[HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS, NOVEMBER 1880.]
Figure me to yourself, I pray — A man of my peculiar cut — Apart from dancing and deray, Into an Alpine valley shut;
Shut in a kind of damned Hotel, Discountenanced by God and man; The food? — Sir, you would do as well To cram your belly full of bran.
The company? Alas, the day That I should dwell with such a crew, With devil anything to say, Nor any one to say it to!
The place? Although they call it Platz, I will be bold and state my view; It’s not a place at all — and that’s The bottom verity, my Dew.
There are, as I will not deny, Innumerable inns; a road; Several Alps indifferent high; The snow’s inviolable abode;
Eleven English parsons, all Entirely inoffensive; four True human beings — what I call Human — the deuce a cipher more;
A climate of surprising worth; Innumerable dogs that bark; Some air, some weather, and some earth; A native race — God save the mark! —
A race that works, yet cannot work, Yodels, but cannot yodel right, Such as, unhelp’d, with rusty dirk, I vow that I could wholly smite.
A river that from morn to night Down all the valley plays the fool; Not once she pauses in her flight, Nor knows the comfort of a pool;
But still keeps up, by straight or bend, The selfsame pace she hath begun — Still hurry, hurry, to the end — Good God, is that the way to run?
If I a river were, I hope That I should better realise The opportunities and scope Of that romantic enterprise.
I should not ape the merely strange, But aim besides at the divine; And continuity and change I still should labour to combine.
Here should I gallop down the race, Here charge the sterling like a bull; There, as a man might wipe his face, Lie, pleased and panting, in a pool.
But what, my Dew, in idle mood, What prate I, minding not my debt? What do I talk of bad or good? The best is still a cigarette.
Me whether evil fate assault, Or smiling providences crown — Whether on high the eternal vault Be blue, or crash with thunder down —
I judge the best, whate’er befall, Is still to sit on one’s behind, And, having duly moistened all, Smoke with an unperturbed mind.
R. L. S.
[HOTEL BELVEDERE], DAVOS, DECEMBER 12 .
MY DEAR FATHER, — Here is the scheme as well as I can foresee. I begin the book immediately after the ‘15, as then began the attempt to suppress the Highlands.
I. THIRTY YEARS’ INTERVAL
(1) Rob Roy.
(2) The Independent Companies: the Watches.
(3) Story of Lady Grange.
(4) The Military Roads, and Disarmament: Wade and
II. THE HEROIC AGE
(1) Duncan Forbes of Culloden.
(2) Flora Macdonald.
(3) The Forfeited Estates; including Hereditary Jurisdictions; and the admirable conduct of the tenants.
III. LITERATURE HERE INTERVENES
(1) The Ossianic Controversy.
(2) Boswell and Johnson.
(3) Mrs. Grant of Laggan.
(1) Highland Economics.
(2) The Reinstatement of the Proprietors.
(3) The Evictions.
(5) Present State.
(1) The Catholics, Episcopals, and Kirk, and Soc. Prop. Christ. Knowledge.
(2) The Men.
(3) The Disruption.
All this, of course, will greatly change in form, scope, and order; this is just a bird’s-eye glance. Thank you for BURT, which came, and for your Union notes. I have read one-half (about 900 pages) of Wodrow’s CORRESPONDENCE, with some improvement, but great fatigue. The doctor thinks well of my recovery, which puts me in good hope for the future. I should certainly be able to make a fine history of this.
My Essays are going through the press, and should be out in January or February. — Ever affectionate son,
R. L. S.
HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS PLATZ [DEC. 6, 1880].
MY DEAR WEG, — I have many letters that I ought to write in preference to this; but a duty to letters and to you prevails over any private consideration. You are going to collect odes; I could not wish a better man to do so; but I tremble lest you should commit two sins of omission. You will not, I am sure, be so far left to yourself as to give us no more of Dryden than the hackneyed St. Cecilia; I know you will give us some others of those surprising masterpieces where there is more sustained eloquence and harmony of English numbers than in all that has been written since; there is a machine about a poetical young lady, and another about either Charles or James, I know not which; and they are both indescribably fine. (Is Marvell’s Horatian Ode good enough? I half think so.) But my great point is a fear that you are one of those who are unjust to our old Tennyson’s Duke of Wellington. I have just been talking it over with Symonds; and we agreed that whether for its metrical effects, for its brief, plain, stirring words of portraiture, as — he ‘that never lost an English gun,’ or - the soldier salute; or for the heroic apostrophe to Nelson; that ode has never been surpassed in any tongue or time. Grant me the Duke, O Weg! I suppose you must not put in yours about the warship; you will have to admit worse ones, however. — Ever yours,
R. L. S.
[HOTEL BELVEDERE], DAVOS, DEC. 19, 1880.
This letter is a report of a long sederunt, also steterunt in small committee at Davos Platz, Dec. 15, 1880.
Its results are unhesitatingly shot at your head.
MY DEAR WEG, — We both insist on the Duke of Wellington. Really it cannot be left out. Symonds said you would cover yourself with shame, and I add, your friends with confusion, if you leave it out. Really, you know it is the only thing you have, since Dryden, where that irregular odic, odal, odous (?) verse is used with mastery and sense. And it’s one of our few English blood-boilers.
(2) Byron: if anything: PROMETHEUS.
(3) Shelley (1) THE WORLD’S GREAT AGE from Hellas; we are both dead on. After that you have, of course, THE WEST WIND thing. But we think (1) would maybe be enough; no more than two any way.
(4) Herrick. MEDDOWES and COME, MY CORINNA. After that MR. WICKES: two any way.
(5) Leave out stanza 3rd of Congreve’s thing, like a dear; we can’t stand the ‘sigh’ nor the ‘peruke.’
