The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter VII— Life at Bournemouth, September 1884-December 1885

Letter: To Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Stevenson


MY DEAR PEOPLE, — I keep better, and am to-day downstairs for the first time. I find the lockers entirely empty; not a cent to the front. Will you pray send us some? It blows an equinoctial gale, and has blown for nearly a week. Nimbus Britannicus; piping wind, lashing rain; the sea is a fine colour, and wind-bound ships lie at anchor under the Old Harry rocks, to make one glad to be ashore.

The Henleys are gone, and two plays practically done. I hope they may produce some of the ready. — I am, ever affectionate son,

R. L. S.

Letter: To W. E. Henley


DEAR BOY, — I trust this finds you well; it leaves me so-so. The weather is so cold that I must stick to bed, which is rotten and tedious, but can’t be helped.

I find in the blotting book the enclosed, which I wrote to you the eve of my blood. Is it not strange? That night, when I naturally thought I was coopered, the thought of it was much in my mind; I thought it had gone; and I thought what a strange prophecy I had made in jest, and how it was indeed like to be the end of many letters. But I have written a good few since, and the spell is broken. I am just as pleased, for I earnestly desire to live. This pleasant middle age into whose port we are steering is quite to my fancy. I would cast anchor here, and go ashore for twenty years, and see the manners of the place. Youth was a great time, but somewhat fussy. Now in middle age (bar lucre) all seems mighty placid. It likes me; I spy a little bright cafe in one corner of the port, in front of which I now propose we should sit down. There is just enough of the bustle of the harbour and no more; and the ships are close in, regarding us with stern-windows — the ships that bring deals from Norway and parrots from the Indies. Let us sit down here for twenty years, with a packet of tobacco and a drink, and talk of art and women. By-and-by, the whole city will sink, and the ships too, and the table, and we also; but we shall have sat for twenty years and had a fine talk; and by that time, who knows? exhausted the subject.

I send you a book which (or I am mistook) will please you; it pleased me. But I do desire a book of adventure — a romance — and no man will get or write me one. Dumas I have read and re-read too often; Scott, too, and I am short. I want to hear swords clash. I want a book to begin in a good way; a book, I guess, like TREASURE ISLAND, alas! which I have never read, and cannot though I live to ninety. I would God that some one else had written it! By all that I can learn, it is the very book for my complaint. I like the way I hear it opens; and they tell me John Silver is good fun. And to me it is, and must ever be, a dream unrealised, a book unwritten. O my sighings after romance, or even Skeltery, and O! the weary age which will produce me neither!


The night was damp and cloudy, the ways foul. The single horseman, cloaked and booted, who pursued his way across Willesden Common, had not met a traveller, when the sound of wheels —


‘Yes, sir,’ said the old pilot, ‘she must have dropped into the bay a little afore dawn. A queer craft she looks.’

‘She shows no colours,’ returned the young gentleman musingly.

‘They’re a-lowering of a quarter-boat, Mr. Mark,’ resumed the old salt. ‘We shall soon know more of her.’

‘Ay,’ replied the young gentleman called Mark, ‘and here, Mr. Seadrift, comes your sweet daughter Nancy tripping down the cliff.’

‘God bless her kind heart, sir,’ ejaculated old Seadrift.


The notary, Jean Rossignol, had been summoned to the top of a great house in the Isle St. Louis to make a will; and now, his duties finished, wrapped in a warm roquelaure and with a lantern swinging from one hand, he issued from the mansion on his homeward way. Little did he think what strange adventures were to befall him! —

That is how stories should begin. And I am offered HUSKS instead.

What should be: What is: The Filibuster’s Cache. Aunt Anne’s Tea Cosy. Jerry Abershaw. Mrs. Brierly’s Niece. Blood Money: A Tale. Society: A Novel

R. L. S.

Letter: To the Rev. Professor Lewis Campbell


MY DEAR CAMPBELL, — The books came duly to hand. My wife has occupied the translation ever since, nor have I yet been able to dislodge her. As for the primer, I have read it with a very strange result: that I find no fault. If you knew how, dogmatic and pugnacious, I stand warden on the literary art, you would the more appreciate your success and my — well, I will own it — disappointment. For I love to put people right (or wrong) about the arts. But what you say of Tragedy and of Sophocles very amply satisfies me; it is well felt and well said; a little less technically than it is my weakness to desire to see it put, but clear and adequate. You are very right to express your admiration for the resource displayed in OEdipus King; it is a miracle. Would it not have been well to mention Voltaire’s interesting onslaught, a thing which gives the best lesson of the difference of neighbour arts? — since all his criticisms, which had been fatal to a narrative, do not amount among them to exhibit one flaw in this masterpiece of drama. For the drama, it is perfect; though such a fable in a romance might make the reader crack his sides, so imperfect, so ethereally slight is the verisimilitude required of these conventional, rigid, and egg-dancing arts.

I was sorry to see no more of you; but shall conclude by hoping for better luck next time. My wife begs to be remembered to both of you. — Yours sincerely,


Letter: To Andrew Chatto


DEAR MR. CHATTO, — I have an offer of 25 pounds for OTTO from America. I do not know if you mean to have the American rights; from the nature of the contract, I think not; but if you understood that you were to sell the sheets, I will either hand over the bargain to you, or finish it myself and hand you over the money if you are pleased with the amount. You see, I leave this quite in your hands. To parody an old Scotch story of servant and master: if you don’t know that you have a good author, I know that I have a good publisher. Your fair, open, and handsome dealings are a good point in my life, and do more for my crazy health than has yet been done by any doctor. — Very truly yours,


Letter: To W. H. Low


MY DEAR LOW, — NOW, look here, the above is my address for three months, I hope; continue, on your part, if you please, to write to Edinburgh, which is safe; but if Mrs. Low thinks of coming to England, she might take a run down from London (four hours from Waterloo, main line) and stay a day or two with us among the pines. If not, I hope it will be only a pleasure deferred till you can join her.

My Children’s Verses will be published here in a volume called A CHILD’S GARDEN. The sheets are in hand; I will see if I cannot send you the lot, so that you might have a bit of a start. In that case I would do nothing to publish in the States, and you might try an illustrated edition there; which, if the book went fairly over here, might, when ready, be imported. But of this more fully ere long. You will see some verses of mine in the last MAGAZINE OF ART, with pictures by a young lady; rather pretty, I think. If we find a market for PHASELLULUS LOQUITUR, we can try another. I hope it isn’t necessary to put the verse into that rustic printing. I am Philistine enough to prefer clean printer’s type; indeed, I can form no idea of the verses thus transcribed by the incult and tottering hand of the draughtsman, nor gather any impression beyond one of weariness to the eyes. Yet the other day, in the CENTURY, I saw it imputed as a crime to Vedder that he had not thus travestied Omar Khayyam. We live in a rum age of music without airs, stories without incident, pictures without beauty, American wood engravings that should have been etchings, and dry-point etchings that ought to have been mezzo-tints. I think of giving ‘em literature without words; and I believe if you were to try invisible illustration, it would enjoy a considerable vogue. So long as an artist is on his head, is painting with a flute, or writes with an etcher’s needle, or conducts the orchestra with a meat-axe, all is well; and plaudits shower along with roses. But any plain man who tries to follow the obtrusive canons of his art, is but a commonplace figure. To hell with him is the motto, or at least not that; for he will have his reward, but he will never be thought a person of parts.

JANUARY 3, 1885.

And here has this been lying near two months. I have failed to get together a preliminary copy of the Child’s Verses for you, in spite of doughty efforts; but yesterday I sent you the first sheet of the definitive edition, and shall continue to send the others as they come. If you can, and care to, work them — why so, well. If not, I send you fodder. But the time presses; for though I will delay a little over the proofs, and though — it is even possible they may delay the English issue until Easter, it will certainly not be later. Therefore perpend, and do not get caught out. Of course, if you can do pictures, it will be a great pleasure to me to see our names joined; and more than that, a great advantage, as I daresay you may be able to make a bargain for some share a little less spectral than the common for the poor author. But this is all as you shall choose; I give you CARTE BLANCHE to do or not to do. — Yours most sincerely,


O, Sargent has been and painted my portrait; a very nice fellow he is, and is supposed to have done well; it is a poetical but very chicken-boned figure-head, as thus represented. R. L. S. Go on.

