1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 20 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250120-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:254-259.


Pentonville, 20th January, 1825—

My Dearest,

Your letter has been here since Monday: I would have answered it directly, but a series of pressing engagements connected with the finishing of that Book, which I have all along been hurrying forward, occupied my head and hands, however my heart might be employed, and I had no moment of leisure to bestow on any thing beside. The most clamorous of these demands are now satisfied, and I proceed to treat deliberately of this most serious matter. To do so rightly I find somewhat difficult. It were easy for me to plant myself upon the pinnacle of my own poor selfishness, and utter a number of things proceeding from a very vulgar sort of pride; it were easy also to pour out over the affair a copious effusion of sentimental cant; but to express in simplicity the convictions of a man wishing at least with his whole heart to act as becomes him, is not easy. Grant me a patient hearing; for I have things to say that require a mature and earnest consideration from us both.

In the first place, however, I must thank you heartily for your candour. Your letter bears undoubted evidence within itself of being a faithful copy of your feelings at the moment it was written; and this to me is an essential point. I may also assure you that my love for you is unabated; I know not that you were ever so dear to me as at this moment. Your resoluteness does not offend me; on the contrary, I applaud it. I also must be resolute: woe to both of us if we cannot be so! The miserable man is he who halts between two opinions, who would and would not, who “longs for the merchandise and will not part with the price.”1 He who has dared to look his destiny however frightful steadfastly in the face, to measure his strength with its difficulties, and once for all to give up what he cannot reach, has already ceased to be miserable.

Your letter is dictated by good sense and sincerity: but it shows me that you have only an imperfect view of my present purposes and situation; there are several mistakes in it expressed or implied. It is a mistake to suppose that want of self-denial had any material share in causing this proposal: I hope I should at all times rather suffer pain myself than transfer it to you; but here was a very different case. For these many months the voice of every persuasion in my conscience has been thundering to me as with the Trump of the Archangel: “Man! thou art going to destruction. Thy nights and days are spent in torment, thy heart is wasting into entire bitterness, thou art making less of life than the dog that sleeps upon thy hearth. Up, hapless Mortal! Up, and rebuild thy destiny if thou canst! Up in the name of God, that God who sent thee hither for other purposes than to wander to and fro bearing the fire of Hell in an unguilty bosom, to suffer in vain silence, and to die without ever having lived!”2 Now in exploring the chaotic structure of my fortunes, I find my affection for you intertwined with every part of it, connected with whatever is holiest in my feelings or most imperative in my duties. It is necessary for me to understand completely how this matter stands; to investigate my own wishes and powers in regard to it, to know of you both what you will do and what you will not do. These things once clearly settled, our line of conduct will be clear also. It was in such a spirit that I made this proposal; not, as you suppose, grounded on a casual jest of yours, or taken up in a moment of insane selfishness; but deliberated, with such knowledge as I had of it, for months; and calmly decided on as with all its strangeness absolutely the best for both of us. There was nothing in it of the Love-and-cottage theory; which none but very young novel-writers now employ their thoughts about. Had you accepted it, I should not by any means have thought the battle won: I should have hailed your assent and the disposition of mind it bespoke, with a deep but serious joy, with a solemn hope, as indicating the distinct possibility that two true hearts might be united and made happy thro' each other, might by their joint unwearied efforts be transplanted from the parched wilderness where both seemed out of place, into scenes of pure and wholesome activity such as Nature fitted both of them to enjoy and adorn. You have rejected it; I think, wisely. With your actual purposes and views, we should both have been doubly wretched had you acted otherwise. Your love of me is completely under the controul of judgement, and subordinate to other principles of duty or expediency, your happiness is not by any means irretrievably connected with mine. Believe me, I am not hurt or angry: I merely wished to know. It was only in brief moments of enthusiasm that I ever looked for a different result. My plan was no wise one, if it did not include the chance of your denial as well as that of your assent.

The maxims you proceed by are those of common and acknowledged prudence; and I do not say that it is unwise in you to walk exclusively by them. But for me, my case is peculiar; and unless I adopt other than common maxims, I look upon my ruin as already sure. In fact I cannot but perceive that the stations from which we have looked at life and formed our schemes of it are in your case and mine essentially different. You have a right to anticipate excitement and enjoyment; the highest blessing I anticipate is peace. You are bound to pay deference to the criticisms of others and expect their approbation; I to pay comparatively little deference to their criticisms and to overlook their contempt. This is not strange; but it accounts for the wide discrepancy in our principles and intentions, and demands the serious study of us both.

In your opinion about sacrifices, felt to be such, I entirely agree: but at the same time, need I remind your warm and generous heart that the love which will not make sacrifices to its object is no proper love? Grounded in admiration and the feeling of enjoyment, it is fit love for a picture a statue or a poem; but for a living soul it is not fit. Alas! my dearest, without deep sacrifices on both sides, the possibility of our union is an empty dream. It remains for us both to determine what extent of sacrifices it is worth. To me, I confess, the union with a spirit such as yours might be is beyond all price; worth every sacrifice, but the sacrifice of those very principles which would enable me to deserve it and enjoy it.