(6) Milton. TIME and the SOLEMN MUSIC. We both agree we would rather go without L’Allegro and Il Penseroso than these; for the reason that these are not so well known to the brutish herd.
(7) Is the ROYAL GEORGE an ode, or only an elegy? It’s so good.
(8) We leave Campbell to you.
(9) If you take anything from Clough, but we don’t either of us fancy you will, let it be COME BACK.
(10) Quite right about Dryden. I had a hankering after THRENODIA AUGUSTALIS; but I find it long and with very prosaic holes: though, O! what fine stuff between whiles.
(11) Right with Collins.
(12) Right about Pope’s Ode. But what can you give? THE DYING CHRISTIAN? or one of his inimitable courtesies? These last are fairly odes, by the Horatian model, just as my dear MEDDOWES is an ode in the name and for the sake of Bandusia.
(13) Whatever you do, you’ll give us the Greek Vase.
(14) Do you like Jonson’s ‘loathed stage’? Verses 2, 3, and 4 are so bad, also the last line. But there is a fine movement and feeling in the rest.
We will have the Duke of Wellington by God. Pro Symonds and Stevenson.
R. L. S.
HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS PLATZ, SWITZERLAND [DECEMBER 1880].
DEAR CHARLES WARREN STODDARD, — Many thanks to you for the letter and the photograph. Will you think it mean if I ask you to wait till there appears a promised cheap edition? Possibly the canny Scot does feel pleasure in the superior cheapness; but the true reason is this, that I think to put a few words, by way of notes, to each book in its new form, because that will be the Standard Edition, without which no g.‘s l. will be complete. The edition, briefly, SINE QUA NON. Before that, I shall hope to send you my essays, which are in the printer’s hands. I look to get yours soon. I am sorry to hear that the Custom House has proved fallible, like all other human houses and customs. Life consists of that sort of business, and I fear that there is a class of man, of which you offer no inapt type, doomed to a kind of mild, general disappointment through life. I do not believe that a man is the more unhappy for that. Disappointment, except with one’s self, is not a very capital affair; and the sham beatitude, ‘Blessed is he that expecteth little,’ one of the truest, and in a sense, the most Christlike things in literature.
Alongside of you, I have been all my days a red cannon ball of dissipated effort; here I am by the heels in this Alpine valley, with just so much of a prospect of future restoration as shall make my present caged estate easily tolerable to me — shall or should, I would not swear to the word before the trial’s done. I miss all my objects in the meantime; and, thank God, I have enough of my old, and maybe somewhat base philosophy, to keep me on a good understanding with myself and Providence.
The mere extent of a man’s travels has in it something consolatory. That he should have left friends and enemies in many different and distant quarters gives a sort of earthly dignity to his existence. And I think the better of myself for the belief that I have left some in California interested in me and my successes. Let me assure you, you who have made friends already among such various and distant races, that there is a certain phthisical Scot who will always be pleased to hear good news of you, and would be better pleased by nothing than to learn that you had thrown off your present incubus, largely consisting of letters I believe, and had sailed into some square work by way of change.
And by way of change in itself, let me copy on the other pages some broad Scotch I wrote for you when I was ill last spring in Oakland. It is no muckle worth: but ye should na look a gien horse in the moo’. — Yours ever,
R. L. STEVENSON.
DECEMBER 21, 1880. DAVOS.
MY DEAR PEOPLE, — I do not understand these reproaches. The letters come between seven and nine in the evening; and every one about the books was answered that same night, and the answer left Davos by seven o’clock next morning. Perhaps the snow delayed then; if so, ‘tis a good hint to you not to be uneasy at apparent silences. There is no hurry about my father’s notes; I shall not be writing anything till I get home again, I believe. Only I want to be able to keep reading AD HOC all winter, as it seems about all I shall be fit for. About John Brown, I have been breaking my heart to finish a Scotch poem to him. Some of it is not really bad, but the rest will not come, and I mean to get it right before I do anything else.
The bazaar is over, 160 pounds gained, and everybody’s health lost: altogether, I never had a more uncomfortable time; apply to Fanny for further details of the discomfort.
We have our Wogg in somewhat better trim now, and vastly better spirits. The weather has been bad — for Davos, but indeed it is a wonderful climate. It never feels cold; yesterday, with a little, chill, small, northerly draught, for the first time, it was pinching. Usually, it may freeze, or snow, or do what it pleases, you feel it not, or hardly any.
Thanks for your notes; that fishery question will come in, as you notice, in the Highland Book, as well as under the Union; it is very important. I hear no word of Hugh Miller’s EVICTIONS; I count on that. What you say about the old and new Statistical is odd. It seems to me very much as if I were gingerly embarking on a HISTORY OF MODERN SCOTLAND. Probably Tulloch will never carry it out. And, you see, once I have studied and written these two vols., THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS and SCOTLAND AND THE UNION, I shall have a good ground to go upon. The effect on my mind of what I have read has been to awaken a livelier sympathy for the Irish; although they never had the remarkable virtues, I fear they have suffered many of the injustices, of the Scottish Highlanders. Ruedi has seen me this morning; he says the disease is at a standstill, and I am to profit by it to take more exercise. Altogether, he seemed quite hopeful and pleased. — I am your ever affectionate son,
R. L S.
[HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS, Christmas 1880.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — Thanks for yours; I waited, as said I would. I now expect no answer from you, regarding you as a mere dumb cock- shy, or a target, at which we fire our arrows diligently all day long, with no anticipation it will bring them back to us. We are both sadly mortified you are not coming, but health comes first; alas, that man should be so crazy. What fun we could have, if we were all well, what work we could do, what a happy place we could make it for each other! If I were able to do what I want; but then I am not, and may leave that vein.
