TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 11 December 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18251211-TC-JBW-01; CL 3:426-430.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Hoddam Hill, 11th December, 1825—
I found your letter lying for me at Ecclefechan, on Monday, in the middle of rain and mist; and gallopped home with it in my pocket, as proud for the time being as if it had been Bish's head prize.1 You are a dear good girl; and shall be happy yet, in spite of Fate itself; for I will clasp you in my arms, and my bosom shall be your home, and instead of pen and ink, your kisses and your bright black eyes shall tell me what is passing in your heart. These hopes are standing for us in the distance; not built on air, the baseless fabric of a vision;2 but founded on the solid rocks of worldly difficulty, which if we had once surmounted—!— Pity that the path were so steep, and the distance so long! But step after step will bring one to the end of the Earth: let us never murmur; but step and step, till the toilsome pilgrimage is done, and we are safe in the promised land!
I have been as busy as might be ever since I wrote; and do not mean to stop, except forced to do it, till the business is concluded. I have done with Musäus,3 having finished Melechsala last night, and thereby got too much of him rather than too little. At present I am undecided whether to proceed with writing his Life, and set the Printers to work forthwith, or in the first place to translate La Motte Fouqué's Undine,4 a task that will not occupy above eight days, but which I am not without a wish to decline altogether, se[e]ing it has been performed already, tho' as I am told very badly. After that, I must proceed northward; for my books will be exhausted; and no effectual progress will be made in getting more, I fear, till I arrive in person. On computing manuscripts last night, I was surprised to find that two of my three volumes are almost wholly in black and white; that is the translation part of them. I wish the thing were off my hands, that I might make an effort after some undertaking of more pith and moment. Alas! The matter lies deep and crude, if it lies at all, within my soul; and much unwearied study will be called for, before I can shape it into form. Yet out it shall come, by all the powers of Dulness! And thou my fair Guardian Saint, my kind hot-tempered Angel, my beloved scolding wife, thou shalt help me with it, and rejoice with me in success or comfort me in failure! I do rejoice to hear you talk as you do, and as I always hoped you would, about the vulgar bubble Fame. My experience more and more confirms me in my reprobation of it as a principle of conduct; in myself it never leads to aught but selfish discontent, and distraction of the mind from the true aims of a literary aspirant. “Fame!” says my old Goethe; “as if a man had nothing else to strive for but fame! As if the attainment of harmony in his own spirit, and the right employment of his faculties, required to be varnished over by its influences on others before it could be precious to himself!”5 This Goethe is a wise man. These are not his words; but they express his opinion, which I joyed to find so similar to my anticipation. You are right now, and you were wrong then: therefore love me with your whole soul; and if fame come to us, it shall be welcome; if not, we care not for it, having something far more precious than it can either give or take away. O my kind darling! I foresaw that this would be the ultimatum of your heart; but I did not dare to foresee that I should be the man on whom that noble heart would lavish all its treasures. Ob ich sie liebe? Ja, ich liebe sie ganz und ewig! [Do I love you? Indeed I love you without reserve and everlastingly!]
But I am getting much too sublime; and a considerable alloy of nonsense always insinuates itself into such speculations, when I rise into the heroic mood. I must change them now for the most unheroic piece of business you can well fancy. I have a task to set you, which perhaps you will not attempt, and which unless your favour for me is great you will frown at me for mentioning this second time. It relates to that farm of Shawbrae: attend to me a little, and I will tell you how the whole matter stands.
The all-important Major has been here, making arrangements for letting the Duke's lands, and setting the whole country-side in a ferment. He has seen my Father; is informed of his quarrel with Sharpe, and approves of the principles on which that noble squire has been gainsayed and set at a small price. He has also satisfied himself that in case my Father get a farm from him, it stands a fair chance of good management in all points both as regards itself and its landlord. These preliminaries settled, he has in consequence cheerfully admitted the honest man to offer for this Shawbrae, which is now open to the market, the former tenant, who occupies only a fraction of the intended space, being quite unfit and disinclined to have any concern with it. So far all is well.
