TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 22 May 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250522-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:329-333.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Mainhill, 22nd May, 1825—
I write to you today, lest you should get uneasy about me or discontented with me; not because I have the slightest particle of tidings that can interest you to communicate, or the slightest particle of speculation that can profit you. When I have said that I am well and good to you as ever, and busied solely with the most prosaic occupations, little more remains for me to tell you.
I am living here in the middle of confusion worse confounded: the cares that occupy me are not those of the philosopher on paper, but of the philosopher in foro [in the forum]; it is not the talents of the bel ésprit [noble spirit] but those of the upholsterer that will stead me. There is no syllable of translation, far less of composition (save of bed-hangings, and green or yellow washes), nor will there be for two good weeks at least; nothing but cheapening and computation, and fighting with the pitiful details of Whitsunday1 and future housekeeping. I have read nothing, but half of one German novel, last sunday! Not long ago, all this would have made me miserable; but at present I submit to it with equanimity, and even find enjoyment in the thought that in this humblest of the spheres of existence I am doing all I can to save my spirit and my fortunes from the shipwreck which threatened them, and to fit me for discharging to myself and others whatever duties my natural or accidental capabilities, slender but actually existing as they are, point out and impose upon me. Alas, Jane! there is no Bird of Paradise; nothing that can live upon the odour of flowers, and hover among pure ether, without ever lighting on the clay of Earth! The eagle itself must gather sticks to build its nest, and in its highest soarings keep an eye upon its creeping prey.2 Once I thought this a sad arrangement; now I do not think so. “The mind of man” is a machine considerably more complex than a pepper or even coffee mill; there is a strength and beauty where at first there seemed only weakness and deformity; our highest happiness is connected with our meanest wants. I begin to approve of this: At any rate Wir sind nun einmal so gemacht [We are in simple truth made so], and there is an end of it.
One thing that pleases and consoles me at present is my increased and increasing faith in the return of health, the goal of all these efforts. I am already wonderfully better than when you saw me: I am a driveller if in spite of all impediments from others and myself, I do not grow completely well. The thought of this is like a second boyhood to me: glimpses of old purposes and feelings dawn on my horizon with an aspect more earnest but not less lovely; I swear that I will be a wise man, that thou my darling wilt be good and wise also; and if so, what can hinder us from being happy and active, what more have we to wish for?
I more and more applaud myself for having fled from towns, and chosen this simple scene for the commencement of my operations. Heaven pity those that are sweltering today along the fiery pavements of London, begirt with smoke and putrefaction and the boundless tumults and distractions of that huge treadmill! Here I can see from Hartfell to Helvellyn, from Criffel to the crags of Christenberry; a green unmanufactured carpet covers all the circle of my vision, fleecy clouds and the azure vault are above me, and the pure breath of my native Solway blows wooingly thro' all my haunts. Internally and morally, the difference is not less important in my favour. Stupidity and selfishness make up the general character of men in the country as they do in towns; but here one has the privilege of freedom from the sight of it; all dunces and Turks in grain, one transacts his painful hour of business with, and packs away, with an implied injunction, peremptory tho' unpronounced, not again to trouble one till another hour of business shall arrive.3 “But then society?”— There is little of it on Earth, very little: and unhappy is the man whose own door does not inclose what is worth all the rest of it ten times told. My own Jane! you cannot think how I rejoice that your tastes in this point correspond so completely with my own. O if I had thee, in peace and happiness, within my parlour, tho' all the Reviewers and scribent hacks and blues and “literary characters” in nature should forget that I existed! Will the time come, think you? Yes, it must and shall, and then—!—
But alas for poor “divine philosophy”!4 If I think of this I shall soon lose sight of her, and instead of becoming a wise man become a foolish boy. Let us leave it then. I should have told you in plain prose in an earlier portion of my sheet that I arrived here ten days ago, having hastily collected some forty tomes of German fiction, and fled from Edinr as from a pest house, where day after day my state was growing more intolerable. Thanks for your dear letter: I know you are a good creature, and cannot hate me, if you would. I was in such a haste that I forgot a number of things, among others (proh pudor! [oh, for shame!]) the good Sherriff's message to Bengo the Engraver!5 You must make my peace with the worthy Sherriff: I am heartily sorry for my gross omission; but I was sick almost to distraction while in Edinburgh, and I found his letter for the first time in my pocket at Mai[n]hill. Your gloves also (poor little gloves!) I found there: I have laid the[m] by safely; you shall never get them, till you come and seek them—if then. Such is the fate of simple maid!
