Jane Welsh Carlyle

1801 - 1866

Jane Welsh Carlyle
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Jane Welsh Carlyle

Literary figure, whose intelligence, personality and wit made her one of the most fascinating women of her time. Born in Haddington, daughter of the local doctor, Dr John Welsh, who had studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Her parents came from Dumfriesshire farming families, as did her future husband.

Jane attended the local school, befriending poet Robert Burns' nephew and niece. She was precocious and talented, writing her first novel at thirteen, followed by a tragedy in five acts, yet she suffered from frail health. Her father engaged Edward Irving (1792 - 1834) to provide extra tuition and he later became an admirer and suitor. She went on to further schooling in Edinburgh, staying with her Uncle in George Square. Irving was a close friend of the, then-unknown, writer Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881) and introduced the couple in 1821. In 1826, they married at Templand near Thornhill and then set up home at Comely Bank (Edinburgh).

Jane seems to have been very tolerant of Carlyle's failings, working hard to support her husband. Their life together is recorded in their numerous letters, written whenever the were apart. Within two years they moved to Craigenputtock, where her father had been born and which Jane had inherited. While Carlyle enjoyed the solitude of the farm, spending his time writing, Jane was desperately lonely. Shortage of money forced her to develop a frugal approach to running the household, which persisted throughout their life together. She relished their move to London and developed an active social life. Their home in Chelsea became the centre of a brilliant literary circle. Yet, when Carlyle was writing and did not wish to be disturbed, it was Jane who would delight visitors with her company.

Jane's health deteriorated in her later years and she died in London. She was buried alongside her father in the then-ruined choir of St Mary's Parish Church, Haddington. Carlyle wrote that the light of his life had gone out.

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