TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH; 22 April 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18260422-TC-JBW-01; CL 4:75-79.
TC TO JANE BAILLIE WELSH
Hoddam Hill, 22nd April, 1826—
Your letter lay two days in the Postoffice, and I have kept it another day in my hands, to see whether any light would dawn out of the utter darkness with which the first perusal of it overshadowed me. The process of dawning has been ineffectual enough still: but time presses; and I must snatch an hour to communicate my views to you, such as they are.
I had schemed all this affair so nicely: the Haddington house came in with such aptness to meet the new difficulties which the transition from a project to a plan never fails to bring along with it: here we might live in love and wise peace on our own unassisted resources, till there seemed a fair chance of removing with prudence to a more genial sphere; here we should be secluded in harmonious and not inactive privacy, entering on the journey of our life at a rate no quicker than we might calculate on keeping up! I declare to you, that even I who live without hope in the world, walking not by faith but by vision, could not but pronounce the aspect of the future to be much meeker and more settled, and ominous of clearer weather for us both. And now comes your letter, a gay kind loving letter, souse like a cannon-ball on my little edifice, and shatters it in a moment into fragments; which how we are to rebuild I confess I yet see not.
To complete the matter, the unfortunate scoundrel who for the present occupies Scotsbrig has the other day procured a Sheriff's interdict against our husbandmen: the ploughs are there resting from their labours; and the ejection of that unhappy mortal from his quarters has become a problem for the civil authorities. For aught I can discover, it seems probable enough that I shall have to retire with my writing ware, for perhaps a good part of summer, into the dark but hospitable caves of Mainhill.1
You ask me if I have any objection to reside in Edinburgh. To Edinburgh none, to any quarter of the Earth none, so I be occupied in my duty and with those I love, so I can live wisely for myself and those dear to me and dependent on me. Your mother, with a generosity worthy of her, has offered to furnish us a house there. I do thank her from the inmost part of my heart; and I beg you to let her see that if I decline this most kind proposal, it is from no false prideful feeling, which would ill become me towards her, but from a perception of its inapplicability to my circumstances, from a persuasion that her bounty would be wasted.
Alas! I do fear this plan is impracticable. In the first place, it is too likely that by this time all but the refuse of the houses are let; an argument which like the first reason for the witness's absence, his death, precludes the necessity of stating the other nineteen. In this, however, I may be wrong, and you have better knowledge; so I pass from it. But supposing us fairly wedded, and settled in a pretty cottage in the suburbs of Edinburgh, have you well considered how the roof-tree of it is to be kept above our heads? By the best calculation I can make, the expense of living there in the same comfort as in Haddington would be rather more than doubled. Such a house as the one where you now sit, would cost if furnished somewhere about £150 a year: one very greatly inferior which I visited at Morningside2 was charged £60 for the bare unpapered and unpainted walls. The humblest cottage, humble enough in sooth, costs between thirty and forty pounds. To say nothing of taxes; of filthy hallions [slovens]3 of landlords; of the thousand and one expences and discomforts of living in large towns, which I unhappily know far better than you. Have you figured yourself planted here, in the midst of splendour and scarcity, your sick husband, whom your caresses melted into weakness but could not soothe into peace, forced to hawk the laborious products of an aching head and heart for a piece of money, and become the drudge of gross thick-sided booksellers that he and his might be saved from ruin? By God's blessing, I will live in a dog-hutch, on the produce of the brook and the furrow, before this shall even threaten me. And let other men and other women say of it whatsoever shall seem good to them: the atmospheric air is wide enough to furnish breath for us all.
O Jane! My good true Jane, that love me in your warm faithful heart! why will you forever force me to repeat that I am poor; a word which I like not to pronounce or to hear pronounced, for it usually betokens blind as well as pusillanimous complaint or else false boastful cant; either of which I would willingly avoid. This word has many meanings, which it is most painful and ungracious in me to explain, but which it is indispensably important in your selected and allotted station that you thoroughly understand.