On Thursday we split up our establishment here, and one division of us files away to Hoddam Hill. What a hurly-burly, what an anarchy and chaos! In less than forty days, the deluge will abate, however; and the first olive branch (of peace and health) will shew itself above the mud. My literary projects are till then stationary, but not unfit for moving in a calmer time. Crabbe Robinson6 has written to me; I saw Sir W. Hamilton7 (apparently among the best men I have ever met in Edinburgh), and Dr Irving introduced me to Dr Julius8 (Yooliooss) of Hamburg, who almost embraced me as a father, because I had written a Life of Schiller and translated a novel of Goethe's. Julius is a man of letters; as well as a Doctor, and a person of official dignity, being sent by his government to investigate the laws of quarantine, which our parliament now meditates altering. I regretted that my previous arrangements hindered me from seeing him above an hour; but I liked him much, and he promised to write me his advice regarding these German books some time in summer. So far all is well.
I had left my trunks at Moffat, and they did not come till two days after my arrival. Your little box I opened in the presence of many eager faces; your gifts were snatched with lauter Jubelgeschrey [shouts of pure jubilation]; I question if ever gifts were welcomed with truer thanks or gave more happiness to the receivers. All stood amazed at the elegance of their “very grand” acquisitions, some praised in words the generous young Leddy who had sent them, little Jenny flourished her green bag “like an antique Maenad,” and for the whole evening was observed to be a wee carried [elated], even when the first blush of the business was over. My Mother was as proud (purse-proud) as any. She knows that you are coming, but she will tell no man of it, so you need not fear. Her warmest welcome as that of all and sundry waits you; this in your eyes will make amends for all deficiencies. On the whole I think we shall be happy, and you must not rue. Have you told your Mother? she surely will not put a veto on so fine and innocent a scheme.— Now judge if I have room to ask you all the questions you must answer, asked or not! My letter is a perfect burble but if I cannot talk à tort et à travers [at random] to you, to whom can I? Is your headache gone? For Heaven's sake tell me that it is. Are you writing—writing for me? Do you still love me? I have ceased to love you some time ago.— Your Evil Genius,
[In margins:] I wrote to Mrs Montague the other day, and advised her to write to you, as to a young person of etherial temper, for whom the Fates condemned me to entertain some foolish fondness. Mrs Strachey is distracted with religion; I know not what to make of her.9
Can you execute a commission for me, and will you? James Johnston the meek pedagogue, of whom you have heard me speak, is returned from France, and wishes to exchange his present place of Tutor in a family at Broughty-ferry, for some permanent appointment in a school. Will you walk over any day to Grant's Braes, and ask Gilbert Burns10 if there is to be a parish-school in Haddington, and when and how, and send me word minutely when you write? I love this good simple man, and would gladly see him settled in a station, which he could fill with such profit to himself and others. This is a prosaic charge I give you: but for my sake and your love of goodness you will accomplish it.— God bless you, my Dearest! You owe me a thousand kisses, but in time I will have payment of them all.
You must make my kindest compliments to your mother; she shall not always dislike me. But if possible, let the letters be your own, as you propose: it is far better: whom have I but thee, whom has thou but me?
Are the beans come up? How flourish Madame, and Mr Tummas and his fair Helpmate? Hope also and Despair?11 Tell me how the sanctum is arranged, when you rise, and every thing you do. Above all be good, and love me.