The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 26 February 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260226-TC-JBW-01; CL 4:39-43.


Hoddam Hill, 26th Feby, 1826—

My Dearest,

I received your letter on Friday, after asking for it many times in vain. The cause of your unwonted silence afflicts me doubly, as it came unexpected: John told me he had seen you in Edinburgh, and that you were “in good health.” Alas, my good kind Jane! it is a hard fate for thee to lie imprisoned in a sick frame, with little entertainment for thy vehement spirit but doleful meditations on the supposed folly and perverseness of the man thou hast loved above all others. I grieve that I cannot better it; for in all likelihood this letter will at first vex you still more; yet on more serious reflexion I hope it will not fail to produce some peaceable fruit.

I have already noticed oftener than once that in unguarded moments you let indications escape you of a judgement existing in the bottom of your mind by no means favourable to my present walk and conversation. You seem in your secret soul to think that I am but a whimsical unstable person, that I might do well if I liked, that my chief distress at present is idleness and a diseased imagination. To these criticisms of “goodnatured friends” I am already so much accustomed that I can estimate them in my own mind at something like their just value; but from you, I will confess it, they affect me with a sharp distress. When my heart is opening towards you in trustful husbandlike communion, they shut it with a harsh hostile violence; I thought we were one, and I find that we are still two; that far from sympathising with me, by helpful encouragement, in my great enterprise (and every man's enterprise appears great in his own little eyes) you scarcely approve of it, you do not even seem to know with any accuracy what it is. Allow me to speak in all plainness; for there are many mistakes here.

I can by no means engage, in the space of one short letter; to vindicate the whole course of my late history; but so much I may say in clear words: that I do in no wise accuse myself of fluctuation and change of purpose; that on the contrary ever since I became master of my own movements I seem to have walked forward in one path with more and more steadiness; and can even tell myself at some moments that I am distinctly advancing towards my highest and most desireable objects, and in spite of all impediments, and well or ill meant counter advices, shaping my own dismembered life again into a whole; by means of my own; peculiar as the case they were to meet is peculiar. A little more than a twelvemonth ago, when it had become too apparent to be longer denied that unless I could devise for myself a more self-regulated existence I must soon sink to utter destruction both of soul and body, having at last acquired calmness and seclusion for meditating the aspect of my shipwrecked fortunes, I first bethought me of you as of one to whom I was dearer than to almost any other, and with such knowledge as I had of your circumstances and intentions, I called on you for help in my extreme need. Your love of me, I knew, was great, your nobleness of mind I had also reason to know; and the sacrifice I required of you was such as to put both to the utmost proof. I asked of you no less than yourself and all that you had and were, your heart your hand and your worldly resources; you were to have the happiness of snatching the immortal Mr Carlyle from the jaws of perdition which were ready to swallow him forever; to you he was to owe a home, and the peace and kind ministrations of a home; your angel hand was to lift him from the abyss, your true bosom to be the resting place of his marred and wearied soul; and all this you were to do for him on trust, in the hope that as he grew again to life and strength, he would more and more repay your celestial helpfulness, and, become what he might, would be yours utterly and wholly thro' time and eternity;—or else, such was my view of it, you were to do for yourself the kindness of forthwith ejecting him from the place he had too long unworthily occupied in your hopes and interests. These things you could not do, your fortune was called from you by a higher duty; from you I was not to receive a home. Next month I had procured one for myself. In due time I took possession of it; and here commenced, on my own poor resources, that mode of life which my own best judgement had more and more loudly declared to be essential not for my happiness but for my existence as a man deserving to exist. In this course I have continued to persevere with at least no thought of fluctuation; I am still persevering in it; and by God's blessing I intend to continue so till my aim is attained; till I am strong and collected enough in body and spirit to mingle, in something like my own form, with the tumultuous flood of living business, and cut my little way in it with unshackled limbs. That circumstances are not unchangeable, that wilful squirelets and unjust stewards respect not even the cottage of a German Philosopher, is no blame of mine:1 nor does it behove me when such squirelets and stewards have pulled my hut about my ears, to sit down and bewail or vituperate their injustice and wilfulness, but to go forth and seek myself another dwelling. This very thing is now in progress: I must have another house; in the country, if I can, for a while longer; in Edinburgh, if I cannot. In twelve days hence the possibility or impossibility of the first scheme will have been determined; and far from the other being abandoned, I understand my brother to have been out just yesterday, surveying the environs of Edinburgh to meet that contingency. Now in all this, my kind but overhasty love, there appears no inconsistency to me: there is one purpose, and the means of attaining it change as the accidents on which they depend. As to my ulterior views, my hopes of employing myself profitably in this interval, and gradually working my way into a more natural condition of activity and domestic accommodation, by your permission I have told you all the fancies of my head without reserve as they rose there; but these were transitory visions rather than fixed prospects. No man, I avow it proudly, had ever more reason to praise a woman for compliance in his schemes than I have towards you; and the thought of this has often been as water to my thirsty spirit: but really, since the first great project which you were forced to reject,2 I do not find that I have formed any practical plan with even an approach to determination, to which your assistance was necessary or even possible. With regard to my treatment of your purposes, the reception this last proposal met with ought not to mislead you. I regarded it only as a brief whim, one night old when despatched to me, and probably dead of a natural death before I received it. To this hour I am not sure that I understand it fully. What house were you providing for me in Edinr? Unless indeed you meant me to live, with my wife, in your Mother's house; a generous proposal, which, had I so taken up your meaning, would have merited a more serious deliberation, and at the very least a more courteous refusal. But this it could not be.