Now the way of managing these things is this. The offers, only from persons of approved sufficiency, are given in; and in case no secondary cause of preference exists the farm is given to the highest offerer forthwith. But if any of them can secure recommendations from private friends or the like, and all are very eager to secure them, then the Major selects the man whom he delighteth to honour, and tells him: “Sir, if you like to give me so and so (naming the highest offer he has got or perhaps some fraction more), you shall have the farm; if not, not.” This is all the length he goes; but this length, it seems, he does go in every case without exception, where such a circumstance exists.
Hereby you perceive what influence hangs upon your nod in this affair. It strikes me that you could perhaps resolve on writing to your friend, and mentioning the business. To Major Creighton the sacrifice is nothing; for most probably he has never seen or heard of any one of the competitors; and the interest of his patron will rather be promoted than injured by the interference. All you would need to say might be comprised in three lines: That such a one, you understood, was offering for the farm of Shawbrae; and that if Major C. in consistency with his duties could show him any kindness, you would esteem it a favour. This little word might turn the scale: and if it did not, why let the scale remain unturned; we have tried all our means, and can happily continue to exist [one or two words indistinguishable].
[Now], Jane, my bonny woman, I have told thee the whole state of the case. It [is] not without reluctance that I decided on mentioning it again. It has gone thro' my head several times; and a gentleman called Pride has been rather busy persuading me to maintain a dead silence on the subject: “Hast thou too come to asking favours?” he says: “Thou! Poor selfish mortal, and to use her kind affection for these purposes! Go to! Ask favours of God Almighty; but die in the ditch, before asking them of any poor clay-tenant like thyself.” These thoughts are agreeable to the natural man: but something better than Pride spake up within me and said: “And are these thy feelings towards her? This stubborn attitude of self-help to her, the partner of thy inmost heart, the true sharer of all thy cares and joys, who loves thee, whom thou lovest? She shall know this corncern [sic] of thine; and have the luxury of aiding thee, if she can; for only her ability, not her will is doubtful.” I have obeyed this better monitor, nor shall I regret that I have done so. I have told you all: what I have written, I have written.
Now do not vex your good heart about this matter: but consider of it, and decide according to your own judgement, secure that I shall approve of its decision, be what it may. Can I doubt your readiness, if the rules of propriety will let you? And is it more your interest or mine that you should not violate them? I swear to you by the last kiss you gave me that I will love you neither more nor less, do as you may. To me there seems little hindrance; but I feel that I have no light whatever. You know my motives and circumstances, and sympathize with me in the wish to make good to these honest-hearted friends the damage they may get by quarrelling with an unjust steward on my account. If this means fail, my life must be short or extremely ineffectual should it offer me no other. Therefore heed not, my own Jane: do what your own sense directs, and count on me for seconding it. One other thing I must add: if you write, let it be directly. The offers are to [be] given in next week, and the business will be decided in a very few days—after. Now basta [enough]!6——— I have filled all my paper with this prosaic affair; and I had very many savoury speculations, and much tittle-tattle to send, which must now be content to linger for another eight days. Has Jack written to you? He says he had “a letter from Miss Welsh, which did his heart good.” Write to me immediately, that is the first leisure moment you [have]. We shall and will [meet soon].
[In margin:] I have not written a word to Mrs Montague, but mean to do it soon. What is this of James Belial Baillie? I have had a letter7 from Hamburg (from Dr Julius whom I saw at Edinr in spring) full of German criticism: it is worth little. Write me an account of your employments from sunrise to sunset; all and sundry. My Mother sends her best love: she told me the other night that “she didna ken how it was, but she thought as much about her as John” (the only absentee at present); which is certainly something very surprising indeed. Jane shall send you her postscript next time, and give an account of herself if she can; she is learning nothing: I see not what to do with her. Adieu, my Darling! Write soon.