No. I do not think I shall require to know the Gaelic; few things are written in that language, or ever were; if you come to that, the number of those who could write, or even read it, through almost all my period, must, by all accounts, have been incredibly small. Of course, until the book is done, I must live as much as possible in the Highlands, and that suits my book as to health. It is a most interesting and sad story, and from the ‘45 it is all to be written for the first time. This, of course, will cause me a far greater difficulty about authorities; but I have already learned much, and where to look for more. One pleasant feature is the vast number of delightful writers I shall have to deal with: Burt, Johnson, Boswell, Mrs. Grant of Laggan, Scott. There will be interesting sections on the Ossianic controversy and the growth of the taste for Highland scenery. I have to touch upon Rob Roy, Flora Macdonald, the strange story of Lady Grange, the beautiful story of the tenants on the Forfeited Estates, and the odd, inhuman problem of the great evictions. The religious conditions are wild, unknown, very surprising. And three out of my five parts remain hitherto entirely unwritten. Smack! — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
CHRISTMAS SERMON. [HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS, DECEMBER 26, 1880.]
MY DEAR MOTHER, — I was very tired yesterday and could not write; tobogganed so furiously all morning; we had a delightful day, crowned by an incredible dinner — more courses than I have fingers on my hands. Your letter arrived duly at night, and I thank you for it as I should. You need not suppose I am at all insensible to my father’s extraordinary kindness about this book; he is a brick; I vote for him freely.
. . . The assurance you speak of is what we all ought to have, and might have, and should not consent to live without. That people do not have it more than they do is, I believe, because persons speak so much in large-drawn, theological similitudes, and won’t say out what they mean about life, and man, and God, in fair and square human language. I wonder if you or my father ever thought of the obscurities that lie upon human duty from the negative form in which the Ten Commandments are stated, or of how Christ was so continually substituting affirmations. ‘Thou shalt not’ is but an example; ‘Thou shalt’ is the law of God. It was this that seems meant in the phrase that ‘not one jot nor tittle of the law should pass.’ But what led me to the remark is this: A kind of black, angry look goes with that statement of the law of negatives. ‘To love one’s neighbour as oneself’ is certainly much harder, but states life so much more actively, gladly, and kindly, that you begin to see some pleasure in it; and till you can see pleasure in these hard choices and bitter necessities, where is there any Good News to men? It is much more important to do right than not to do wrong; further, the one is possible, the other has always been and will ever be impossible; and the faithful DESIGN TO DO RIGHT is accepted by God; that seems to me to be the Gospel, and that was how Christ delivered us from the Law. After people are told that, surely they might hear more encouraging sermons. To blow the trumpet for good would seem the Parson’s business; and since it is not in our own strength, but by faith and perseverance (no account made of slips), that we are to run the race, I do not see where they get the material for their gloomy discourses. Faith is not to believe the Bible, but to believe in God; if you believe in God (or, for it’s the same thing, have that assurance you speak about), where is there any more room for terror? There are only three possible attitudes — Optimism, which has gone to smash; Pessimism, which is on the rising hand, and very popular with many clergymen who seem to think they are Christians. And this Faith, which is the Gospel. Once you hold the last, it is your business (1) to find out what is right in any given case, and (2) to try to do it; if you fail in the last, that is by commission, Christ tells you to hope; if you fail in the first, that is by omission, his picture of the last day gives you but a black lookout. The whole necessary morality is kindness; and it should spring, of itself, from the one fundamental doctrine, Faith. If you are sure that God, in the long run, means kindness by you, you should be happy; and if happy, surely you should be kind.
I beg your pardon for this long discourse; it is not all right, of course, but I am sure there is something in it. One thing I have not got clearly; that about the omission and the commission; but there is truth somewhere about it, and I have no time to clear it just now. Do you know, you have had about a Cornhill page of sermon? It is, however, true.
Lloyd heard with dismay Fanny was not going to give me a present; so F. and I had to go and buy things for ourselves, and go through a representation of surprise when they were presented next morning. It gave us both quite a Santa Claus feeling on Xmas Eve to see him so excited and hopeful; I enjoyed it hugely. — Your affectionate son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS, SPRING 1881.]
MY DEAR COLVIN. — My health is not just what it should be; I have lost weight, pulse, respiration, etc., and gained nothing in the way of my old bellows. But these last few days, with tonic, cod- liver oil, better wine (there is some better now), and perpetual beef-tea, I think I have progressed. To say truth, I have been here a little over long. I was reckoning up, and since I have known you, already quite a while, I have not, I believe, remained so long in any one place as here in Davos. That tells on my old gipsy nature; like a violin hung up, I begin to lose what music there was in me; and with the music, I do not know what besides, or do not know what to call it, but something radically part of life, a rhythm, perhaps, in one’s old and so brutally over-ridden nerves, or perhaps a kind of variety of blood that the heart has come to look for.
I purposely knocked myself off first. As to F. A. S., I believe I am no sound authority; I alternate between a stiff disregard and a kind of horror. In neither mood can a man judge at all. I know the thing to be terribly perilous, I fear it to be now altogether hopeless. Luck has failed; the weather has not been favourable; and in her true heart, the mother hopes no more. But — well, I feel a great deal, that I either cannot or will not say, as you well know. It has helped to make me more conscious of the wolverine on my own shoulders, and that also makes me a poor judge and poor adviser. Perhaps, if we were all marched out in a row, and a piece of platoon firing to the drums performed, it would be well for us; although, I suppose — and yet I wonder! — so ill for the poor mother and for the dear wife. But you can see this makes me morbid. SUFFICIT; EXPLICIT.
