TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 23 March 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250323-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:306-310.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Mainhill, 23d March, 1825.
Thanks, My Dearest, for the letter which lay waiting me, and still more for the severe affection, which it recorded and formed proof of. I perceive I must by and by begin to respect you in a new capacity, that of a self-denying meek philosopher: the patience you have displayed of late is really altogether exemplary. I do not know that I myself, philosopher by trade, could have displayed such tolerance to you, a much more tolerable person, had I figured your conduct to be half so fluctuating and irregular as you consider mine. In time, as you say, I hope all things of you.
I do not reckon your Doctor at all a deep Seelenforscher [psychologist]; yet it is possible enough that in my case he may have some degree of reason for his accusation. Between deciding slowly and correctly, and deciding rapidly and wrong, there is a strict mathematical line of propriety, as between every two extremes of habit; and whether I am travelling steadily along this line, is a thing which often gives me more than doubt. Yet slowness of decision is an evil; as indecision or the incapacity of ever deciding firmly is the great bane of life, the fatal deficit which wrecks the character and happiness of millions. Fortunately, however, in the present instance, I have escaped this misery; it is less in my procedure than in my manner of describing it that your charge is grounded. My scheme of action was determined on, with as little loitering as consisted with what I thought mature deliberation; and it has been advancing, ever since, towards fulfilment, as steadily as the perversity of circumstances, chiefly depending upon other people, would permit. What a fool you must think me, with this imaginary plan of taking up my residence in Edinburgh! No, my dear Counsellor! towered cities, with their hideous tumult and contamination, are a horror to me, till my health is reestablished. To live in Edinr is a project as yet dubious and far off: it is only with the literature of Edinburgh that I wish to be connected, and to hold communication, at a safe distance of seventy statute miles, till my present and most pressing object is attained. Then, indeed, London and Edinburgh and “all places that the eye of Heaven visits” are to me “ports and happy havens”:1 I can turn whither circumstances may direct me; tho' if nothing special should occur to change my way of life and business, I had rather for many reasons carry it on in my native country than in any other. “O immaculate genius!” I hear you exclaim; “and why didst thou linger talking with the orator, or dawdling in the sooty purlieus of Brummagem and Manchester, wasting precious time, and suffering all thy purposes, wise or foolish, to stagnate uncommenced? O faultless monster, wherefore didst thou this?” Fair and softly, my Dear! things are not as they seem. With my utmost exertions, I know not but that I am yet too soon for doing any business in Edinr; and as to other business, I assure you much has been accomplished already. This very morning, they awoke me with the tumult of loading carts with apparatus for Hoddam Hill, a farm of which I, or Brother Alick for me, am actually tenant! Think of this, and reverence my savoir-faire! I have been to see the place (secured for me in my absence); and I like it well, so far as I am interested in it. There is a good house, where I may establish myself in comfortable quarters; the views from it are superb; there are hard smooth roads to gallop on towards any point of the compass; and ample space to dig and prune, under the pure canopy of a wholesome sky. The ancient Tower of Repentance stands on a corner of the farm; a fit memorial for reflecting sinners. My Mother and two little sisters go with us at Whitsunday; we expect to manage well. Here then will I establish my home, till I have conquered the fiend that harrasses me; and afterwards my place of retreat, till some more suitable one shall come within my reach. I have estimated the good and the evil of the undertaking as correctly as I could: the former seems distinctly to preponderate; and the philosopher has nothing more to do but study to conquer or forget the latter.
