The Collected Letters, Volume 4


JBW TO MRS. GEORGE WELSH; 1 October 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18261001-JBW-MW-01; CL 4:140-145.


Templand—1st October [1826]

My dear Mrs Welsh 1

You must think me just about the most faithless character in the nation; but I know, myself, that I am far from being so bad as I seem. The truth is, the many strange things I have had to do, and think of, in late months, left me no leisure of mind for writing mere complimentary letters: but still, you, as well as others of my friends, have not been remembered by me with the less kindness, that you have seen no expression of my remembrance on paper. So, pray do not go to entertain any hard thoughts of me, my good little Aunt; seeing that, at bottom, I deserve nothing but loving kindness at your hands. Rather add a spice of long-suffering to your loving-kindness which will make us the very best friends in the world.—

It were no news to tell you what a momentous matter I have been busied with; “not to know that would argue yourself unknown”2— For a marriage is a topic suited to the capacities of all living; and in this, as in every other known instance has been made the most of. But for as much breath as has been wasted on “my Situation”; I have my own doubts whether they have given you any right idea of it. They would tell you, I should suppose, first and foremost, that my intended is poor [for that it requires no great depth of sagacity to discover]3 and, in the next place, most likely, indulge in some criticisms scarce flattering, on his birth4 [the more likely if their own birth happened to be mean or doubtful]5 and, if they happened to be vulgar-fine people with disputed pretensions to good looks, they would, to a certainty set him down as unpolished and ill-looking— But a hundred chances to one, they would not tell you he is among the cleverest men of his day; and not the cleverest only but the most enlightened! that he possesses all the qualities I deem essential in my husband,—a warm true heart to love me, a towering intellect to command me, and a spirit of fire to be the guiding star-light of my life6— Excellence of this sort always requires some degree of superiority in those who duly appreciate it: in the eyes of the canaille—poor soulless wretches!—it is mere foolishness, and it is only the canaille who babble about other peoples affairs—

Such then is this future husband of min[e;] not a great man according to the most common sense of the word, but truly great in its natural, proper sense—a scholar, a poet, a philosopher, a wise and noble man, one who holds his patent of nobility from Almighty God, and who's high stature of manhood is not to be measured by the inchrule of Lilliputs!— Will you like him? no matter whether you do or not—since I like him7 in [the] deepest part of my soul.

I would invite you to my wedding if I meant to invite any one; but, to my taste, such ceremonies cannot be too private: besides by making distinction, among my relatives on the occasion, I should be sure to give offence; and, by God's blessing, I will have no one there who does not feel kindly both towards him and me

I wished and purposed to have paid you a visit at Boreland before hand— But when it was convenient for me to go Robert8 and his Wife were stumbling-blocks in my path—and now the thing is impossible—the days that remain to me are so few, and so fully employed— My affectionate regards to my Uncle— A kiss to wee John[.] And believe me always your sincere friend and d[utif]ul niece Jane Welsh


My Translation work went steadily on;—the pleasantest kind of labour I ever had; cd be done by task, in whatr humr or conditn one was in: and was, day by day (ten pages a-day, I think) punctually and comfortably so performed. Internally, too, there were far higher things going on; a grand and ever-joyful victory getting itself achieved at last! The final chaining down, and trampling home, “for good,” home into their caves forever, of all my Spiritual Dragons, whh had wrought me such woe and, for a decade past, had made my life black and bitter: this year 1826 saw the end of all that. With such a feeling on my part as may be fancied.9 I found it to be, essentially, what Methodist people call their “Conversion,” the deliverance of their soul from the Devil and the Pit; precisely enough that, in my new form;—and there burnt, accordingly, a sacred flame of joy in me, silent in my inmost being, as of one henceforth superior to Fate, able to look down on its stupid injuries with pardon and contempt, almost with a kind of thanks and pity. This “holy joy,” of whh I kept silence, lasted sensibly in me for several years, in blessed counterpoise to sufferings and discouragets enough; nor has it proved what I can call fallacious at any time since: my “spiritl dragons” (thank Heaven) do still remain strictly in their caves, forgotten and dead;—whh is indeed a conquest, and the beginning of conquests.— I rode abt, a great deal, in all kinds of weather, that winter & summer; generally quite alone; & did not want for meditatns, no longer of defiantly hopeless, or quite unpious nature—

Meanwhile, if on the spiritl side, all went well, one poor item on the temporal side went ill; a paltry but essential item: our Lease-arrangts of Hoddam Hill. The Lease had been hurriedly settled, on word of mouth merely, by my Father, who stood well with his Landlord otherwise, and had perfect trust in him. But when it came to practical settlet of its “demands of out-going Tenant” (i.e. of the poor old superannuated “Factor,” who was we at length saw completely right as agt his Landlord, and from the first saw was completely wrong as agt us), there arose difficulties; whh the farther they were gone into, spread the wider. “Arbitran” was tried; much was tried; nothing wd do. “Arbitrators, little Farmers on the neighg Estates,” wd not give a verdict, but only talk, talk,—deciding “Honble Landlord owes aright his Father's old Factor, say, £150”; and other just decisn there was none. Factor was foolish, superannuated, impoverished, pressingly in want of the money; Landlord was not wise or liberal, arbitrary and imperious he tried to be, wrote Letters &c, but got stiff anss,—over the belly of justice, cd not be permitted to ride. The end was, after much babbling (in whh I meddled little, and only from the background). Complete break ensued: Hoddam Hill to be given up, laid at his Honour's feet, 26 May 1826, do Mainhill where the lease also expired then: my Father got on another Estate nearby, the Farm of Scotsbrig; a far better Farm (where our people still are); Farm well to[o] capable both of his stock and of ours; with roomy House &c,—where, if anywhere in the country, I, from and after May 26, must make up my mind to live