You are right about the Carlyle book; F. and I are in a world not ours; but pardon me, as far as sending on goes, we take another view: the first volume, A LA BONNE HEURE! but not — never — the second. Two hours of hysterics can be no good matter for a sick nurse, and the strange, hard, old being in so lamentable and yet human a desolation — crying out like a burnt child, and yet always wisely and beautifully — how can that end, as a piece of reading, even to the strong — but on the brink of the most cruel kind of weeping? I observe the old man’s style is stronger on me than ever it was, and by rights, too, since I have just laid down his most attaching book. God rest the baith o’ them! But even if they do not meet again, how we should all be strengthened to be kind, and not only in act, in speech also, that so much more important part. See what this apostle of silence most regrets, not speaking out his heart.
I was struck as you were by the admirable, sudden, clear sunshine upon Southey — even on his works. Symonds, to whom I repeated it, remarked at once, a man who was thus respected by both Carlyle and Landor must have had more in him than we can trace. So I feel with true humility.
It was to save my brain that Symonds proposed reviewing. He and, it appears, Leslie Stephen fear a little some eclipse; I am not quite without sharing the fear. I know my own languor as no one else does; it is a dead down-draught, a heavy fardel. Yet if I could shake off the wolverine aforesaid, and his fangs are lighter, though perhaps I feel them more, I believe I could be myself again a while. I have not written any letter for a great time; none saying what I feel, since you were here, I fancy. Be duly obliged for it, and take my most earnest thanks not only for the books but for your letter. Your affectionate,
R. L. S.
The effect of reading this on Fanny shows me I must tell you I am very happy, peaceful, and jolly, except for questions of work and the states of other people.
Woggin sends his love.
MY DEAR BROWN. — Here it is, with the mark of a San Francisco BOUQUINISTE. And if ever in all my ‘human conduct’ I have done a better thing to any fellow-creature than handing on to you this sweet, dignified, and wholesome book, I know I shall hear of it on the last day. To write a book like this were impossible; at least one can hand it on — with a wrench — one to another. My wife cries out and my own heart misgives me, but still here it is. I could scarcely better prove myself — Yours affectionately,
R. L. STEVENSON.
MY DEAR BROWN. — I hope, if you get thus far, you will know what an invaluable present I have made you. Even the copy was dear to me, printed in the colony that Penn established, and carried in my pocket all about the San Francisco streets, read in street cars and ferry-boats, when I was sick unto death, and found in all times and places a peaceful and sweet companion. But I hope, when you shall have reached this note, my gift will not have been in vain; for while just now we are so busy and intelligent, there is not the man living, no, nor recently dead, that could put, with so lovely a spirit, so much honest, kind wisdom into words.
R. L. S.
HOTEL BELVEDERE, DAVOS, SPRING 1881.
MY DEAR BROWN, — Nine years I have conded them.
Brave lads in olden musical centuries Sang, night by night, adorable choruses, Sat late by alehouse doors in April Chaunting in joy as the moon was rising:
Moon-seen and merry, under the trellises, Flush-faced they played with old polysyllables; Spring scents inspired, old wine diluted; Love and Apollo were there to chorus.
Now these, the songs, remain to eternity, Those, only those, the bountiful choristers Gone — those are gone, those unremembered Sleep and are silent in earth for ever.
So man himself appears and evanishes, So smiles and goes; as wanderers halting at Some green-embowered house, play their music, Play and are gone on the windy highway;
Yet dwells the strain enshrined in the memory Long after they departed eternally, Forth-faring tow’rd far mountain summits, Cities of men on the sounding Ocean.
Youth sang the song in years immemorial; Brave chanticleer, he sang and was beautiful; Bird-haunted, green tree-tops in springtime Heard and were pleased by the voice of singing;
Youth goes, and leaves behind him a prodigy — Songs sent by thee afar from Venetian Sea-grey lagunes, sea-paven highways, Dear to me here in my Alpine exile.
Please, my dear Brown, forgive my horrid delay. Symonds overworked and knocked up. I off my sleep; my wife gone to Paris. Weather lovely. — Yours ever,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Monte Generoso in May; here, I think, till the end of April; write again, to prove you are forgiving.
HOTEL DU PAVILLON HENRY IV., ST. GERMAIN-EN-LAYE, SUNDAY, MAY 1ST, 1881.
MY DEAR PEOPLE, — A week in Paris reduced me to the limpness and lack of appetite peculiar to a kid glove, and gave Fanny a jumping sore throat. It’s my belief there is death in the kettle there; a pestilence or the like. We came out here, pitched on the STAR and GARTER (they call it Somebody’s pavilion), found the place a bed of lilacs and nightingales (first time I ever heard one), and also of a bird called the PIASSEUR, cheerfulest of sylvan creatures, an ideal comic opera in itself. ‘Come along, what fun, here’s Pan in the next glade at picnic, and this-yer’s Arcadia, and it’s awful fun, and I’ve had a glass, I will not deny, but not to see it on me,’ that is his meaning as near as I can gather. Well, the place (forest of beeches all new-fledged, grass like velvet, fleets of hyacinth) pleased us and did us good. We tried all ways to find a cheaper place, but could find nothing safe; cold, damp, brick- floored rooms and sich; we could not leave Paris till your seven days’ sight on draft expired; we dared not go back to be miasmatised in these homes of putridity; so here we are till Tuesday in the STAR AND GARTER. My throat is quite cured, appetite and strength on the mend. Fanny seems also picking up.
If we are to come to Scotland, I WILL have fir-trees, and I want a burn, the firs for my physical, the water for my moral health. — Ever affectionate son,
R. L. S.
PITLOCHRY, PERTHSHIRE, JUNE 6, 1881.