P.P.S. — Your picture came; and let me thank you for it very much. I am so hunted I had near forgotten. I find it very graceful; and I mean to have it framed.

Letter: To Thomas Stevenson


MY DEAR FATHER, — I have no hesitation in recommending you to let your name go up; please yourself about an address; though I think, if we could meet, we could arrange something suitable. What you propose would be well enough in a way, but so modest as to suggest a whine. From that point of view it would be better to change a little; but this, whether we meet or not, we must discuss. Tait, Chrystal, the Royal Society, and I, all think you amply deserve this honour and far more; it is not the True Blue to call this serious compliment a ‘trial’; you should be glad of this recognition. As for resigning, that is easy enough if found necessary; but to refuse would be husky and unsatisfactory. SIC SUBS.

R. L. S.

My cold is still very heavy; but I carry it well. Fanny is very very much out of sorts, principally through perpetual misery with me. I fear I have been a little in the dumps, which, AS YOU KNOW, SIR, is a very great sin. I must try to be more cheerful; but my cough is so severe that I have sometimes most exhausting nights and very peevish wakenings. However, this shall be remedied, and last night I was distinctly better than the night before. There is, my dear Mr. Stevenson (so I moralise blandly as we sit together on the devil’s garden-wall), no more abominable sin than this gloom, this plaguey peevishness; why (say I) what matters it if we be a little uncomfortable — that is no reason for mangling our unhappy wives. And then I turn and GIRN on the unfortunate Cassandra. — Your fellow culprit,

R. L. S.

Letter: To W. E. Henley


DEAR HENLEY, — We are all to pieces in health, and heavily handicapped with Arabs. I have a dreadful cough, whose attacks leave me AETAT. 90. I never let up on the Arabs, all the same, and rarely get less than eight pages out of hand, though hardly able to come downstairs for twittering knees.

I shall put in —‘s letter. He says so little of his circumstances that I am in an impossibility to give him advice more specific than a copybook. Give him my love, however, and tell him it is the mark of the parochial gentleman who has never travelled to find all wrong in a foreign land. Let him hold on, and he will find one country as good as another; and in the meanwhile let him resist the fatal British tendency to communicate his dissatisfaction with a country to its inhabitants. ‘Tis a good idea, but it somehow fails to please. In a fortnight, if I can keep my spirit in the box at all, I should be nearly through this Arabian desert; so can tackle something fresh. — Yours ever,

R. L. S.

Letter: To Thomas Stevenson


MY DEAR FATHER, — Allow me to say, in a strictly Pickwickian sense, that you are a silly fellow. I am pained indeed, but how should I be offended? I think you exaggerate; I cannot forget that you had the same impression of the DEACON; and yet, when you saw it played, were less revolted than you looked for; and I will still hope that the ADMIRAL also is not so bad as you suppose. There is one point, however, where I differ from you very frankly. Religion is in the world; I do not think you are the man to deny the importance of its role; and I have long decided not to leave it on one side in art. The opposition of the Admiral and Mr. Pew is not, to my eyes, either horrible or irreverent; but it may be, and it probably is, very ill done: what then? This is a failure; better luck next time; more power to the elbow, more discretion, more wisdom in the design, and the old defeat becomes the scene of the new victory. Concern yourself about no failure; they do not cost lives, as in engineering; they are the PIERRES PERDUES of successes. Fame is (truly) a vapour; do not think of it; if the writer means well and tries hard, no failure will injure him, whether with God or man.

I wish I could hear a brighter account of yourself; but I am inclined to acquit the ADMIRAL of having a share in the responsibility. My very heavy cold is, I hope, drawing off; and the change to this charming house in the forest will, I hope, complete my re-establishment. — With love to all, believe me, your ever affectionate,


Letter: To Charles Baxter


MY DEAR CHARLES, — I am in my new house, thus proudly styled, as you perceive; but the deevil a tower ava’ can be perceived (except out of window); this is not as it should be; one might have hoped, at least, a turret. We are all vilely unwell. I put in the dark watches imitating a donkey with some success, but little pleasure; and in the afternoon I indulge in a smart fever, accompanied by aches and shivers. There is thus little monotony to be deplored. I at least am a REGULAR invalid; I would scorn to bray in the afternoon; I would indignantly refuse the proposal to fever in the night. What is bred in the bone will come out, sir, in the flesh; and the same spirit that prompted me to date my letter regulates the hour and character of my attacks. — I am, sir, yours,


Letter: To Charles Baxter


MY DEAR THOMSON, — It’s a maist remarkable fac’, but nae shuner had I written yon braggin’, blawin’ letter aboot ma business habits, when bang! that very day, ma hoast begude in the aifternune. It is really remaurkable; it’s providenshle, I believe. The ink wasnae fair dry, the words werenae weel ooten ma mouth, when bang, I got the lee. The mair ye think o’t, Thomson, the less ye’ll like the looks o’t. Proavidence (I’m no’ sayin’) is all verra weel IN ITS PLACE; but if Proavidence has nae mainners, wha’s to learn’t? Proavidence is a fine thing, but hoo would you like Proavidence to keep your till for ye? The richt place for Proavidence is in the kirk; it has naething to do wi’ private correspondence between twa gentlemen, nor freendly cracks, nor a wee bit word of sculduddery ahint the door, nor, in shoart, wi’ ony HOLE-AND-CORNER WARK, what I would call. I’m pairfec’ly willin’ to meet in wi’ Proavidence, I’ll be prood to meet in wi’ him, when my time’s come and I cannae dae nae better; but if he’s to come skinking aboot my stair-fit, damned, I micht as weel be deid for a’ the comfort I’ll can get in life. Cannae he no be made to understand that it’s beneath him? Gosh, if I was in his business, I wouldnae steir my heid for a plain, auld ex-elder that, tak him the way he taks himsel,’ ‘s just aboot as honest as he can weel afford, an’ but for a wheen auld scandals, near forgotten noo, is a pairfec’ly respectable and thoroughly decent man. Or if I fashed wi’ him ava’, it wad be kind o’ handsome like; a pun’-note under his stair door, or a bottle o’ auld, blended malt to his bit marnin’, as a teshtymonial like yon ye ken sae weel aboot, but mair successfu’.

Dear Thomson, have I ony money? If I have, SEND IT, for the loard’s sake.


Letter: To Miss Ferrier


MY DEAR COGGIE, — Many thanks for the two photos which now decorate my room. I was particularly glad to have the Bell Rock. I wonder if you saw me plunge, lance in rest, into a controversy thereanent? It was a very one-sided affair. I slept upon the field of battle, paraded, sang Te Deum, and came home after a review rather than a campaign.

Please tell Campbell I got his letter. The Wild Woman of the West has been much amiss and complaining sorely. I hope nothing more serious is wrong with her than just my ill-health, and consequent anxiety and labour; but the deuce of it is, that the cause continues. I am about knocked out of time now: a miserable, snuffling, shivering, fever-stricken, nightmare-ridden, knee- jottering, hoast-hoast-hoasting shadow and remains of man. But we’ll no gie ower jist yet a bittie. We’ve seen waur; and dod, mem, it’s my belief that we’ll see better. I dinna ken ‘at I’ve muckle mair to say to ye, or, indeed, onything; but jist here’s guid-fallowship, guid health, and the wale o’ guid fortune to your bonny sel’; and my respecs to the Perfessor and his wife, and the Prinshiple, an’ the Bell Rock, an’ ony ither public chara’ters that I’m acquaunt wi’.

R. L. S.

Letter: To Edmund Gosse


MY DEAR GOSSE, — This Mr. Morley of yours is a most desperate fellow. He has sent me (for my opinion) the most truculent advertisement I ever saw, in which the white hairs of Gladstone are dragged round Troy behind my chariot wheels. What can I say? I say nothing to him; and to you, I content myself with remarking that he seems a desperate fellow.

All luck to you on your American adventure; may you find health, wealth, and entertainment! If you see, as you likely will, Frank R. Stockton, pray greet him from me in words to this effect:-

My Stockton if I failed to like, It were a sheer depravity, For I went down with the THOMAS HYKE And up with the NEGATIVE GRAVITY!

I adore these tales.

