TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 2 April 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260402-TC-JBW-01; CL 4:66-71.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Hoddam Hill, April 2nd, 1826—
Dearest Weibchen— I have kept thee long waiting; but I could not come a moment sooner, much as I wished to come. Till last night my hands were full of that magnanimous Life of Goethe, as the echo of it is still sounding in my head. What kept me so long with it? You partly, you little wretch! For the first three or four days all that I could do, you would not go about your business; and whenever I sat down to my canvas to draw this majestic countenance, the kind roguish face of Jane Welsh came peeping over the easel, and I was forced to look into her black bright eyes, and they put me out. It was very wrong of you, you shameful creature. But I will remember all these sins by and by.
Even yet I am in the extremest haste; and must now write of the most important concern of both your life and my own without either due deliberation or due detail. My present sentiments on the matter I will endeavour to express to you, lying still open to farther light. In the first place let me tell you what my plan was, before your counterplan came athwart it.
I have got a cottage here, as I anticipated; that is my Father and Alick have rented the farm of Scotsbrig (a place they like much better than Shawbrae at the rent of £190); and I am to be master of the house there, till the Mainhill lease expire (Whitsunday 1827); the Hill colony moving thither in the interim, at the approaching term.1 This is an event which gives me more satisfaction than you would readily conceive: not on my own account only, but on that of my kindred, who can now regard the ill-nature of our rural Ali Pacha2 with a degree of equanimity much easier to attain than formerly. Ali, I mean “his Honour,” Major General Sharpe, and I had such a schene the other day at this door! I made Grahame of Burnswark (Brunswick) laugh at it yesterday all the way from Annan to Hoddam Bridge. In short, Ali sank in the space of little more than a minute from 212° of Fahrenheit's thermometer to 32°, and retired even below the freezing point.
Now this house of Scotsbrig which is to be mine for a year, and in which I have a moderately good right to a domicile as long afterwards as I like, is one of the most monstrously ugly and uncultivated looking houses you ever set your eyes on. Nevertheless it is tight and dry: it is to be floored, windowed, doored anew; and by this means the upper story will be made habitable enough for me, and there is plenty of room below for all the rest. And now, Liebchen, this was my plan: Having finished my Translation, and got my cash for it, I was to kneel down before you, and ask your hand: this little soft hand you could not refuse me; but I was to press it forever in my own; and fairly carry you off into the wolds of Annandale, into this Kamtchatka3 establishment, which I knew and believed the presence of your Husband would render as beautiful as many far grander and costlier mansions. Here then was an asylum for us; a shelter at least against the meanest distresses of existence; a humble but secure roadstead to which we could run whenever poverty or other bad weather made the high seas too rude for our vessel.
How you were to employ yourself here in the meanwhile, I had not calculated very accurately. You would have Jane and our Mother to love you and impart to you the simple scenery of their obscure but still human existence; you might study the first elements of housewifery; you would have books and pens; and gay rides with me on bright sunshiny days. For myself I was resolved on writing a Book, no compilation or biography but a book (which, thro' the strength of Heaven, I will yet write); and so to be busier thro' the day than when you staid with us at the Hill. But then all evening there was to be tea put on the table, and a circle of glad faces was to gather round it, and there we should sit and talk, or I should read, and play with your black locks; for you were then my own to all Eternity, and no other man or woman had any part or lot in your true bosom but myself. And so in this way I reckoned that, with diligence and rest, with wisdom and desipience, with quarrelling and fighting and kissing and caressing, we might contrive to weather till the winter season tolerably enough. Then if I were stronger, or if we found the country getting too disagreeable, with the strength I have, I was to set out for Edinr, and try if I could get a cottage there (I am told they are to be had furnished there); at all events, next Whitsunday, unless Fortune was too cruel to us, we were to go northward and commence housekeeping there, on our own foundation. I should have £200 at any rate to begin with; and many an honest couple has begun with less. Jane might have gone with us, and helped you; some ancient thrifty serving-maid would have completed our establishment. In truth we should be poor, as poor need be: but what then, we should learn, we would and could learn to suit our outlay to our income; we should stand steadfastly by one another thro' scarcity and abundance, if ever abundance came as it might possibly do; and so thro' honour or the absence of it, we should feel that we were true and good, and happy in each other's arms, and obliged for our happiness to no earthly soul, but to Heaven only.
