[CHEZ SIRON, BARBIZON, SEINE ET MARNE, AUGUST 1875.]
MY DEAR MOTHER, — I have been three days at a place called Grez, a pretty and very melancholy village on the plain. A low bridge of many arches choked with sedge; great fields of white and yellow water-lilies; poplars and willows innumerable; and about it all such an atmosphere of sadness and slackness, one could do nothing but get into the boat and out of it again, and yawn for bedtime.
Yesterday Bob and I walked home; it came on a very creditable thunderstorm; we were soon wet through; sometimes the rain was so heavy that one could only see by holding the hand over the eyes; and to crown all, we lost our way and wandered all over the place, and into the artillery range, among broken trees, with big shot lying about among the rocks. It was near dinner-time when we got to Barbizon; and it is supposed that we walked from twenty-three to twenty-five miles, which is not bad for the Advocate, who is not tired this morning. I was very glad to be back again in this dear place, and smell the wet forest in the morning.
Simpson and the rest drove back in a carriage, and got about as wet as we did.
Why don’t you write? I have no more to say. — Ever your affectionate son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
CHATEAU RENARD, LOIRET, AUGUST 1875.
. . . I HAVE been walking these last days from place to place; and it does make it hot for walking with a sack in this weather. I am burned in horrid patches of red; my nose, I fear, is going to take the lead in colour; Simpson is all flushed, as if he were seen by a sunset. I send you here two rondeaux; I don’t suppose they will amuse anybody but me; but this measure, short and yet intricate, is just what I desire; and I have had some good times walking along the glaring roads, or down the poplar alley of the great canal, pitting my own humour to this old verse.
Far have you come, my lady, from the town, And far from all your sorrows, if you please, To smell the good sea-winds and hear the seas, And in green meadows lay your body down.
To find your pale face grow from pale to brown, Your sad eyes growing brighter by degrees; Far have you come, my lady, from the town, And far from all your sorrows, if you please.
Here in this seaboard land of old renown, In meadow grass go wading to the knees; Bathe your whole soul a while in simple ease; There is no sorrow but the sea can drown; Far have you come, my lady, from the town.
NOUS N’IRONS PLUS AU BOIS.
We’ll walk the woods no more, But stay beside the fire, To weep for old desire And things that are no more.
The woods are spoiled and hoar, The ways are full of mire; We’ll walk the woods no more, But stay beside the fire. We loved, in days of yore, Love, laughter, and the lyre. Ah God, but death is dire, And death is at the door — We’ll walk the woods no more.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
EDINBURGH, [AUTUMN] 1875.
MY DEAR COLVIN, — Thanks for your letter and news. No — my BURNS is not done yet, it has led me so far afield that I cannot finish it; every time I think I see my way to an end, some new game (or perhaps wild goose) starts up, and away I go. And then, again, to be plain, I shirk the work of the critical part, shirk it as a man shirks a long jump. It is awful to have to express and differentiate BURNS in a column or two. O golly, I say, you know, it CAN’T be done at the money. All the more as I’m going write a book about it. RAMSAY, FERGUSSON, AND BURNS: AN ESSAY (or A CRITICAL ESSAY? but then I’m going to give lives of the three gentlemen, only the gist of the book is the criticism) BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, ADVOCATE. How’s that for cut and dry? And I COULD write this book. Unless I deceive myself, I could even write it pretty adequately. I feel as if I was really in it, and knew the game thoroughly. You see what comes of trying to write an essay on BURNS in ten columns.
Meantime, when I have done Burns, I shall finish Charles of Orleans (who is in a good way, about the fifth month, I should think, and promises to be a fine healthy child, better than any of his elder brothers for a while); and then perhaps a Villon, for Villon is a very essential part of my RAMSAY-FERGUSSON-BURNS; I mean, is a note in it, and will recur again and again for comparison and illustration; then, perhaps, I may try Fontainebleau, by the way. But so soon as Charles of Orleans is polished off, and immortalised for ever, he and his pipings, in a solid imperishable shrine of R. L. S., my true aim and end will be this little book. Suppose I could jerk you out 100 Cornhill pages; that would easy make 200 pages of decent form; and then thickish paper — eh? would that do? I dare say it could be made bigger; but I know what 100 pages of copy, bright consummate copy, imply behind the scenes of weary manuscribing; I think if I put another nothing to it, I should not be outside the mark; and 100 Cornhill pages of 500 words means, I fancy (but I never was good at figures), means 500,00 words. There’s a prospect for an idle young gentleman who lives at home at ease! The future is thick with inky fingers. And then perhaps nobody would publish. AH NOM DE DIEU! What do you think of all this? will it paddle, think you?
I hope this pen will write; it is the third I have tried.
About coming up, no, that’s impossible; for I am worse than a bankrupt. I have at the present six shillings and a penny; I have a sounding lot of bills for Christmas; new dress suit, for instance, the old one having gone for Parliament House; and new white shirts to live up to my new profession; I’m as gay and swell and gummy as can be; only all my boots leak; one pair water, and the other two simple black mud; so that my rig is more for the eye, than a very solid comfort to myself. That is my budget. Dismal enough, and no prospect of any coin coming in; at least for months. So that here I am, I almost fear, for the winter; certainly till after Christmas, and then it depends on how my bills ‘turn out’ whether it shall not be till spring. So, meantime, I must whistle in my cage. My cage is better by one thing; I am an Advocate now. If you ask me why that makes it better, I would remind you that in the most distressing circumstances a little consequence goes a long way, and even bereaved relatives stand on precedence round the coffin. I idle finely. I read Boswell’s LIFE OF JOHNSON, Martin’s HISTORY OF FRANCE, ALLAN RAMSAY, OLIVIER BOSSELIN, all sorts of rubbish, APROPOS of BURNS, COMMINES, JUVENAL DES URSINS, etc. I walk about the Parliament House five forenoons a week, in wig and gown; I have either a five or six mile walk, or an hour or two hard skating on the rink, every afternoon, without fail.