MY DEAR WEG, — Here I am in my native land, being gently blown and hailed upon, and sitting nearer and nearer to the fire. A cottage near a moor is soon to receive our human forms; it is also near a burn to which Professor Blackie (no less!) has written some verses in his hot old age, and near a farm from whence we shall draw cream and fatness. Should I be moved to join Blackie, I shall go upon my knees and pray hard against temptation; although, since the new Version, I do not know the proper form of words. The swollen, childish, and pedantic vanity that moved the said revisers to put ‘bring’ for ‘lead,’ is a sort of literary fault that calls for an eternal hell; it may be quite a small place, a star of the least magnitude, and shabbily furnished; there shall — — the revisers of the Bible and other absolutely loathsome literary lepers, dwell among broken pens, bad, GROUNDY ink and ruled blotting-paper made in France — all eagerly burning to write, and all inflicted with incurable aphasia. I should not have thought upon that torture had I not suffered it in moderation myself, but it is too horrid even for a hell; let’s let ‘em off with an eternal toothache.
All this talk is partly to persuade you that I write to you out of good feeling only, which is not the case. I am a beggar: ask Dobson, Saintsbury, yourself, and any other of these cheeses who know something of the eighteenth century, what became of Jean Cavalier between his coming to England and his death in 1740. Is anything interesting known about him? Whom did he marry? The happy French, smilingly following one another in a long procession headed by the loud and empty Napoleon Peyrat, say, Olympe Dunoyer, Voltaire’s old flame. Vacquerie even thinks that they were rivals, and is very French and very literary and very silly in his comments. Now I may almost say it consists with my knowledge that all this has not a shadow to rest upon. It is very odd and very annoying; I have splendid materials for Cavalier till he comes to my own country; and there, though he continues to advance in the service, he becomes entirely invisible to me. Any information about him will be greatly welcome: I may mention that I know as much as I desire about the other prophets, Marion, Fage, Cavalier (de Sonne), my Cavalier’s cousin, the unhappy Lions, and the idiotic Mr. Lacy; so if any erudite starts upon that track, you may choke him off. If you can find aught for me, or if you will but try, count on my undying gratitude. Lang’s ‘Library’ is very pleasant reading.
My book will reach you soon, for I write about it to-day — Yours ever,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY, PERTHSHIRE, JUNE 1881.
MY DEAR COLVIN, — THE BLACK MAN AND OTHER TALES.
The Black Man:
I. Thrawn Janet. II. The Devil on Cramond Sands. The Shadow on the Bed. The Body Snatchers. The Case Bottle. The King’s Horn. The Actor’s Wife. The Wreck of the SUSANNA.
This is the new work on which I am engaged with Fanny; they are all supernatural. ‘Thrawn Janet’ is off to Stephen, but as it is all in Scotch he cannot take it, I know. It was SO GOOD, I could not help sending it. My health improves. We have a lovely spot here: a little green glen with a burn, a wonderful burn, gold and green and snow-white, singing loud and low in different steps of its career, now pouring over miniature crags, now fretting itself to death in a maze of rocky stairs and pots; never was so sweet a little river. Behind, great purple moorlands reaching to Ben Vrackie. Hunger lives here, alone with larks and sheep. Sweet spot, sweet spot.
Write me a word about Bob’s professoriate and Landor, and what you think of THE BLACK MAN. The tales are all ghastly. ‘Thrawn Janet’ frightened me to death. There will maybe be another — ‘The Dead Man’s A Letter.’ I believe I shall recover; and I am, in this blessed hope, yours exuberantly,
R. L. S.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 1881.
MY DEAR MACKAY, — What is this I hear? — that you are retiring from your chair. It is not, I hope, from ill-health?
But if you are retiring, may I ask if you have promised your support to any successor? I have a great mind to try. The summer session would suit me; the chair would suit me — if only I would suit it; I certainly should work it hard: that I can promise. I only wish it were a few years from now, when I hope to have something more substantial to show for myself. Up to the present time, all that I have published, even bordering on history, has been in an occasional form, and I fear this is much against me.
Please let me hear a word in answer, and believe me, yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY, PERTHSHIRE [JUNE 1881].
MY DEAR MACKAY, — Thank you very much for your kind letter, and still more for your good opinion. You are not the only one who has regretted my absence from your lectures; but you were to me, then, only a part of a mangle through which I was being slowly and unwillingly dragged — part of a course which I had not chosen — part, in a word, of an organised boredom.
I am glad to have your reasons for giving up the chair; they are partly pleasant, and partly honourable to you. And I think one may say that every man who publicly declines a plurality of offices, makes it perceptibly more difficult for the next man to accept them.
Every one tells me that I come too late upon the field, every one being pledged, which, seeing it is yet too early for any one to come upon the field, I must regard as a polite evasion. Yet all advise me to stand, as it might serve me against the next vacancy. So stand I shall, unless things are changed. As it is, with my health this summer class is a great attraction; it is perhaps the only hope I may have of a permanent income. I had supposed the needs of the chair might be met by choosing every year some period of history in which questions of Constitutional Law were involved; but this is to look too far forward.
I understand (1ST) that no overt steps can be taken till your resignation is accepted; and (2ND) that in the meantime I may, without offence, mention my design to stand.
If I am mistaken about these, please correct me, as I do not wish to appear where I should not.
Again thanking you very heartily for your coals of fire I remain yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY, JUNE 24, 1881.
MY DEAR GOSSE, — I wonder if I misdirected my last to you. I begin to fear it. I hope, however, this will go right. I am in act to do a mad thing — to stand for the Edinburgh Chair of History; it is elected for by the advocates, QUORUM PARS; I am told that I am too late this year; but advised on all hands to go on, as it is likely soon to be once more vacant; and I shall have done myself good for the next time. Now, if I got the thing (which I cannot, it appears), I believe, in spite of all my imperfections, I could be decently effectual. If you can think so also, do put it in a testimonial.
Heavens! JE ME SAUVE, I have something else to say to you, but after that (which is not a joke) I shall keep it for another shoot. - Yours testimonially,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
I surely need not add, dear lad, that if you don’t feel like it, you will only have to pacify me by a long letter on general subjects, when I shall hasten to respond in recompense for my assault upon the postal highway.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY [JULY 1881].