Then why not make an effort, attain rank and wealth, and confidently ask what is or might be so precious to me? Now, my best friend, are you sure that you have ever formed to yourself a true picture of me and my circumstances; of a man who has spent seven long years in incessant torture, till his heart and head are alike darkened and blasted, and who sees no outlet from this state, but in a total alteration of the purposes and exertions which brought it on? I speak not these things in the vain spirit of complaint, which is unworthy of me; but simply to show you how they stand. I must not and cannot continue this sort of life: my patience with it is utterly gone; it were better for me, on the soberest calculation, to be dead, than to continue it much longer. Even of my existing capabilities I can make no regular or proper use, till it is altered. These capabilities, I have long seen with regret, are painted in your kind fancy under far too favourable colours. I am not without a certain consciousness of the gifts that are in me; but I should mistake their nature widely, if I calculated that they would ever guide me to wealth and preferment, or even certainly to literary fame. As yet the best of them is very immature; and if ever they should come forth in full strength, it must be to other and higher ends that they are directed. How then? Would I invite a generous spirit out of affluence and respectability to share with me obscurity and poverty? Not so. In a few months I might be realizing from literature and other kindred exertions the means of keeping poverty at a safe distance; the elements of real comfort, which in your vocabulary and mine I think has much the same meaning, might be at my disposal; and farther than this, I should think it injudicious to expect that external circumstances could materially assist me in the conduct of life. The rest must [de]pend upon myself, and the regulation of my own affections and habits. Now this is what [I would] do were it in my power: I would ask a generous spirit, one whose happiness weightily [depended] on seeing me happy, and whose temper and purposes were of kindred to my own; I would as[k such] a noble being to let us unite our resources, not her wealth and rank merely, for these were a small and unessential fraction of the prayer; but her judgement, her patience, prudence, her true affection, to mine; and let us try if by neglecting what was not important, and striving with faithful and inseparable hearts after what was, we could not rise above the miserable obstructions that beset us both, into regions of serene dignity, living as became us in the sight of God and all reasonable men, happier than millions of our brethren, and each acknowledging with fervent and unspeakable gratitude that to the other he owed all, all. You are such a generous spirit; but your purposes and feelings are not such. Perhaps it is happier for you that they are not.

This then is an outline, intended to be true, of my unhappy fortune and strange principles of action. Both I fear are equally repulsive to you. Yet the former was meant for a faithful picture of what Destiny has done to me; and the latter are positively the best arms which my resources offer me to war with her. I have thought of these things till my brain was like to crack. I do not pretend to say that my conclusions are indubitable; I am still open to better light; but this at present is the best I have. Do you also think of all this; not in any spirit of anger, but in that spirit of love and noble mindedness, which you have always shewn me. Anger! Good God! why should we be angry? Are we not alone in the world, each almost without a single counsellor save the other? Let us, my Dearest, unite our little portions of experience, and sit in solemn judgement on the interests of both, which are alike involved in the decision, and alike precious to us. And if we must part (which may the God that made us both forbid!), let us part in tenderness, with the last warm kiss of love upon our lips, and go forth upon our several paths, lost to the future, but in possession of the past. Now shame on me, if by these representations, I meant to bend your faithful spirit to any selfish purpose! Shame on me for a heartless Jew! Have you not loved me, have you not leant upon me as your guardian and guide? O my Dearest, you are dear to me as the light of life:3 to see you truly good and happy is the cry of my inmost heart. It is only when I contrast my weakness with your wishes, that the despair of ever being yours comes over me.

You will think of these things and write me what you think. But the decision is important; let us decide nothing rashly; let us postpone it till I see you in Scotland, which ought to be now in a very few weeks. After all, why if we truly love each other, should not every thing be well!— To your Mother, return my heartfelt thanks for her kind and tolerant opinion of me, which I hope it will be my study to deserve. What I think of her, you know better than she does, and it is needless to repeat it here.

I will not end in tragedy, tho' my letter is gloomy enough in its purport, and perhaps my sickness (greater to-day than usual) has given additional gloom to its expression. I will part in cheerfulness. Is that farm of yours really to be let? And where is it, and who has the letting of it? My Brother and I have long had a scheme of conjoint farming; and I feel more and more the essentialness of something like it to my recovery. Now why should we not be your tenants! It seems to me that I could delve and prune with ten times tenfold pleasure, if I thought my delving and pruning were in any shadow of a sense for you. I am quite serious in this: do not neglect to tell me when you write, and I will make the boy look after it. You have no notion of my tolerance of places. After being every night for many years disturbed in my sleep by the noise of cities, and stunned and choked every day by their tumults and their smoke, any thing with green grass upon it and blue sky above it has the air of paradise to me. Now write my Dearest! Be good to me if you can; above all, be candid. May God bless you forever, and guide us to one another's hearts if it be possible! Yours wholly & ever,

Th. Carlyle—