Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 27 1788

Sunday noon
27th January 1788

‘I have almost given up the excise idea.-I have been just now to wait on a great person, Miss Nimmo’s friends, Mrs Stewart.

-Why will Great people not only deafen us with the din of their equipage, and dazzle us with their fastidious pomp, but they must also be so very dictatorially wise? I have been question’d like a child about my matters, and blamed and schooled for my Inscription on Stirling window.I-Come, Clarinda- “Come, curse me Jacob; come, defy me Israel! ”

Sunday Night
I have been with Miss Nimmo. She is indeed, “a good soul,” as my Clarinda finely says.-She has reconciled me, in a good measure, to the world, with her friendly prattle.-

Schetki has sent me the song, set to a fine air of his composing.-I have called the song, Clarinda: I have carried it about in my pocket, and thumbed it over all day.-

I trust you have spent a pleasant day: and that no idea or recollection of me gives you pain.-

Monday morning

If my prayers have any weight in Heaven, this morning looks in on you and finds you in the arms of peace; except where it is charmingly interrupted by the ardours of Devotion.-

I find so much serenity of mind, so much positive pleasure, so much fearless daring toward the world, when I warm in devotion, or feel the glorious sensation, a consciousness of Almighty Friendship, that I am sure I shall soon be a honest Enthusiast-
“How are Thy servants blest, O Lord, How sure is their defence!
Eternal wisdom is their guide, Their help Omnipotence! ”

I am, my dear Madam, yours, Sylvander

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 19 1788

There is no time, my Clarinda, when the conscious thrilling chords of Love and Friendship give such delight, as in the pensive hours of what our favourite Thomson calls, “Philosophic Melancholy.”

The sportive insects who bask in the sunshine of Prosperity, or the worms that luxuriant crawl amid their ample wealth of earth, they need no Clarinda; they would despise Sylvander- if they durst.

– The family of Misfortune, a numerous group of brothers and sisters! they need a resting-place to their souls: unnoticed, often condemned by the world; in some degree perhaps condemned by themselves, they feel the full enjoyment of ardent love, delicate tender endearments, mutual esteem and mutual reliance.-

In this light I have often admired Religion.-In proportion as we are wrung with grief, or distracted with anxiety, the ideas of a compassionate Deity, an Almighty Protector, are doubly dear.-
” ‘Tis this, my friend, that streaks our morning bright;
” ‘Tis this that gilds the horrors of our night”

I have been this morning taking a peep thro’, as Young finely says, “the dark postern of time long elaps’d;” and you will easily guess, ’twas a rueful prospect.-What a tissue of thoughtlessness, weakness and folly!

My life reminded me of a ruin’d temple: what strength, what proportion in some parts! what unsightly gaps, what prostrate ruins III others! I kneele down before the Father of mercies and said, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son!” I rose, eased and strengthened.-I despise the superstition of a Fanatic, but I love the Religion of a Man. – “The future,” said I to myself, “is still before me: there let me-

On Reason build Resolve,
“That column of true majesty in Man!”

“I have difficulties many to encounter,” said I; “but they are not “absolutely insuperable: and where is firmness of mind shewn, but “in exertion? mere declamation, is bombast rant.-Besides, wherever I am, or in whatever situation I may be-

-” ‘Tis nought to me:
“Since God is ever present, ever felt, “In the void waste as in the city full;
“And where He vital breathes, there must be joy!”

Saturday Night-half after ten

What luxury of bliss I was enjoying this time yesternight! My everdearest Clarinda, you have stolen away my soul but you have refined, you have exalted it; you have given it a stronger sense of Virtue, and a stronger relish for Piety. -Clarinda, first of your Sex, if ever I am the veriest wretch on earth to forget you; if ever your lovely image is effaced from my soul,

“May I be lost, no eye to weep my end;
“And find no earth that’s base enough to bury me!