I hear flourishing accounts of your success at Cambridge, so you leave with a good omen. Remember me to GREEN CORN if it is in season; if not, you had better hang yourself on a sour apple tree, for your voyage has been lost. — Yours affectionately,


Letter: To Austin Dobson


DEAR DOBSON, — Set down my delay to your own fault; I wished to acknowledge such a gift from you in some of my inapt and slovenly rhymes; but you should have sent me your pen and not your desk. The verses stand up to the axles in a miry cross-road, whence the coursers of the sun shall never draw them; hence I am constrained to this uncourtliness, that I must appear before one of the kings of that country of rhyme without my singing robes. For less than this, if we may trust the book of Esther, favourites have tasted death; but I conceive the kingdom of the Muses mildlier mannered; and in particular that county which you administer and which I seem to see as a half-suburban land; a land of holly-hocks and country houses; a land where at night, in thorny and sequestered bypaths, you will meet masqueraders going to a ball in their sedans, and the rector steering homeward by the light of his lantern; a land of the windmill, and the west wind, and the flowering hawthorn with a little scented letter in the hollow of its trunk, and the kites flying over all in the season of kites, and the far away blue spires of a cathedral city.

Will you forgive me, then, for my delay and accept my thanks not only for your present, but for the letter which followed it, and which perhaps I more particularly value, and believe me to be, with much admiration, yours very truly,


Letter: To Henry James


MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, — This is a very brave hearing from more points than one. The first point is that there is a hope of a sequel. For this I laboured. Seriously, from the dearth of information and thoughtful interest in the art of literature, those who try to practise it with any deliberate purpose run the risk of finding no fit audience. People suppose it is ‘the stuff’ that interests them; they think, for instance, that the prodigious fine thoughts and sentiments in Shakespeare impress by their own weight, not understanding that the unpolished diamond is but a stone. They think that striking situations, or good dialogue, are got by studying life; they will not rise to understand that they are prepared by deliberate artifice and set off by painful suppressions. Now, I want the whole thing well ventilated, for my own education and the public’s; and I beg you to look as quick as you can, to follow me up with every circumstance of defeat where we differ, and (to prevent the flouting of the laity) to emphasise the points where we agree. I trust your paper will show me the way to a rejoinder; and that rejoinder I shall hope to make with so much art as to woo or drive you from your threatened silence. I would not ask better than to pass my life in beating out this quarter of corn with such a seconder as yourself.

Point the second — I am rejoiced indeed to hear you speak so kindly of my work; rejoiced and surprised. I seem to myself a very rude, left-handed countryman; not fit to be read, far less complimented, by a man so accomplished, so adroit, so craftsmanlike as you. You will happily never have cause to understand the despair with which a writer like myself considers (say) the park scene in Lady Barberina. Every touch surprises me by its intangible precision; and the effect when done, as light as syllabub, as distinct as a picture, fills me with envy. Each man among us prefers his own aim, and I prefer mine; but when we come to speak of performance, I recognise myself, compared with you, to be a lout and slouch of the first water.

Where we differ, both as to the design of stories and the delineation of character, I begin to lament. Of course, I am not so dull as to ask you to desert your walk; but could you not, in one novel, to oblige a sincere admirer, and to enrich his shelves with a beloved volume, could you not, and might you not, cast your characters in a mould a little more abstract and academic (dear Mrs. Pennyman had already, among your other work, a taste of what I mean), and pitch the incidents, I do not say in any stronger, but in a slightly more emphatic key — as it were an episode from one of the old (so-called) novels of adventure? I fear you will not; and I suppose I must sighingly admit you to be right. And yet, when I see, as it were, a book of Tom Jones handled with your exquisite precision and shot through with those side-lights of reflection in which you excel, I relinquish the dear vision with regret. Think upon it.

As you know, I belong to that besotted class of man, the invalid: this puts me to a stand in the way of visits. But it is possible that some day you may feel that a day near the sea and among pinewoods would be a pleasant change from town. If so, please let us know; and my wife and I will be delighted to put you up, and give you what we can to eat and drink (I have a fair bottle of claret). — On the back of which, believe me, yours sincerely,


P.S. — I reopen this to say that I have re-read my paper, and cannot think I have at all succeeded in being either veracious or polite. I knew, of course, that I took your paper merely as a pin to hang my own remarks upon; but, alas! what a thing is any paper! What fine remarks can you not hang on mine! How I have sinned against proportion, and with every effort to the contrary, against the merest rudiments of courtesy to you! You are indeed a very acute reader to have divined the real attitude of my mind; and I can only conclude, not without closed eyes and shrinking shoulders, in the well-worn words

Lay on, Macduff!

Letter: To Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Stevenson


MY DEAR PEOPLE, — The dreadful tragedy of the PALL MALL has come to a happy but ludicrous ending: I am to keep the money, the tale writ for them is to be buried certain fathoms deep, and they are to flash out before the world with our old friend of Kinnaird, ‘The Body Snatcher.’ When you come, please to bring —

(1) My MONTAIGNE, or, at least, the two last volumes.

(2) My MILTON in the three vols. in green.

(3) The SHAKESPEARE that Babington sent me for a wedding-gift.


If you care to get a box of books from Douglas and Foulis, let them be SOLID. CROKER PAPERS, CORRESPONDENCE OF NAPOLEON, HISTORY OF HENRY IV., Lang’s FOLK LORE, would be my desires.

I had a charming letter from Henry James about my LONGMAN paper. I did not understand queries about the verses; the pictures to the Seagull I thought charming; those to the second have left me with a pain in my poor belly and a swimming in the head.

About money, I am afloat and no more, and I warn you, unless I have great luck, I shall have to fall upon you at the New Year like a hundredweight of bricks. Doctor, rent, chemist, are all threatening; sickness has bitterly delayed my work; and unless, as I say, I have the mischief’s luck, I shall completely break down. VERBUM SAPIENTIBUS. I do not live cheaply, and I question if I ever shall; but if only I had a halfpenny worth of health, I could now easily suffice. The last breakdown of my head is what makes this bankruptcy probable.

Fanny is still out of sorts; Bogue better; self fair, but a stranger to the blessings of sleep. — Ever affectionate son,

R. L. S.

Letter: To W. E. Henley


DEAR LAD, — I have made up my mind about the P. M. G., and send you a copy, which please keep or return. As for not giving a reduction, what are we? Are we artists or city men? Why do we sneer at stock-brokers? O nary; I will not take the 40 pounds. I took that as a fair price for my best work; I was not able to produce my best; and I will be damned if I steal with my eyes open. SUFFICIT. This is my lookout. As for the paper being rich, certainly it is; but I am honourable. It is no more above me in money than the poor slaveys and cads from whom I look for honesty are below me. Am I Pepys, that because I can find the countenance of ‘some of our ablest merchants,’ that because — and — pour forth languid twaddle and get paid for it, I, too, should ‘cheerfully continue to steal’? I am not Pepys. I do not live much to God and honour; but I will not wilfully turn my back on both. I am, like all the rest of us, falling ever lower from the bright ideas I began with, falling into greed, into idleness, into middle-aged and slippered fireside cowardice; but is it you, my bold blade, that I hear crying this sordid and rank twaddle in my ear? Preaching the dankest Grundyism and upholding the rank customs of our trade — you, who are so cruel hard upon the customs of the publishers? O man, look at the Beam in our own Eyes; and whatever else you do, do not plead Satan’s cause, or plead it for all; either embrace the bad, or respect the good when you see a poor devil trying for it. If this is the honesty of authors — to take what you can get and console yourself because publishers are rich — take my name from the rolls of that association. ‘Tis a caucus of weaker thieves, jealous of the stronger. — Ever yours,


You will see from the enclosed that I have stuck to what I think my dues pretty tightly in spite of this flourish: these are my words for a poor ten-pound note!