I have not written much; but, like the seaman’s parrot in the tale, I have thought a deal. You have never, by the way, returned me either SPRING or BERANGER, which is certainly a d-d shame. I always comforted myself with that when my conscience pricked me about a letter to you. ‘Thus conscience’ — O no, that’s not appropriate in this connection. — Ever yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
I say, is there any chance of your coming north this year? Mind you that promise is now more respectable for age than is becoming.
R. L. S.
[EDINBURGH, OCTOBER 1875.]
NOO lyart leaves blaw ower the green, Red are the bonny woods o’ Dean, An’ here we’re back in Embro, freen’, To pass the winter. Whilk noo, wi’ frosts afore, draws in, An’ snaws ahint her.
I’ve seen’s hae days to fricht us a’, The Pentlands poothered weel wi’ snaw, The ways half-smoored wi’ liquid thaw, An’ half-congealin’, The snell an’ scowtherin’ norther blaw Frae blae Brunteelan’.
I’ve seen’s been unco sweir to sally, And at the door-cheeks daff an’ dally, Seen’s daidle thus an’ shilly-shally For near a minute — Sae cauld the wind blew up the valley, The deil was in it! —
Syne spread the silk an’ tak the gate, In blast an’ blaudin’ rain, deil hae’t! The hale toon glintin’, stane an’ slate, Wi’ cauld an’ weet, An’ to the Court, gin we’se be late, Bicker oor feet.
And at the Court, tae, aft I saw Whaur Advocates by twa an’ twa Gang gesterin’ end to end the ha’ In weeg an’ goon, To crack o’ what ye wull but Law The hale forenoon.
That muckle ha,’ maist like a kirk, I’ve kent at braid mid-day sae mirk Ye’d seen white weegs an’ faces lurk Like ghaists frae Hell, But whether Christian ghaist or Turk Deil ane could tell.
The three fires lunted in the gloom, The wind blew like the blast o’ doom, The rain upo’ the roof abune Played Peter Dick — Ye wad nae’d licht enough i’ the room Your teeth to pick!
But, freend, ye ken how me an’ you, The ling-lang lanely winter through, Keep’d a guid speerit up, an’ true To lore Horatian, We aye the ither bottle drew To inclination.
Sae let us in the comin’ days Stand sicker on our auncient ways — The strauchtest road in a’ the maze Since Eve ate apples; An’ let the winter weet our cla’es — We’ll weet oor thrapples.
[EDINBURGH, AUTUMN 1875.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — FOUS NE ME GOMBRENNEZ PAS. Angry with you? No. Is the thing lost? Well, so be it. There is one masterpiece fewer in the world. The world can ill spare it, but I, sir, I (and here I strike my hollow boson, so that it resounds) I am full of this sort of bauble; I am made of it; it comes to me, sir, as the desire to sneeze comes upon poor ordinary devils on cold days, when they should be getting out of bed and into their horrid cold tubs by the light of a seven o’clock candle, with the dismal seven o’clock frost-flowers all over the window.
Show Stephen what you please; if you could show him how to give me money, you would oblige, sincerely yours,
R. L. S.
I have a scroll of SPRINGTIME somewhere, but I know that it is not in very good order, and do not feel myself up to very much grind over it. I am damped about SPRINGTIME, that’s the truth of it. It might have been four or five quid!
Sir, I shall shave my head, if this goes on. All men take a pleasure to gird at me. The laws of nature are in open war with me. The wheel of a dog-cart took the toes off my new boots. Gout has set in with extreme rigour, and cut me out of the cheap refreshment of beer. I leant my back against an oak, I thought it was a trusty tree, but first it bent, and syne — it lost the Spirit of Springtime, and so did Professor Sidney Colvin, Trinity College, to me. — Ever yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Along with this, I send you some P.P.P’s; if you lose them, you need not seek to look upon my face again. Do, for God’s sake, answer me about them also; it is a horrid thing for a fond architect to find his monuments received in silence. — Yours,
R. L. S.
[EDINBURGH, NOVEMBER 12, 1875.]
MY DEAR FRIEND, — Since I got your letter I have been able to do a little more work, and I have been much better contented with myself; but I can’t get away, that is absolutely prevented by the state of my purse and my debts, which, I may say, are red like crimson. I don’t know how I am to clear my hands of them, nor when, not before Christmas anyway. Yesterday I was twenty-five; so please wish me many happy returns — directly. This one was not UNhappy anyway. I have got back a good deal into my old random, little-thought way of life, and do not care whether I read, write, speak, or walk, so long as I do something. I have a great delight in this wheel-skating; I have made great advance in it of late, can do a good many amusing things (I mean amusing in MY sense — amusing to do). You know, I lose all my forenoons at Court! So it is, but the time passes; it is a great pleasure to sit and hear cases argued or advised. This is quite autobiographical, but I feel as if it was some time since we met, and I can tell you, I am glad to meet you again. In every way, you see, but that of work the world goes well with me. My health is better than ever it was before; I get on without any jar, nay, as if there never had been a jar, with my parents. If it weren’t about that work, I’d be happy. But the fact is, I don’t think — the fact is, I’m going to trust in Providence about work. If I could get one or two pieces I hate out of my way all would be well, I think; but these obstacles disgust me, and as I know I ought to do them first, I don’t do anything. I must finish this off, or I’ll just lose another day. I’ll try to write again soon. — Ever your faithful friend,
R. L. S.
EDINBURGH, JANUARY 1876.
MY DEAR KATHARINE, — The prisoner reserved his defence. He has been seedy, however; principally sick of the family evil, despondency; the sun is gone out utterly; and the breath of the people of this city lies about as a sort of damp, unwholesome fog, in which we go walking with bowed hearts. If I understand what is a contrite spirit, I have one; it is to feel that you are a small jar, or rather, as I feel myself, a very large jar, of pottery work rather MAL REUSSI, and to make every allowance for the potter (I beg pardon; Potter with a capital P.) on his ill-success, and rather wish he would reduce you as soon as possible to potsherds. However, there are many things to do yet before we go
GROSSIR LA PATE UNIVERSELLE FAITE DES FORMES QUE DIEU FOND.
