TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 4 December 1824; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18241204-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:212-217.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
23. Southampton-street, Pentonville, 4th Decr 1824.
I despatched a parcel of books and other ware for you, the other day; directed to the care of Brother Jonathan: I expect you will receive it sometime early next week. It contains no letter; only a hasty line, expressive of my earnest wish and persuasion that you would write to me directly on its arrival. I engaged also to have a letter in your hands before that time. There is something Hibernian, you will say, in the notion of a promise to be fulfilled before it can be known: but there would be something worse than Hibernian did I fail to fulfil it. The latter evil I am now in the act of preventing.
Both your letters are in my possession: kind creature that you are to write to me so pointedly and faithfully! I should have been in a wo[e]ful pucker had you trusted to the Dover postmaster; the friendly sheet would have lain two months in their Dead Letter office here, and never reached me at all. But my anxieties were cleared away; you sent a little messenger of peace and affection out to greet me; it circulated thro' all the chaotic correspondence of this busy Island, and found me in my solitude at the anticipated hour, and cheered my heart with images of past and future happiness. Even your sickness I have striven to make light of: I will not let myself believe that it is more than temporary; and the serious mood you partly owe to it, is that in which to me you are by far most interesting. Do not mock and laugh, however gracefully, when you can help it! But for your own sake, I had almost rather see you sad. It is the earnest, affectionate, warm-hearted, enthusiastic Jane that I love; the acute, sarcastic, clear-sighted, derisive Jane I can at best but admire. Is it not a pity you had such a turn that way? “Pity rather that the follies of the world, and yours among the number, Mr Quack, should so often call for castigation!” Well, well! Be it so then! A wilful man, and still more a wilful woman, must and will have her way. After all, you are a good girl take you as we like; I have a small touch of love for you at the bottom of my heart in spite of every thing, “Voila quelque chose devilish strange [“There is something devilish strange”: last two words underscored twice]!” as Strachey said: I scarcely think you can believe it.— Now let us turn over a new leaf! A new leaf in the paper, and still more in the subject!
I am meditating with as rigid an intensity as ever, on the great focus of all purposes at present, the arranging of my future life. Here is no light business, and no want of eagerness in me to see it done! As yet, I have made no way or very little; but already I am far happier than I was, from the mere consideration that my destiny, with all its manifold entanglements, perplexing and tormenting as they are, is now submitted to my own management. Freedom is the very life of man! Let difficulties oppress you as they please, do but satisfy your conscience that you are straining every nerve to remedy them, and the very search for peace in some degree is peace.1 Of my projects I can give no description; they fluctuate from day to day; and many of them are not of a kind to be explained in writing. Why will you not come directly, that I might talk with you for months, and persuade you and be persuaded? One item lies at the bottom of almost every scheme I form: it is a determination to have some household of my own; some abode which I may be the lord of, tho' it were no better than the cynic's tub; some abiding home, which I may keep myself in peace by the hope of improving, not of changing for another. I have lived too long in tents, a wandering Bedouin; the fruit of my toils wasted, or spent in the day that witnessed them: I feel the sad effects of that arrangement; every hour they are becoming sadder. The point, then, is to alter it, to find the means of altering it. O thou detested Fiend, Disease! most hideous of the progeny of Tophet!2 Could I but meet thee in some questionable shape, tho' it were frightful as the Hyrcanian Tiger, that I might grapple with thee, and kill thee, and scatter thy fragments to the four winds of Heaven! But it is vain to imprecate: Ernulphus3 himself could make no impression here. I am sick, and must recover; and if so, in sickness itself provide the helps for getting out of it. Till then my mind lies spell-bound, the best of my talents (bless the mark!) shut up even from my own view, and the thought of writing any thing beyond mere drudgery is vain. I see all this: but I also see the plan of conquering it, if it can be conquered. I must settle myself down within reach of Edinburgh or London: I must divide my time between mental and bodily exercises; if the latter could be turned to profit, could be regularly fixed and ordered by necessity of any kind, I should regard the point as gained. Had I land of my own, I should instantly be tempted to become a —farmer! Laugh outright! But it is very true. I think how I should mount on horseback in the grey of the morning; and go forth like a destroying angel among my lazy hinds; quickening every sluggish hand; cultivating and clearing, tilling and planting, till the place became a very garden round me! In the intermediate hours, I could work at literature; thus compelled to live according to the wants of Nature, in one twelvemonth, I should [be] the healthiest man in three parishes; and then—if I said or did nothing notable, it were my own blame, or Nature's only. This, you say, is Utopian dreaming, not the sober scheme of a man in his senses. I am sorry for it; sorry that nothing half so likely to save me comes within the circuit of my capabilities: I must try to make the nearest possible approximation to it. A sinecure!4 God