1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 15 November 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241115-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:198-202.


23. Southampton-street, Pentonville, London / 15th November, 1824—

My Dearest,

What has happened, that you do not write? Is it possible that that French letter can have missed you? I am sure I carried it myself to the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, and transacted for it with a greasy prig of a clerk to the uttermost sou; trusting to no Suisse [porter] or Concierge [door-keeper] or lacquais de place [local flunkey], that I might be sure of quieting your anxieties and in due time of having my own quieted. Alas! no letter waited for me at Dover; nothing but one poor dole of insipidity from a “friend” in Edinr, and another of affected sentimentality from the “noble Mrs Montague” at London; not a line from Dumfriesshire, not a line from Jane! Has aught happened—to me or to you? I cannot say that I am absolutely miserable on this account; but a letter from you would be particularly precious at this very time. I make no grain of doubt but you will send it, the moment this arrives: you are very good; and these letters of ours are as it were the food of hope; among the most valuable blessings of life to both of us. Are they not? Then let us become better correspondents, kinder and more frequent, every day!

For myself I engage to improve mightily at no distant date. And much need I have; for throughout the last four months, I can scarcely recollect of writing to you one page of good sense, or any tolerable picture even of my own perceptions of it. I have been so hurried to and fro, so tossed about in never-ceasing vicissitude of all kinds, that I have scarcely known my right hand from my left; and for thinking, it has been impossible as flying. Strange destiny! That one, master of his own movements, and to whom repose and regularity are the essence of existence should have been so whirled from capital to capital, and land to land, as I have been of late. At last, however, thank Heaven! it is over: after all these wanderings, I am seated in this quiet airy street, in my own trim and comfortable apartments, by a hearth of which I am sole lord and master; at liberty to live according to the dictates of my own will, which I may guide in part by those of reason, if I happen to possess any reason. To-morrow I commence a meditated plan of life and labour: I will study and write, and try if I can gather any touch of health and wisdom; and to you I will send a thousand thoughts and warmest wishes daily, and long letters every week; letters as from your friend, your brother, one who loves you more than fifty thousand brothers,1 and regards your love as the jewel of his life. What a thing for me to be your guardian and counsellor and Herzensfreund [intimate friend], selected from all others, honoured before all! Shall I never be more worthy of the honour? Oh! that I were worthy of it! I should be the best and happiest man beneath the Sun. But patience! patience! Better times will come.

On reaching London, after my French excursion, I tarried but one night in the Orators, and proceeded next morning to establish myself in Lodgings. Lodgings I selected as the most eligible; tho' the noble Mrs Montague and various other noble persons solicited the “pleasure of accommodating” my most sick person and contentious spirit. The people have a touch of kindness in them; and do what I will, they persist in reckoning me a kind of genius, and the glory of protecting and consoling an afflicted genius all the world knows and covets. Genius, forsooth! a most notable genius! It is very good in these people; but really their protection is a trouble to me. For their kind feelings, God knows I thank them from the bottom of my heart; but farther it is not suitable at present. Here in my own quarters I am free as air, and except society have all I want: I am lonely, but I mean also to be busy; and as old Quixote said, and I have often said after him, “If it were but a crust of bread and a cup of water that Heaven had given thee, rejoice that thou hadst none but Heaven to thank for it!”2 A man that is not standing on his own feet in regard to economical affairs, soon ceases to be a man at all. Poor Coleridge is like the hulk of a huge ship; his mast and sails and rudder have rotted quite away. — Once, while in Birmingham, I thought of boarding with the Orator, and actually proposed some scheme of that sort: I now heartily rejoice that we never came to terms. The presence of Him seems to have overset the Orator's household and and [sic] his mind too: his “dear Isabella” is engaged in nursing it, let the house go how it will; and Irving's talk and thoughts return with a resistless biass to the same charming topic, start from where they please. Visit him at any time, you find him dry-nursing his off-spring; speak to him, he directs your attention to the form of its nose, the manner of its waking and sleeping and feeding and digesting; he dandles it fondly and gracefully as a she-bear does her cub; he asks you twice a minute (if he dare ask) whether it is not a pretty boy; sometimes he attempts a hideous chaunt to it by way of lullaby. But what is best of all, he maintains that this is exercising generosity, and forgetting self! I advised him to send for Mr Horsnail's babe, a bigger and a heavier one than his, and nurse it: but he refused to be so generous. Good Irving! I prize his friendship, and his conversation on any subject but Him, which is one I have long since utterly cut: but for living with him, I am glad that his circumstances and mine forbade me to make trial of it.