MY DEAR WEG, — Many thanks for the testimonial; many thanks for your blind, wondering letter; many wishes, lastly, for your swift recovery. Insomnia is the opposite pole from my complaint; which brings with it a nervous lethargy, an unkind, unwholesome, and ungentle somnolence, fruitful in heavy heads and heavy eyes at morning. You cannot sleep; well, I can best explain my state thus: I cannot wake. Sleep, like the lees of a posset, lingers all day, lead-heavy, in my knees and ankles. Weight on the shoulders, torpor on the brain. And there is more than too much of that from an ungrateful hound who is now enjoying his first decently competent and peaceful weeks for close upon two years; happy in a big brown moor behind him, and an incomparable burn by his side; happy, above all, in some work — for at last I am at work with that appetite and confidence that alone makes work supportable.
I told you I had something else to say. I am very tedious — it is another request. In August and a good part of September we shall be in Braemar, in a house with some accommodation. Now Braemar is a place patronised by the royalty of the Sister Kingdoms — Victoria and the Cairngorms, sir, honouring that countryside by their conjunct presence. This seems to me the spot for A Bard. Now can you come to see us for a little while? I can promise you, you must like my father, because you are a human being; you ought to like Braemar, because of your avocation; and you ought to like me, because I like you; and again, you must like my wife, because she likes cats; and as for my mother — well, come and see, what do you think? that is best. Mrs. Gosse, my wife tells me, will have other fish to fry; and to be plain, I should not like to ask her till I had seen the house. But a lone man I know we shall be equal to. QU’EN DIS TU? VIENS. — Yours,
R. L. S.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY [JULY 1881].
MY DEAR MR. HAMMERTON, — (There goes the second M.; it is a certainty.) Thank you for your prompt and kind answer, little as I deserved it, though I hope to show you I was less undeserving than I seemed. But just might I delete two words in your testimonial? The two words ‘and legal’ were unfortunately winged by chance against my weakest spot, and would go far to damn me.
It was not my bliss that I was interested in when I was married; it was a sort of marriage IN EXTREMIS; and if I am where I am, it is thanks to the care of that lady who married me when I was a mere complication of cough and bones, much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom.
I had a fair experience of that kind of illness when all the women (God bless them!) turn round upon the streets and look after you with a look that is only too kind not to be cruel. I have had nearly two years of more or less prostration. I have done no work whatever since the February before last until quite of late. To be precise, until the beginning of last month, exactly two essays. All last winter I was at Davos; and indeed I am home here just now against the doctor’s orders, and must soon be back again to that unkindly haunt ‘upon the mountains visitant’ — there goes no angel there but the angel of death. The deaths of last winter are still sore spots to me. . . . So, you see, I am not very likely to go on a ‘wild expedition,’ cis-Stygian at least. The truth is, I am scarce justified in standing for the chair, though I hope you will not mention this; and yet my health is one of my reasons, for the class is in summer.
I hope this statement of my case will make my long neglect appear less unkind. It was certainly not because I ever forgot you, or your unwonted kindness; and it was not because I was in any sense rioting in pleasures.
I am glad to hear the catamaran is on her legs again; you have my warmest wishes for a good cruise down the Saone; and yet there comes some envy to that wish, for when shall I go cruising? Here a sheer hulk, alas! lies R. L. S. But I will continue to hope for a better time, canoes that will sail better to the wind, and a river grander than the Saone.
I heard, by the way, in a letter of counsel from a well-wisher, one reason of my town’s absurdity about the chair of Art: I fear it is characteristic of her manners. It was because you did not call upon the electors!
Will you remember me to Mrs. Hamerton and your son? — And believe me, etc., etc.,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY, [JULY 1881].
MY DEAR COLVIN, — I do believe I am better, mind and body; I am tired just now, for I have just been up the burn with Wogg, daily growing better and boo’f’ler; so do not judge my state by my style in this. I am working steady, four Cornhill pages scrolled every day, besides the correspondence about this chair, which is heavy in itself. My first story, ‘Thrawn Janet,’ all in Scotch, is accepted by Stephen; my second, ‘The Body Snatchers,’ is laid aside in a justifiable disgust, the tale being horrid; my third, ‘The Merry Men,’ I am more than half through, and think real well of. It is a fantastic sonata about the sea and wrecks; and I like it much above all my other attempts at story-telling; I think it is strange; if ever I shall make a hit, I have the line now, as I believe.
Fanny has finished one of hers, ‘The Shadow on the Bed,’ and is now hammering at a second, for which we have ‘no name’ as yet — not by Wilkie Collins.
TALES FOR WINTER NIGHTS. Yes, that, I think, we will call the lot of them when republished.
Why have you not sent me a testimonial? Everybody else but you has responded, and Symonds, but I’m afraid he’s ill. Do think, too, if anybody else would write me a testimonial. I am told quantity goes far. I have good ones from Rev. Professor Campbell, Professor Meiklejohn, Leslie Stephen, Lang, Gosse, and a very shaky one from Hamerton.
Grant is an elector, so can’t, but has written me kindly. From Tulloch I have not yet heard. Do help me with suggestions. This old chair, with its 250 pounds and its light work, would make me.
It looks as if we should take Cater’s chalet after all; but O! to go back to that place, it seems cruel. I have not yet received the Landor; but it may be at home, detained by my mother, who returns to-morrow.
Believe me, dear Colvin, ever yours,
R. L. S.
Yours came; the class is in summer; many thanks for the testimonial, it is bully; arrived along with it another from Symonds, also bully; he is ill, but not lungs, thank God — fever got in Italy. We HAVE taken Cater’s chalet; so we are now the aristo.‘s of the valley. There is no hope for me, but if there were, you would hear sweetness and light streaming from my lips.
