Jane Welsh Carlyle (1801–66)
Jane Baillie Welsh, born on 14th July 1801, was the only child of Dr John and Grace Welsh. The house in which she was born and would grow up is on the High Street in Haddington (just opposite the John Gray Centre). She attended school in the town and as a child she is said to have been somewhat of a tomboy. When she was ten years old her father appointed Edward Irving, master of the Mathematics School, to help improve her education. By age fourteen she had already written a novel and a five-act tragedy despite her early frail health. When she was sixteen, Jane moved to Edinburgh, where she would continue to improve her education. She suffered a huge loss when her father died in September of 1819.
Edward Irving introduced Jane to the then unknown writer, Thomas Carlyle in 1821 and after five years of hesitations and financial worries they married at Templand on 17 October 1826. Thomas and Jane Carlyle set up home at 21 Comely Bank in Edinburgh.
After a period at Craigenputtoch, the Carlyles moved to London in 1834, with Thomas still struggling to gain success as a writer, and Jane continuing to suffer a series of ailments. Despite their financial worries Jane engaged in an active social life in London and their home played host to an exciting literary circle including ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’, James Hogg. Jane is said to have been a charming, witty and intelligent host. In 1837 Thomas finally gained success through his book The French Revolution and the financial worries that plagued the couple were now put at ease.
Jane appears to have been very supportive of her husband throughout his initial struggles as a writer, and indeed throughout their marriage. However, their relationship is infamous for the arguments and misunderstandings that punctuated it – as documented in their correspondence with one another. Many of his acquaintances believed Thomas Carlyle to be impotent.
In her later years Jane’s health deteriorated badly and she died in London on 21 April 1866. Jane Welsh Carlyle was buried alongside her father in the grounds of St Mary’s Parish Church in Haddington. David George Ritchie, the Scottish philosopher, published The Early Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle in 1889. Her work is continuing to gain recognition and she is now regarded as a highly interesting literary figure in her own right, rather than simply the wife of a great genius.
Surtees, Virginia “Jane Welsh Carlyle”, Michael Russell 1986
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