What trifling silliness is the childish fondness of the every day children of the world! ’tis the unmeaning toying of the younglings of the fields and forests: but where Sentiment and Fancy unite their sweets; where Taste and Delicacy refine; where Wit adds the flavour, and Good-sense gives strength and spirit to all, what a delicious draught is the hour of tender endearment! Beauty and Grace in the arms of Truth and Honor, in all the luxury of mutual love!

Clarinda, have you ever seen the picture realized? not in all its very richest colouring: but

“Hope thou Nurse of young Desire;
“Fairy promiser of joy”

Last night, Clarinda, but for one slight shade, was the glorious Picture-

Look’d, gayly smiling on; while rosy Pleasure
Hid young Desire amid her flowery wreath,
And pour’d her cup luxuriant; mantling high,
The sparkling heavenly vintage, Love and Bliss!

Clarinda, when a Poet and Poetess of Nature’s making, two of Nature’s noblest productions! when they drink together of the same “cup of Love and Bliss”

-Attempt not, ye coarser stuff of Humannature, profanely to measure enjoyment ye never can know!

Goodnight, my dear Clarinda!


Published in: on January 19, 2009 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 15 1788

Tuesday Evening

That you have faults, my Clarinda, I never doubted; but I knew not where they existed, and Saturday night made me more in the dark than ever. O, Clarinda, why will you wound my soulby hinting that last night must have lessened my opinion of you! True; I was “behind the scenes with you,” but what did I see? A bosom glowing with honour and benevolence; a mind ennobled by genius, informed and refined by education and reflection, and exalted by native religion, genuine as in the climes of heaven; a heart formed for all the glorious meltings of friendship, love and pity. These I saw.-I saw the noblest immortal soul, creation ever shewed me.

I looked long, my dear Clarinda, for your letter; and am vexed that you are complaining. I have not caught you so far wrong as in your idea, that the commerce you have with one friend hurts you, if you cannot tell every tittle of it to another. Why have so injurious a suspicion of a good God, Clarinda, as to think that Friendship and Love, on the sacred, inviolate principles of Truth, Honour and Religion, can be any thing else than an object of His divine approbation?

I have mentioned, in some of my former scrawls, Saturday evening next. Do, allow me to wait on you that evening. Oh my angel! how soon must we part! and when can we meet again! I look forward on the horrid interval with tearful eyes! What have I lost by not knowing you sooner. I fear, I fear my acquaintance with you is too short, to make that lasting impression on your heart I wish I could.


Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 14 1788

Monday Even, 11 o’clock
( 14th January 1788 )
Why have I not heard from you, Clarinda!-Today I well expected it; and before supper, when a letter to me was announced, my heart danced with rapture: but behold, ’twas some fool who had taken it into his head to turn Poet, and made me an offering of the first fruits of his nonsense.

“It is not poetry, but prose run mad.” Did I ever repeat to you an epigram I made on a Mr Elphinstone, who has given a translation of Martial, a famous Latin poet? The poetry of Elphinstone can only equal his prose-notes. I was sitting In a merchant’s shop of my acquaintance, waiting somebody; he put Elphinstone into my hand, and asked my opmion of it; I begged leave to write it on a blank leaf, which I did-

To Mr Elphinstone,&c.-
o thou, whom Poesy abhors!
Whom Prose has turned out of doors! Heard’st thou yon groan? proceed no further! ‘Twas laurel’d Martial calling murther!

I am determined to see you, if at all possible, on Saturday evening. Next week I must sing-

The night is my departing night,
The morn’s the day I maun awa’;
There’s neither friend nor foe O’ mine But wishes that I were awa’!
What I hae done for lack O’ wit, I never, never can reca’;
I hope ye’re a’ my friends as yet-
Gudenight, and joy be wi’ you a’!

