1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 9 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250109-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:243-248.


Pentonville, 9th January, 1825—

My Dearest,

I trust that the same cheerful spirit of affection, which breathes in every line of your last charming letter, still animates you, and disposes you kindly towards me. I have somewhat to propose to you; which it may require all your love of me to make you look upon with favour. If you are not the best woman in this world, it may prove a sorry business for both of us.

You bid me tell you how I have decided; what I mean to do. My Dearest! it is you that must decide: I will endeavour to explain to you what I wish; it must rest with you to say whether it can ever be attained. You tell me, “you have land which needs improvement: why not work on that?” In one word, then: Will you go with me, will you be my own forever; and I embrace the project with my whole heart? Say, Yes! And I send my Brother Alick over to rent that Nithsdale farm for me without delay; I proceed to it, the moment I am freed from my engagements here; I labour in arranging it, and fitting every thing for your reception; and the instant it is ready, I take you home to my hearth and my bosom, never more to part from me whatever fate betide us!

I fear you think this scheme a baseless vision: and yet it is the sober best, among the many I have meditated; the best for me, and I think also so far as I can judge of it, for yourself. If it take effect and be well conducted, I look upon the recovery of my health and equanimity, and with these, of regular profitable and natural habits of activity, as things which are no longer doubtful. I have lost them, by departing from Nature; I must find them by returning to her. A stern experience has taught me this; and I am a fool if I do not profit by the lesson. Depend on it, Jane, this literature, which both of us are so bent on pursuing, will not constitute the sole nourishment of any true human spirit. No truth has been forced upon me, after more resistance, or with more invincible impressiveness, than this. I feel it in myself, I see it daily in others. Literature is the wine of life; it will not, cannot, be its food. What is it that makes Blue-stockings of women, Magazine-hacks of men? They neglect household and social duties, they have no household and social enjoyments. Life is no longer with them a verdant field, but a hortus siccus [parched garden]; they exist pent up in noisome streets, amid feverish excitements; they despise or overlook the common blessedness which Providence has laid out for all his creatures, and try to substitute for it a distilled quintessence prepared in the alembic of painters and rhymers and sweet singers. What is the result? This ardent spirit parches up their nature; they become discontented and despicable, or wretched and dangerous. Byron and all strong souls go the latter way; Campbell and all weak souls the former. ‘Hinauf!’ as the Devil says to Faust, ‘Hinauf ins freye Feld!’ [“Away into the open field!”]1 There is no soul in these rapid ‘articles’ of yours: away! Be men, before attempting to be writers!

You too, my Darling, are unhappy; and I see the reason. You have a deep, earnest, vehement spirit, and no earnest task has ever been assigned it. You despise and ridicule the meanness of the things about you: to the things you honour you can only pay a fervent adoration, which issues in no practical effect. O that I saw you the mistress of a house; diffusing over human souls that loved you those clear faculties of order, judgement, elegance, which you are now reduced to spend on pictures and portfolios; blessing living hearts with that enthusiastic love which you must now direct to the distant and dimly seen! All this is in you, Jane! You have a heart and an intellect and a resolute decision, which might make you the model of wives, however widely your thoughts and your experience have hitherto wandered from that highest destination of even the noblest woman. I too have wandered wide and far! Let us return, my Dearest! Let us return together! Let us learn thro' one another what it is to live; let us become citizens of this world; let us set our minds and habitudes in order, and grow under the peaceful sunshine of Nature, that whatever fruit or flowers have been implanted in our spirits may ripen wholesomely and be distributed in due season! What is genius but the last perfection of true manhood? The pure reflexion of a spirit in union with itself, discharging all common duties with more than common excellence, extracting from the many-coloured scenes of life in which it mingles, the beautifying principle which more or less pervades them all? The rose in its full-blown fragrance is the glory of the fields: but there must be a soil and stem and leaves, or there will be no rose. Your mind and my own have in them many capabilities; but the first of all their duties is to provide for their own regulation and contentment: if there be an overplus to consecrate to higher ends, it will not fail to shew itself; if there be none, it is better that it never should attempt to shew itself.