‘The Merry Men’
Chap. I. Eilean Aros. } II. What the Wreck had brought to Aros. } Tip III. Past and Present in Sandag Bay. } Top IV. The Gale. } Tale. V. A Man out of the Sea. }
KINNAIRD COTTAGE, PITLOCHRY, JULY 1881.
MY DEAR HENLEY, — I hope, then, to have a visit from you. If before August, here; if later, at Braemar. Tupe!
And now, MON BON, I must babble about ‘The Merry Men,’ my favourite work. It is a fantastic sonata about the sea and wrecks. Chapter I. ‘Eilean Aros’ — the island, the roost, the ‘merry men,’ the three people there living — sea superstitions. Chapter II. ‘What the Wreck had brought to Aros.’ Eh, boy? what had it? Silver and clocks and brocades, and what a conscience, what a mad brain! Chapter III. ‘Past and Present in Sandag Bay’ — the new wreck and the old — so old — the Armada treasure-ship, Santma Trinid — the grave in the heather — strangers there. Chapter IV. ‘The Gale’ — the doomed ship — the storm — the drunken madman on the head — cries in the night. Chapter V. ‘A Man out of the Sea.’ But I must not breathe to you my plot. It is, I fancy, my first real shoot at a story; an odd thing, sir, but, I believe, my own, though there is a little of Scott’s PIRATE in it, as how should there not? He had the root of romance in such places. Aros is Earraid, where I lived lang syne; the Ross of Grisapol is the Ross of Mull; Ben Ryan, Ben More. I have written to the middle of Chapter IV. Like enough, when it is finished I shall discard all chapterings; for the thing is written straight through. It must, unhappily, be re-written — too well written not to be.
The chair is only three months in summer; that is why I try for it. If I get it, which I shall not, I should be independent at once. Sweet thought. I liked your Byron well; your Berlioz better. No one would remark these cuts; even I, who was looking for it, knew it not at all to be a TORSO. The paper strengthens me in my recommendation to you to follow Colvin’s hint. Give us an 1830; you will do it well, and the subject smiles widely on the world:-
1830: A CHAPTER OF ARTISTIC HISTORY, by William Ernest Henley (or OF SOCIAL AND ARTISTIC HISTORY, as the thing might grow to you). Sir, you might be in the Athenaeum yet with that; and, believe me, you might and would be far better, the author of a readable book. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
The following names have been invented for Wogg by his dear papa:-
Grunty-pig (when he is scratched), Rose-mouth (when he comes flying up with his rose-leaf tongue depending), and Hoofen-boots (when he has had his foots wet). How would TALES FOR WINTER NIGHTS do?
PITLOCHRY, IF YOU PLEASE, [AUGUST] 1881.
DEAR HENLEY, — To answer a point or two. First, the Spanish ship was sloop-rigged and clumsy, because she was fitted out by some private adventurers, not over wealthy, and glad to take what they could get. Is that not right? Tell me if you think not. That, at least, was how I meant it. As for the boat-cloaks, I am afraid they are, as you say, false imagination; but I love the name, nature, and being of them so dearly, that I feel as if I would almost rather ruin a story than omit the reference. The proudest moments of my life have been passed in the stern-sheets of a boat with that romantic garment over my shoulders. This, without prejudice to one glorious day when standing upon some water stairs at Lerwick I signalled with my pocket-handkerchief for a boat to come ashore for me. I was then aged fifteen or sixteen; conceive my glory.
Several of the phrases you object to are proper nautical, or long- shore phrases, and therefore, I think, not out of place in this long-shore story. As for the two members which you thought at first so ill-united; I confess they seem perfectly so to me. I have chosen to sacrifice a long-projected story of adventure because the sentiment of that is identical with the sentiment of ‘My uncle.’ My uncle himself is not the story as I see it, only the leading episode of that story. It’s really a story of wrecks, as they appear to the dweller on the coast. It’s a view of the sea. Goodness knows when I shall be able to re-write; I must first get over this copper-headed cold.
R. L. S.
PITLOCHRY, AUGUST 1881.
MY DEAR COLVIN, — This is the first letter I have written this good while. I have had a brutal cold, not perhaps very wisely treated; lots of blood — for me, I mean. I was so well, however, before, that I seem to be sailing through with it splendidly. My appetite never failed; indeed, as I got worse, it sharpened — a sort of reparatory instinct. Now I feel in a fair way to get round soon.
MONDAY, AUGUST (2ND, is it?). — We set out for the Spital of Glenshee, and reach Braemar on Tuesday. The Braemar address we cannot learn; it looks as if ‘Braemar’ were all that was necessary; if particular, you can address 17 Heriot Row. We shall be delighted to see you whenever, and as soon as ever, you can make it possible.
. . . I hope heartily you will survive me, and do not doubt it. There are seven or eight people it is no part of my scheme in life to survive — yet if I could but heal me of my bellowses, I could have a jolly life — have it, even now, when I can work and stroll a little, as I have been doing till this cold. I have so many things to make life sweet to me, it seems a pity I cannot have that other one thing — health. But though you will be angry to hear it, I believe, for myself at least, what is is best. I believed it all through my worst days, and I am not ashamed to profess it now.
Landor has just turned up; but I had read him already. I like him extremely; I wonder if the ‘cuts’ were perhaps not advantageous. It seems quite full enough; but then you know I am a compressionist.
If I am to criticise, it is a little staid; but the classical is apt to look so. It is in curious contrast to that inexpressive, unplanned wilderness of Forster’s; clear, readable, precise, and sufficiently human. I see nothing lost in it, though I could have wished, in my Scotch capacity, a trifle clearer and fuller exposition of his moral attitude, which is not quite clear ‘from here.’