O Jane, Jane! your half-jesting enumeration of your wooers does any thing but make me laugh. A thousand and a thousand times have I thought the same thing in deepest earnest. That you have the power of making many good matches is no secret to me; nay it would be a piece of news for me to learn that I am not the very worst you ever thought of. And you add with the same tearful smile: “Alas! we are married already.” Let me now cut off the interjection, and say simply what is true that we are not married already; and do you hereb[y] receive farther my distinct and deliberate declaration that it depends on yourself, and shall [al]ways depend on yourself whether ever we be married or not. God knows I do not say this in a vulgar spirit of defiance; which in our present relation were coarse and cruel; but I say it in the spirit of disinterested affection for you, and of fear for the reproaches of my own conscience should your fair destiny be marred by me, and you wounded in the house of your friends. Can you believe it with the good nature which I declare it deserves? It would absolutely give me satisfaction to know that you thought yourself entirely free of all ties to me, but those, such as they might be, of your own still-renewed election. It is reasonable and right that you should be concerned for your future establishment: Look round with calm eyes on the persons you mention or may hereafter so mention; and if there is any one among them whose wife you had rather be—I do not mean whom you love better than me—but whose wife, all things considered, you had rather be than mine, then I call upon you, I your brother and husband and friend thro' every fortune, to accept that man and leave me to my destiny. But if on the contrary my heart and my hand with the barren and perplexed destiny which promises to attend them shall after all appear the best that this poor world can offer you, then take me and be content with me, and do not vex yourself with struggling to alter what is unalterable; to make a man who is poor and sick suddenly become rich and healthy. You tell me that you often weep when you think what is to become of us. It is unwise in you to weep: if you are reconciled to be my wife (not the wife of an ideal me, but the simple actual prosaic me), there is nothing frightful in the future. I look into it with more and more confidence and composure. Alas! Jane you do not know me: it is not the poor, unknown, rejected Thomas Carlyle that you know, but the prospective rich known and admired. I am reconciled to my fate as it stands or promises to stand ere long: I have pronounced the word unpraised in all its cases and numbers; and find nothing terrific in it, even when it means unmonied, and by the mass of his Majesty's subjects neglected or even partially contemned. I thank Heaven I have other objects in my eye than either their pudding or their breath. This comes of the circumstance that my Apprenticeship is ending, and yours still going on. O Jane! Jane! I could weep too; for I love you in my deepest heart.

These are hard sayings, my beloved child; but I cannot spare them; and I hope, tho' bitter at first, they may not remain without wholesome influence. Do not get angry with me! Do not! I swear I deserve it not! Consider this as a true glimpse into my heart, which it is good that you contemplate with the gentleness and tolerance you have often shown me. I do not love you? If you judge it fit, I will clasp you to my bosom and my heart, as my wedded wife, this very week: if you judge it fit, I will this very week forswear you forever. More I cannot do; but all this, when I compare myself with you, it is my duty to do.—— Now think if I long for your answer! Yet not in my time, but in yours. I have lived as a widower from you these two days, I must live so till I hear from you again. Till I hear from you? Good God! Perhaps, first rightly, when I hear from you!— Adieu my heart's Darling! God bless you and have you always in his keeping! I am yours, at your own disposal, forever and ever,

T. Carlyle—