So, my Dearest, you must not revoke your approbation of a rural life; for your sanction of my schemes is a thing which I require for prosecuting them with spirit. Like you I look forward with anxiety and impatience to our meeting: much must be considered then, much must be determined. It behoves us to think calmly of our affairs, and these are affairs on which it is difficult to think with calmness. Let us try, however; the period of romance and extravagance should now be past with us; it is only clear judgement guided by prudence and integrity that can carry us thro' in safety. Meanwhile, my Dearest, let not your kind heart be troubled.2 The chaos of circumstances still lies before you to order as you please. Consider me and all that I have and am as altogether yours, to take or to reject, according to your will. Choose in your fortune the path that promises most plausibly to lead you to happiness, and true not seeming honour, and count on me and all my humble stock of resources to aid you to the uttermost in pursuiing it. This is not mere cant: I feel and ought to feel in this manner. Since the earliest period of our intercourse, your part has been kindness and generosity, and forgetfulness of many petty things which another would have remembered: my part has been little more than vain wishes for your welfare; and these, however vain, I mean to keep with me and endeavour with such success as shall be granted me to accomplish, so long as there is any hope or use in entertaining them. After all, I do not see that there is any room for desperation. Each of us, I believe, would regard it as the highest happiness of our union to make the other happy: we are both honest creatures, and love each other honestly: it is strange if our combined understanding, faithfully and disinterestedly applied to our concerns, will not direct us safely thro' their intricacies. It is necessary, as you say, and every way fit that we should now communicate unreservedly. Hitherto even in each other's company, we have seen each other thro' a glass darkly;3 steering carefully amid pitiful perplexities which locked up our confidence, and gathering each other's sentiments from faint and dubious indications. Let us now see each other face to face! There want[s only a] full and frank explanation of our purposes and situations, the free light of day to be t[hrown] over every corner of our circumstances; and the right path thro' them cannot fail to [appear.] Dread nothing, my own Jane! Which of us is the selfish in heart? Neither. Which of us is the blind and prejudiced in judgement? Neither. What then do we fear? The strength or the weakness of our means is nothing to our happiness, if it be rightly estimated, and managed. The sparrow on the houseeaves is happy; yet its means are very small.4 Let us but abjure vanity [underscored twice], the head and front of mortal sin and misery; let us utterly declare war against it in all its branches, and hunt it from our spirits; and believe me, the rest is easy. At all events let us love one another to the end! I often think of losing you, and how my patience would support it: but I trust the experiment will not be tried on me.
I wait for letters from Edinburgh to appoint my setting out: I calculate on being there next week; I will write to you whenever I arrive. Have you actually got the Book, and refused to open it? I declare I myself feel almost of your humour: these unfortunate persons drivelled and dallyed about it so long, that it is almost a pain to me to think of aught connected with them. Nevertheless let us learn to be patient, and that the Universe was made for others as well as for us! Next publishing, I hope we shall lose less time.— I can easily appreciate your multiplied anxieties and disappointments; but you will forgive me, the innocent or guilty cause of them, me whom you have already forgiven so much. We shall meet at last; and in return for my delays and failures, I will stay with you as long as you will let me. Am not I a generous youth? Upon my honesty, you do me injustice: I am like other blessings, you will never know the worth of me till you have lost me. Will not that “dumpling of a girl” begone? I pity you, and may soon pity myself, with her. And yet poor “dumpling”! She must live as well as others.— I could find you a far better pupil than this Highlander, if you felt didactically inclined. The little poetess5 is grown a tall girl (I was two years mistaken in her age), and bids fair to be a genius in good earnest! She has gained unfading honours here by extracting a very tolerable knowledge of arithmetic and grammar from the schoolmaster of the village; a miracle scarcely inferior to that of Moses when he drew water from the face of the thirsty whinstone. In fact the creature has fine faculties, and a true honourable spirit: it seems to me, at times, a pity that such a mind should be expended on baking and churning. I am seriously meditating to take charge of her myself. On the day of my return, she came running bare-headed from her school in the village to investigate the loading of the coach; I pulled down the window, and her face grew scarlet: I liked the creature.
Write to me, if you have time within a week: if not I will write on my arrival. God bless you, Dearest! I am ever yours,
Is your head recovered? What a monster is this Headache! Was it study or cold or accident that brought it on? I pray you for Heaven's sake to take care. Ill health is the evil which above all others I have dreaded for you; I would not for the whole universe that you should be as I am. No, no! That must not be! Send the dumpling away, and be a good girl, and all will be well.
My kindest love to your Mother: one of the copies of Schiller6 is for her. Irving's “Missionary sermon”7 is between you: I will bring it, when I come. Before the next week end—!— Will you be good? Yes, you will. A Dieu!