Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XII

My Dear Carthew, — See what I have written, but it’s Colvin I’m after — I have written two chapters, about thirty pages of Wrecker since the mail left, which must be my excuse, and the bother I’ve had with it is not to be imagined, you might have seen me the day before yesterday weighing British sov.‘s and Chili dollars to arrange my treasure chest. And there was such a calculation, not for that only, but for the ship’s position and distances when — but I am not going to tell you the yarn — and then, as my arithmetic is particularly lax, Lloyd had to go over all my calculations; and then, as I had changed the amount of money, he had to go over all his as to the amount of the lay; and altogether, a bank could be run with less effusion of figures than it took to shore up a single chapter of a measly yarn. However, it’s done, and I have but one more, or at the outside two, to do, and I am Free! and can do any damn thing I like.

Before falling on politics, I shall give you my day. Awoke somewhere about the first peep of day, came gradually to, and had a turn on the verandah before 5.55, when ‘the child’ (an enormous Wallis Islander) brings me an orange; at 6, breakfast; 6.10, to work; which lasts till, at 10.30, Austin comes for his history lecture; this is rather dispiriting, but education must be gone about in faith — and charity, both of which pretty nigh failed me today about (of all things) Carthage; 11, luncheon; after luncheon in my mother’s room, I read Chapter XXIII. of The Wrecker, then Belle, Lloyd, and I go up and make music furiously till about 2 (I suppose), when I turn into work again till 4; fool from 4 to half-past, tired out and waiting for the bath hour; 4.30, bath; 4.40, eat two heavenly mangoes on the verandah, and see the boys arrive with the pack-horses; 5, dinner; smoke, chat on verandah, then hand of cards, and at last at 8 come up to my room with a pint of beer and a hard biscuit, which I am now consuming, and as soon as they are consumed I shall turn in.

Such are the innocent days of this ancient and outworn sportsman; today there was no weeding, usually there is however, edge in somewhere. My books for the moment are a crib to Phaedo, and the second book of Montaigne; and a little while back I was reading Frederic Harrison, ‘Choice of Books,’ etc. — very good indeed, a great deal of sense and knowledge in the volume, and some very true stuff, contra Carlyle, about the eighteenth century. A hideous idea came over me that perhaps Harrison is now getting old. Perhaps you are. Perhaps I am. Oh, this infidelity must be stared firmly down. I am about twenty-three — say twenty-eight; you about thirty, or, by’r lady, thirty-four; and as Harrison belongs to the same generation, there is no good bothering about him.

Here has just been a fine alert; I gave my wife a dose of chlorodyne. ‘Something wrong,’ says she. ‘Nonsense,’ said I. ‘Embrocation,’ said she. I smelt it, and — it smelt very funny. ‘I think it’s just gone bad, and tomorrow will tell.’ Proved to be so.

Wednesday.

History of Tuesday. — Woke at usual time, very little work, for I was tired, and had a job for the evening — to write parts for a new instrument, a violin. Lunch, chat, and up to my place to practise; but there was no practising for me — my flageolet was gone wrong, and I had to take it all to pieces, clean it, and put it up again. As this is a most intricate job — the thing dissolves into seventeen separate members, most of these have to be fitted on their individual springs as fine as needles, and sometimes two at once with the springs shoving different ways — it took me till two. Then Lloyd and I rode forth on our errands; first to Motootua, where we had a really instructive conversation on weeds and grasses. Thence down to Apia, where we bought a fresh bottle of chlorodyne and conversed on politics.

My visit to the King, which I thought at the time a particularly nugatory and even schoolboy step, and only consented to because I had held the reins so tight over my little band before, has raised a deuce of a row — new proclamation, no one is to interview the sacred puppet without consuls’ permission, two days’ notice, and an approved interpreter — read (I suppose) spy. Then back; I should have said I was trying the new horse; a tallish piebald, bought from the circus; he proved steady and safe, but in very bad condition, and not so much the wild Arab steed of the desert as had been supposed. The height of his back, after commodious Jack, astonished me, and I had a great consciousness of exercise and florid action, as I posted to his long, emphatic trot. We had to ride back easy; even so he was hot and blown; and when we set a boy to lead him to and fro, our last character for sanity perished. We returned just neat for dinner; and in the evening our violinist arrived, a young lady, no great virtuoso truly, but plucky, industrious, and a good reader; and we played five pieces with huge amusement, and broke up at nine. This morning I have read a splendid piece of Montaigne, written this page of letter, and now turn to the Wrecker.

