother! O God! That so many souls of mud and clay should fill up their base existence to its utmost bound, and this, the noblest spirit in Europe, should sink before half his course was run! Late so full of fire, and generous passion, and proud purposes, and now forever dumb and cold! Poor Byron! And but a young man; still struggling amid the perplexities, and sorrows and aberrations, of a mind not arrived at maturity or settled in its proper place in life. Had he been spared to the age of three score and ten, what might he not have done, what might he not have been! But we shall hear his voice no more: I dreamed of seeing him and knowing him; but the curtain of everlasting night has hid him from our eyes. We shall go to him, he shall not return to us.6 Adieu my dear Jane! There is a blank in your heart, and a blank in mine, since this man passed away. Let us stand the closer by each other!
I am yours forever
Make my kindest compliments to your Mother. Is she recovered? Both you and she should be careful: surely it is a miserable season for health. Skiddaw and Helvellyn this morning are white as swans. The cattle are perishing on their burnt and shrivelled pastures, the very men at Ecclefechan fair seemed shrunk and parched and wae.
Will you write on Tuesday: I must see you, if possible. Is Rubezahl done? Are your strangers gone? I long to hear of you, still more to see you.