If I could see you sooner, I would be so much the happier; but I would not purchase the dearest gratification on earth, if It must be at your expence in wordly censure;’far less, inward peace!-

I shall certainly be ashamed of thus scrawling whole sheets of incoherence.- The only unity, (a sad word with Poets & Critics!) in my ideas, is Clarinda.-There my heart “reigns and revels.”-

“What art thou Love! whence are those charms,
“That thus thou bear’st an universal rule!
“For thee the soldier quits his arms,
“The king turns slave, the wise man fool.-
“In vain we chase thee from the field,
“And with cool thoughts resist thy yoke:
“Next tide of blood, Alas! we yield;
“And all those high resolves are broke!”

I like to have quotations ready for every occasion.-They give one’s ideas so pat, and save one the trouble of finding expression adequate to one’s feelings.- I think it is one of the greatest pleasures attending a Poetic genius, that we can give our woes, cares, joys, loves, &c. an embodied form in verse, which, to me, is ever immediate ease. Goldsmith says finely of his Muse-

“Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe,
“Who found’st me poor at first, and keep’st me so”_

My limb has been so well today that I have gone up and down stairs often without my staff.- Tomorrow, I hope to walk once again on my own legs to dmner.-It is only next street.-Adieu!

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 12 1788

Your thoughts on Religion, Clarinda, shall be welcome—You may
perhaps distrust me when I say ‘tis also my favorite topic; but mine
is the Religion of the bosom—I hate the very idea of controversial
divinity; as I firmly believe, that every honest, upright man, of
whatever sect, will be accepted of the Deity

If your verses, as you seem to hint, contain censure, except you want an occasion to break with me, don’t send them—I have a little infirmity in my disposition, that where I fondly love or highly esteem, I cannot bear reproach.—

‘‘Reverence thyself’’ is a sacred maxim, and I wish to cherish it—-I
think I told you Lord Bolingbroke’s saying to Swift—”Adieu,dear
Swift! with all thy faults I love thee entirely; make an effort to love
me with all mine. “—A glorious sentiment, and without which there
can be no friendship! I do highly, very highly esteem you indeed,
Clarinda; you merit it all! Perhaps, too, I scorn dissimulation! I
could fondly love you: judge, then, what a maddening sting your
reproach would be—Oh, I have sins to Heaven, but none to you!”1
With what pleasure would I meet you today, but I cannot walk to
meet the fly—I hope to be able to see you, on foot, about the
middle of next week.—

I am interrupted—Perhaps you are not sorry for it—You will tell me
—but I won’t anticipate blame.—O Clarinda! did you know how dear
to me is your look of kindness, your smile of approbation! you
would not, either in prose or verse, risque a censorious remark.—

“Curst be the verse, how well soe’er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe!”


Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 9:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 10 1788

Thursday noon
(10th January 1788 )

I am certain I saw you, Clarinda; but you don’t look to the proper story for a Poet’s lodging-

“Where Speculation roosted near the sky”

I could almost have thrown myself over, for very vexation.-Why didn’t you look higher? It has spoilt my peace for this day.-To be so near my charming Clarinda; to miss her look when it was searching for me-I am sure the soul is capable of disease, for mine has convulsed itself into an inflamatory fever.-

I am sorry for your little boy: do, let me know tomorrow how he is.-You have converted me, .Clarinda.-(I shall love that name while I live: there is heavenly music in it.-) Booth and Amelia I know well.

Your sentiments on that subject, as they are on every subject, are just and noble.-“To be feelingly alive to kindness – and to unkindness,” is a charming female character.-

What I said in my last letter, the Powers of fuddling sociality only know for me.-By yours, I understand my good Star has been partly in my horizon, when I got wild in my reveries.- Had that evil Planet which has almost all my life shed its baleful rays on my devoted head, been, as usual, in my zenith (sic), I had certainly blab’d something that would have pointed out to you the dear Object of my tenderest friendship, and, in spite of me-something more.-Had that fatal information escaped me, and it was merely chance or kind stars that it did not; I had been undone! you would never have wrote me, except perhaps once, more!