I despair of doing any thing but vex you by this letter; for let us talk as we will we are not understood. Each perseveringly abides entrenched within his own circle of distresses and enjoyments; and the most pressing invitations and intreaties will not bring him over into the circle of the other.4 I see in my judgement that you have many causes of offense connected with Haddington, but I cannot feel them as you do. To me, among the weightier evils and blessings of existence the evil of impertinent visitors and so forth seems but as the small drop of the bucket and an exceeding little thing. I have nerve enough in me to dispatch that sort of deer forever by dozens in the day. Yet think not that I would restrain (or by this time it may be undo) your projected removal from your native town. The fancied happiness of living there was founded on the thought that you too would be happier; without this Haddington was no heaven to me either.
Do you call me wilful and capricious? I fear much, you do. And yet believe me Jane, if I could find any wilfulness or selfish whim in this letter, I would put it into the fire, and write another. It is hard enough that you must bear the stern truths connected with our circumstances; it were too hard if you had likewise to bear my ill nature in revealing them. Conceive me, figure out my situation! But alas you cannot, let me exhibit it as I will. After all, however, this is but a secondary matter, whether good words are spoken and appear to be spoken, if so be that good actions be done. With this view I have written you my purposes, be the grounds of them truly seen or not.
The grand question still remains: what is to be done? For aught that during brief intervals from business I have yet been able to think, it seems to me that our fair plan has again shrunk back into the rank of project. I see and feel too that till after a full fair and free utterance of our hearts to one another, neither I nor your mother nor you will ever work to each other's service. I will speak clearly and cordially to our mother, as to a kind counsellor and helper, and like a man that wishes and means heartily well to her and hers. Am I not open to light, and is not she? Am not I and all that I have and can the possession of her child, as her child is of me? We need only to understand each other thoroughly; and from our united judgements and resources a fair enough arrangement will arise.
Can she and you, if you have determined on quitting Haddington, go and take a house for yourselves in Edinburgh? It will be the better for your Mother's occupation, if she think of giving it to us when we wed. Here I shall see you, and tell you every thing; and do every thing which a rational and well-meaning man can engage for. I am to be there at all events when this Book is published; sooner would not be impossible, but very inconvenient. I have never yet recovered, the people here say, from my last three weeks residence there: in certainty, I am considerably worse; but I believe it is overwork.5
As to my taste in houses, it is the easiest thing on Earth to fit. One sole indispensable and paramount property is complete quietude by night, such quietude that I can sleep in it. Will you believe it, this most humble requisite is fully nine-tenths of the comfort I anticipate and have enjoyed from owning a house. In all [underscored twice] other points, my taste is of the most catholic description, and my toleration absolutely boundless. But with nocturnal noises I would turn my back on the Tuileries itself. This seems remarkably ridiculous, but it is no less true than it is ridiculous; and laughing from others throws no light on it, any more than mourning or execration from myself. If you meditate it well you will find this slender fact a key to many peculiarities in my conduct, which are not just foolish because they are peculiar; and which perhaps it were worth your while to understand more truly. For the rest, to Morningside, or any other quarter in Edinburgh or out of it I am perfectly well disposed; there is absolutely no point whatever in which I could possibly differ with your mother or any other civilised European person.
But I must finish: for my time and paper are done; and if I should write till doomsday you would never understand me, never believe me. I have given you my thoughts and purposes crude as they were. The arrangement of things now rests with yourself and your mother. I think you should go to Edinr, since your tastes are so decided against Haddington: but for us to attempt housekeeping there on these principles would for the present, I think, be delusion. This I must say, tho' I feel that you will sadly misinterpret it. Be kind, be tolerant, be just to me, till you have heard me. If we are wise and true all will yet be well, if we are foolish and false it cannot. I could write volumes, and it would all mean that I wish to be true and just to you, and happy in your happiness, and forever your own,