For instance, I have never been in a revolution yet. I pray God I may be in one at the end, if I am to make a mucker. The best way to make a mucker is to have your back set against a wall and a few lead pellets whiffed into you in a moment, while yet you are all in a heat and a fury of combat, with drums sounding on all sides, and people crying, and a general smash like the infernal orchestration at the end of the HUGUENOTS . . . .
Please pardon me for having been so long of writing, and show your pardon by writing soon to me; it will be a kindness, for I am sometimes very dull. Edinburgh is much changed for the worse by the absence of Bob; and this damned weather weighs on me like a curse. Yesterday, or the day before, there came so black a rain squall that I was frightened — what a child would call frightened, you know, for want of a better word — although in reality it has nothing to do with fright. I lit the gas and sat cowering in my chair until it went away again. — Ever yours,
R. L. S.
O I am trying my hand at a novel just now; it may interest you to know, I am bound to say I do not think it will be a success. However, it’s an amusement for the moment, and work, work is your only ally against the ‘bearded people’ that squat upon their hams in the dark places of life and embrace people horribly as they go by. God save us from the bearded people! to think that the sun is still shining in some happy places!
R. L S.
[EDINBURGH, JANUARY 1876.]
. . . OUR weather continues as it was, bitterly cold, and raining often. There is not much pleasure in life certainly as it stands at present. NOUS N’IRONS PLUS AU BOSS, HELAS!
I meant to write some more last night, but my father was ill and it put it out of my way. He is better this morning.
If I had written last night, I should have written a lot. But this morning I am so dreadfully tired and stupid that I can say nothing. I was down at Leith in the afternoon. God bless me, what horrid women I saw; I never knew what a plain-looking race it was before. I was sick at heart with the looks of them. And the children, filthy and ragged! And the smells! And the fat black mud!
My soul was full of disgust ere I got back. And yet the ships were beautiful to see, as they are always; and on the pier there was a clean cold wind that smelt a little of the sea, though it came down the Firth, and the sunset had a certain ECLAT and warmth. Perhaps if I could get more work done, I should be in a better trim to enjoy filthy streets and people and cold grim weather; but I don’t much feel as if it was what I would have chosen. I am tempted every day of my life to go off on another walking tour. I like that better than anything else that I know. — Ever your faithful friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[EDINBURGH, FEBRUARY 1876.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — 1ST. I have sent ‘Fontainebleau’ long ago, long ago. And Leslie Stephen is worse than tepid about it — liked ‘some parts’ of it ‘very well,’ the son of Belial. Moreover, he proposes to shorten it; and I, who want MONEY, and money soon, and not glory and the illustration of the English language, I feel as if my poverty were going to consent.
2ND. I’m as fit as a fiddle after my walk. I am four inches bigger about the waist than last July! There, that’s your prophecy did that. I am on ‘Charles of Orleans’ now, but I don’t know where to send him. Stephen obviously spews me out of his mouth, and I spew him out of mine, so help me! A man who doesn’t like my ‘Fontainebleau’! His head must be turned.
3RD. If ever you do come across my ‘Spring’ (I beg your pardon for referring to it again, but I don’t want you to forget) send it off at once.
4TH. I went to Ayr, Maybole, Girvan, Ballantrae, Stranraer, Glenluce, and Wigton. I shall make an article of it some day soon, ‘A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway.’ I had a good time. — Yours,
R. L S.
[SWANSTON COTTAGE, LOTHIANBURN, JULY 1876.]
HERE I am, here, and very well too. I am glad you liked ‘Walking Tours’; I like it, too; I think it’s prose; and I own with contrition that I have not always written prose. However, I am ‘endeavouring after new obedience’ (Scot. Shorter Catechism). You don’t say aught of ‘Forest Notes,’ which is kind. There is one, if you will, that was too sweet to be wholesome.
I am at ‘Charles d’Orleans.’ About fifteen CORNHILL pages have already coule’d from under my facile plume — no, I mean eleven, fifteen of MS. — and we are not much more than half-way through, ‘Charles’ and I; but he’s a pleasant companion. My health is very well; I am in a fine exercisy state. Baynes is gone to London; if you see him, inquire about my ‘Burns.’ They have sent me 5 pounds, 5s, for it, which has mollified me horrid. 5 pounds, 5s. is a good deal to pay for a read of it in MS.; I can’t complain. — Yours,
R. L. S.
[SWANSTON COTTAGE, LOTHIANBURN, JULY 1876.]
. . . I HAVE the strangest repugnance for writing; indeed, I have nearly got myself persuaded into the notion that letters don’t arrive, in order to salve my conscience for never sending them off. I’m reading a great deal of fifteenth century: TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC, PASTON LETTERS, BASIN, etc., also BOSWELL daily by way of a Bible; I mean to read BOSWELL now until the day I die. And now and again a bit of PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. Is that all? Yes, I think that’s all. I have a thing in proof for the CORNHILL called VIRGINIBUS PUERISQUE. ‘Charles of Orleans’ is again laid aside, but in a good state of furtherance this time. A paper called ‘A Defence of Idlers’ (which is really a defence of R. L. S.) is in a good way. So, you see, I am busy in a tumultuous, knotless sort of fashion; and as I say, I take lots of exercise, and I’m as brown a berry.
This is the first letter I’ve written for — O I don’t know how long.
JULY 30TH. — This is, I suppose, three weeks after I began. Do, please, forgive me.
To the Highlands, first, to the Jenkins’, then to Antwerp; thence, by canoe with Simpson, to Paris and Grez (on the Loing, and an old acquaintance of mine on the skirts of Fontainebleau) to complete our cruise next spring (if we’re all alive and jolly) by Loing and Loire, Saone and Rhone to the Mediterranean. It should make a jolly book of gossip, I imagine.
God bless you.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. — VIRGINIBUS PUERISQUE is in August CORNHILL. ‘Charles of Orleans’ is finished, and sent to Stephen; ‘Idlers’ ditto, and sent to Grove; but I’ve no word of either. So I’ve not been idle.