O, I could curse circumstances! and the coarse tie of human laws which keep fast what Common Sense would loose; and which bars that happiness itself cannot giveHappiness which otherwise Love and Honor would warrant! But hold-I shall make no more “hairbreadth ‘scapes”

My friendship, Clarinda, is a life-rent business.-My Likings are both strong, and eternal.-I told you I had but one Male friend: I have but two female.-I should have a third, but she is surrounded by the blandishments of Flattery and Courtship.- Her I register in my heart’s core-by Peggy Chalmers.-Miss Nimmo can tell you how divine she is.-She is worthy of a place in the same bosom with my Clarinda.-That is the highest compliment I can pay her.-
Farewel, Clarinda! Remember

Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 12:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 5 1788

Saturday noon [5th January 1788)
Some days, some nights, nay some hours, like the “ten righteous persons in Sodom,” save the rest of the vapid, tiresome, miserable months and years of life. -One of these hours, my dear Clarinda blesst me with yesternight-

“One well spent hour,
“In such a tender circumstance for Friends,
“Is better than an age of common time!”


My favorite feature in Milton’s Satan is, his manly fortitude in supporting what cannot be remedied-in short, the wild broken fragments of a noble, exalted mind in ruins.-I meant no more by saying he was a favorite hero of mine.

– I mention’d to you my letter to Dr Moore, giving an account of my life: it is truth, every word of it; and will give you the just idea of a man whom you have honor’d with your friendship. -I am afraid you will hardly be able to make sense of so torn a piece. -Your verses I shall muse on-deliciously-as I gaze on your image in my mind’s eye, in my heart’s core: they will be in time enough for a week to come. – I am truly happy your head-ach is better – O, how can Pain or Evil be so daringly, unfeelingly, cruelly savage as to wound so noble a mind, so lovely a form!-

My little fellow is all-my Namesake.-Write me soon.-My every, strongest good wishes attend you, Clarinda


I know not what I have wrote-I am pestered with people around me –

Published in: on January 5, 2009 at 12:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 4 1788

You are right, my dear Clarinda: a friendly correspondence goes for nothing, except one write their undisguised sentiments.-Yours please me for their intrinsic merit, as well as because they are yours; which, I assure, is to me a high recommendation.

– Your religious sentiments, Madam, I revere.-If you have, on some suspicious evidence, from some lying oracle, learnt that I despise or ridicule so sacredly important a matter as real Religion, you have, my Clarinda, much misconstrued your friend. – “I am not mad, most noble Festus!’

Have you ever met a perfect character? Do we not sometimes rather exchange faults than get rid of them? For instance; I am perhaps tired with and shocked at a life, too much the prey of giddy inconsistencies and thoughtless follies; by degrees I grow sober, prudent and statedly pious – I say statedly, because the most unaffected devotion is not at all inconsistent with my first character

– I join the world in congratulating myself on the happy change. But let me pry more narrowly into this affair; have I, at bottom, any thing of a secret pride in these endowments and emmendations? have I nothing of a Presbyterean sourness, a hypercritical severity when I survey my less regular neighbours? in a word, have I miss’d all those nameless and numberless modifications of indistinct selfishness, which are so near our own eyes we can scarcely bring them within our sphere of vision, and which the known spotless cambric of our character hides from the ordinary Observer?-

My definition of Worth is short: Truth and Humanity respecting our fellow-creatures; Reverence and Humility in the presence of that Being, my Creator and Preserver, and who, I have every reason to believe, will one day be my Judge. – The first part of my definition is the creature of unbiassed Instinct; the last is the child of after Reflection. – Where I found these two essentials; I would gently note, and slightly mention, any attendant flaws-flaws, the marks, the consequences of Human nature.-