Letter: To W. E. Henley


MY DEAR LAD, — Here was I in bed; not writing, not hearing, and finding myself gently and agreeably ill used; and behold I learn you are bad yourself. Get your wife to send us a word how you are. I am better decidedly. Bogue got his Christmas card, and behaved well for three days after. It may interest the cynical to learn that I started my last haemorrhage by too sedulous attentions to my dear Bogue. The stick was broken; and that night Bogue, who was attracted by the extraordinary aching of his bones, and is always inclined to a serious view of his own ailments, announced with his customary pomp that he was dying. In this case, however, it was not the dog that died. (He had tried to bite his mother’s ankles.) I have written a long and peculiarly solemn paper on the technical elements of style. It is path-breaking and epoch-making; but I do not think the public will be readily convoked to its perusal. Did I tell you that S. C. had risen to the paper on James? At last! O but I was pleased; he’s (like Johnnie) been lang, lang o’ comin’, but here he is. He will not object to my future manoeuvres in the same field, as he has to my former. All the family are here; my father better than I have seen him these two years; my mother the same as ever. I do trust you are better, and I am yours ever,

R. L. S.

Letter: To H. A. Jones


DEAR SIR, — I am so accustomed to hear nonsense spoken about all the arts, and the drama in particular, that I cannot refrain from saying ‘Thank you,’ for your paper. In my answer to Mr. James, in the December LONGMAN, you may see that I have merely touched, I think in a parenthesis, on the drama; but I believe enough was said to indicate our agreement in essentials.

Wishing you power and health to further enunciate and to act upon these principles, believe me, dear sir, yours truly,


Letter: To Sidney Colvin


DEAR S. C., — I am on my feet again, and getting on my boots to do the IRON DUKE. Conceive my glee: I have refused the 100 pounds, and am to get some sort of royalty, not yet decided, instead. ‘Tis for Longman’s ENGLISH WORTHIES, edited by A. Lang. Aw haw, haw!

Now, look here, could you get me a loan of the Despatches, or is that a dream? I should have to mark passages I fear, and certainly note pages on the fly. If you think it a dream, will Bain get me a second-hand copy, or who would? The sooner, and cheaper, I can get it the better. If there is anything in your weird library that bears on either the man or the period, put it in a mortar and fire it here instanter; I shall catch. I shall want, of course, an infinity of books: among which, any lives there may be; a life of the Marquis Marmont (the Marechal), MARMONT’S MEMOIRS, GREVILLE’S MEMOIRS, PEEL’S MEMOIRS, NAPIER, that blind man’s history of England you once lent me, Hamley’s WATERLOO; can you get me any of these? Thiers, idle Thiers also. Can you help a man getting into his boots for such a huge campaign? How are you? A Good New Year to you. I mean to have a good one, but on whose funds I cannot fancy: not mine leastways, as I am a mere derelict and drift beam- on to bankruptcy.

For God’s sake, remember the man who set out for to conquer Arthur Wellesley, with a broken bellows and an empty pocket. — Yours ever,


Letter: To Thomas Stevenson


MY DEAR FATHER, — I am glad you like the changes. I own I was pleased with my hand’s darg; you may observe, I have corrected several errors which (you may tell Mr. Dick) he had allowed to pass his eagle eye; I wish there may be none in mine; at least, the order is better. The second title, ‘Some new Engineering Questions involved in the M. S. C. Scheme of last Session of P.’, likes me the best. I think it a very good paper; and I am vain enough to think I have materially helped to polish the diamond. I ended by feeling quite proud of the paper, as if it had been mine; the next time you have as good a one, I will overhaul it for the wages of feeling as clever as I did when I had managed to understand and helped to set it clear. I wonder if I anywhere misapprehended you? I rather think not at the last; at the first shot I know I missed a point or two. Some of what may appear to you to be wanton changes, a little study will show to be necessary.

Yes, Carlyle was ashamed of himself as few men have been; and let all carpers look at what he did. He prepared all these papers for publication with his own hand; all his wife’s complaints, all the evidence of his own misconduct: who else would have done so much? Is repentance, which God accepts, to have no avail with men? nor even with the dead? I have heard too much against the thrawn, discomfortable dog: dead he is, and we may be glad of it; but he was a better man than most of us, no less patently than he was a worse. To fill the world with whining is against all my views: I do not like impiety. But — but — there are two sides to all things, and the old scalded baby had his noble side. — Ever affectionate son,

R. L. S.

Letter: To Sidney Colvin


DEAR S. C., — I have addressed a letter to the G. O. M., A PROPOS of Wellington; and I became aware, you will be interested to hear, of an overwhelming respect for the old gentleman. I can BLAGUER his failures; but when you actually address him, and bring the two statures and records to confrontation, dismay is the result. By mere continuance of years, he must impose; the man who helped to rule England before I was conceived, strikes me with a new sense of greatness and antiquity, when I must actually beard him with the cold forms of correspondence. I shied at the necessity of calling him plain ‘Sir’! Had he been ‘My lord,’ I had been happier; no, I am no equalitarian. Honour to whom honour is due; and if to none, why, then, honour to the old!

These, O Slade Professor, are my unvarnished sentiments: I was a little surprised to find them so extreme, and therefore I communicate the fact.

Belabour thy brains, as to whom it would be well to question. I have a small space; I wish to make a popular book, nowhere obscure, nowhere, if it can be helped, unhuman. It seems to me the most hopeful plan to tell the tale, so far as may be, by anecdote. He did not die till so recently, there must be hundreds who remember him, and thousands who have still ungarnered stories. Dear man, to the breach! Up, soldier of the iron dook, up, Slades, and at ‘em! (which, conclusively, he did not say: the at ‘em-ic theory is to be dismissed). You know piles of fellows who must reek with matter; help! help! — Yours ever,

R. L. S.

Letter: To Sidney Colvin


MY DEAR COLVIN, — You are indeed a backward correspondent, and much may be said against you. But in this weather, and O dear! in this political scene of degradation, much must be forgiven. I fear England is dead of Burgessry, and only walks about galvanised. I do not love to think of my countrymen these days; nor to remember myself. Why was I silent? I feel I have no right to blame any one; but I won’t write to the G. O. M. I do really not see my way to any form of signature, unless ‘your fellow criminal in the eyes of God,’ which might disquiet the proprieties.

About your book, I have always said: go on. The drawing of character is a different thing from publishing the details of a private career. No one objects to the first, or should object, if his name be not put upon it; at the other, I draw the line. In a preface, if you chose, you might distinguish; it is, besides, a thing for which you are eminently well equipped, and which you would do with taste and incision. I long to see the book. People like themselves (to explain a little more); no one likes his life, which is a misbegotten issue, and a tale of failure. To see these failures either touched upon, or COASTED, to get the idea of a spying eye and blabbing tongue about the house, is to lose all privacy in life. To see that thing, which we do love, our character, set forth, is ever gratifying. See how my TALK AND TALKERS went; every one liked his own portrait, and shrieked about other people’s; so it will be with yours. If you are the least true to the essential, the sitter will be pleased; very likely not his friends, and that from VARIOUS MOTIVES.

R. L. S.

When will your holiday be? I sent your letter to my wife, and forget. Keep us in mind, and I hope we shall he able to receive you.

Letter: To J. A. Symonds


MY DEAR SYMONDS, — Yes, we have both been very neglectful. I had horrid luck, catching two thundering influenzas in August and November. I recovered from the last with difficulty, but have come through this blustering winter with some general success; in the house, up and down. My wife, however, has been painfully upset by my health. Last year, of course, was cruelly trying to her nerves; Nice and Hyeres are bad experiences; and though she is not ill, the doctor tells me that prolonged anxiety may do her a real mischief.

I feel a little old and fagged, and chary of speech, and not very sure of spirit in my work; but considering what a year I have passed, and how I have twice sat on Charon’s pierhead, I am surprising.

My father has presented us with a very pretty home in this place, into which we hope to move by May. My CHILD’S VERSES come out next week. OTTO begins to appear in April; MORE NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS as soon as possible. Moreover, I am neck deep in Wellington; also a story on the stocks, GREAT NORTH ROAD. O, I am busy! Lloyd is at college in Edinburgh. That is, I think, all that can be said by way of news.

Have you read HUCKLEBERRY FINN? It contains many excellent things; above all, the whole story of a healthy boy’s dealings with his conscience, incredibly well done.