Wednesday — November 16th or 17th — and I am ashamed to say mail day. The Wrecker is finished, that is the best of my news; it goes by this mail to Scribner’s; and I honestly think it a good yarn on the whole and of its measly kind. The part that is genuinely good is Nares, the American sailor; that is a genuine figure; had there been more Nares it would have been a better book; but of course it didn’t set up to be a book, only a long tough yarn with some pictures of the manners of today in the greater world — not the shoddy sham world of cities, clubs, and colleges, but the world where men still live a man’s life. The worst of my news is the influenza; Apia is devastate; the shops closed, a ball put off, etc. As yet we have not had it at Vailima, and, who knows? we may escape. None of us go down, but of course the boys come and go.

Your letter had the most wonderful ‘I told you so’ I ever heard in the course of my life. Why, you madman, I wouldn’t change my present installation for any post, dignity, honour, or advantage conceivable to me. It fills the bill; I have the loveliest time. And as for wars and rumours of wars, you surely know enough of me to be aware that I like that also a thousand times better than decrepit peace in Middlesex? I do not quite like politics; I am too aristocratic, I fear, for that. God knows I don’t care who I chum with; perhaps like sailors best; but to go round and sue and sneak to keep a crowd together — never. My imagination, which is not the least damped by the idea of having my head cut off in the bush, recoils aghast from the idea of a life like Gladstone’s, and the shadow of the newspaper chills me to the bone. Hence my late eruption was interesting, but not what I like. All else suits me in this (killed a mosquito) A1 abode.

About politics. A determination was come to by the President that he had been an idiot; emissaries came to G. and me to kiss and be friends. My man proposed I should have a personal interview; I said it was quite useless, I had nothing to say; I had offered him the chance to inform me, had pressed it on him, and had been very unpleasantly received, and now ‘Time was.’ Then it was decided that I was to be made a culprit against Germany; the German Captain — a delightful fellow and our constant visitor — wrote to say that as ‘a German officer’ he could not come even to say farewell. We all wrote back in the most friendly spirit, telling him (politely) that some of these days he would be sorry, and we should be delighted to see our friend again. Since then I have seen no German shadow.

Mataafa has been proclaimed a rebel; the President did this act, and then resigned. By singular good fortune, Mataafa has not yet moved; no thanks to our idiot governors. They have shot their bolt; they have made a rebel of the only man (to their own knowledge, on the report of their own spy) who held the rebel party in check; and having thus called on war to fall, they can do no more, sit equally ‘expertes’ of vis and counsel, regarding their handiwork. It is always a cry with these folk that he (Mataafa) had no ammunition. I always said it would be found; and we know of five boat-loads that have found their way to Malie already. Where there are traders, there will be ammunition; aphorism by R. L. S.

Now what am I to do next?

Lives of the Stevensons? Historia Samoae? A History for Children? Fiction? I have had two hard months at fiction; I want a change. Stevensons? I am expecting some more material; perhaps better wait. Samoa; rather tempting; might be useful to the islands — and to me; for it will be written in admirable temper; I have never agreed with any party, and see merits and excuses in all; should do it (if I did) very slackly and easily, as if half in conversation. History for Children? This flows from my lessons to Austin; no book is any good. The best I have seen is Freeman’s Old English History; but his style is so rasping, and a child can learn more, if he’s clever. I found my sketch of general Aryan History, given in conversation, to have been practically correct — at least what I mean is, Freeman had very much the same stuff in his early chapters, only not so much, and I thought not so well placed; and the child remembered some of it. Now the difficulty is to give this general idea of main place, growth, and movement; it is needful to tack it on a yarn. Now Scotch is the only History I know; it is the only history reasonably represented in my library; it is a very good one for my purpose, owing to two civilisations having been face to face throughout — or rather Roman civilisation face to face with our ancient barbaric life and government, down to yesterday, to 1750 anyway. But the Tales of a Grandfather stand in my way; I am teaching them to Austin now, and they have all Scott’s defects and all Scott’s hopeless merit. I cannot compete with that; and yet, so far as regards teaching History, how he has missed his chances! I think I’ll try; I really have some historic sense, I feel that in my bones. Then there’s another thing. Scott never knew the Highlands; he was always a Borderer. He has missed that whole, long, strange, pathetic story of our savages, and, besides, his style is not very perspicuous to childhood. Gad, I think I’ll have a flutter. Buridan’s Ass! Whether to go, what to attack. Must go to other letters; shall add to this, if I have time.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stevenson/robert_louis/s848vl/chapter12.html

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