Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XXX

My Dear Colvin, — Still grinding at Chap. XI. I began many days ago on p. 93, and am still on p. 93, which is exhilarating, but the thing takes shape all the same and should make a pretty lively chapter for an end of it. For XII. is only a footnote ad Explicandum.

June the 1st.

Back on p. 93. I was on 100 yesterday, but read it over and condemned it.

10 A. M.

I have worked up again to 97, but how? The deuce fly away with literature, for the basest sport in creation. But it’s got to come straight! and if possible, so that I may finish D. Balfour in time for the same mail. What a getting upstairs! This is Flaubert outdone. Belle, Graham, and Lloyd leave today on a malaga down the coast; to be absent a week or so: this leaves Fanny, me, and — who seems a nice, kindly fellow.

June 2nd.

I am nearly dead with dyspepsia, over-smoking, and unremunerative overwork. Last night, I went to bed by seven; woke up again about ten for a minute to find myself light-headed and altogether off my legs; went to sleep again, and woke this morning fairly fit. I have crippled on to p. 101, but I haven’t read it yet, so do not boast. What kills me is the frame of mind of one of the characters; I cannot get it through. Of course that does not interfere with my total inability to write; so that yesterday I was a living half-hour upon a single clause and have a gallery of variants that would surprise you. And this sort of trouble (which I cannot avoid) unfortunately produces nothing when done but alembication and the far-fetched. Well, read it with mercy!

8 A.M.

Going to bed. Have read it, and believe the chapter practically done at last. But lord! it has been a business.

July 3rd, 8.15.

The draft is finished, the end of Chapter II. and the tale, and I have only eight pages wiederzuarbeiten. This is just a cry of joy in passing.


Knocked out of time. Did 101 and 102. Alas, no more today, as I have to go down town to a meeting. Just as well though, as my thumb is about done up.

Sunday, June 4th.

Now for a little snippet of my life. Yesterday, 12.30, in a heavenly day of sun and trade, I mounted my horse and set off. A boy opens my gate for me. ‘Sleep and long life! A blessing on your journey,’ says he. And I reply ‘Sleep, long life! A blessing on the house!’ Then on, down the lime lane, a rugged, narrow, winding way, that seems almost as if it was leading you into Lyonesse, and you might see the head and shoulders of a giant looking in. At the corner of the road I meet the inspector of taxes, and hold a diplomatic interview with him; he wants me to pay taxes on the new house; I am informed I should not till next year; and we part, re infecta, he promising to bring me decisions, I assuring him that, if I find any favouritism, he will find me the most recalcitrant tax-payer on the island. Then I have a talk with an old servant by the wayside. A little further I pass two children coming up. ‘Love!’ say I; ‘are you two chiefly-proceeding inland?’ and they say, ‘Love! yes!’ and the interesting ceremony is finished. Down to the post office, where I find Vitrolles and (Heaven reward you!) the White Book, just arrived per Upolu, having gone the wrong way round, by Australia; also six copies of Island NightsEntertainments. Some of Weatherall’s illustrations are very clever; but O Lord! the lagoon! I did say it was ‘shallow,’ but, O dear, not so shallow as that a man could stand up in it! I had still an hour to wait for my meeting, so Postmaster Davis let me sit down in his room and I had a bottle of beer in, and read A Gentleman of France. Have you seen it coming out in Longman’s? My dear Colvin! ’tis the most exquisite pleasure; a real chivalrous yarn, like the Dumas’ and yet unlike. Thereafter to the meeting of the five newspaper proprietors. Business transacted, I have to gallop home and find the boys waiting to be paid at the doorstep.

Monday, 5th.

Yesterday, Sunday, the Rev. Dr. Browne, secretary to the Wesleyan Mission, and the man who made the war in the Western Islands and was tried for his life in Fiji, came up, and we had a long, important talk about Samoa. O, if I could only talk to the home men! But what would it matter? none of them know, none of them care. If we could only have Macgregor here with his schooner, you would hear of no more troubles in Samoa. That is what we want; a man that knows and likes the natives, qui paye de sa personne, and is not afraid of hanging when necessary. We don’t want bland Swedish humbugs, and fussy, fostering German barons. That way the maelstrom lies, and we shall soon be in it.

I have today written 103 and 104, all perfectly wrong, and shall have to rewrite them. This tale is devilish, and Chapter XI. the worst of the lot. The truth is of course that I am wholly worked out; but it’s nearly done, and shall go somehow according to promise. I go against all my gods, and say it is not worth while to massacre yourself over the last few pages of a rancid yarn, that the reviewers will quite justly tear to bits. As for D.B., no hope, I fear, this mail, but we’ll see what the afternoon does for me.


Well, it’s done. Those tragic 16 pp. are at last finished, and I have put away thirty-two pages of chips, and have spent thirteen days about as nearly in Hell as a man could expect to live through. It’s done, and of course it ain’t worth while, and who cares? There it is, and about as grim a tale as was ever written, and as grimy, and as hateful.

To the Memory
J. L. Huish,
born 1856, at Hackney,
Accidentally killed upon this
10th September, 1889.