My own conscience is badly seared; a want of piety; yet I pray for it, tacitly, every day; believing it, after courage, the only gift worth having; and its want, in a man of any claims to honour, quite unpardonable. The tone of your letter seemed to me very sound. In these dark days of public dishonour, I do not know that one can do better than carry our private trials piously. What a picture is this of a nation! No man that I can see, on any side or party, seems to have the least sense of our ineffable shame: the desertion of the garrisons. I tell my little parable that Germany took England, and then there was an Indian Mutiny, and Bismarck said: ‘Quite right: let Delhi and Calcutta and Bombay fall; and let the women and children be treated Sepoy fashion,’ and people say, ‘O, but that is very different!’ And then I wish I were dead. Millais (I hear) was painting Gladstone when the news came of Gordon’s death; Millais was much affected, and Gladstone said, ‘Why? IT IS THE MAN’S OWN TEMERITY!’ Voila le Bourgeois! le voila nu! But why should I blame Gladstone, when I too am a Bourgeois? when I have held my peace? Why did I hold my peace? Because I am a sceptic: I.E. a Bourgeois. We believe in nothing, Symonds; you don’t, and I don’t; and these are two reasons, out of a handful of millions, why England stands before the world dripping with blood and daubed with dishonour. I will first try to take the beam out of my own eye, trusting that even private effort somehow betters and braces the general atmosphere. See, for example, if England has shown (I put it hypothetically) one spark of manly sensibility, they have been shamed into it by the spectacle of Gordon. Police- Officer Cole is the only man that I see to admire. I dedicate my NEW ARABS to him and Cox, in default of other great public characters. — Yours ever most affectionately,


Letter: To Edmund Gosse


MY DEAR GOSSE, — I was indeed much exercised how I could be worked into Gray; and lo! when I saw it, the passage seemed to have been written with a single eye to elucidate the — worst? — well, not a very good poem of Gray’s. Your little life is excellent, clean, neat, efficient. I have read many of your notes, too, with pleasure. Your connection with Gray was a happy circumstance; it was a suitable conjunction.

I did not answer your letter from the States, for what was I to say? I liked getting it and reading it; I was rather flattered that you wrote it to me; and then I’ll tell you what I did — I put it in the fire. Why? Well, just because it was very natural and expansive; and thinks I to myself, if I die one of these fine nights, this is just the letter that Gosse would not wish to go into the hands of third parties. Was I well inspired? And I did not answer it because you were in your high places, sailing with supreme dominion, and seeing life in a particular glory; and I was peddling in a corner, confined to the house, overwhelmed with necessary work, which I was not always doing well, and, in the very mild form in which the disease approaches me, touched with a sort of bustling cynicism. Why throw cold water? How ape your agreeable frame of mind? In short, I held my tongue.

I have now published on 101 small pages THE COMPLETE PROOF OF MR. R. L. STEVENSON’S INCAPACITY TO WRITE VERSE, in a series of graduated examples with table of contents. I think I shall issue a companion volume of exercises: ‘Analyse this poem. Collect and comminate the ugly words. Distinguish and condemn the CHEVILLES. State Mr. Stevenson’s faults of taste in regard to the measure. What reasons can you gather from this example for your belief that Mr. S. is unable to write any other measure?’

They look ghastly in the cold light of print; but there is something nice in the little ragged regiment for all; the blackguards seem to me to smile, to have a kind of childish treble note that sounds in my ears freshly; not song, if you will, but a child’s voice.

I was glad you enjoyed your visit to the States. Most Englishmen go there with a confirmed design of patronage, as they go to France for that matter; and patronage will not pay. Besides, in this year of — grace, said I? — of disgrace, who should creep so low as an Englishman? ‘It is not to be thought of that the flood’ — ah, Wordsworth, you would change your note were you alive to-day!

I am now a beastly householder, but have not yet entered on my domain. When I do, the social revolution will probably cast me back upon my dung heap. There is a person called Hyndman whose eye is on me; his step is beHynd me as I go. I shall call my house Skerryvore when I get it: SKERRYVORE: C’EST BON POUR LA POESHIE. I will conclude with my favourite sentiment: ‘The world is too much with me.’


Author of ‘John Vane Tempest: a Romance,’ ‘Herbert and Henrietta: or the Nemesis of Sentiment,’ ‘The Life and Adventures of Colonel Bludyer Fortescue,’ ‘Happy Homes and Hairy Faces,’ ‘A Pound of Feathers and a Pound of Lead,’ part author of ‘Minn’s Complete Capricious Correspondent: a Manual of Natty, Natural, and Knowing Letters,’ and editor of the ‘Poetical Remains of Samuel Burt Crabbe, known as the melodious Bottle-Holder.’

Uniform with the above:

‘The Life and Remains of the Reverend Jacob Degray Squah,’ author of ‘Heave-yo for the New Jerusalem.’ ‘A Box of Candles; or the Patent Spiritual Safety Match,’ and ‘A Day with the Heavenly Harriers.’

Letter: To W. H. Low


MY DEAR LOW, — Your success has been immense. I wish your letter had come two days ago: OTTO, alas! has been disposed of a good while ago; but it was only day before yesterday that I settled the new volume of Arabs. However, for the future, you and the sons of the deified Scribner are the men for me. Really they have behaved most handsomely. I cannot lay my hand on the papers, or I would tell you exactly how it compares with my English bargain; but it compares well. Ah, if we had that copyright, I do believe it would go far to make me solvent, ill-health and all.

I wrote you a letter to the Rembrandt, in which I stated my views about the dedication in a very brief form. It will give me sincere pleasure, and will make the second dedication I have received, the other being from John Addington Symonds. It is a compliment I value much; I don’t know any that I should prefer.

I am glad to hear you have windows to do; that is a fine business, I think; but, alas! the glass is so bad nowadays; realism invading even that, as well as the huge inferiority of our technical resource corrupting every tint. Still, anything that keeps a man to decoration is, in this age, good for the artist’s spirit.

By the way, have you seen James and me on the novel? James, I think in the August or September — R. L. S. in the December LONGMAN. I own I think the ECOLE BETE, of which I am the champion, has the whip hand of the argument; but as James is to make a rejoinder, I must not boast. Anyway the controversy is amusing to see. I was terribly tied down to space, which has made the end congested and dull. I shall see if I can afford to send you the April CONTEMPORARY— but I dare say you see it anyway — as it will contain a paper of mine on style, a sort of continuation of old arguments on art in which you have wagged a most effective tongue. It is a sort of start upon my Treatise on the Art of Literature: a small, arid book that shall some day appear.

With every good wish from me and mine (should I not say ‘she and hers’?) to you and yours, believe me yours ever,


Letter: To P. G. Hamerton


MY DEAR HAMERTON, — Various things have been reminding me of my misconduct: First, Swan’s application for your address; second, a sight of the sheets of your LANDSCAPE book; and last, your note to Swan, which he was so kind as to forward. I trust you will never suppose me to be guilty of anything more serious than an idleness, partially excusable. My ill-health makes my rate of life heavier than I can well meet, and yet stops me from earning more. My conscience, sometimes perhaps too easily stifled, but still (for my time of life and the public manners of the age) fairly well alive, forces me to perpetual and almost endless transcriptions. On the back of all this, my correspondence hangs like a thundercloud; and just when I think I am getting through my troubles, crack, down goes my health, I have a long, costly sickness, and begin the world again. It is fortunate for me I have a father, or I should long ago have died; but the opportunity of the aid makes the necessity none the more welcome. My father has presented me with a beautiful house here — or so I believe, for I have not yet seen it, being a cage bird but for nocturnal sorties in the garden. I hope we shall soon move into it, and I tell myself that some day perhaps we may have the pleasure of seeing you as our guest. I trust at least that you will take me as I am, a thoroughly bad correspondent, and a man, a hater, indeed, of rudeness in others, but too often rude in all unconsciousness himself; and that you will never cease to believe the sincere sympathy and admiration that I feel for you and for your work.

About the LANDSCAPE, which I had a glimpse of while a friend of mine was preparing a review, I was greatly interested, and could write and wrangle for a year on every page; one passage particularly delighted me, the part about Ulysses — jolly. Then, you know, that is just what I fear I have come to think landscape ought to be in literature; so there we should be at odds. Or perhaps not so much as I suppose, as Montaigne says it is a pot with two handles, and I own I am wedded to the technical handle, which (I likewise own and freely) you do well to keep for a mistress. I should much like to talk with you about some other points; it is only in talk that one gets to understand. Your delightful Wordsworth trap I have tried on two hardened Wordsworthians, not that I am not one myself. By covering up the context, and asking them to guess what the passage was, both (and both are very clever people, one a writer, one a painter) pronounced it a guide-book. ‘Do you think it an unusually good guide-book?’ I asked, and both said, ‘No, not at all!’ Their grimace was a picture when I showed the original.

