TC TO ANNA D.B. MONTAGU; 20 May 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250520-TC-ADBM-01; CL 3:325-329.
TC TO ANNA D.B. MONTAGU
Mainhill, Ecclefechan, 20th May, 1825.
My dear Madam,
I were inexcusable had this long silence been wilful: the kind and delightful letter which you sent me merited at least a prompt and thankful answer, your generous anxieties for my welfare1 should not have been met by months of total silence. My apology is a trite but yet a faithful one. Your letter reached me after various retardations, in a scene of petty business and petty engagement, and I had no choice but either to write inanities in reply to elegant and friendly sense or to wait with patience for a calmer day.
That calmer day has not yet come: ever since I left you I have been so shifted and shovelled to and fro among men and things of the most discordant character, that my thoughts have altogether lost their regular arrangement, the small citadel of my intellectual identity has almost yielded to so many inroads, at least the garrison, weary of never-ending battle and imperfect conquest, have now locked the gates, and scarcely ever sally out at all. I live without thinking or theorizing, as the passing hour directs, and any true expression of myself in writing or even speech is a problem of unusual difficulty. You see my situation: I have been disturbed and dissipated till I have become exhausted and stupid. Yesterday I was buying chairs and curtains and even crockery, and there is still no rest till three weeks after Whitsunday! Add to all this, that three days ago, in cutting sticks for certain rows of peas, which I am cultivating here, I tore my thumb—so that it winces every line I write! But can the Ethiopian change his skin,2 or the dolt his dulness, by confession and complaint? I had much rather you should think me stupid than ungrateful, so I write to-day without farther explanation or apology, which would but aggravate the evil either way. When I think of all your conduct towards me, I confess I am forced to pronounce it magnanimous. From the first, you had faith enough in human nature to believe that under the vinegar surface of an atrabiliar character, there might lurk some touch of principle and affection,3 notwithstanding my repulsive aspect you followed me with unwearied kindness, while near you, and now that I am far off, and you suspect me of stealing from you the spirit of your most valued friend,4 you still think tenderly of me, you send me cheering words into my solitude, amid these rude moors a little dove-like messenger arrives to tell me that I am not forgotten, that I still live in the memories and wishes of some noble souls. Believe me, I am not unthankful for this, I am poor in heart, but not entirely a bankrupt. There are moments when the thought of these things makes me ten years younger, when I feel with what fervid gratitude I should have welcomed sympathy, or the very show of sympathy, from such a quarter, had it then been offered me; and vow that yet changed as matters are you shall not escape me, that I will yet understand you and love you, and be understood and loved by you. I did you injustice, I never saw you till about to lose you. Base Judean5 that I was! Can you forgive without forgetting me? I hope yet to be near you long and often, and to taste in your society the purest pleasure, that of fellow-feeling with a generous and cultivated mind. How rare it is in life, and what were life without it! Forgive me if you can. If my affection and gratitude have any value in your eyes, you are like to be no loser by my error. I felt it before I left you, I feel it still more deeply now.
I must also entreat you to free me from the charge of alienating Mr. Irving from the friend whom he should value most. I have no such influence as you ascribe to me, and if I had I hope I should be sorry so to use it. Edward Irving must be blind indeed if he does not see that you love him with the affection of a mother; and he were no longer my Edward if this itself did not bind him to you. Depend on it, my dear Madam, for this time you are wrong. Our friend does not love you or esteem you less: it is only his multifarious purposes and ever-shifting avocations that change the outward aspect of his conduct. He was my earliest, almost my only friend, and yet for two years after he began to reign among you, I could not wring a single letter from him! You must tolerate such things in him, and still be kind to him, and not forsake him, in his present circumstances, however it may fare with him, your counsel might be doubly precious. For Mrs. [Strachey] also I must say a friendly word. She does not hate you, she respects you and desires your friendship. Will you believe that I had actually engaged to be her mediator with you, and to bring about an intimacy which I saw might be so profitable to her! On a narrower inspection I renounced the project in despair; yet I feel convinced you would like her were she fully known to you. That you disagreed at first cannot be strange to me; her primary impression of you was in some degree like my own, and you had not the toleration for her inexperience which you had for mine. I confess I have still some hope from the flight of years; where one sees a want and the means of supplying it, one would gladly bring about a combination. Had you been Mrs. [Strachey]'s sister, she had never been a mystic devotee, and never trod the thorny paths thro' which her vehement, sincere and misdirected spirit is struggling after what in all its forms is the highest aim of mortals—Moral Truth. But the [letter torn] judgment of character must be fallible in your eyes [torn] will go for nothing.6
But ill success in this attempt does not deter me from a new one. You know Miss Welsh of Haddington, if not in name, at least in character and from her friends. I was with her at her mother's when you wrote to me. Jane knew the writer by the portraiture of two not unfriendly friends, admired and liked the letter, and begged of me to let her keep it.
She had refused an invitation to Pentonville: one of her chief regrets in declining it was the veto put on her commencing an acquaintance with you.
She asked would you not write to her? I engaged to try, and now will you? Can you?
This young lady is a person you will love and tend as a daughter when you meet; an ardent, generous, gifted being, banished to the pettinesses of a country town; loving, adoring the excellent in all its phases, but without models, advisers or sympathy. Six years ago she lost her father, the only person who had ever understood her; since that hour she has never mentioned his name; she never alludes to him yet, without an agony of tears.
It was Mr. Irving's wish, and mine, and most of all her own, to have you for her friend, that she should live beside you till she understood you, that she might have at least one model to study, one woman with a mind as warm and rich to show her by living example how the most complex destiny might be wisely managed. Separated by space, could you draw near to one another by the imperfect medium of letters? Jane thinks it would abate the “awe” which she must necessarily feel on first meeting with you personally. She wishes it; I also if it were attainable; is it not? I should now depict my doings and my circumstances, my farming and my gardening, literature and dietetics. All this demands another sheet, which I trust you will very soon afford me opportunity of sending. I am getting healthier and happier, living by the strictest letter of the Badamian Code, and hoping steadfastly to conquer the baleful monster which has crushed me to the dust so long.7 Do write as soon as possible and do not pay the postage.
I am unjust to you no more, but ever most sincerely yours,
You will make my best respects to Mr. Montagu, and to Mrs. and Mr. Procter, the latter I hope will by and by bethink him of his promise, and let me have a sheet of literary news.
Is my dear Badams with you? Did you get the book I sent for him? Excuse this miserable letter. I am sick and in confusion. Next time I will do better.