R. L. S.
CHAUNY, AISNE [SEPTEMBER 1876].
MY DEAR HENLEY, — Here I am, you see; and if you will take to a map, you will observe I am already more than two doors from Antwerp, whence I started. I have fought it through under the worst weather I ever saw in France; I have been wet through nearly every day of travel since the second (inclusive); besides this, I have had to fight against pretty mouldy health; so that, on the whole, the essayist and reviewer has shown, I think, some pluck. Four days ago I was not a hundred miles from being miserably drowned, to the immense regret of a large circle of friends and the permanent impoverishment of British Essayism and Reviewery. My boat culbutted me under a fallen tree in a very rapid current; and I was a good while before I got on to the outside of that fallen tree; rather a better while than I cared about. When I got up, I lay some time on my belly, panting, and exuded fluid. All my symptoms JUSQU’ ICI are trifling. But I’ve a damned sore throat. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH, MAY 1877.
. . . A PERFECT chorus of repudiation is sounding in my ears; and although you say nothing, I know you must be repudiating me, all the same. Write I cannot — there’s no good mincing matters, a letter frightens me worse than the devil; and I am just as unfit for correspondence as if I had never learned the three R.‘s.
Let me give my news quickly before I relapse into my usual idleness. I have a terror lest I should relapse before I get this finished. Courage, R. L. S.! On Leslie Stephen’s advice, I gave up the idea of a book of essays. He said he didn’t imagine I was rich enough for such an amusement; and moreover, whatever was worth publication was worth republication. So the best of those I had ready: ‘An Apology for Idlers’ is in proof for the CORNHILL. I have ‘Villon’ to do for the same magazine, but God knows when I’ll get it done, for drums, trumpets — I’m engaged upon — trumpets, drums — a novel! ‘THE HAIR TRUNK; OR, THE IDEAL COMMONWEALTH.’ It is a most absurd story of a lot of young Cambridge fellows who are going to found a new society, with no ideas on the subject, and nothing but Bohemian tastes in the place of ideas; and who are — well, I can’t explain about the trunk — it would take too long — but the trunk is the fun of it — everybody steals it; burglary, marine fight, life on desert island on west coast of Scotland, sloops, etc. The first scene where they make their grand schemes and get drunk is supposed to be very funny, by Henley. I really saw him laugh over it until he cried.
Please write to me, although I deserve it so little, and show a Christian spirit. — Ever your faithful friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[EDINBURGH, AUGUST 1877.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — I’m to be whipped away to-morrow to Penzance, where at the post-office a letter will find me glad and grateful. I am well, but somewhat tired out with overwork. I have only been home a fortnight this morning, and I have already written to the tune of forty-five CORNHILL pages and upwards. The most of it was only very laborious re-casting and re-modelling, it is true; but it took it out of me famously, all the same.
TEMPLE BAR appears to like my ‘Villon,’ so I may count on another market there in the future, I hope. At least, I am going to put it to the proof at once, and send another story, ‘The Sire de Maletroit’s Mousetrap’: a true novel, in the old sense; all unities preserved moreover, if that’s anything, and I believe with some little merits; not so CLEVER perhaps as the last, but sounder and more natural.
My ‘Villon’ is out this month; I should so much like to know what you think of it. Stephen has written to me apropos of ‘Idlers,’ that something more in that vein would be agreeable to his views. From Stephen I count that a devil of a lot.
I am honestly so tired this morning that I hope you will take this for what it’s worth and give me an answer in peace. — Ever yours,
[PENZANCE, AUGUST 1877.]
. . . YOU will do well to stick to your burn, that is a delightful life you sketch, and a very fountain of health. I wish I could live like that but, alas! it is just as well I got my ‘Idlers’ written and done with, for I have quite lost all power of resting. I have a goad in my flesh continually, pushing me to work, work, work. I have an essay pretty well through for Stephen; a story, ‘The Sire de Maletroit’s Mousetrap,’ with which I shall try TEMPLE BAR; another story, in the clouds, ‘The Stepfather’s Story,’ most pathetic work of a high morality or immorality, according to point of view; and lastly, also in the clouds, or perhaps a little farther away, an essay on the ‘Two St. Michael’s Mounts,’ historical and picturesque; perhaps if it didn’t come too long, I might throw in the ‘Bass Rock,’ and call it ‘Three Sea Fortalices,’ or something of that kind. You see how work keeps bubbling in my mind. Then I shall do another fifteenth century paper this autumn - La Sale and PETIT JEHAN DE SAINTRE, which is a kind of fifteenth century SANDFORD AND MERTON, ending in horrid immoral cynicism, as if the author had got tired of being didactic, and just had a good wallow in the mire to wind up with and indemnify himself for so much restraint.
Cornwall is not much to my taste, being as bleak as the bleakest parts of Scotland, and nothing like so pointed and characteristic. It has a flavour of its own, though, which I may try and catch, if I find the space, in the proposed article. ‘Will o’ the Mill’ I sent, red hot, to Stephen in a fit of haste, and have not yet had an answer. I am quite prepared for a refusal. But I begin to have more hope in the story line, and that should improve my income anyway. I am glad you liked ‘Villon’; some of it was not as good as it ought to be, but on the whole it seems pretty vivid, and the features strongly marked. Vividness and not style is now my line; style is all very well, but vividness is the real line of country; if a thing is meant to be read, it seems just as well to try and make it readable. I am such a dull person I cannot keep off my own immortal works. Indeed, they are scarcely ever out of my head. And yet I value them less and less every day. But occupation is the great thing; so that a man should have his life in his own pocket, and never be thrown out of work by anything. I am glad to hear you are better. I must stop — going to Land’s End. — Always your faithful friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
DEAR SIR, — It would not be very easy for me to give you any idea of the pleasure I found in your present. People who write for the magazines (probably from a guilty conscience) are apt to suppose their works practically unpublished. It seems unlikely that any one would take the trouble to read a little paper buried among so many others; and reading it, read it with any attention or pleasure. And so, I can assure you, your little book, coming from so far, gave me all the pleasure and encouragement in the world.