As we think mostly of our own wants and wishes alone, in all this royal project, I had taken no distinct account of your Mother. I merely remembered the text of Scripture: “Thou shalt leave father and mother, and cleave unto thy husband, and thy desire shall be towards him all the days of thy life.”4 I imagined perhaps she might go to Dumfries-shire, and gratify her heart by increasing the accommodations of her father, which she would then have ample means to do; perhaps that she might even—5 in short, that she might arrange her destiny in many ways, to which my presence must be a hindrance rather than a furtherance. Here I was selfish and thoughtless: I might have known that the love of a Mother to her only child is indestructible and irreplaceable; that forcibly to cut asunder such ties was cruel and unjust.
Perhaps, as I have told you, Love, I may not yet have got to the bottom of this new plan so completely as I wished: but there is one thing that strikes me more and more, the longer I think of it. This the grand objection of all objections, the head and front of offence, the soul of all my counter-pleading; an objection which is too likely to overset the whole project. It may be stated in a word: The Man should bear rule in the house and not the Woman.6 This is an eternal axiom, the Law of Nature h[erself w]hich no mortal departs from unpunished. I have meditated on this ma[ny long] years, and every day it grows plainer to me: I must not and J. cannot live in a house of which I am not head. I should be miserable myself, and make all about me miserable. Think not, Darling, that this comes of an imperious temper; that I shall be a harsh and tyrannical husband to thee. God forbid! But it is the nature of a man that if he be controuled by any thing but his own Reason, he feels himself degraded; and incited, be it justly or not, to rebellion and discord. It is the nature of a woman again (for she is essentially passive not active) to cling to the man for support and direction, to comply with his humours, and feel pleasure in doing so, simply because they are his; to reverence while she loves him, to conquer him not by her force but her weakness, and perhaps (the cunning gypsy!) after all to command him by obeying him. It is inexpressible what an increase of happiness, and of consciousness, wholesome consciousness of inward dignity I have gained since I came within the walls of this poor cottage. My own four walls!7 For in my state this primeval law of Nature acts on me with double and triple force. And how cheaply it is purchased, and how smoothly managed! They simply admit that I am Herr im Hause [master of the house], and act on this conviction. Here is no grumbling about my habitudes and whims: if I choose to dine on fire and brimstone, they will cook it for me to their best skill; thinking only that I am an unintelligible mortal; perhaps in their secret souls, a kind of humourist, facheuse [troublesome] to deal with, but no bad soul after all, and not to be dealt with in any other way. My own four walls!
Your mother is of all women the best calculated for being a Wife, and the worst for being a Husband. I know her perhaps better than she thinks; and it is not without affection and sincere esteem that I have seen the fundamental structure of her character, and the many light capricious half-graces half-follies that sport on the surface of it. I could even fancy that she might love me also, and feel happy beside me, if her own true and kindly character were come into fair and free communion with mine, which she might then find was neither false nor cruel any more than her own. But this could only be (I will speak it out at once and boldly, for it is the quiet and kind conviction of my judgement, not the conceited and selfish conviction of my vanity: this could only be) in a situation where she looked up to me, not I to her.
Now, think, Liebchen, whether your Mother will consent to forget her own riches, and my poverty, and uncertain most probably very scanty income; and consent in the spirit of Christian meekness to make me her guardian and director, and be a second wife to her daughter's husband! If she can, then I say, she is a noble woman; and in the name of Truth and Affection, let us all live together, and be one household and one heart till Death, or her own choice part us! If she cannot, which will do any thing but surprise me, then alas! the other thing cannot be, must not be; and for her sake, no less than for yours and mine, we must think of something else. Explain all this, Jane, in your own dialect; for unless you explain it, it may be dreadfully misunderstood. Then tell me the result without the loss of a moment. Love me always in the centre of your heart, and believe me your own.
My Mother has scolded me regularly every time these three last letters, for not sending her compliments and love. She is come in this moment; and orders me to wish you “all good things.” She knows of the Scotsbrig plan; and says she “would have you look up to the Almighty for counsel in this and all your goings.”—— She is longing for another letter. But mine first! Addio!