Since I settled here, for the last three days, I have done nothing but meditate in solemn solitude on the state of my affairs. That I am one of the most pitiful and miserable of the sons of Adam is a fact with which I was long ago familiar: how to help the evil, to grow less pitiful and miserable is the question I am now debating. True I am sick, forever sick, and isolated from the world, and cannot for a thousand paltry hindrances get any part of my small fraction of a mind exerted or developed: but what of that? Life with all its difficulties, Mr C., and this very sickness the crowning curse of all, is the problem given you to solve; the chaos out of which your understanding (if any) is to bring out order and happiness and beauty: you are now free, Mr C., unfettered in your movements; help yourself; accomplish this solution; regulate this chaos; or go down to the Devil, and break some hearts that are dearer to you than existence—whichever you prefer.— Such is the order of the day: I am summoning every particle of strength within me to fulfil it. I have got all my implements and necessaries arranged, or in the way of being so; and to-morrow morning I begin to live by rule! I mean to work and walk, and visit and rest, at stated hours; already I have returned to the rigorous practice of the Badams system; I have thrown away my French cigars and all similar enjoyments, and taken to subsist on the third part of an ordinary ration of food per day. The first sheet of Schiller, I expect to-morrow: I will work at it and other things, in spite of the Fiend and all his emissaries. In these six or eight weeks too, I may begin to understand something of London and its resources; if my beggarly health be improved, I may continue; if not, there is Scotland, and gardening, and riding, and kindness that will never fail me, never tho' all else should fail. Next letter I hope to tell you that my plan prospers, and that I am making progress tho' it were an inch per day. Occupation, the strenuous exertion of our faculties in fulfilling the purposes of our conscience and will, I hold to be the only panacea for the sufferings of a mortal. I know it, and have long known it; strange that I should practice it so little!

Now, my dearest and best Jane, are you heartily sick of me and my plans, and most long-winded expositions and details? No, you are not: for we are friends, friends forever [,one in] affection, one in interests. I wish much that we knew each others wants and difficu[lties] more minutely. Will you send me a detail as long and candid? O that I were near you, that I saw you every day and hour! A thousand thoughts of you flit across my soul, and die unuttered; and when I write, nothing will go down on paper, that I most wish conveyed to you. Can you interpret for me? Have you too a heart that feels like mine? Are you kind to me? Do you believe that with all my follies from within, and mean obstructions from without, I wish to be an honest man, and love you as I love my life? Then be still good to me, and we will never part in this world or the next! “Fool! what puts parting in thy head?” I know not, unless it be that I am a fool. Last night I was searching and sorting the contents of my desk, unopened since I left Scotland; there lay a little heart cut in paper, and another half cut within it, in the manner of your keep-lessons; on the inner one stood the word “Homeless” written in what I thought your hand! Has this little paper-heart been yours, and how in Heaven's name came it hither? Ten dirges are not equal to expressing the wae affection, the wehmüthiges Sehnsucht [sad longing] that I viewed it with: I could have cried if I had liked; but I did not; I merely laid it by in my safest recess, beside some other valuables, pronounced myself to be a very weak young man (as well I might), and went on with the task of burning dull letters and all the trash of verses I could lay my hands on. Poor little heart! Do not laugh at me and it, you gipsey! I swear it was exceedingly pathetic.

I designed to write at large about your coming hither; for the Orator has got a letter, he says, and you are to come! Heaven grant you were here in safety! I myself will escort you home. Tell me all about it when you write: I am to be your cicerone here? I have scarce visited one of the Lions, that we might enjoy the pleasures of wonder together. The orator is partly a fool, so is his dear Isabella; yet both of them are kind and good, and he does love you with the sort of love whereof his nature is susceptible. You will be happy for a month: Come! Come!— But when will you write? or why have you not written ere now? If it was mere idleness I will forgive you; but if it was indifference to me—to me!—I will never forgive you, while I live. So look to it!—

Is the Schiller done or begun yet? It will be wanted in some weeks: I will take no excuse; if you cannot do that, do something else. How do you go on with your pupil? Tell me about Haddington, as far as it concerns yourself. What of the Dugald crature? What of the little Doctor?— Oh do write in one moment! Be a good girl and do! My kindest regards to your Mother: I have a three-halfpenny present for her from the Palais Royal, which will make her laugh to look at it. There is also a grey-complexioned play-book for you.— It is quite dark; and the post-hour is arrived! Write, my Angel, write! I am yours forever and ever—

Thomas Carlyle—