I suppose you know and remember Charles Lamb’s essay on distant correspondents? Well, I was somewhat of his way of thinking about my mild productions. I did not indeed imagine they were read, and (I suppose I may say) enjoyed right round upon the other side of the big Football we have the honour to inhabit. And as your present was the first sign to the contrary, I feel I have been very ungrateful in not writing earlier to acknowledge the receipt. I dare say, however, you hate writing letters as much as I can do myself (for if you like my article, I may presume other points of sympathy between us); and on this hypothesis you will be ready to forgive me the delay.
I may mention with regard to the piece of verses called ‘Such is Life,’ that I am not the only one on this side of the Football aforesaid to think it a good and bright piece of work, and recognised a link of sympathy with the poets who ‘play in hostelries at euchre.’ — Believe me, dear sir, yours truly,
R. L S.
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH [DECEMBER 1877].
MY DEAR SIR, — I am afraid you must already have condemned me for a very idle fellow truly. Here it is more than two months since I received your letter; I had no fewer than three journals to acknowledge; and never a sign upon my part. If you have seen a CORNHILL paper of mine upon idling, you will be inclined to set it all down to that. But you will not be doing me justice. Indeed, I have had a summer so troubled that I have had little leisure and still less inclination to write letters. I was keeping the devil at bay with all my disposable activities; and more than once I thought he had me by the throat. The odd conditions of our acquaintance enable me to say more to you than I would to a person who lived at my elbow. And besides, I am too much pleased and flattered at our correspondence not to go as far as I can to set myself right in your eyes.
In this damnable confusion (I beg pardon) I have lost all my possessions, or near about, and quite lost all my wits. I wish I could lay my hands on the numbers of the REVIEW, for I know I wished to say something on that head more particularly than I can from memory; but where they have escaped to, only time or chance can show. However, I can tell you so far, that I was very much pleased with the article on Bret Harte; it seemed to me just, clear, and to the point. I agreed pretty well with all you said about George Eliot: a high, but, may we not add? — a rather dry lady. Did you — I forget — did you have a kick at the stern works of that melancholy puppy and humbug Daniel Deronda himself? — the Prince of prigs; the literary abomination of desolation in the way of manhood; a type which is enough to make a man forswear the love of women, if that is how it must be gained. . . . Hats off all the same, you understand: a woman of genius.
Of your poems I have myself a kindness for ‘Noll and Nell,’ although I don’t think you have made it as good as you ought: verse five is surely not QUITE MELODIOUS. I confess I like the Sonnet in the last number of the REVIEW— the Sonnet to England.
Please, if you have not, and I don’t suppose you have, already read it, institute a search in all Melbourne for one of the rarest and certainly one of the best of books — CLARISSA HARLOWE. For any man who takes an interest in the problems of the two sexes, that book is a perfect mine of documents. And it is written, sir, with the pen of an angel. Miss Howe and Lovelace, words cannot tell how good they are! And the scene where Clarissa beards her family, with her fan going all the while; and some of the quarrel scenes between her and Lovelace; and the scene where Colonel Marden goes to Mr. Hall, with Lord M. trying to compose matters, and the Colonel with his eternal ‘finest woman in the world,’ and the inimitable affirmation of Mowbray — nothing, nothing could be better! You will bless me when you read it for this recommendation; but, indeed, I can do nothing but recommend Clarissa. I am like that Frenchman of the eighteenth century who discovered Habakkuk, and would give no one peace about that respectable Hebrew. For my part, I never was able to get over his eminently respectable name; Isaiah is the boy, if you must have a prophet, no less. About Clarissa, I meditate a choice work: A DIALOGUE ON MAN, WOMAN, AND ‘CLARISSA HARLOWE.’ It is to be so clever that no array of terms can give you any idea; and very likely that particular array in which I shall finally embody it, less than any other.
Do you know, my dear sir, what I like best in your letter? The egotism for which you thought necessary to apologise. I am a rogue at egotism myself; and to be plain, I have rarely or never liked any man who was not. The first step to discovering the beauties of God’s universe is usually a (perhaps partial) apprehension of such of them as adorn our own characters. When I see a man who does not think pretty well of himself, I always suspect him of being in the right. And besides, if he does not like himself, whom he has seen, how is he ever to like one whom he never can see but in dim and artificial presentments?
I cordially reciprocate your offer of a welcome; it shall be at least a warm one. Are you not my first, my only, admirer — a dear tie? Besides, you are a man of sense, and you treat me as one by writing to me as you do, and that gives me pleasure also. Please continue to let me see your work. I have one or two things coming out in the CORNHILL: a story called ‘The Sire de Maletroit’s Door’ in TEMPLE BAR; and a series of articles on Edinburgh in the PORTFOLIO; but I don’t know if these last fly all the way to Melbourne. — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
HOTEL DES ETRANGERS, DIEPPE, JANUARY 1, 1878.
MY DEAR COLVIN, — I am at the INLAND VOYAGE again: have finished another section, and have only two more to execute. But one at least of these will be very long — the longest in the book — being a great digression on French artistic tramps. I only hope Paul may take the thing; I want coin so badly, and besides it would be something done — something put outside of me and off my conscience; and I should not feel such a muff as I do, if once I saw the thing in boards with a ticket on its back. I think I shall frequent circulating libraries a good deal. The Preface shall stand over, as you suggest, until the last, and then, sir, we shall see. This to be read with a big voice.
This is New Year’s Day: let me, my dear Colvin, wish you a very good year, free of all misunderstanding and bereavement, and full of good weather and good work. You know best what you have done for me, and so you will know best how heartily I mean this. — Ever yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[PARIS, JANUARY OR FEBRUARY 1878.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — Many thanks for your letter. I was much interested by all the Edinburgh gossip. Most likely I shall arrive in London next week. I think you know all about the Crane sketch; but it should be a river, not a canal, you know, and the look should be ‘cruel, lewd, and kindly,’ all at once. There is more sense in that Greek myth of Pan than in any other that I recollect except the luminous Hebrew one of the Fall: one of the biggest things done. If people would remember that all religions are no more than representations of life, they would find them, as they are, the best representations, licking Shakespeare.
