1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 2 September 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250902-JBW-TC-01; CL 3:375-380.


[2 September 1825]

Good morning Sir— I am not at all to blame for your disappointment last night— The fault was partly your own and still more the Landlady's of the Commercial Inn as I shall presently demonstrate to you viva voce. In the mean time I have billeted myself in a snug little house by the wayside where I purpose remaining with all imaginable patience till you can make it convenient to come and fetch me. being afraid to proceed directly to Hoddam hill in case so sudden an apparition should throw the whole family into hysterics. If the Pony has any prior engagement never mind I can make a shift to walk two miles in pleasant company— Any way pray make all possible dispatch, in case the owner of these premises should think I mean to make a regular settlement in them—Yours Jane Kelhead Kilns


Strangely saved; and found accidentally in one of the Presses to-day: Her [underscored twice] Note, when put down by the Coach, on that visit to us at Hoddam Hill, in Augt 1825! [elsewhere Carlyle changes the date as indicated above]— How mournful now, how beautiful too, and strange!— a relic (to me priceless!)—. T. C. 12 March 1868.1

I failed not to be ready with two swift little horses that Thursday evg at Kelhead; but I and all of us were disappointed; there came absolutely nothing; Coach swept past witht regard for any one. We knew not what to think of it; hoped it was nothing sinister: and accordly next morng before breakfast, a small country boy handed me the following [the letter above],—and I rode!

These two Letters, whh turned up as if by accidt, especially the 2d of them, which came first, and most unexpectedly, of the two, was a strangely affecting discovery to me; clear memorials, sudden, strange, of one of the beautifullest weeks2 I ever had, and whh has now fled from me so far away!— By the best calculatns I can make, here are the preliminary dates, preliminary and posterior, whh bear on that precious little event:

June 1821 [actually late May] (probably abt the middle of June), Edwd Irving, who was visiting & recreating abt Edinr, one of his occasl Holiday Sallies from Glasgow, took me out to Haddington: we walked cheerily together, pleastly and multifariously talking, not always by the highway, but meandering at our will (as has been explained elsewhere);—and abt sunset of that same evg, I first saw Her who was to be so importt to me thenceforth. A red dusky eveng; the sky hanging huge & high, but dim as if with dust or drought over Irving & me, as we walked home to our Lodging in the George Inn. The visit lasted 3 or 4 days; and included Gilbert Burns and other Figures, besides the one fair Figure most of all importt to me. We were often in her Mother's house; sat talking with the two for hours, almost every evg. I was in wretched health; had begun to be thoroughly dyspeptic (witht Doctor to counsel me, or worse than witht,—tho' a wise Dr might have greatly helped),—howevr I did my best. The beautiful, bright and earnest young Lady was intent on Literature, as the highest aim in life; and felt imprisoned in the dull elemt whh yielded her no commerce in that kind, and wd not even yield her Books to read. I obtained permissn to send at least Books from Edinr; Book-parcels natlly included bits of writing to and from;—and thus an acquaintance and correspondence was begun, whh had hardly ever interruptn, and no break at all while life lasted. She was often in Edinr on visit with her Mother, to ‘Uncle Robert in Northumbd Street,’ to ‘Old Mr Bradfute in George's Square’; and I had leave to call on these occasions,—whh I zealously enough, if not too zealously sometimes, in my awkward way, took advantage of. I was not her declared lover; nor cd she admit me as such, in my waste & uncertn posture of affairs & prospects: but we were becoming thoroughly acquainted with each other; and her tacit, hidden, but to me visible friendship for me was the happy island in my otherwise altogr dreary, vacant and forlorn existence in those years.

By ‘Jany 1822,’ Irving who had gone (on trial) to London a month or two before, had got me engaged as Tutor to the Bullers Charles & Arthur, on highly liberal terms: this was a grt lift to me, especially as both in regard to Pupils & Parents, it proved fairly a successful thing; and in [here this note breaks off.]

My poor Tugurium3 of Hoddam Hill had kindled its household fire in May last or earlier, and been my habitatn ever since: one of the simplest establishts a Writing Man, out of health, & not far in of money, or of any other resource, cd contrive for himself in this world! But it did hitherto quite prosperously well for me, and was felt as an immense relief from the intolerable fret, noise and confusion that had gone before. Brother Alick, with a cheap little man-servant[,] worked the farm, on his own footing & responsibility; my dear old Mother, with one maid-sert, and ge[ne]rally with Jean (always with her or Jenny, my two youngest Sisters,—Mainhill, with Father and two eldest do, only 5 miles off, in constt intercourse with us): Brr John, home from Edinr in Summer time, was usually our guest, botanizing, reading, good humouredly roving abt,—largely arguing, too, and chopping speculative logic, when you wd indulge him. The truth is, our Cottage Farmhouse (built for poor “Blackadder the Factor”) was a neat enough kind of place, pretending even to something of ornamental (had its aims in that particr been at all attended to, as they had not); it was thoroughly weather-tight; had the essentials of utility, plenty of light, and at least two rooms of fair height and size most frugally but quite effectively furnished, whh served me perfectly as bedroom and sitting-room, or working-room and dining-room; and were considered as my peculiar acquiret and conquest in the adventure. I had ample power of riding; and largely profited by them, in the airy expanses all abt; silent, not desert, & known to me long ago. By day and by night, I had the blessed absolute im[m]unity from noise; none knows how welcome to me. Within my four walls was no soul that did not love me. I had steady work too or was beginning to see it steady;—had bargained with Tait at Edinr, in April last, for that poor “German Romance” affair; and was busy, busy, reading for it, searching, modelling, considering making ready to translate. Still more importt processes were going on in my inner man, tho' as yet but half-consciously; wait till they become conscs! Truly a Tugurium far more unfurnished might have served me on those terms. For the rest it had the finest and vastest prospect all round it I ever saw from any house: from Tyndale Fell to St Bees Head, all Cumberland as in amphitheatre unmatchable; Galloway mountns, Moffat mountns, Selkirk do, Roxburgh do;—nowise indifft ever to me, in spite of the prevailg cant on such matters; whh always are subordinate extremely, and never supreme or near it.