I trust your health and that of Mrs. Hamerton keep better; your last account was a poor one. I was unable to make out the visit I had hoped, as (I do not know if you heard of it) I had a very violent and dangerous haemorrhage last spring. I am almost glad to have seen death so close with all my wits about me, and not in the customary lassitude and disenchantment of disease. Even thus clearly beheld I find him not so terrible as we suppose. But, indeed, with the passing of years, the decay of strength, the loss of all my old active and pleasant habits, there grows more and more upon me that belief in the kindness of this scheme of things, and the goodness of our veiled God, which is an excellent and pacifying compensation. I trust, if your health continues to trouble you, you may find some of the same belief. But perhaps my fine discovery is a piece of art, and belongs to a character cowardly, intolerant of certain feelings, and apt to self-deception. I don’t think so, however; and when I feel what a weak and fallible vessel I was thrust into this hurly-burly, and with what marvellous kindness the wind has been tempered to my frailties, I think I should be a strange kind of ass to feel anything but gratitude.

I do not know why I should inflict this talk upon you; but when I summon the rebellous pen, he must go his own way; I am no Michael Scott, to rule the fiend of correspondence. Most days he will none of me; and when he comes, it is to rape me where he will. — Yours very sincerely,


Letter: To William Archer


DEAR MR. ARCHER, — Yes, I have heard of you and read some of your work; but I am bound in particular to thank you for the notice of my verses. ‘There,’ I said, throwing it over to the friend who was staying with me, ‘it’s worth writing a book to draw an article like that.’ Had you been as hard upon me as you were amiable, I try to tell myself I should have been no blinder to the merits of your notice. For I saw there, to admire and to be very grateful for, a most sober, agile pen; an enviable touch; the marks of a reader, such as one imagines for one’s self in dreams, thoughtful, critical, and kind; and to put the top on this memorial column, a greater readiness to describe the author criticised than to display the talents of his censor.

I am a man BLASE to injudicious praise (though I hope some of it may be judicious too), but I have to thank you for THE BEST CRITICISM I EVER HAD; and am therefore, dear Mr. Archer, the most grateful critickee now extant.


P.S. — I congratulate you on living in the corner of all London that I like best. A PROPOS, you are very right about my voluntary aversion from the painful sides of life. My childhood was in reality a very mixed experience, full of fever, nightmare, insomnia, painful days and interminable nights; and I can speak with less authority of gardens than of that other ‘land of counterpane.’ But to what end should we renew these sorrows? The sufferings of life may be handled by the very greatest in their hours of insight; it is of its pleasures that our common poems should be formed; these are the experiences that we should seek to recall or to provoke; and I say with Thoreau, ‘What right have I to complain, who have not ceased to wonder?’ and, to add a rider of my own, who have no remedy to offer.

R. L. S.

Letter: To Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin


MY DEAR MRS. JENKIN, — You know how much and for how long I have loved, respected, and admired him; I am only able to feel a little with you. But I know how he would have wished us to feel. I never knew a better man, nor one to me more lovable; we shall all feel the loss more greatly as time goes on. It scarce seems life to me; what must it be to you? Yet one of the last things that he said to me was, that from all these sad bereavements of yours he had learned only more than ever to feel the goodness and what we, in our feebleness, call the support of God; he had been ripening so much — to other eyes than ours, we must suppose he was ripe, and try to feel it. I feel it is better not to say much more. It will be to me a great pride to write a notice of him: the last I can now do. What more in any way I can do for you, please to think and let me know. For his sake and for your own, I would not be a useless friend: I know, you know me a most warm one; please command me or my wife, in any way. Do not trouble to write to me; Austin, I have no doubt, will do so, if you are, as I fear you will be, unfit.

My heart is sore for you. At least you know what you have been to him; how he cherished and admired you; how he was never so pleased as when he spoke of you; with what a boy’s love, up to the last, he loved you. This surely is a consolation. Yours is the cruel part - to survive; you must try and not grudge to him his better fortune, to go first. It is the sad part of such relations that one must remain and suffer; I cannot see my poor Jenkin without you. Nor you indeed without him; but you may try to rejoice that he is spared that extremity. Perhaps I (as I was so much his confidant) know even better than you can do what your loss would have been to him; he never spoke of you but his face changed; it was — you were — his religion.

I write by this post to Austin and to the ACADEMY. — Yours most sincerely,


Letter: To Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin


MY DEAR MRS. JENKIN, — I should have written sooner, but we are in a bustle, and I have been very tired, though still well. Your very kind note was most welcome to me. I shall be very much pleased to have you call me Louis, as he has now done for so many years. Sixteen, you say? is it so long? It seems too short now; but of that we cannot judge, and must not complain.

I wish that either I or my wife could do anything for you; when we can, you will, I am sure, command us.

I trust that my notice gave you as little pain as was possible. I found I had so much to say, that I preferred to keep it for another place and make but a note in the ACADEMY. To try to draw my friend at greater length, and say what he was to me and his intimates, what a good influence in life and what an example, is a desire that grows upon me. It was strange, as I wrote the note, how his old tests and criticisms haunted me; and it reminded me afresh with every few words how much I owe to him.

I had a note from Henley, very brief and very sad. We none of us yet feel the loss; but we know what he would have said and wished.

Do you know that Dew Smith has two photographs of him, neither very bad? and one giving a lively, though not flattering air of him in conversation? If you have not got them, would you like me to write to Dew and ask him to give you proofs?

I was so pleased that he and my wife made friends; that is a great pleasure. We found and have preserved one fragment (the head) of the drawing he made and tore up when he was last here. He had promised to come and stay with us this summer. May we not hope, at least, some time soon to have one from you? — Believe me, my dear Mrs. Jenkin, with the most real sympathy, your sincere friend,


Dear me, what happiness I owe to both of you!

Letter: To W. H. Low


MY DEAR LOW, — I trust you are not annoyed with me beyond forgiveness; for indeed my silence has been devilish prolonged. I can only tell you that I have been nearly six months (more than six) in a strange condition of collapse, when it was impossible to do any work, and difficult (more difficult than you would suppose) to write the merest note. I am now better, but not yet my own man in the way of brains, and in health only so-so. I suppose I shall learn (I begin to think I am learning) to fight this vast, vague feather-bed of an obsession that now overlies and smothers me; but in the beginnings of these conflicts, the inexperienced wrestler is always worsted, and I own I have been quite extinct. I wish you to know, though it can be no excuse, that you are not the only one of my friends by many whom I have thus neglected; and even now, having come so very late into the possession of myself, with a substantial capital of debts, and my work still moving with a desperate slowness — as a child might fill a sandbag with its little handfuls - and my future deeply pledged, there is almost a touch of virtue in my borrowing these hours to write to you. Why I said ‘hours’ I know not; it would look blue for both of us if I made good the word.

I was writing your address the other day, ordering a copy of my next, PRINCE OTTO, to go your way. I hope you have not seen it in parts; it was not meant to be so read; and only my poverty (dishonourably) consented to the serial evolution.

I will send you with this a copy of the English edition of the CHILD’S GARDEN. I have heard there is some vile rule of the post- office in the States against inscriptions; so I send herewith a piece of doggerel which Mr. Bunner may, if he thinks fit, copy off the fly leaf.

Sargent was down again and painted a portrait of me walking about in my own dining-room, in my own velveteen jacket, and twisting as I go my own moustache; at one corner a glimpse of my wife, in an Indian dress, and seated in a chair that was once my grandfather’s; but since some months goes by the name of Henry James’s, for it was there the novelist loved to sit — adds a touch of poesy and comicality. It is, I think, excellent, but is too eccentric to be exhibited. I am at one extreme corner; my wife, in this wild dress, and looking like a ghost, is at the extreme other end; between us an open door exhibits my palatial entrance hall and a part of my respected staircase. All this is touched in lovely, with that witty touch of Sargent’s; but, of course, it looks dam queer as a whole.