I can easily enter into the sublime pleasures that your strong imagination and keen sensibility must derive from Religion, particularly if a little in the shade of misfortune; but I own I cannot without a marked grudge, see Heaven totally engross so amiable so charming a woman as my friend Clarinda; and should be very well pleased at a circumstance that would put it in the power of Somebody, happy Somebody! to divide her attention, With all the delicacy and tenderness of an earthly attachment.-

You will not easily persuade me that you have not gotten a grammatical knowledge of the English language.-So far from being inaccurate, you are elegant beyond any woman of my acquaintance, except one whom I wish I knew.-

Your last verses to me have so delighted me, that I have got an excellent old Scots air that suits the measure, and you shall see them in print in the “Scots musical Museum,” a work publishing by a friend of mine in this town.

– I want four stanzas; you gave me but three, and one of them alluded to an expression in my former letter; so I have taken your two first verses with a slight alteration in the second, and have added a third, but you must help me to a fourth.Here they are: the latter half of the first stanza would have been worthy of Sappho; I am in raptures with it-

Talk not of Love, it gives me pain,
For love has been my foe:
He bound me with an iron chain,
And sunk me deep in woe.-
But Friendship’s pure and lasting joys
My heart was form’d to prove:
There, welcome win and wear the prize,
But never talk of Love!-
Your Friendship much can make me blest,
O, why that bliss destroy!
Why urge the odious, one request
You know I must deny!

The alteration in the second stanza is no improvement, but there was a slight inaccuracy in your rhyme.-The third, I only offer to your choice, and have left two words for your determination.-The air is “The banks of Spey,” and is most beautiful.

– Tomorrow evening, I intend taking a chair and paying a visit at Park-place to a much valued old friend.-If I could be sure of finding you at home, and I will send one of the chairmen to call, I would spend from five to six o’clock with you, as I go passt, I cannot do more at this time, as I have something on my hand that hurries me much.

-I propose giving you the first call, my old friend the second, and Miss Nimmo as I return home. – Do not break any engagement for me, as I will spend another evening with you at any rate before I leave town.

– Do not tell me that you are pleased when your friends inform you of your faults. I am ignorant what they are; but I am sure they must be such evanescent trifles, compared with your personal and mental accomplishments, that I would despise the ungenerous, narrow soul who would notice any shadow of imperfections you may seem to have, any other way than in the most delicate, agreeable rallery. Coarse minds are not aware how much they injure the keenly feeling tie of bosom-friendship, when in their foolish officiousness they mention what nobody cares for recollecting.-People of nice sensibility and generous minds have a certain intrinsic dignity, that fires at being trifled with, or towered, or even too nearly approached.

You need make no apology for long letters: I am even with you.Many happy New-years to you, charming Clarinda! I can’t dissemble were it to shun perdition.-He who sees you as I have done and does not love you, deserves to be damn’d for his stupidity! He who loves you and would injure you, deserves to be doubly damn’d for his villainy! Adieu!

Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 3 1788

My dear Clarinda, Your verses, my dearest Madam, have so delighted me that I have copied them in among some of my own most valued pieces, which I keep sacred for my own use.-Do, let me have a few now and then.-

Did you, Madam, know what I feel when you talk of your sorrows! Good God! that one who has so much worth in the sight of Heaven, and is so amiable to her fellow-creatures should be so unhappy! I can’t venture out for cold.-My limb is vastly better, but I have not any use of it without my crutches.-Monday, for the first time, I dine at a neighbour’s next door: as soon as I can go so far, even in a coach, my first visit shall be to you.-Write me when you leave town and immediately when you return, and I earnestly pray your stay may be short.

-You can’t imagine how miserable you made me when you hinted to me not to write. Farewell.


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Letter to Agnes McLehose, December 28 1787

Friday eve

I beg your pardon, my dear “Clarinda,” for the fragment scrawl I sent you yesterday.

– I really don’t know what I wrote. A gentleman for whose character, abilities and critical knowledge I have the highest veneration, called in, just as I had begun the second sentence, and I would not make the Porter wait.

