1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO ELIZA STODART; 27 September 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18240927-JBW-EA-01; CL 3:163-165.


Templand 27th September [1824]

My dearest Eliza

I promised to write to you as soon as I was settled— “Lord how this world is given to lying!”1— I have been settled now near a month, and you are still without your letter. Eh bien! fortunately for me, you are to[o] good to get crumpy.

The Fates have been indifferently kind to me since we parted: during the two weeks my Cousin2 staid with us I never wearied once; I played chess or ecarté with him; paid morning visits with him; strolled thro' the woods and fields with him; or sat on a green bank, and talked sentiment with him. You will stare to hear of Mr Baillie talking sentiment: I assure you nevertheless this man with mustaches and four rings on his fingers is as sentimental as the Prince of Denmark. But it is only in confidential intercourse that he lays aside his dress-manner of indifference and suffers all the sensibility of his heart to appear: even then he seems to take pleasure in gainsaying his nature—often in our conversations when his imagination had risen to the highest pitch, when his fine eyes full of tears, and the melancholy, impassioned tones of his voice showed he was ready to be overpowered by his feelings; he would start away to some theme of ridicule or folly, and efface the impression he had just made, with the laugh of a mephistopheles. How ill I understood him before we came here: his character has received such a fictitious colouring from the associations to which it has been exposed that it might well deceive so unpractised an observer as I am! “You were sure that he was not a person at all to my taste”—Lord help your simplicity! how you mistook the matter! He is my very beau ideal in all respects but one: his nature is the most affectionate I ever knew, his spirit the most magnificent; he has a clear, quick intellect, a lively fancy: with beauty, brilliance, sensibility, native gracefulness, and courtly polish, he wants but genius to be—the destiny of my life! What a pity that heaven should have denied him this sine qua non! or rather what a mercy! for he will soon be married (I suppose) to that vexatious “somebody”; and I have not, like my ‘unfortunate’ namesake in the song, any fancy for dangling in my garters. Well! I begin to think men and women may be very alarming without having any genius: Who knows but I shall grow reasonable at last? descend from my ideal heaven to the real prose earth, marry, and—Oh Plato!—make a pudding! I do not say puddings, for sure I am the first would be the death of me.

Eh bien! happen what may, I do not think I shall ever be Mrs Benjamin Bell— Oh Jupiter! that broad brimmed hat, and calico great-coat! I shall never forget how he looked! so different from the long-cherished picture of him in my mind!— And so the meeting I so much desired has dispelled the illusion of more than two years! Do you know the vulgar cast of his countenance and the volley of nonsense he overwhelmed me with, gave a shock to my nervous system which it did not recover for four and twenty hours—indeed to this day I turn sick at heart when I think of him. Mais n'importe! [But it doesn't matter!] it is only one more spanish castle demolished; another may start up like a mushroom in its place.

I long for the last week of October; tho' I like the country better this season than I ever did before. Our popularity here is not a whit diminished; which is rather to be wondered at, as we are no novelty now. Ever since Mr Baillie went away we have been “on the transit from one friend's house to another”: and as our acquaintances here are, for the most part, pleasant people, and see a deal of good company, I have no doubt that, could I be happy in idleness, I should find my present mod[e] of life agreeable enough. But the thought that “life is short and, art is long” will not leave me at rest in idleness, it flashes upon my mind in the midst of amusement, and turns “earth's vain, fading, vulgar show” to weariness and vexation of spirit— The Menteith family have been wonderfully affectionate to me since I came here. The eldest son and daughter are amiable, intelligent, and particularly pleasing in their manners. Miss Menteith reads German and is almost as fond of it as I am. The rest I hardly like. We have likewise received great attention from another family whom we did not visit last season—the Gordons at Eccles— Capt Gordon is a well-looked, kind-hearted, gentlemanly Man—his Lady is unlovely, but clever and well-informed— She would be uncommonly agreeable if she had not the misfortune to be born a Duke's Niece.—— I heard of Burns3 being in our neighbourhood the other day, and entertaining a party with the private history of the Baillies. I wish to Heaven he had had a banknote-plaster on his mouth! I have gone nowhere since without being assailed with “is so and so the case? I was told it by a Man from Edinr” A pretty like Man from Edinr to be sure! Will you remember me to Sam Aitken and bid him send my little books by one of the coaches[?] I will return those he lent me as soon as I can possibly get done with them— There was a letter from Dugald4 the other day, full of inanities. I think he appears to be out of love. Kiss your Uncle for me—all here join me in kindest regards to you and him— Write soon—and believe me always your attached friend

Jane Baillie Welsh

PS Miss Betson5 is in Glasgow! She wrote to me from Versailles about six weeks ago, assuring me that she would never visit Scotland again—“how d——d odd”! I am quite tired out with her imprudence and instability— Has Maggy got a pair of boys yet?