What an inconceivable cheese is Alfred de Musset! His comedies are, to my view, the best work of France this century: a large order. Did you ever read them? They are real, clear, living work. - Ever yours,
R. L. S.
PARIS, 44 BD. HAUSSMANN, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 1878.
MY DEAR PEOPLE, — Do you know who is my favourite author just now? How are the mighty fallen! Anthony Trollope. I batten on him; he is so nearly wearying you, and yet he never does; or rather, he never does, until he gets near the end, when he begins to wean you from him, so that you’re as pleased to be done with him as you thought you would be sorry. I wonder if it’s old age? It is a little, I am sure. A young person would get sickened by the dead level of meanness and cowardliness; you require to be a little spoiled and cynical before you can enjoy it. I have just finished the WAY OF THE WORLD; there is only one person in it — no, there are three — who are nice: the wild American woman, and two of the dissipated young men, Dolly and Lord Nidderdale. All the heroes and heroines are just ghastly. But what a triumph is Lady Carbury! That is real, sound, strong, genuine work: the man who could do that, if he had had courage, might have written a fine book; he has preferred to write many readable ones. I meant to write such a long, nice letter, but I cannot hold the pen.
R. L. S.
HOTEL DU VAL DE GRACE, RUE ST. JACQUES, PARIS, SUNDAY [JUNE 1878].
MY DEAR MOTHER, — About criticisms, I was more surprised at the tone of the critics than I suppose any one else. And the effect it has produced in me is one of shame. If they liked that so much, I ought to have given them something better, that’s all. And I shall try to do so. Still, it strikes me as odd; and I don’t understand the vogue. It should sell the thing. — Ever your affectionate son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
MONASTIER, SEPTEMBER 1878.
MY DEAR MOTHER, — You must not expect to hear much from me for the next two weeks; for I am near starting. Donkey purchased — a love - price, 65 francs and a glass of brandy. My route is all pretty well laid out; I shall go near no town till I get to Alais. Remember, Poste Restante, Alais, Gard. Greyfriars will be in October. You did not say whether you liked September; you might tell me that at Alais. The other No.‘s of Edinburgh are: Parliament Close, Villa Quarters (which perhaps may not appear), Calton Hill, Winter and New Year, and to the Pentland Hills. ‘Tis a kind of book nobody would ever care to read; but none of the young men could have done it better than I have, which is always a consolation. I read INLAND VOYAGE the other day: what rubbish these reviewers did talk! It is not badly written, thin, mildly cheery, and strained. SELON MOI. I mean to visit Hamerton on my return journey; otherwise, I should come by sea from Marseilles. I am very well known here now; indeed, quite a feature of the place. - Your affectionate son,
R. L. S.
The Engineer is the Conductor of Roads and Bridges; then I have the Receiver of Registrations, the First Clerk of Excise, and the Perceiver of the Impost. That is our dinner party. I am a sort of hovering government official, as you see. But away — away from these great companions!
[MONASTIER, SEPTEMBER 1878.]
DEAR HENLEY, — I hope to leave Monastier this day (Saturday) week; thenceforward Poste Restante, Alais, Gard, is my address. ‘Travels with a Donkey in the French Highlands.’ I am no good to-day. I cannot work, nor even write letters. A colossal breakfast yesterday at Puy has, I think, done for me for ever; I certainly ate more than ever I ate before in my life — a big slice of melon, some ham and jelly, A FILET, a helping of gudgeons, the breast and leg of a partridge, some green peas, eight crayfish, some Mont d’Or cheese, a peach, and a handful of biscuits, macaroons, and things. It sounds Gargantuan; it cost three francs a head. So that it was inexpensive to the pocket, although I fear it may prove extravagant to the fleshly tabernacle. I can’t think how I did it or why. It is a new form of excess for me; but I think it pays less than any of them.
R. L. S.
MONASTIER, AT MOREL’S [SEPTEMBER 1878].
Lud knows about date, VIDE postmark.
MY DEAR CHARLES, — Yours (with enclosures) of the 16th to hand. All work done. I go to Le Puy to-morrow to dispatch baggage, get cash, stand lunch to engineer, who has been very jolly and useful to me, and hope by five o’clock on Saturday morning to be driving Modestine towards the Gevaudan. Modestine is my anesse; a darling, mouse-colour, about the size of a Newfoundland dog (bigger, between you and me), the colour of a mouse, costing 65 francs and a glass of brandy. Glad you sent on all the coin; was half afraid I might come to a stick in the mountains, donkey and all, which would have been the devil. Have finished ARABIAN NIGHTS and Edinburgh book, and am a free man. Next address, Poste Restante, Alais, Gard. Give my servilities to the family. Health bad; spirits, I think, looking up. — Ever yours,
R. L S.
MY DEAR MOTHER, — I have seen Hamerton; he was very kind, all his family seemed pleased to see an INLAND VOYAGE, and the book seemed to be quite a household word with them. P. G. himself promised to help me in my bargains with publishers, which, said he, and I doubt not very truthfully, he could manage to much greater advantage than I. He is also to read an INLAND VOYAGE over again, and send me his cuts and cuffs in private, after having liberally administered his kisses CORAM PUBLICO. I liked him very much. Of all the pleasant parts of my profession, I think the spirit of other men of letters makes the pleasantest.
Do you know, your sunset was very good? The ‘attack’ (to speak learnedly) was so plucky and odd. I have thought of it repeatedly since. I have just made a delightful dinner by myself in the Cafe Felix, where I am an old established beggar, and am just smoking a cigar over my coffee. I came last night from Autun, and I am muddled about my plans. The world is such a dance! — Ever your affectionate son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, AUTUMN 1878.]
