1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 10 November 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241110-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:189-193.


West Craigs [Corstorphine, Edinburgh,] 10th November [1824]

Dearest Friend

Your letter was handed to me three days ago by—my Mother. The one you burned must have been wild indeed; for even this was wild enough to have played the deuce with the Commonwealth, had not Providence graciously interfered in our behalf. While I was racking my wits for a pretext to keep it to myself, a carriage came to the door to take us to Corstorphine, and it was nothing very remarkable, that, in the bustle of setting out, I should have left the letter behind me; or rather should have forgot that I put it into my pocket.

So you have been in France, Mr Thomas! in France without me—in the train of that everlasting Princess! How fortunate she is to have a carriage with a dickey!— Well, I am flattering myself that your residence on the Continent will have made you a bit of a Dandy. At least you will not speak Annandale, surely, after having travelled—Apollo and the Nine Muses forbid! It would be so delightful, when I go south, to find you about a hundredth part as ‘elegant’ as my amiable Cousin!1 I am quite sure that I should fall in love with you if you were, and then—“Oh Heavens what a thing it might be if it prospered”—surely you will own no man had ever such inducement to study the Graces—

What do you think, the Orator has invited me! I was surprised, indeed terrified at sight of a letter from him, the day before I left Dumfriesshire. My imagination instantly decided that nothing but your illness or something as urgent could have induced him to com[m]it letter-writing; and I broke the seal and read “My Well-beloved Friend & Pupil” in the utmost trepidation. But I drew breath again, when glancing over the first paragraph I found merely an assurance of his affection, “such affection as by the laws of God and Man he could feel for a second woman”: And when I came to “But there is no use in saying more of an affection which shall be shown by deeds not words”—with a note of admiration after it—my expectations were raised to the highest pitch, and I thought that, at the very least, he was about to send Washington Irving down to Scotland to pay his addresses to me— No such thing. The object of his letter was to present me with ‘the joint invitation’ of himself and his Wife, ‘if’ I came to England to spend what time I could spare with them in London,—coupled with an apology for the bad accommodation I should find, which showed that my visit would be monstrously inconvenient— On the whole the letter was a kind one; but evidently written under female influence.— Of you he says “Thomas Carlyle is here, and we live together in the same fellowship as formerly— I esteeming him as one of the most sincere and certainly the most ideal one I have yet met, and he esteeming me as not unworthy of his regard, and one that will help him to the uttermost in his passage thro' life— But we have many squab[b]les on that matter of writing letters”!!! He has probably told you that I declined his invitation for the present. Indeed it was not in my option to do otherwise; for it was only conditional,—if I came to England,—and there is no chance of going to England for some months yet—Mr Baillie's last letter to me was quite as full of uncertainties as the former one. The obstacle to his marriage is that his Intended, who is a young Widow, forfeits a handsome income if she marries again. My Cousin is not in the least avaricious, and would very willingly take her without a fortune; Only she is so immensely grand! she must have a fine house, a fine equipage, every thing fine about and he has no more than a thousand a year! what an affliction. In short they can neither make up their minds to live without her jointure nor without each other; and how they will settle it at last, Heaven only knows— This I know if they are married I will move Heaven and Earth that I may go to them,—for three reasons, because I am sick of my present way of life, because I love my elegant Cousin, and because I wish to be near you. What a will o' the wisp this London business has been to me! But no matter! le bon temps viendra [the good time will come],—at least I hope so—

Enough of my own affairs— Let us turn to yours—what do I think of your new project? At first I cordially disapproved it altogether. The translating of all Schiller's works seemed a stupendous and ungrateful task, which would heavily occupy your time and talents for years; and be attended with no advantage to you, except putting some hundreds of pounds in your pocket: the other part of the plan filled me with horror, and on deliberation, I am still decidedly against it. What fellowship is there in Annandale for you? Doubtless you might find ‘kind Christian souls’ there to love you and wonder at you, but without spirits like your own to understand you,—without sympathy your life would be without a soul— Oh mercy never think of establishing yourself in Annandale! All your faults are the effects of your isolated way of life: if you seclude yourself altogether from your fellows, as sure as fate, you will sink in a year or two, into the most surly, misanthropic, self-opinionative, dreadfully disagreeable person alive. It was only the other day, you wrote to me that you began to think there were many more worthy people in the world than you counted on; and already are you projecting to turn your back on them? You will never be so mad! Certainly the recovery of your health must be attended to above all things else; and if that is not to be brought about in the smoke and bustle of a City, why then, you must seek it in the quietness and pure air of the country: But what is to hinder you setting yourself down within a mile or two of London—in some pleasant place where you might ride and garden just as in Annandale; and, at the same time, occasionally enjoy society which would refresh and incite your spirit? My plan perhaps is foolish: yours is certainly not wise.

As to the translating of Schiller, there is much to be said for and against. It would employ without fatiguing your mind; it would increase your command of language, and make composition more easy to you; it would insure you a certain and sufficient income, and deliver you from anxieties about what you are to do, and how you are to live. On the other hand, you are likely to be disgusted with the undertaking before you finish it; there is no exercise for your finest faculties in turning sentences and choosing words; there is no scope for your genius in transcribing the thoughts and sentiments of another; on the contrary I should be afraid that in imitating so long you might cease to be original, and lastly the task when done,—however well done will gain you only the praise of a good Translator. If any of your new Friends would ‘help you to the uttermost’ and find you a sinecure which would set you free from care about the morrow, I would like better that you would follow out your plan of the ‘Lives’ (which is certainly the grandest you have yet thought of) tho' by fits and starts as you felt ab[le] for it. But it is only Blockheads who get sinecures; as it is, this trans[lation] perhaps is the very best thing you could engage in. The only advice I can gi[ve] you is to do nothing in haste for fear that you repent at leisure. It is rea[lly] a high farce my giving advice to any one and of all people on earth to you; bu[t] recollect you bade me.— Grace a dieu [Thank God!] my wanderings for this season ar[e] nearly at an end. We return to Edinr on Saturday and home the end of the next week, accompanied by Miss Gilchrist. Her Brother is on his way from the North, and, I suppose, will speedily follow us— He sent me a long epistle the other d[ay,] all about my Mother and the Moon. I wish he was at the bottom of the Murray Firth— My present sojourn is the most distressing that you can imagine: the weather is so bad that one cannot cross the threshold; there is not a book in the hou[se] besides ‘Rutledge's sermons’ and ‘Black's sermons’2 neither of which I have any relish for, and the ‘Juvenile Library’ which, with the exception of ‘Jack the Gi[ant] killer’ [‘]Blue Beard’ and the ‘Wishing cap’ that I read last night, does not appear to be particularly edifying; and then I have no Genius for needle [work,] so that I am delivered up without defence to the squealing of ‘Him’3 the romping and wrangling of the larger children and the everlasting merriment of [their hoydenish Highland Mother. But I am submitting to my fate with a desperate patience! Hero and Leander is]4 still untouched. I will positively set about it and many other things on my return to Haddington. I have been idle six months to please my mother; I will now be diligent six months to please myself. There is no chance however of my making a translation fit to appear in your book, but a translation I will make of some sort. My paper is very full— Do not keep me waiting— God bless you Dear.— Ever ever yours

Jane Baillie Welsh

What a Letter! I am writing with muddy ink and sticks of pens that must have belonged to Mr Binnie's Grandmother. And the children are making such a din!