Of course, we were all on tiptoe, expecting such a visit almost as if from the skies; and I, expectant I, was ready——

She stayed with us above a week, happy, as was very evidt, and making happy. Her demeanour among us I cd define as unsurpassable; spontaneously perfect. From the first moment, all embarrasst, even my Mother's as tremulous and anxious as she naturally was (superficially timid in the extreme, tho' only superficially), fied away witht returning. Everybody felt the all-pervading simple grace, the perfect truth and perfect trustfulness of that beautiful, cheerful, intelligt and sprightly creature; and everybody was put at his ease. The questionable visit was a clear success on all hands.

She and I went riding abt; the weather dry and grey,—nothing ever going wrong with us;—my guidance taken as beyond criticism; she ready for any pace, rapid or slow; melodious talk, of course, never wanting. The country, quiet, airy wholesome, has real beauty of its kind; and in parts (Hoddam Brig, for example) is even mildly picturesque. One evg, in that region, we had got into the ‘rooky wood’4 and fine quiet Hill of Woodcockair (mysterious to me in my childhood as the home of the rooks I saw flying overhead); we rode prosperously a pretty while; then rashly thot of gaining the summit for a grand view northd;—but ere long the ground became altogr stumbly; I hastily dismounted, found it to consist indeed of mere tumbled Sandstone crags overgrown with blae-berries, and with great caution, not witht terror, led her down, who sat quite fearless, into safe tracks agn. Except once, long years ago, I had hardly ever been in mysterious Woodcockair before; and have never since been. The evg flight of its rooks over Ecclefechan, flinging down their hoarse fitful eveng-song on us, or oftener voiceless far overhead, is one of the earliest recollectns of my childhood, and still beautiful to me.

We rode one day to Annan, dined with R. Dixon and Wife (Edward Irving's Sister, kind reasonable people); another day, was chess at Hoddam Manse betn the fine old Clergymn Mr Yorksto[u]n & her (rivals at that game, in Nithsdale before now); this also was a pleast little expeditn for both of us, tho' in the chess part of it I played spectator only. The good Mr Yorkn, who had from of old been always blithe & friendly to me, was always a pleast neighbr & collocutor. A man of almost childlike simplicity & honesty, tho' of shrewd enough insight; a loud free laugh in him, not an unwise one, still less ever an unkind; something sonorously eloqut in the good man, something lofty, and as if, natlly not theologically pious and revt,—eloqut sonorous voice withal; pleast to hear, passively, in his pulpit, as I had sometimes done. He stood above six feet high, straight up, spontaneously perpendicr; had been used to walk to and from Edinr (distance 73 miles) in a day.

Perhaps our nicest expeditn was that to The Grange, a pleast little islet of a Lairdship nine or 10 miles away, northd among the sleek Sheep Hills; whose Laird and Leddy (Mr & Mrs Johnston, the latter a Newbigging from Glasgow) were persons of real politeness and refinet;—pretty much my one visiting place in Annandale in those years. We rode up by Castle Milk, and the pleast quiet valley of Milk, on one of those two Saturdays (for there must have been two, if my guess years-date to that bit of pencilling is exact?);—we staid overnight; and rode home next morng, by Dalbate, Dunaby Hope, and Waterbeck; a most still and pretty ride, as I still remember. The Ecclefn small contributn to Hoddam Kirk, slowly wending thitherwd togr, were the only people we had to disturb, even by a momentary transit.— Of course she went to Mainhill,—tho' I don't recollect? Certn enough she made complete acquaintance with my Father (whom she much esteemed and even admired now and henceforth, a reciprocal feeling, strange enough!), and with my two eldest Sisters, Margt & Mary,—who now officially ‘kept house’ with Father there. On the whole, she made clear acquaintance with us all; saw, face to face, us, and the rugged peast element and way of life we had;—& was not afraid of it; but recognized like her noble self, what of intrinsic worth it might have, what of real human dignity. She charmed all hearts; and was herself visibly glad and happy,—right loth to end those halcyon days; 8 or perhaps 9, the utmost appointed sum of them. As I rode with her to Dumfries, she did not attempt to conceal her sorrow;—and indeed our prospect ahead was cloudy enough. I cd only say, Esperons, esperons. To her the Haddingtn &c element had grown dreary barren and unfruitful; no geniality of life possible there; and, I doubt not, many petty frets and contradictions. Esperons, my Dearest, esperons. We left our horses at the Commercial-Inn door; I walked with her, not in gay mood either, to Albany Place, and there on her Grandmr's threshold, had to say Farewell. In my whole life I can recollect no week so like a Sabbath as that had been to me; clear, peaceful, mournfully beautiful; blessed and as if sacred!—