MY DEAR HENLEY, — Here I am living like a fighting-cock, and have not spoken to a real person for about sixty hours. Those who wait on me are not real. The man I know to be a myth, because I have seen him acting so often in the Palais Royal. He plays the Duke in TRICOCHE ET CACOLET; I knew his nose at once. The part he plays here is very dull for him, but conscientious. As for the bedmaker, she’s a dream, a kind of cheerful, innocent nightmare; I never saw so poor an imitation of humanity. I cannot work — CANNOT. Even the GUITAR is still undone; I can only write ditch-water. ‘Tis ghastly; but I am quite cheerful, and that is more important. Do you think you could prepare the printers for a possible breakdown this week? I shall try all I know on Monday; but if I can get nothing better than I got this morning, I prefer to drop a week. Telegraph to me if you think it necessary. I shall not leave till Wednesday at soonest. Shall write again.
R. L. S.
[17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH, APRIL 16, 1879]. POOL OF SILOAM, By EL DORADO, DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS, ARCADIA
MY DEAR GOSSE, — Herewith of the dibbs — a homely fiver. How, and why, do you continue to exist? I do so ill, but for a variety of reasons. First, I wait an angel to come down and trouble the waters; second, more angels; third — well, more angels. The waters are sluggish; the angels — well, the angels won’t come, that’s about all. But I sit waiting and waiting, and people bring me meals, which help to pass time (I’m sure it’s very kind of them), and sometimes I whistle to myself; and as there’s a very pretty echo at my pool of Siloam, the thing’s agreeable to hear. The sun continues to rise every day, to my growing wonder. ‘The moon by night thee shall not smite.’ And the stars are all doing as well as can be expected. The air of Arcady is very brisk and pure, and we command many enchanting prospects in space and time. I do not yet know much about my situation; for, to tell the truth, I only came here by the run since I began to write this letter; I had to go back to date it; and I am grateful to you for having been the occasion of this little outing. What good travellers we are, if we had only faith; no man need stay in Edinburgh but by unbelief; my religious organ has been ailing for a while past, and I have lain a great deal in Edinburgh, a sheer hulk in consequence. But I got out my wings, and have taken a change of air.
I read your book with great interest, and ought long ago to have told you so. An ordinary man would say that he had been waiting till he could pay his debts. . . . The book is good reading. Your personal notes of those you saw struck me as perhaps most sharp and ‘best held.’ See as many people as you can, and make a book of them before you die. That will be a living book, upon my word. You have the touch required. I ask you to put hands to it in private already. Think of what Carlyle’s caricature of old Coleridge is to us who never saw S. T. C. With that and Kubla Khan, we have the man in the fact. Carlyle’s picture, of course, is not of the author of KUBLA, but of the author of that surprising FRIEND which has knocked the breath out of two generations of hopeful youth. Your portraits would be milder, sweeter, more true perhaps, and perhaps not so truth-TELLING— if you will take my meaning.
I have to thank you for an introduction to that beautiful — no, that’s not the word — that jolly, with an Arcadian jollity — thing of Vogelweide’s. Also for your preface. Some day I want to read a whole book in the same picked dialect as that preface. I think it must be one E. W. Gosse who must write it. He has got himself into a fix with me by writing the preface; I look for a great deal, and will not be easily pleased.
I never thought of it, but my new book, which should soon be out, contains a visit to a murder scene, but not done as we should like to see them, for, of course, I was running another hare.
If you do not answer this in four pages, I shall stop the enclosed fiver at the bank, a step which will lead to your incarceration for life. As my visits to Arcady are somewhat uncertain, you had better address 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, as usual. I shall walk over for the note if I am not yet home. — Believe me, very really yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
I charge extra for a flourish when it is successful; this isn’t, so you have it gratis. Is there any news in Babylon the Great? My fellow-creatures are electing school boards here in the midst of the ages. It is very composed of them. I can’t think why they do it. Nor why I have written a real letter. If you write a real letter back, damme, I’ll try to CORRESPOND with you. A thing unknown in this age. It is a consequence of the decay of faith; we cannot believe that the fellow will be at the pains to read us.
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH [APRIL 1879].
MY DEAR HENLEY, — Heavens! have I done the like? ‘Clarify and strain,’ indeed? ‘Make it like Marvell,’ no less. I’ll tell you what — you may go to the devil; that’s what I think. ‘Be eloquent’ is another of your pregnant suggestions. I cannot sufficiently thank you for that one. Portrait of a person about to be eloquent at the request of a literary friend. You seem to forget sir, that rhyme is rhyme, sir, and — go to the devil.
I’ll try to improve it, but I shan’t be able to — O go to the devil.
Seriously, you’re a cool hand. And then you have the brass to ask me WHY ‘my steps went one by one’? Why? Powers of man! to rhyme with sun, to be sure. Why else could it be? And you yourself have been a poet! G-r-r-r-r-r! I’ll never be a poet any more. Men are so d-d ungrateful and captious, I declare I could weep.
O Henley, in my hours of ease You may say anything you please, But when I join the Muse’s revel, Begad, I wish you at the devil! In vain my verse I plane and bevel, Like Banville’s rhyming devotees; In vain by many an artful swivel Lug in my meaning by degrees; I’m sure to hear my Henley cavil; And grovelling prostrate on my knees, Devote his body to the seas, His correspondence to the devil!
I’m going to Shandon Hydropathic CUM PARENTIBUS. Write here. I heard from Lang. Ferrier prayeth to be remembered; he means to write, likes his Tourgenieff greatly. Also likes my ‘What was on the Slate,’ which, under a new title, yet unfound, and with a new and, on the whole, kindly DENOUEMENT, is going to shoot up and become a star . . . .
I see I must write some more to you about my Monastery. I am a weak brother in verse. You ask me to re-write things that I have already managed just to write with the skin of my teeth. If I don’t re-write them, it’s because I don’t see how to write them better, not because I don’t think they should be. But, curiously enough, you condemn two of my favourite passages, one of which is J. W. Ferrier’s favourite of the whole. Here I shall think it’s you who are wrong. You see, I did not try to make good verse, but to say what I wanted as well as verse would let me. I don’t like the rhyme ‘ear’ and ‘hear.’ But the couplet, ‘My undissuaded heart I hear Whisper courage in my ear,’ is exactly what I want for the thought, and to me seems very energetic as speech, if not as verse. Would ‘daring’ be better than ‘courage’? JE ME LE DEMANDE. No, it would be ambiguous, as though I had used it licentiously for ‘daringly,’ and that would cloak the sense.