To stay there till Germn Romance were done; clear as to that. Went accordingly; and after a week of joinering &c, resumed my stint of “10 daily pages,”—steady, as the Town Clock, no interruptn dreaded, or occurring. Had a pleast, diligent, & interesting summer; all my loved kindred abt me for the last time, hottest and droughtiest summer I have ever seen; dryer even than last (of 1868), tho' seldom quite so intolerably hot,—no rain from end of March till middle of Augt. Delightful morning rides (in the first months) are still prest to me, do breakfasts, sometimes in the Kitchen (an antique baronial one, roomy, airy, curious to me),—cookery, company, and the cow with her produce, always friendly to me. Nothing to complain of, but want of the old silence; noise and bustle of busss now round me, and like to increase, not diminish. And this thot always, too, “Here cannot be thy continuing city!”10 And, then withal, “My Darling, in noble silence, getting so weary of dull Haddn!”— In brief, after much survey and considern of the real interests and real feelings of both parties, I proposed, and it was gently acceded to, that, German Romance once done (end of Septr or so), we shd wed [underscored twice]; settle at Edinr, in some small suburban House (details and preparatns there all left to her kind Mother and her);—and thenceforth front our chances in the world, not as two lots, but as one. For better, for worse; till Death us part!

In Augt Haddn became aware of what was toward; a great enough event there, the loss of its loved and admired “Jeannie Welsh,” —“the Flower o' Haddington” (as poor old Lizzie Baldy, a notable veteran serving-woman, humble heroine there, sadly said), “the Flower o' Haddn gaun to be here nae mair!” In Annandale, such my entire seclusion, nothing was yet heard of it for a couple of months. House in Comley Bank, suitable as possible, had been chosen; was being furnished from Haddn,—beautifully, perfectly and even richly, by Mrs Welsh's great skill in such matters, aided by her Daughter's whh was also great,—and by the frank & wordless generosity of both, whh surely was very great! Mrs Welsh had decided to give up house, quit Haddingn (and, privately, even never to see it more); to live at Templand henceforth with her Father (& Sister), where it was well-judged her help might be useful. My brave little Woman had, by deed of law, two years before, settled her little Estate (Craigk) upon her Mother for life;—To wit, some £200 being clearly indispensable there: Fee-simple of the place she had, at the same time, by Will, bequeathed to me if I survived her! Beautiful soul; I heard of this Will, probably once only, and knew that it existed; but never saw it till june or july 1866, when (in a deceased Haddn Lawyer's Office,—deceased Sandie Donaldson's to wit,—beyond hope of my Dumfries lawyer) it was found, and I read it;—so beautiful, so sad! Her signature was there; but that was not all: Sandie, on hint given, had left two blanks, and she herself had written my name,—that faithful Sandie alone might know her secret!——

German Romance was got done with at the due time; finished and paid for in September, or early in October,—through publicatn did not ensue, till some months later (nor had much “success,” nor was to us much a care when it did!)— Letter VII11 is dated little more than a fortnight before our Wedding Day. Comely Bank all set in order, Mother and Daughter have come down to Templand; the former “for good,” the latter not,—or in that sense, openly not! The “Mrs Welsh” whom she writes to here is Mrs George Welsh, her youngest Uncle's Wife: to her: and, through her, virtually (no doubt) to whomsoever it might concern. Mrs George still survives; her Husband, a spirited and clever man, died thirty years ago at this Farm of his, “Boreland” (well be[y]ond Dumfrs, on the Seaward flank of famed Criffalg [Criffell?]): their only son, John Welsh (some ten years ago of Kew Observatory), an excellent gifted young man, who had brought her hither to be with him, died of consumption, and left her solitary here; where she yet is.— The Letter came to me, quite unexpectedly, like a flash of radiance from Above (12 Octr 1866); and I have marked on it: “Octr 1826: ah me, ah me!”—

Letter VIII, read now (24 jany 1869, after a sleepless night withal, such as has too often befallen latterly), cuts me thro' the Soul with inexpressible feelings,—remorse no small portion of them. Oh, my everdear One, how was all this fulfilled for thee, fulfilled!—

At Templand, Tuesday 17 Octr 1826, we were wedded (in the quietest fashn desirable; Parish Minister, and except my Brr John, no other strangers present); and, directly after breakfast, drove off, on similar terms, for Comley Bank, Edinr; and arrived there that night.