1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 29 July 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250729-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:357-360.


Hoddam Hill, 29th July, 1825.

My Dearest,

Your letter reached me but a few hours ago: I was doubly shocked on reading it a second time to find it dated Sunday. What a week you must have had! It were inhuman to keep you another moment in uncertainty.

You exaggerate this matter greatly: it is an evil, but it may be borne; we must bear it together; what else can we do? Much of the annoyance it occasions to me proceeds from selfish sources, of a poor enough description; this is unworthy of our notice. Let it go to strengthen the schoolings of Experience, let it be another chastisement to vanity: perhaps she needs it; and if not, who is She that I should take thought of her?

Nor is the other, more serious part of the mischief half so heinous in my eyes as it seems to be in yours. There was a want of firmness in withholding an avowal which you thought might give me pain, there must have been much suffering in the concealments and reservations it imposed on you: but there is a heroism in your present frankness, a fund of truth and probity, which ought to cancel all that went before. You say it was not voluntary: so much the more difficult; I honour it the more. You ask me to forgive you, you stand humbled and weeping before me. No more of this for God's sake! Forgivenness! Where is the living man that dare look steadfastly into his “painted sepulchre” of a heart, and say: I have lived one year without committing fifty faults of a deeper dye than this? My dear Jane! My best Jane! Your soul is of a more ethereal temper than befits this very despicable world. You love truth and nobleness, you are forced to love them; and you know not how they may be reached. O God! What a heartless slave were I, if I discouraged you, for any paltry momentary interests of my own, in the sacred object you are aiming at! Believe me, My Dearest, this struggling of a pure soul to escape from the contaminations that encircle it, is but more touching to me that its success is incomplete. It is human nature in the loveliest aspect our poor Earth admits of; flesh and spirit, the clay of the ground made living by the breath of the Almighty.

O love truth, my Dearest, prize it beyond all fame and power and happiness! Continue to love it fearlessly, thro' good and bad report: it is the day-star from on high that shines to us in this gloomy wilderness of existence; there is still hope of him who knows and venerates its light, and dare determine to hold fast by it to the death. Help me too to love it: I can talk more largely of it than you; but many an hour I could say with Brutus: “Virtue, have I worshipped thee as a substance, and found thee an empty shadow?”1 It is not so! By the majestic Universe, by the mysterious Soul of Man, it is not so! There is a worth in goodness which defies all chance. The happy man was never yet created; the virtuous man, tho' clothed in rags and sinking under pain, is the jewel of the Earth, however I may doubt it, or deny it in my bitterness of heart. O never let me forget it! Teach me, tell me, when the Fiend of Suffering, and the base Spirit of the World are ready to prevail against me, and to drive me from this last stronghold!

You feel grateful to me that I have “forgiven” you? You thank me, and say I treat you generously? Alas! alas! I deserve no gratitude. What have I done? Assured you that my affection is still yours, that you are even dearer to me for this painful circumstance. But do you know the worth of that affection? Have you ever seen me and my co[ndi]tion in the naked eye of your reason? You have not, you do not know me; the affection you rejoice in is worse than worthless, it is hurtful, it may be your ruin. What is my love of you or of any one? A wild peal thro' the desolate chambers of my soul, forcing perhaps a bitter tear into my eyes, and then giving place to silence and death! You know me not; no living mortal knows me, seems to know me. I can no longer love. My heart has been steeped in solitary bitterness, till the life of it is gone: the heaven of two confiding souls that live but for each other encircled with glad affection, enlightened by the sun of worldly blessings and suitable activity is a thing that I contemplate from a far distance, without the hope, sometimes even without the wish, of reaching it. Am I not poor and sick and helpless and estranged from all men? I lie upon the thorny couch of pain, my pillow is the iron pillow of despair: I can rest on them in silence, but that is all that I can do. Think of it, Jane! I can never make you happy. Leave me, then! Why should I destroy you? It is but one bold step and it is done. We shall suffer, suffer to the heart; but we shall have obeyed the voice of reason, and time will teach us to endure it. Verschmerzen werden wirs; denn was verschmerzet nicht der Mensch?2 No affection is unalterable or eternal: we ourselves with all our passions sink to dust, and are speedily consumed.

I know your generous heart: you say I will not leave this poor true-hearted brother; he is my brother and faithful to me tho' sinking in the waves of destiny; I will clasp him to my heart, and save him or perish with him. Alas! you know not what you do: you cannot save me; it is Fate only that can save me if I am to be saved at all. You do not know me; believe me, you would be wretched with me in a week. Save me! Make me happy!— I smile to hear the recipe of our kind Mrs Montague. “Exorcism”! [with] a vengeance! Ach, du lieber Gott [Oh, dear God]!

These things have long, for years, more or less distinctly, lain upon my heart[;] I have told you them, that I might imitate the sincerity you have so nobly set before me as a pattern. If you say they are “blue devils” vapours of sickness, I shall be sorry; for it will but shew me that you have not understood or believed: if you think them merely the weak querulous wailings of a distempered mind, you will do me some injustice: if you think they are pretexts and that I have ceased to love you, you will do injustice both to yourself and me. O Jane!— But what use is it to talk? I could write forty quires on that subject, and yet not make it clear to you. You are young, you know not life, know not yourself. Secluded all your days from the native country of your spirit, you have grasped at every semblance of it: first the rude smoky fire of Edward Irving seemed to you a star of Heaven; next the quivering ignis fatuus [will o' the wisp] of a soul that dwells in me! The world has a thousand noble hearts in it, that you do not dream of; and you think that you will never meet another. What am I, or what is my father's house, that you should sacrifice yourself for me?

I know not whether it was good to write these things, for a spoken word is more dangerous than a whetted sword. They assume a thousand forms in my thoughts: this as near [as] I could paint it is a glimpse of their general aspect. At least, therefore, they are true; they seem to demand your solemn calm deliberation, and the speedier the decision it may be the better for us both. Again and again I repeat it, you do not know me! Come and see, and determine! Let me hear you, and do you hear me. As I am, take me or refuse me: but not as I am not; for this will not and cannot come to good. God help us both, and show us both the way we ought to walk in!— When will you be here? Write twice? Once pointing out the week, again appointing the day. Bid the coach leave you at Kelhead Kilns at the end of the road for Hoddam Bridge; I will be in waiting; tell me which coach you come by, for three pass every evening. All are impatient for you here: I for many reasons. When will you come? You are forever dear to me, in spite of all I say and feel. God bless you my Darling! I am always & wholly yours,

Th: Carlyle