But I must leave these generalities; and avoid romance; for it is an earnest practical affair we are engaged in, and requires sense and calculation, not poetics and enthusiasm. ‘Where then,’ you ask me, ‘are the means of realizing these results, of mastering the difficulties and deficiencies that beset us both?’ This too I have considered; the black catalogue of impediments have passed again and again in review before me; but on the whole I do not think them insurmountable. If you will undertake to be my faithful helper, as I will all my life be yours, I fear not to engage with them! The first, the lowest, but a most essential point, is that of funds. On this matter, I have still little to tell you that you do not know. I feel in general that I have ordinary faculties in me, and an ordinary diligence in using them; and that thousands manage life in comfort with even slenderer resources. In my present state my income tho' small might to reasonable wishes be sufficient; were my health and faculties restored, it might become abundant. Shall I confess to you, My Dearest, this is a difficulty, which I imagine we are apt to overrate. The essentials of even elegant comfort are not difficult to procure: it is only vanity that is insatiable in consuming. To my taste, cleanliness and order are far beyond gilding and grandeur, which without them are an abomination: and for displays, for festivals and ‘parties’ I believe you are as indisposed as myself. Your Mother's house is truly the best I have ever seen; tho' in my travels I have looked at some where thirty times the money was expended. After all, what is the use of this same vanity? Where is the good of being its slaves? If thou and I love one another, if we discharge our duties faithfully and steadfastly, one labouring with honest manful zeal to provide, the other with noble wife-like prudence in dispensing, have we not done all we can, are we not acquitted at the bar of our own conscience? And what is it to us, whether this or that Squire or Baillie be richer or poorer than we?

Two laws I have laid down to myself: That I must and will recover health, without which to think or even to live is burdensome or unprofitable; and that I will not degenerate into the wretched thing which calls itself an Author in our Capitals, and scribbles for the sake of filthy lucre in the periodicals of the day. Thank Heaven! there are other means of living: if there were not, I for one should beg to be excused! My projects I will give you in detail when we meet. That Translation of Schiller I think will not take effect; that of the Lives has brightened up in me again, and I think will. Perhaps it is better for me: I ought to thank the timorousness of Bookselle[rs] for driving me back on it. Failing both, there are other schemes, schemes unconnected with writing altogether. But here is not an inch of space for speaking of them.

On the whole I begin to entertain a certain degree of contempt for the Destiny, which has so long persecuted me. I will be a man in spite of it! Yet it lies with you, my Dearest, whether I shall be a right man, or only a hard bitter stoic. What say you, Jane? Decide for yourself and me! Consent, if you dare trust me! Consent, and come to my faithful breast, and let us live and die together! Yet fear not to deny me, if your judgement so determine. It will be a sharp pang that tears away from me forever the hope, which now for years has been the solace of my existence: but better to endure it and all its consequences, than to witness and to cause the forfeit of your happiness. At times, I confess, when I hear you speak of your gay cousins, and contrast with their brilliant equipments my own simple exterior, and scanty prospects, and humble but to me most dear and honourable-minded kinsmen, whom I were the veriest dog if I ever ceased to love and venerate and cherish for their true affection, and the rugged sterling of their characters; when I think of all this, I could almost counsel you to cast me utterly away, and connect yourself with one whose friends and station were more analogous to your own. But anon in some moment of self-love, I say proudly, There is a spirit in me, which is worthy of this noble maiden, which shall be worthy of her! I will take her to my heart, care-laden but ever true to her; I will teach her, I will guide her, I will make her happy! Together we will share the joys and sorrows of existence; I will bear her in my arms thro' all its vicissitudes, and Fate itself shall not divide us.

Speak, then, my Angel! How say you? Will you be mine, mine? Or am I a fool for having hoped it? Think well; of me, of yourself, of our circumstances; and determine. Or have you not already thought? You love me, do you not? Dare you trust me; dare you trust your fate with me, as I trust mine with you? Say yes! and I see you in February, and take ‘sweet counsel’2 with you about all our hopes and plans and future life, thenceforward to be one and indivisible. Say no! and— But you will not say no, if you can help it; for you do love me, deny it as you will; and your spirit longs to be mingled with mine, as mine with yours, that we may be one in the sight of God and man forever and ever!

Now judge if I wait your answer with impatience! I know you will not keep me waiting.— Of course it will be necessary to explain all things to your Mother, and take her serious advice respecting them. For your other ‘friends’ it is not worth consulting one of them. I know not that there is one among them that would give you as disinterested an advice as even I, judging in my own cause. M[a]y God bless you, and direct you, my Dearest! Decide as you will, I am yours forever,

Thomas Carlyle—