The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 16 March 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260316-JBW-TC-01; CL 4:59-61.


Haddington Thursday [16 March 1826]

Oh my Beloved! what a tantalizing letter is this, which was meant to drive away all trouble from my mind! what a Paradise it sets before my eyes, from which I am shut out as with a flaming sword! Would I dare to make myself a beggar within six months—to wed my wild man of the woods and and [sic] go and live in his cavern? Yes! Dearest, that I would without fear or misgiving, and deem myself the richest, best lodged Lady in the Land. Indeed I can figure to myself no happier lot on this side Heaven than that which is so touchingly imaged in your own “Wish”;1 and that, it seems to me, might be realized to the letter in a cottage in Annandale as well as in any other “calm home” on the surface of the Earth—and as well moreover in our present circumstances as in more affluent ones; for it is not with a great equipage we should best “go hand in hand the heart's joy with the minds light interweaving to wisdoms haunts, to Fancy's fairy land[”]—while “the undying minds of every age around us” are a society that may be frequented at little cost, in the pla[i]nest apparel, and without return of entertainment; and “the world's—our being's mystery,” tho the most sublime, and interesting of all possible spectacles is free to every one who hath eyes to see whether he be rich or poor.2— Were happiness, then, the thing chiefly to be cared for, in this world; I would even put my hand in yours now, as you say, and so cut the gordian knot of our destiny at once. But, oh my Husband, have you not told me a thousand times and my conscience tells me also that happiness is only a secondary consideration—it must not must not [sic] be sought out of the path of duty. And does the happiness that now invites me lie in that path? Should I do well to go into Paradise myself, and leave the Mother who bore me to break her heart? She is looking forward to my marriage with a more tranquil mind, in the hope that our separation is to be in a great measure nominal,— that by living wheresoever my Husband lives she may at least have every moment of my society which he can spare. And how would it be possible not to disappoint her in this hope, if I went to reside with your people in Annandale? Her presence there would be a perpetual cloud over our little world of love and peace. For the sake of all concerned it would be necessary to keep her quite apart from us—and apart from us—yet so near she would be the most wretched of Mothers, the most desolate woman in the world. Oh is it for me to make her so—me who am so unspeakably dear to her in spite of all her caprice, who am her only, only child— and her a widow— I love you Mr Carlyle, tenderly, devotedly as ever Woman loved; but I may not put my Mother away from me even for your sake— I cannot do it! I have lain awake whole nights since I received your letter, trying to reconcile this act with my conscience; but my conscience will have nothing to say to it—rejects it with indignation—

What is to be done then? Indeed, I see only one way of escape out of all these perplexities. Be patient with me while I tell you what it is.— My Mother, like myself, has ceased to find any contentment in this pitiful Haddington, and is bent on disposing of our house here as soon as may be and hiring one elsewhere. The where I perceive rests with me to determine. now, why should it not be the vicinity of Edinr after all? and why should not you live with your wife in her Mothers house? Because (you say) my Mother would never have the grace to like you or let you live with her in peace; because you could never have any right enjoyment of my society so long as you had me not all to yourself; and finally, because you, positively, must and will have a door of your own to slam on the face of nauseous intruders. These are objections, it must be allowed, which sound almost fatal to my scheme; but—I am greatly mistaken if they are not more sound than substance— My Mother would like you—Oh assuredly she would, if you came to live with her as her son. For what is it Dearest that has so prejudiced her against you? Is it not terror lest thro' your means she should be made childless, and a weak imagination that you regard her with disrespect; both which rocks of offence would be removed by this one concession— Besides, as my wedded Husband, you would appear to her in quite a new light; her maternal affection, of which there is abundance at the bottom of her heart, would, of necessity, extend itself to him with whom I was become so inseperably connected; and mere common sense would prescribe a kind motherly behaviour to you as the only expedient to make the best of what could no longer be helped. As to your second objection it seems to me still lighter than the first; for would it not be ridiculous to continue alltogeth[er] beggars in happiness because the possession of it is encumbered with a trifling tax? to live on joyless and solitary, thus far asunder, rather than give to Duty a few hours each day from our full enjoyment of each other's society? Surely it were better to make the sacrifice required of us without murmuring and verily it would secure its own reward. The hours that remained to us which we might devote exclusively [to] one another would be the dearer for being interrupted—

The intrusions of a mob of idle visitors would indeed be a nuisance greater than we could bear—but really I do not see that we should be called upon to bear it—might it not be made a sine qua non in the treaty with my Mother, that we should [be] exempted from having any concern with her company?—and that the door of our study should be made sufficiently strong to keep every living soul of them outside.— Think then Darling, and answer me— Would you live with me in my Mother's house? Say ‘No’ if you judge that best without fear that I shall take it amiss. Indeed indeed I would not sway you tho' I could for I know well enough the infinite superiority of your Judgement— Say yes,—and I propose the thing to my Mother— I have no manner of doubt but she will give it a willing, a joyful hearing— Should it however contrary to all human expectation turn out otherwise—why then—let it be as you will! In that case our separation would be her doing not mine— I should have mistaken in thinking myself indispensable to her happiness. Oh me! I am much to be pitied—my heart is divided against itself— Would to heaven we saw each others face—for I find it impossible to set these things down on paper as I feel them in my heart— Let me use as many words as I like my meaning is still but imperfectly expressed— But I must conclude for the present, or miss another post— I waited till yesterday that I might answer both your letters at once, in case you had written as you half promised on Sunday—and Yesterday I was distracted with headach[e]— Write—the first hour you have leisure.

God forever bless you / I am yours heart and soul /

Jane B Welsh