– I read to my much-respected friend several of my own bagatelles and among others your lines which I had copied out.

– He began some criticisms on them as on the other pieces, when I informed him they were the work of a young lady in this town; which I assure you made him stare.

– My learned friend seriously protested that he did not believe any young woman in Edinburgh was capable of such lines; and if you know any thing of Professor Gregory you will neither doubt of his abilities nor his sincerity.

– I do love you If possible better for having so fine a taste and turn for Poesy.

– I have again gone wrong in my usual unguarded way, but you may erase the word, and put esteem, respect, or any other tame Dutch expression you please in its place.

– I believe there is no holding converse or carrying on correspondence, with an amiable woman, much less a gloriously amiable, fine woman, without some mixture of that delicious Passion, whose most devoted Slave I have more than once had the honor of being: but why be hurt or offended on that account? Can no honest man have a prepossession for a fine woman, but he must run his head against an intrigue? Take a little of the tender witchcraft of Love, and add it to the generous, the honorable sentiments of manly Friendship; and I know but one more delightful morsel, which few, few in any rank ever taste.

-Such a composition is like adding cream to strawberries – it not only gives the fruit a more elegant richness, but has a peculiar deliciousness of its own.

– I inclose you a few lines I composed on a late melancholy occasion. -I will not give above five or six copies of it at all, and I would be hurt if any friend should give any copies without my consent.

You cannot imagine, Clarinda, (I like the idea of Arcadian names in a commerce of this kind) how much store I have set by the hopes of your future friendship.

– I don’t know if you have a just idea of my character, but I wish you to see me as I am.

– I am, as most people of my trade are, a strange will o’ wisp being; the victim too frequently of much imprudence and many follies.

– My great constituent elements are Pride and Passion: the first I have endeavoured to humanize into integrity and honour; the last makes me a Devotee to the warmest degree of enthusiasm, in Love, Religion, or Friendship; either of them or all together as I happen to be inspired.

– ‘Tis true, I never saw you but once; but how much acquaintance did I form with you in that once! Don’t think I flatter you, or have a design upon you, Clarinda; I have too much pride for the one, and too little cold contrivance for the other; but of all God’s creatures I ever could approach in the beaten way of acquaintance, you struck me with the deepest, the strongest, the most permanent impression.

– I say the most permanent, because I know myself well, and how far I can promise either on my prepossessions or powers.

– Why are you unhappy? and why are so many of our fellow creatures, unworthy to belong to the same species with you, blest with all they can wish? You have a hand all benevolent to give, why were you denyed the pleasure? You have a heart form’d, gloriously form’d, for all the most refined luxuries of love; why was that heart ever wrung?

O Clarinda! shall we not meet in a state, some yet unknown state of Being, where the lavish hand of Plenty shall minister to the highest wish of Benevolence; and where the chill north-wind of Prudence shall never blow over the flowery fields of Enjoyment? if we do not, Man was made in vain! I deserv’d most of the unhappy hours that have linger’d over my head; they were the wages of my labour; but what unprovoked Demon, malignant as Hell, stole upon the confidence of unmistrusting busy Fate, and dash’d your cup of life with undeserved sorrow?

– Let me know how long your stay will be out of town: I shall count the hours till you inform me of your return.

– Cursed etiquette forbids your seeing me just now; and so soon as I can walk, I must bid Edinburgh adieu.

– Lord, why was I born to see misery which I cannot relieve, and to meet with friends whom I can’t enjoy! I look back with the pang of unvailing avarice on my loss in now knowing you sooner: all last winter; these three months past; what luxury of intercourse have I not lost! Perhaps tho’ ’twas better for my peace.You see I am either above, or incapable of Dissimulation.

– I believe it is want of that particular genius.

– I despise Design because I want either coolness or wisdom to be capable of it.

– I may take a fort by storm, but never by Siege.-
I am interrupted-Adieu! my dear Clarinda!

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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