Pray let me hear from you, and give me good news of yourself and your wife, to whom please remember me. —

Yours most sincerely, my dear Low,


Letter: To W. E. Henley


DEAR LAD, — If there was any more praise in what you wrote, I think [the editor] has done us both a service; some of it stops my throat. What, it would not have been the same if Dumas or Musset had done it, would it not? Well, no, I do not think it would, do you know, now; I am really of opinion it would not; and a dam good job too. Why, think what Musset would have made of Otto! Think how gallantly Dumas would have carried his crowd through! And whatever you do, don’t quarrel with —. It gives me much pleasure to see your work there; I think you do yourself great justice in that field; and I would let no annoyance, petty or justifiable, debar me from such a market. I think you do good there. Whether (considering our intimate relations) you would not do better to refrain from reviewing me, I will leave to yourself: were it all on my side, you could foresee my answer; but there is your side also, where you must be the judge.

As for the SATURDAY. Otto is no ‘fool,’ the reader is left in no doubt as to whether or not Seraphina was a Messalina (though much it would matter, if you come to that); and therefore on both these points the reviewer has been unjust. Secondly, the romance lies precisely in the freeing of two spirits from these court intrigues; and here I think the reviewer showed himself dull. Lastly, if Otto’s speech is offensive to him, he is one of the large class of unmanly and ungenerous dogs who arrogate and defile the name of manly. As for the passages quoted, I do confess that some of them reek Gongorically; they are excessive, but they are not inelegant after all. However, had he attacked me only there, he would have scored.

Your criticism on Gondremark is, I fancy, right. I thought all your criticisms were indeed; only your praise — chokes me. — Yours ever,

R. L. S.

Letter: To William Archer


DEAR MR. ARCHER, — I have read your paper with my customary admiration; it is very witty, very adroit; it contains a great deal that is excellently true (particularly the parts about my stories and the description of me as an artist in life); but you will not be surprised if I do not think it altogether just. It seems to me, in particular, that you have wilfully read all my works in terms of my earliest; my aim, even in style, has quite changed in the last six or seven years; and this I should have thought you would have noticed. Again, your first remark upon the affectation of the italic names; a practice only followed in my two affected little books of travel, where a typographical MINAUDERIE of the sort appeared to me in character; and what you say of it, then, is quite just. But why should you forget yourself and use these same italics as an index to my theology some pages further on? This is lightness of touch indeed; may I say, it is almost sharpness of practice?

Excuse these remarks. I have been on the whole much interested, and sometimes amused. Are you aware that the praiser of this ‘brave gymnasium’ has not seen a canoe nor taken a long walk since ‘79? that he is rarely out of the house nowadays, and carries his arm in a sling? Can you imagine that he is a backslidden communist, and is sure he will go to hell (if there be such an excellent institution) for the luxury in which he lives? And can you believe that, though it is gaily expressed, the thought is hag and skeleton in every moment of vacuity or depression? Can you conceive how profoundly I am irritated by the opposite affectation to my own, when I see strong men and rich men bleating about their sorrows and the burthen of life, in a world full of ‘cancerous paupers,’ and poor sick children, and the fatally bereaved, ay, and down even to such happy creatures as myself, who has yet been obliged to strip himself, one after another, of all the pleasures that he had chosen except smoking (and the days of that I know in my heart ought to be over), I forgot eating, which I still enjoy, and who sees the circle of impotence closing very slowly but quite steadily around him? In my view, one dank, dispirited word is harmful, a crime of LESE- HUMANITE, a piece of acquired evil; every gay, every bright word or picture, like every pleasant air of music, is a piece of pleasure set afloat; the reader catches it, and, if he be healthy, goes on his way rejoicing; and it is the business of art so to send him, as often as possible.

For what you say, so kindly, so prettily, so precisely, of my style, I must in particular thank you; though even here, I am vexed you should not have remarked on my attempted change of manner: seemingly this attempt is still quite unsuccessful! Well, we shall fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

And now for my last word: Mrs. Stevenson is very anxious that you should see me, and that she should see you, in the flesh. If you at all share in these views, I am a fixture. Write or telegraph (giving us time, however, to telegraph in reply, lest the day be impossible), and come down here to a bed and a dinner. What do you say, my dear critic? I shall be truly pleased to see you; and to explain at greater length what I meant by saying narrative was the most characteristic mood of literature, on which point I have great hopes I shall persuade you. — Yours truly,


P.S. — My opinion about Thoreau, and the passage in THE WEEK, is perhaps a fad, but it is sincere and stable. I am still of the same mind five years later; did you observe that I had said ‘modern’ authors? and will you observe again that this passage touches the very joint of our division? It is one that appeals to me, deals with that part of life that I think the most important, and you, if I gather rightly, so much less so? You believe in the extreme moment of the facts that humanity has acquired and is acquiring; I think them of moment, but still or much less than those inherent or inherited brute principles and laws that sit upon us (in the character of conscience) as heavy as a shirt of mail, and that (in the character of the affections and the airy spirit of pleasure) make all the light of our lives. The house is, indeed, a great thing, and should be rearranged on sanitary principles; but my heart and all my interest are with the dweller, that ancient of days and day-old infant man.

R. L. S.

An excellent touch is p. 584. ‘By instinct or design he eschews what demands constructive patience.’ I believe it is both; my theory is that literature must always be most at home in treating movement and change; hence I look for them.

Letter: To Thomas Stevenson


MY DEAREST FATHER, — Get the November number of TIME, and you will see a review of me by a very clever fellow, who is quite furious at bottom because I am too orthodox, just as Purcell was savage because I am not orthodox enough. I fall between two stools. It is odd, too, to see how this man thinks me a full-blooded fox- hunter, and tells me my philosophy would fail if I lost my health or had to give up exercise!

An illustrated TREASURE ISLAND will be out next month. I have had an early copy, and the French pictures are admirable. The artist has got his types up in Hogarth; he is full of fire and spirit, can draw and can compose, and has understood the book as I meant it, all but one or two little accidents, such as making the HISPANIOLA a brig. I would send you my copy, BUT I CANNOT; it is my new toy, and I cannot divorce myself from this enjoyment.

I am keeping really better, and have been out about every second day, though the weather is cold and very wild.

I was delighted to hear you were keeping better; you and Archer would agree, more shame to you! (Archer is my pessimist critic.) Good-bye to all of you, with my best love. We had a dreadful overhauling of my conduct as a son the other night; and my wife stripped me of my illusions and made me admit I had been a detestable bad one. Of one thing in particular she convicted me in my own eyes: I mean, a most unkind reticence, which hung on me then, and I confess still hangs on me now, when I try to assure you that I do love you. — Ever your bad son,


Letter: To Henry James


MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, — At last, my wife being at a concert, and a story being done, I am at some liberty to write and give you of my views. And first, many thanks for the works that came to my sickbed. And second, and more important, as to the PRINCESS. Well, I think you are going to do it this time; I cannot, of course, foresee, but these two first numbers seem to me picturesque and sound and full of lineament, and very much a new departure. As for your young lady, she is all there; yes, sir, you can do low life, I believe. The prison was excellent; it was of that nature of touch that I sometimes achingly miss from your former work; with some of the grime, that is, and some of the emphasis of skeleton there is in nature. I pray you to take grime in a good sense; it need not be ignoble: dirt may have dignity; in nature it usually has; and your prison was imposing.

And now to the main point: why do we not see you? Do not fail us. Make an alarming sacrifice, and let us see ‘Henry James’s chair’ properly occupied. I never sit in it myself (though it was my grandfather’s); it has been consecrated to guests by your approval, and now stands at my elbow gaping. We have a new room, too, to introduce to you — our last baby, the drawing-room; it never cries, and has cut its teeth. Likewise, there is a cat now. It promises to be a monster of laziness and self-sufficiency.

Pray see, in the November TIME (a dread name for a magazine of light reading), a very clever fellow, W. Archer, stating his views of me; the rosy-gilled ‘athletico-aesthete’; and warning me, in a fatherly manner, that a rheumatic fever would try my philosophy (as indeed it would), and that my gospel would not do for ‘those who are shut out from the exercise of any manly virtue save renunciation.’ To those who know that rickety and cloistered spectre, the real R. L. S., the paper, besides being clever in itself, presents rare elements of sport. The critical parts are in particular very bright and neat, and often excellently true. Get it by all manner of means.

I hear on all sides I am to be attacked as an immoral writer; this is painful. Have I at last got, like you, to the pitch of being attacked? ‘Tis the consecration I lack — and could do without. Not that Archer’s paper is an attack, or what either he or I, I believe, would call one; ‘tis the attacks on my morality (which I had thought a gem of the first water) I referred to.

