It is characteristic of the modern woman that she does not lose her heart or head. She yields them deliberately as a carefully considered gift, and, of the modern woman, Jane Welsh is the admirable incarnation. We have wandered far indeed from those storm-driven souls of the past, Julie and Heloise, who moved blindly in a windy land of exultation and passion. Even Dorothy Osborne is left behind. None of these would understand a love which, though still powerful, has become civilised and unimpassioned. They would not recognise in this constitutional monarch the despot under whose sway they suffered so much.
Love gradually has learned to acquire reason, and it is a curious thing that it is woman, the unreasonable, who has taught him reason. She has set him the task of conquering, not her heart alone, but her intellect, and, if he fails, passes laughing and unregretful on her way. Life has now many meanings; she finds it impossible to concentrate on, one. It is her revenge on love for the dark tyranny he has exercised over her during the ages. Woman no longer is the sleeping beauty who lies unconscious till awakened by a kiss. This attitude may be either good or bad. Who shall say? But it is at least different from anything that has been before. Possibly there will be no more passionate love tales like that of Tristram and Iseult to chronicle, but for compensation we shall have excellent plays and novels.
The modern man, Meredith, Charles Marriott, for instance - Shaw, too (had he not attempted to fit woman, of all things in the world, to a theory!) - understand women as they have never understood themselves. For the man of to-day salutes her with a respect more sincere probably than any before paid her - this brilliant, clear-sighted, unsenti- . mental, positive yet tender creature, who has taken the place of that mystery which his imagination endowed with all sorts of improbable characteristics, and which often in the end proved to be a mere negation. So he adapts himself, as best he may, to the new conditions.
The Sovereignty of Woman
All this, one must confess, is bad for poetry; but women will be themselves, and poetry must take its chance. Or they will perhaps end by civilising poetry, and turning it into exquisite, clear-cut, and chiselled prose. Anyhow, have their own way they will, and who is to prevent them? Now that life is growing daily less physical and more subtle, woman, the infinitely subtle, sees, almost without an effort on her part, the command of things slowly passing into her hands. She will awake one morning to find the sovereignty which has hitherto been bestowed on her half in mockery hers indeed. But these are dangerous wanderings.
Was Jane Welsh Unhappy?
Meanwhile, Jane Welsh is a striking embodiment of this new conception of woman; she is all in clear outline, nothing blurred. With a strong heart, will, and mind, all three fairly well balanced between them, witty, sincere, wayward, very intelligent, alive to her finger-tips, Carlyle was the logical lover of such an one. These two fine natures were each others by natural law. Yet the union of their lives was accomplished without passion. Carlyle showed eagerness certainly, but Jane remained cool throughout. She accepted him very calmly, after a previous refusal, on grounds admirable from their commonsense and decision.
It is quite certain, though, that they loved each other profoundly. It is equally certain that, in spite of a great deal of nonsense which is talked about their subsequent unhappiness, that they loved each other till the end. Whether marriage was a suitable solution for any two people as highly wrought and as sensitive as they both were - whether genius should marry at all, in fact, unless it may be with some placid and cushion-like person - is one of those foolish questions which each genius will always answer for himself. Both Carlyle and Jane were exceptional people who would probably have been unhappy in any case, since the world is very wisely organised not for exceptional but average humanity. It is more than probable that they were far happier together than alone, and anyhow they have left in their letters an inspiring and beautiful record of the intercourse of two high spirits for which one cannot but be grateful.
The following amusing note is characteristic: "Good-morning, sir. I am not at all to blame for your disappointment last night. The fault was partly your own, and still more the landlady's of the Commercial Inn, as I shall presently demonstrate to you viva voce. In the meantime I have billeted myself in a snug little house by the wayside, where I purpose remaining with all imaginable patience till you can make it convenient to come and fetch me; being afraid to proceed directly to Hoddam Hill, in case so sudden an apparition should throw the whole family into hysterics. If the pony has any prior engagement, never mind; I can make a shift to walk two miles in pleasant company. Anyway, pray make all possible dispatch, in case the owner of these premises should think I intend to make a regular settlement in them."
