TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 31 January 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250131-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:268-272.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Pentonville, 31st January, 1825—
My own Jane!—You are a noble girl; and your true and generous heart shall not lie oppressed another instant under any weight that I can take from it. I ought to thank this villain of a cold with all its sickening influences, for having kept me at home to-day: had I gone to Shooter's Hill, I might have seen Mrs Buller and the Orator; but I should have missed the most delightful piece of news that could have visited my doubting spirit. This letter is, I think, the best you ever sent me; there is more of the true woman, of the essence of my Jane's honourable nature in it, than I ever saw before. Such calm quiet good-sense, and such confiding simple true affection! I were myself a pitiable man, if it did not move me. Had my last solemn letter been directed to a common “accomplished Heiress,” mercy! What a fume it would have put her into! Tears and hysterics; followed by all the abusive epithets in the romance vocabulary; objurgations and recriminations; till the whole concern went off like a rocket, leaving nothing but smoke and darkness behind it. In place of all which, you see in that very grave epistle nothing but the sincere attempt, however awkward, of a man that loves you faithfully, and longs with all his heart to find out the proper path for himself and you to walk in; and you come frankly forward with your own meek and clear and kind sentiments to help him in that arduous undertaking. Let us proceed in this spirit, my Dearest; and I feel confident the result will be blessed to us both. It is not our circumstances alone, as you observe, but ourselves that require change: Fortune, niggard as she is, will not deny us the means of making one another happy, if we know how to use and deserve them. Shall I confess it, dear as you are to my heart, I feel that I do not love you with a tithe of that affection which you might merit and obtain from me. It seems as if I dared not love you! That nobleness of nature, that generous tho' aimless striving for perfection attracts me towards you as with the force of fascination: but my understanding seems to call upon me to beware, seems to tell me that situated and intentioned as we are, it can be for good to neither of us. A thousand times have I denounced the artificial misdirections and delusions that defaced the pure celestial ardour of your soul; a thousand times have I wished that you had been some humble maiden with no possession no accomplishment but the etherial spirit, the true fervent heart, which Nature gave you; that you might have joined with me, mind and hand, in the great and only right pursuit of life, the real not seeming perfection of our characters, the proper guidance and contentment of the faculties that Providence has committed to our charge. Alas! Jane, we are both far astray! But we shall return, we shall; and be good and happy after all our errors. Is there not a fund of honesty in both of us? Have we not hearts to reverence true excellence, and judgements which must at length perceive it? I have been sharply taught; and you too seem to be finding out the truth. There is in this very letter a spirit of genuine womanhood which gives me the most precious hopes. O my own darling, were you but the being which your endowments indicate, with what entireness could I give up my whole soul to you, and love and reverence you as the fairest work of God, and be one heart and mind and life with you to the latest moment of my existence! This is elysium, and I swear it shall not all fail and pass away in vain. Is it not worth striving for? To be enshrined in one another's hearts forever; united by the bonds of Truth; blessed in each other beyond the power of Fate to ruin us utterly! O that I could banish from myself and you the pitiful impediments and deceptions that distort our nature! The rest were all within our reach. Think, then, study, strive along with me, my own true Jane! Let our Love for each other be the Divinity that guides our steps to genuine felicity and worth; and we shall bless forever the hour that first brought us together.
One sovereign aid in our progress I take to be sincerity; and this I propose that we should practice more and more towards one another. For us, for our affection, there is no basis but Truth; let us know one another as we are, and shape our conduct and principles by our united judgement. I blush to think how often other motives than real love for your permanent advantage have mingled in what I said to you; how often I have I have [sic] turned my words to the interests of the passing hour, and repressed the honest tho' discordant voice of truth that was speaking at the bottom of my heart, and might have chaced the smile from your eyes but would have profited you notwithstanding. It was wrong, and we have strength enough to take another course. It is the common fault of the thing called love: but now that we have the hope, the glorious probability before us of passing our existence together, it is fit that we discard such errors as much as in our power. Let us learn to speak truth to one another! It is a bitter morsel, that same truth, bitter na[u]seous morsel; but it is the grand specific of the soul. The man that dares to meet it in all its forms is happy become of him what may. Depend upon it, then, my dearest, we must gradually introduce the custom of lecturing one another on our faults, and shewing to each other aspects of our own minds that are far from pleasant! As yet, it seems to me, I am but in contact with you one [sic] some small corners of my being: but you shall yet see me and know me altogether. I hope you will not hate me; ultimately, I know you will not; but at any rate you shall not be deceived. You abhor cant as deeply, and have as quick an eye for it, as myself or any one: it is our duty to help each other to get rid of it and destroy it utterly.