Now, my dear James, come — come — come. The spirit (that is me) says, Come; and the bride (and that is my wife) says, Come; and the best thing you can do for us and yourself and your work is to get up and do so right away, — Yours affectionately,


Letter: To William Archer


DEAR MR. ARCHER. — It is possible my father may be soon down with me; he is an old man and in bad health and spirits; and I could neither leave him alone, nor could we talk freely before him. If he should be here when you offer your visit, you will understand if I have to say no, and put you off.

I quite understand your not caring to refer to things of private knowledge. What still puzzles me is how you (‘in the witness box’ - ha! I like the phrase) should have made your argument actually hinge on a contention which the facts answered.

I am pleased to hear of the correctness of my guess. It is then as I supposed; you are of the school of the generous and not the sullen pessimists; and I can feel with you. I used myself to rage when I saw sick folk going by in their Bath-chairs; since I have been sick myself (and always when I was sick myself), I found life, even in its rough places, to have a property of easiness. That which we suffer ourselves has no longer the same air of monstrous injustice and wanton cruelty that suffering wears when we see it in the case of others. So we begin gradually to see that things are not black, but have their strange compensations; and when they draw towards their worst, the idea of death is like a bed to lie on. I should bear false witness if I did not declare life happy. And your wonderful statement that happiness tends to die out and misery to continue, which was what put me on the track of your frame of mind, is diagnostic of the happy man raging over the misery of others; it could never be written by the man who had tried what unhappiness was like. And at any rate, it was a slip of the pen: the ugliest word that science has to declare is a reserved indifference to happiness and misery in the individual; it declares no leaning toward the black, no iniquity on the large scale in fate’s doings, rather a marble equality, dread not cruel, giving and taking away and reconciling.

Why have I not written my TIMON? Well, here is my worst quarrel with you. You take my young books as my last word. The tendency to try to say more has passed unperceived (my fault, that). And you make no allowance for the slowness with which a man finds and tries to learn his tools. I began with a neat brisk little style, and a sharp little knack of partial observation; I have tried to expand my means, but still I can only utter a part of what I wish to say, and am bound to feel; and much of it will die unspoken. But if I had the pen of Shakespeare, I have no TIMON to give forth. I feel kindly to the powers that be; I marvel they should use me so well; and when I think of the case of others, I wonder too, but in another vein, whether they may not, whether they must not, be like me, still with some compensation, some delight. To have suffered, nay, to suffer, sets a keen edge on what remains of the agreeable. This is a great truth, and has to be learned in the fire. — Yours very truly,


We expect you, remember that.

Letter: To William Archer


DEAR MR. ARCHER, — You will see that I had already had a sight of your article and what were my thoughts.

One thing in your letter puzzles me. Are you, too, not in the witness-box? And if you are, why take a wilfully false hypothesis? If you knew I was a chronic invalid, why say that my philosophy was unsuitable to such a case? My call for facts is not so general as yours, but an essential fact should not be put the other way about.

The fact is, consciously or not, you doubt my honesty; you think I am making faces, and at heart disbelieve my utterances. And this I am disposed to think must spring from your not having had enough of pain, sorrow, and trouble in your existence. It is easy to have too much; easy also or possible to have too little; enough is required that a man may appreciate what elements of consolation and joy there are in everything but absolutely over-powering physical pain or disgrace, and how in almost all circumstances the human soul can play a fair part. You fear life, I fancy, on the principle of the hand of little employment. But perhaps my hypothesis is as unlike the truth as the one you chose. Well, if it be so, if you have had trials, sickness, the approach of death, the alienation of friends, poverty at the heels, and have not felt your soul turn round upon these things and spurn them under — you must be very differently made from me, and I earnestly believe from the majority of men. But at least you are in the right to wonder and complain.

To ‘say all’? Stay here. All at once? That would require a word from the pen of Gargantua. We say each particular thing as it comes up, and ‘with that sort of emphasis that for the time there seems to be no other.’ Words will not otherwise serve us; no, nor even Shakespeare, who could not have put AS YOU LIKE IT and TIMON into one without ruinous loss both of emphasis and substance. Is it quite fair then to keep your face so steadily on my most light- hearted works, and then say I recognise no evil? Yet in the paper on Burns, for instance, I show myself alive to some sorts of evil. But then, perhaps, they are not your sorts.

And again: ‘to say all’? All: yes. Everything: no. The task were endless, the effect nil. But my all, in such a vast field as this of life, is what interests me, what stands out, what takes on itself a presence for my imagination or makes a figure in that little tricky abbreviation which is the best that my reason can conceive. That I must treat, or I shall be fooling with my readers. That, and not the all of some one else.

And here we come to the division: not only do I believe that literature should give joy, but I see a universe, I suppose, eternally different from yours; a solemn, a terrible, but a very joyous and noble universe, where suffering is not at least wantonly inflicted, though it falls with dispassionate partiality, but where it may be and generally is nobly borne; where, above all (this I believe; probably you don’t: I think he may, with cancer), ANY BRAVE MAN MAY MAKE out a life which shall be happy for himself, and, by so being, beneficent to those about him. And if he fails, why should I hear him weeping? I mean if I fail, why should I weep? Why should YOU hear ME? Then to me morals, the conscience, the affections, and the passions are, I will own frankly and sweepingly, so infinitely more important than the other parts of life, that I conceive men rather triflers who become immersed in the latter; and I will always think the man who keeps his lip stiff, and makes ‘a happy fireside clime,’ and carries a pleasant face about to friends and neighbours, infinitely greater (in the abstract) than an atrabilious Shakespeare or a backbiting Kant or Darwin. No offence to any of these gentlemen, two of whom probably (one for certain) came up to my standard.

And now enough said; it were hard if a poor man could not criticise another without having so much ink shed against him. But I shall still regret you should have written on an hypothesis you knew to be untenable, and that you should thus have made your paper, for those who do not know me, essentially unfair. The rich, fox- hunting squire speaks with one voice; the sick man of letters with another. — Yours very truly,



P.S. — Here I go again. To me, the medicine bottles on my chimney and the blood on my handkerchief are accidents; they do not colour my view of life, as you would know, I think, if you had experience of sickness; they do not exist in my prospect; I would as soon drag them under the eyes of my readers as I would mention a pimple I might chance to have (saving your presence) on my posteriors. What does it prove? what does it change? it has not hurt, it has not changed me in any essential part; and I should think myself a trifler and in bad taste if I introduced the world to these unimportant privacies.

But, again, there is this mountain-range between us — THAT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE ME. It is not flattering, but the fault is probably in my literary art.

Letter: To W. H. Low


MY DEAR LOW, — LAMIA has not yet turned up, but your letter came to me this evening with a scent of the Boulevard Montparnasse that was irresistible. The sand of Lavenue’s crumbled under my heel; and the bouquet of the old Fleury came back to me, and I remembered the day when I found a twenty franc piece under my fetish. Have you that fetish still? and has it brought you luck? I remembered, too, my first sight of you in a frock coat and a smoking-cap, when we passed the evening at the Cafe de Medicis; and my last when we sat and talked in the Parc Monceau; and all these things made me feel a little young again, which, to one who has been mostly in bed for a month, was a vivifying change.

Yes, you are lucky to have a bag that holds you comfortably. Mine is a strange contrivance; I don’t die, damme, and I can’t get along on both feet to save my soul; I am a chronic sickist; and my work cripples along between bed and the parlour, between the medicine bottle and the cupping glass. Well, I like my life all the same; and should like it none the worse if I could have another talk with you, though even my talks now are measured out to me by the minute hand like poisons in a minim glass.

A photograph will be taken of my ugly mug and sent to you for ulterior purposes: I have another thing coming out, which I did not put in the way of the Scribners, I can scarce tell how; but I was sick and penniless and rather back on the world, and mismanaged it. I trust they will forgive me.

I am sorry to hear of Mrs. Low’s illness, and glad to hear of her recovery. I will announce the coming LAMIA to Bob: he steams away at literature like smoke. I have a beautiful Bob on my walls, and a good Sargent, and a delightful Lemon; and your etching now hangs framed in the dining-room. So the arts surround me. — Yours,

R. L. S.

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30