Tuesday, 6.

I am exulting to do nothing. It pours with rain from the westward, very unusual kind of weather; I was standing out on the little verandah in front of my room this morning, and there went through me or over me a wave of extraordinary and apparently baseless emotion. I literally staggered. And then the explanation came, and I knew I had found a frame of mind and body that belonged to Scotland, and particularly to the neighbourhood of Callander. Very odd these identities of sensation, and the world of connotations implied; highland huts, and peat smoke, and the brown, swirling rivers, and wet clothes, and whiskey, and the romance of the past, and that indescribable bite of the whole thing at a man’s heart, which is — or rather lies at the bottom of — a story.

I don’t know if you are a Barbey d’Aurevilly-an. I am. I have a great delight in his Norman stories. Do you know the Chevalier des Touches and l’ensorcelee? They are admirable, they reek of the soil and the past. But I was rather thinking just now of le rideau cramoisi, and its adorable setting of the stopped coach, the dark street, the home-going in the inn yard, and the red blind illuminated. Without doubt, there was an identity of sensation; one of those conjunctions in life that had filled Barbey full to the brim, and permanently bent his memory.

I wonder exceedingly if I have done anything at all good; and who can tell me? and why should I wish to know? In so little a while, I, and the English language, and the bones of my descendants, will have ceased to be a memory! And yet — and yet — one would like to leave an image for a few years upon men’s minds — for fun. This is a very dark frame of mind, consequent on overwork and the conclusion of the excruciating Ebb Tide. Adieu.

What do you suppose should be done with The Ebb Tide? It would make a volume of 200 pp.; on the other hand, I might likely have some more stories soon: The Owl, Death in the Pot, The Sleeper Awakened; all these are possible. The Owl might be half as long; The Sleeper Awakened, ditto; Death in the Pot a deal shorter, I believe. Then there’s the Go-Between, which is not impossible altogether. The Owl, The Sleeper Awakened, and the Go-Between end reasonably well; Death in the Pot is an ungodly massacre. O, well, The Owl only ends well in so far as some lovers come together, and nobody is killed at the moment, but you know they are all doomed, they are Chouan fellows.

Friday, 9th.

Well, the mail is in; no Blue-book, depressing letter from C.; a long, amusing ramble from my mother; vast masses of Romeike; they are going to war now; and what will that lead to? and what has driven, them to it but the persistent misconduct of these two officials? I know I ought to rewrite the end of this bluidy Ebb tide: well, I can’t. Cest plus fort que moi; it has to go the way it is, and be jowned to it! From what I make out of the reviews, I think it would be better not to republish The Ebb Tide: but keep it for other tales, if they should turn up. Very amusing how the reviews pick out one story and damn the rest I and it is always a different one. Be sure you send me the article from le temps.

Saturday, 17th.

Since I wrote this last, I have written a whole chapter of my grandfather, and read it to-night; it was on the whole much appreciated, and I kind of hope it ain’t bad myself. ’Tis a third writing, but it wants a fourth. By next mail, I believe I might send you 3 chapters. That is to say Family Annals, The Service of the Northern Lights, and The Building of the Bell rock. Possibly even 4 — A HouseFul of Boys. I could finish my grandfather very easy now; my father and Uncle Alan stop the way. I propose to call the book: Northern Lights: Memoirs of a Family of Engineers. I tell you, it is going to be a good book. My idea in sending Ms. would be to get it set up; two proofs to me, one to Professor Swan, Ardchapel, Helensburgh — mark it private and confidential — one to yourself; and come on with criticisms! But I’ll have to see. The total plan of the book is this —

i. Domestic Annals.
ii. The Service of the Northern Lights.
iii. The Building of the Bell Rock.
iv. A Houseful of Boys (or, ‘The Family in Baxter’s Place).
v. Education of an Engineer.
vi. The Grandfather.
vii. Alan Stevenson.
viii. Thomas Stevenson.

There will be an Introduction ‘The Surname of Stevenson’ which has proved a mighty queer subject of inquiry. But, Lord! if I were among libraries.

Sunday, 18th.

I shall put in this envelope the end of the ever-to-be-execrated Ebb Tide, or Stevenson’s Blooming Error. Also, a paper apart for DaviD.Balfour. The slips must go in another enclosure, I suspect, owing to their beastly bulk. Anyway, there are two pieces of work off my mind, and though I could wish I had rewritten a little more of David, yet it was plainly to be seen it was impossible. All the points indicated by you have been brought out; but to rewrite the end, in my present state of over-exhaustion and fiction — phobia, would have been madness; and I let it go as it stood. My grandfather is good enough for me, these days. I do not work any less; on the whole, if anything, a little more. But it is different.

The slips go to you in four packets; I hope they are what they should be, but do not think so. I am at a pitch of discontent with fiction in all its form — or my forms — that prevents me being able to be even interested. I have had to stop all drink; smoking I am trying to stop also. It annoys me dreadfully: and yet if I take a glass of claret, — I have a headache the next day! O, and a good headache too; none of your trifles.

Well, sir, here’s to you, and farewell. — Yours ever.

R. L. S.

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