When I come back to Scotland (which will be directly) I mean to spend a whole fortnight, if your Mother will allow me, in lecturing you and being lectured! I have a thousand things to explain and get explained. Let us talk freely, let us unbosom ourselves to each other without reserve. The discrepancies that divide us will vanish, if light were thrown on them; at least they will be put upon the way of vanishing. Do you know, I heartily rejoice that you cannot write a book at present! Had you succeeded in these enterprises, certain Milliners' apprentices might have adored you, and you would have had a rank among the Blues of this planet; but as a woman it would have proved your ruin. This is sure as fate. Gifts like yours are fit for something else than scribbling; and the way to cultivate them is to make them what you would have them seem and represent. Writing follows of course; when you have once attained the perfection of practice, it is easy to depict it. Otherwise, I think it had better never follow. Vex not your heart on this subject: I know you will and must see it as I do; for I once saw it exactly as you. Do you think I need the voices of reviewing men (or rather mennikin) of letters to shew me that you are gifted and lovely? Could I not have guessed it for myself? It is not for writing that my heart will honour anyone, or wish any one to honour me: it is for being in some measure what the object of all useful writing is only to describe.
But a truce with lecturing for the present! I must absolutely give you a little respite. I am coming home, as I have told you, almost forthwith. That Life of Schiller is [at] length fairly off my hands: it is to be sent round the ‘Trade’ to-morrow; then I settle with [the] knaves, and bid adieu to them and their concerns. The Book will be an honest enough book, an octavo of 350 pages; not destined for a long life; but as it contains nothing that I judged disgraceful to me, my conscience is satisfied, and I care not one doit what the purblind cockneys make of it, whether they tear it to pieces in their rascally magazines or let it lie and rot forever on the shelves of the Bibliopolist. I thank Heaven, that it is so with me! That the ‘fame’ conferred by such unhappy members of society is every day growing more and more indifferent to me. ‘Fame!’— The very sound of it is distressing to my ears. Oh that I could show you the worshippers of it whom I have met with here! To see how the shallow spirits of these scribes are eaten up by this mean selfish passion; how their whole blood seems to be changed by it into gall, and they stand hissing like as many rattle-snakes each over his own small very small lot of that commodity! I swear to you I had rather be a substantial peasant that eat my bread in peace, and loved my fellow mortals, tho' I scarcely knew that my own parish was not all the universe, than one of these same miserable metre-ballad-mongers, whose heart is dead or worse, for whom creation is but a mirror to reflect the image of his own sorry self and still sorrier doings! An hour with Coleridge or Procter would do more for you, than a month of my talking. You would forswear fame forever and a day! There is a passage in this Schiller (by himself) which, if you make many words, I will force you to get by heart Madam, and repeat every day along with your devotions! It is my very creed, expressed with Schiller[']s eloquence.1
Your copies of the Book you may expect in about a fortnight; but these Booksellers are a class of creatures whom it [is] unsafe to place any faith on. Fear not, you will see it soon enough. For myself, I leave London in a week: I go by Birmingham and Liverpool to Mainhill; rest there for a little space, and then most probably come up to Edinr, to arrange some future occupation. I have plenty of schemes; and a little trust in some of them. My health is bad, but not irrecoverable; and I have sworn by the Fatal Sisters that I will recover it, and keep it so, tho' I take to cutting ditches for a livelihood. I believe with Badams that there is no organ about me specially deranged; only an over-worked system of nerves, “a spirit too keen for the case that holds it.” This must and shall be remedied: I must live in the country, and work with my muscles more, and with my mind less. By and by it will all be well, and then—!— What a place this Craigenputtock must be! I declare I should like to see it. So you will not have me drowned in peat-bogs, useless as I am? Especially if the spade should be lost too! Devil take you!
On the whole I am leaving London with regret, and with the hope of often seeing it again. I think I have made one friend here, and that is almost like an epoch in my life. Mrs Strachey really likes me, and with all her obscurity of intellectual culture, she is an interesting true-minded woman. She loves and reverences nobleness of mind in others, and follows it more honestly, than any creature I have ever seen—with one exception, whom if you should die guessing, you would never hit on. I have promised to make her acquainted with you, whom she already knows (whence I understand not) and respects for your conduct to the Orator and his dear Isabella. With the Orator himself I am sorry to part, tho' fortune has already parted us to a considerable degree, wherever we may be in place. He is a good man; tho' he cannot speak or act one hour without cant, he really means to be sincere. He loves one too, but the void your absence leaves in his heart is so very soon and so unscrupulously filled up, that it were unwise to set much store by it. Poor fellow! He has his own trials waiting him. Rejoice that you came not near him! It would have shook the whole establishment! From stupidity, from cant, from quackery Good Lord deliver us!2
Now it will not be safe to write to me here any more. Will you have a letter for me at Mainhill in ten days? I will never answer it while I live. Now is your heart lighter? You owe me ten kisses, which at compound interest already amount to a score.— Your poor head! Do go out and walk, and drive these Gilchrists from you, and amuse yourself! It is all you want. Also love me forever. God bless thee! Thine forever