She writes sadly after a week or two spent in Carlyle's family:
"Dearest, - I cannot lie down to-night until I have written the farewell and the blessing which I was cruelly prevented from speaking. Oh, what a sad heart is mine this night! And yours too, I know, is sad, and I cannot comfort you, cannot kiss away the gloom from your brow! Miles of distance are already betwixt us; and when we shall meet again, and where, and how, God only knows. But, dearest love, what I would give to have you here, within my arms for one, one moment! To part so from you! To go our dreary separate ways without exchanging one word of comfort! Oh, God, this is falling from the azure heaven on the miry earth! When shall I be so happy again as I have been in these last weeks. I dare not look into the future: hope seems dead within me. Write, my darling, and speak consolation if you can. I am very desolate."
The next is in a happier mood:
"They are gone, my dearest, fairly gone! Mr. Baillie and Miss Phoebe, and all the dogs, and my uncle from Galloway, and his wife, and his wife's brother besides. This has been a more terrible affliction than anything that befell our friend Job. Nevertheless I am still alive, and blessing God for all His mercies - most of all for the great temporal blessing which I enjoy in thee. Indeed, so long as that is continued to me, not all the dogs and dandies betwixt here and Bond Street could drive me to utter despair; for, strange as you may think it, young man, I have an affection for thee which it is not in the power of language to express; and I wot not what evils or combination of evils could prevail to make me entirely wretched while thou art within reach to comfort me with sweet words of hope and love; and while it is written like a sunbeam on my soul, "He loves me! He is mine!" Yes, mine, with life to keep and scarce with life resign. Is it not so?"
This Marriage is Like Death
This quotation also is very characteristic of Jane in certain moods:
"Dearest, - I know not what in all the world to say to you: I cannot write nowadays, I cannot think; my head and heart are in an endless whirl which no words can express. In short, this marriage, I find, is like death: so long as it is uncertain in its approach one can expect it with a surprising indifference, but certain, looked in the face within a definite term, it becomes a matter of most tremendous interest. Yet think not that I wish it but as it is. No! ' Ce que j'ai fait je le ferais encore ' for if I am not without fear, my hope is far greater than my fear."
" Unkind that you are ever to suffer me to be cast down, when it is so easy a thing for you to lift me to the seventh heaven! My soul was darker than midnight when your pen said, 'let there be light,' and there was light as at the bidding of the Word. And now I am resolved in spirit and even joyful - joyful even in the face of the dreaded ceremony, of starvation, and every possible fate. Oh, my dearest friend! Be always 50 good to me and I shall make the best and happiest wife. When I read in your looks and words that you love me, I feel it in the deepest part of my soul. Then I care not one straw for the whole universe beside; but when you fly from my caresses to - smoke tobacco, or speak of me as a new circumstance of your lot, then indeed my heart is troubled about many things."
And the last is from a letter of Carlyle himself, showing what profound tenderness lay in the heart of this great, but perhaps at times uncouth, lover:
"The last speech and marrying words of that unfortunate young woman Jane Baillie Welsh I received on Friday morning; and truly a most delightful and swan-like melody was in them; a tenderness and warm devoted trust, worthy of such a maiden bidding farewell to the (unmarried) earth, of which she was the fairest ornament. Dear little child! How is it that I have deserved thee; deserved a purer and nobler heart than falls to the lot of millions? I swear I will love thee with my whole heart, and think my life well spent if it can make thine happy. . . . Yet fear not, darling; for it must and will be all accomplished, and I admitted to thy bosom and thy heart, and we two made one life in the sight of God and man! O, my own Jane! I could say much; and what were words to the sea of thoughts that rolls thro' my heart when I feel that thou art mine. Let us pray to God that our holy purposes be not frustrated; let us trust in Him and in each other, and fear no evil that can befall us. My last blessing as a lover is with you; this is my last letter to Jane Welsh. My first blessing as a husband, my first kiss to Jane Carlyle is at hand! Oh, my darling, I will always love thee.
"Good-night, then. For the last time we have to part! In a week I see you, in a week you are my own! Adieu, mine Eigene
" In haste, I am for ever yours,