In short, your suggestions have broken the heart of the scald. He doesn’t agree with them all; and those he does agree with, the spirit indeed is willing, but the d-d flesh cannot, cannot, cannot, see its way to profit by. I think I’ll lay it by for nine years, like Horace. I think the well of Castaly’s run out. No more the Muses round my pillow haunt. I am fallen once more to the mere proser. God bless you.
R. L S.
SWANSTON, LOTHIANBURN, EDINBURGH, JULY 24, 1879.
MY DEAR GOSSE, — I have greatly enjoyed your articles which seems to me handsome in tone, and written like a fine old English gentleman. But is there not a hitch in the sentence at foot of page 153? I get lost in it.
Chapters VIII. and IX. of Meredith’s story are very good, I think. But who wrote the review of my book? whoever he was, he cannot write; he is humane, but a duffer; I could weep when I think of him; for surely to be virtuous and incompetent is a hard lot. I should prefer to be a bold pirate, the gay sailor-boy of immorality, and a publisher at once. My mind is extinct; my appetite is expiring; I have fallen altogether into a hollow-eyed, yawning way of life, like the parties in Burne Jones’s pictures. . . . Talking of Burns. (Is this not sad, Weg? I use the term of reproach not because I am angry with you this time, but because I am angry with myself and desire to give pain.) Talking, I say, of Robert Burns, the inspired poet is a very gay subject for study. I made a kind of chronological table of his various loves and lusts, and have been comparatively speechless ever since. I am sorry to say it, but there was something in him of the vulgar, bagmanlike, professional seducer. — Oblige me by taking down and reading, for the hundredth time I hope, his ‘Twa Dogs’ and his ‘Address to the Unco Guid.’ I am only a Scotchman, after all, you see; and when I have beaten Burns, I am driven at once, by my parental feelings, to console him with a sugar-plum. But hang me if I know anything I like so well as the ‘Twa Dogs.’ Even a common Englishman may have a glimpse, as it were from Pisgah, of its extraordinary merits.
‘ENGLISH, THE:— a dull people, incapable of comprehending the Scottish tongue. Their history is so intimately connected with that of Scotland, that we must refer our readers to that heading. Their literature is principally the work of venal Scots.’ — Stevenson’s HANDY CYCLOPAEDIA. Glescow: Blaikie & Bannock.
Remember me in suitable fashion to Mrs. Gosse, the offspring, and the cat. — And believe me ever yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH [JULY 28, 1879].
MY DEAR COLVIN, — I am just in the middle of your Rembrandt. The taste for Bummkopf and his works is agreeably dissembled so far as I have gone; and the reins have never for an instant been thrown upon the neck of that wooden Pegasus; he only perks up a learned snout from a footnote in the cellarage of a paragraph; just, in short, where he ought to be, to inspire confidence in a wicked and adulterous generation. But, mind you, Bummkopf is not human; he is Dagon the fish god, and down he will come, sprawling on his belly or his behind, with his hands broken from his helpless carcase, and his head rolling off into a corner. Up will rise on the other side, sane, pleasurable, human knowledge: a thing of beauty and a joy, etc.
I’m three parts through Burns; long, dry, unsympathetic, but sound and, I think, in its dry way, interesting. Next I shall finish the story, and then perhaps Thoreau. Meredith has been staying with Morley, who is about, it is believed, to write to me on a literary scheme. Is it Keats, hope you? My heart leaps at the thought. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH [JULY 29, 1879].
MY DEAR GOSSE, — Yours was delicious; you are a young person of wit; one of the last of them; wit being quite out of date, and humour confined to the Scotch Church and the SPECTATOR in unconscious survival. You will probably be glad to hear that I am up again in the world; I have breathed again, and had a frolic on the strength of it. The frolic was yesterday, Sawbath; the scene, the Royal Hotel, Bathgate; I went there with a humorous friend to lunch. The maid soon showed herself a lass of character. She was looking out of window. On being asked what she was after, ‘I’m lookin’ for my lad,’ says she. ‘Is that him?’ ‘Weel, I’ve been lookin’ for him a’ my life, and I’ve never seen him yet,’ was the response. I wrote her some verses in the vernacular; she read them. ‘They’re no bad for a beginner,’ said she. The landlord’s daughter, Miss Stewart, was present in oil colour; so I wrote her a declaration in verse, and sent it by the handmaid. She (Miss S.) was present on the stair to witness our departure, in a warm, suffused condition. Damn it, Gosse, you needn’t suppose that you’re the only poet in the world.
Your statement about your initials, it will be seen, I pass over in contempt and silence. When once I have made up my mind, let me tell you, sir, there lives no pock-pudding who can change it. Your anger I defy. Your unmanly reference to a well-known statesman I puff from me, sir, like so much vapour. Weg is your name; Weg. W E G.
My enthusiasm has kind of dropped from me. I envy you your wife, your home, your child — I was going to say your cat. There would be cats in my home too if I could but get it. I may seem to you ‘the impersonation of life,’ but my life is the impersonation of waiting, and that’s a poor creature. God help us all, and the deil be kind to the hindmost! Upon my word, we are a brave, cheery crew, we human beings, and my admiration increases daily — primarily for myself, but by a roundabout process for the whole crowd; for I dare say they have all their poor little secrets and anxieties. And here am I, for instance, writing to you as if you were in the seventh heaven, and yet I know you are in a sad anxiety yourself. I hope earnestly it will soon be over, and a fine pink Gosse sprawling in a tub, and a mother in the best of health and spirits, glad and tired, and with another interest in life. Man, you are out of the trouble when this is through. A first child is a rival, but a second is only a rival to the first; and the husband stands his ground and may keep married all his life — a consummation heartily to be desired. Good-bye, Gosse. Write me a witty letter with good news of the mistress.
R. L. S.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13