bless thee, my Darling! I could not touch a sinecure tho' twenty of my friends (not one of whom has any shadow of a wish or power that way) should volunteer to offer it. Keineswegs [not in the least]! It is no part of my plan to eat the bread of idleness, so long as I have the force of a sparrow left in me to procure the honest bread of industry. Irving, too! Good Irving! His thoughts are friendly, but he expresses them like a goose. “Help me to the uttermost”! If he can help himself to get along “the path thro' life,” it is all that I shall ask of him. If his own shins are safe at the journey's end (a point on which there are many doubts), let him hang a votive tablet up, and go to bed in peace: I shall manage mine. There is no use in “helps”; the grown up man that cannot be his own help ought to solicit his discharge from the church militant, and turn him to some milder region, by the very earliest conveyance. For affection or the faintest imitation of it a man should feel obliged to his very dog; but for the gross assistances of patronage or purse, let him pause before accepting them from any one; let him utterly refuse them except from beings that are enshrined in his heart of hearts, and from whom no chance can divide him. It is the law in Yarmouth that “every herring hang by its own head”: except in cases singularly wretched, or singularly happy, that judicious principle, I think, should also govern life.5
But it is time to turn from these most selfish speculations, to you, whom I should not overburden, tho' I feel that I have not wearied you, with talking to them. When, when shall I see you? You cannot think what need I have, for a thousand reasons, to discourse with [you] at large and long. How many things are there which it is necessary for me to understand [, how] many counsels and explanations and exhortations to give and to receive! Could you not come forthwith? There is no end to this Cousin and his doubts. And what a thing would it be, if I were gone when you arrived! They are getting on with that printing business, at a snail's pace; but six or seven weeks will see them thro' it; and then I have nothing to detain me here. My future movements must be regulated by the face of circumstances: in my present situation, I have no intention to continue. The orator is gone for two weeks, or I would ask him about your weary visit, this very day. He is not misleading you about his house: like most London houses it is hampered and unsubstantial; you will find your accommodation far below what you have been accustomed to at home. Mrs Irving is no bad person: kindliness and affectation are her leading features; what a pudder there will be when you arrive! For the winter she has a sister with her; rather less unbeautiful and more affected and about as kindly. Of neither will you make an intimate, or more than a frank but trivial, every-day companion; and it will be incumbent on you daily to take some little pains with Him. On the whole, I fear I am selfish in wishing you so much to come. As a town London is not worth looking at above a week; and I know scarcely one or two of Irving's friends whom you are likely to take pleasure in, or draw advantage from. There is no truly intellectual person in his list; scarcely, indeed, in London. For my part, at least, I must say that I have fallen in with none: any thing resembling a “great man,” a man exercised with sublime thoughts and emotions, able even to participate in such, and throw any light on them, is a treasure I have yet to meet with. Nevertheless, it has much in it, this monster of a city, that will amuse you and awaken you to new thoughts; and with all its imperfections it is London, the London every one delights to see or to have seen. I have held up the soberest view of it; and still, I think, I would have you risk it for a few weeks. It would be so delightful for us both to see it; and I would escort you home in person! The orator's house is as ready now, as it will ever be; and for your Cousin he is not to [be] counted on. Tell me what you think; and I will question the Orator the moment he returns. I think, either you should make up your mind to come soon, or for the present to renounce the project altogether. Perhaps it is only that I wish it so, and believe that I “think” it. Consider my temptations: and take them into the account.— But enough of this topic! Far too much of it, considering its real importance! Let us decide it, and be done with it.— Now will you write to me, with all that is in your heart? Would that there were “a glass-window” in that best of hearts, and that I (alone) could read what passed within it! How many things might then perhaps be clear and fixed, which now are dim and fluctuating! But the time is coming, the time that will decide. Shall I love you forever, or am I fool for loving you at all? I will love you to the end of time, betide what may!— Now write, write, Meine Eigene [my very own]; write soon and largely, and tell me all, all!— The moment you get the parcel—if not before!— Adieu my Dearest! I am thine wholly and forever!
[In margins:] I am stirring in the matter of Schillers Works; between a London and an Edinr Bookseller, I have little choice: if I can find one in either city to my mind, I will engage. If not, which is likely enough, I can take to something else. There are twenty things!— Have you begun Hero & Leander?6 Try it by all means!
I will send you some prose to translate and be printed, if you like: but not till your head is quite recovered. How are you? What a wretch I shall be, if I have been rocking myself in idle hopes and you have all this while been sick! Tell me! Tell me! And if you love me, be on your guard! I will yet persuade myself that it is nothing!
Brother John lives No 18. Salisbury-street: he will be proud to get you any books you want from Edinr. Write to him (a letter of encouragement and advice) the first day you have time and spirits? It would be very kind. At last—adieu!