He and his tyrannicide! I am in a mad fury about these explosions. If that is the new world! Damn O’Donovan Rossa; damn him behind and before, above, below, and roundabout; damn, deracinate, and destroy him, root and branch, self and company, world without end. Amen. I write that for sport if you like, but I will pray in earnest, O Lord, if you cannot convert, kindly delete him!
Stories naturally at — halt. Henley has seen one and approves. I believe it to be good myself, even real good. He has also seen and approved one of Fanny’s. It will snake a good volume. We have now
Thrawn Janet (with Stephen), proof to-day. The Shadow on the Bed (Fanny’s copying). The Merry Men (scrolled). The Body Snatchers (scrolled).
The Travelling Companion. The Torn Surplice (NOT FINAL TITLE).
R. L. S.
THE COTTAGE, CASTLETON OF BRAEMAR, SUNDAY, AUGUST 1881.
MY DEAR SIR, — I should long ago have written to thank you for your kind and frank letter; but in my state of health papers are apt to get mislaid, and your letter has been vainly hunted for until this (Sunday) morning.
I regret I shall not be able to see you in Edinburgh; one visit to Edinburgh has already cost me too dear in that invaluable particular health; but if it should be at all possible for you to push on as far as Braemar, I believe you would find an attentive listener, and I can offer you a bed, a drive, and necessary food, etc.
If, however, you should not be able to come thus far, I can promise you two things: First, I shall religiously revise what I have written, and bring out more clearly the point of view from which I regarded Thoreau; second, I shall in the Preface record your objection.
The point of view (and I must ask you not to forget that any such short paper is essentially only a SECTION THROUGH a man) was this: I desired to look at the man through his books. Thus, for instance, when I mentioned his return to the pencil-making, I did it only in passing (perhaps I was wrong), because it seemed to me not an illustration of his principles, but a brave departure from them. Thousands of such there were I do not doubt; still, they might be hardly to my purpose, though, as you say so, some of them would be.
Our difference as to pity I suspect was a logomachy of my making. No pitiful acts on his part would surprise me; I know he would be more pitiful in practice than most of the whiners; but the spirit of that practice would still seem to be unjustly described by the word pity.
When I try to be measured, I find myself usually suspected of a sneaking unkindness for my subject; but you may be sure, sir, I would give up most other things to be so good a man as Thoreau. Even my knowledge of him leads me thus far.
Should you find yourself able to push on to Braemar — it may even be on your way — believe me, your visit will be most welcome. The weather is cruel, but the place is, as I dare say you know, the very ‘wale’ of Scotland — bar Tummelside. — Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
THE COTTAGE, CASTLETON OF BRAEMAR, AUGUST 1881.
. . . WELL, I have been pretty mean, but I have not yet got over my cold so completely as to have recovered much energy. It is really extraordinary that I should have recovered as well as I have in this blighting weather; the wind pipes, the rain comes in squalls, great black clouds are continually overhead, and it is as cold as March. The country is delightful, more cannot be said; it is very beautiful, a perfect joy when we get a blink of sun to see it in. The Queen knows a thing or two, I perceive; she has picked out the finest habitable spot in Britain.
I have done no work, and scarce written a letter for three weeks, but I think I should soon begin again; my cough is now very trifling. I eat well, and seem to have lost but I little flesh in the meanwhile. I was WONDERFULLY well before I caught this horrid cold. I never thought I should have been as well again; I really enjoyed life and work; and, of course, I now have a good hope that this may return.
I suppose you heard of our ghost stories. They are somewhat delayed by my cold and a bad attack of laziness, embroidery, etc., under which Fanny had been some time prostrate. It is horrid that we can get no better weather. I did not get such good accounts of you as might have been. You must imitate me. I am now one of the most conscientious people at trying to get better you ever saw. I have a white hat, it is much admired; also a plaid, and a heavy stoop; so I take my walks abroad, witching the world.
Last night I was beaten at chess, and am still grinding under the blow. — Ever your faithful friend,
R. L. S.
THE COTTAGE (LATE THE LATE MISS M’GREGOR’S), CASTLETON OF BRAEMAR, AUGUST 10, 1881.
MY DEAR GOSSE, — Come on the 24th, there is a dear fellow. Everybody else wants to come later, and it will be a godsend for, sir — Yours sincerely.
You can stay as long as you behave decently, and are not sick of, sir — Your obedient, humble servant.
We have family worship in the home of, sir — Yours respectfully.
Braemar is a fine country, but nothing to (what you will also see) the maps of, sir — Yours in the Lord.
A carriage and two spanking hacks draw up daily at the hour of two before the house of, sir — Yours truly.
The rain rains and the winds do beat upon the cottage of the late Miss Macgregor and of, sir — Yours affectionately.
It is to be trusted that the weather may improve ere you know the halls of, sir — Yours emphatically.
All will be glad to welcome you, not excepting, sir — Yours ever.
You will now have gathered the lamentable intellectual collapse of, sir — Yours indeed.
And nothing remains for me but to sign myself, sir — Yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
N.B. — Each of these clauses has to be read with extreme glibness, coming down whack upon the ‘Sir.’ This is very important. The fine stylistic inspiration will else be lost.
I commit the man who made, the man who sold, and the woman who supplied me with my present excruciating gilt nib to that place where the worm never dies.
The reference to a deceased Highland lady (tending as it does to foster unavailing sorrow) may be with advantage omitted from the address, which would therefore run — The Cottage, Castleton of Braemar.
THE COTTAGE, CASTLETON OF BRAEMAR, AUGUST 19, 1881.
IF you had an uncle who was a sea captain and went to the North Pole, you had better bring his outfit. VERBUM SAPIENTIBUS. I look towards you.
R. L. STEVENSON.
[BRAEMAR], AUGUST 19, 1881.
MY DEAR WEG, — I have by an extraordinary drollery of Fortune sent off to you by this day’s post a P. C. inviting you to appear in sealskin. But this had reference to the weather, and not at all, as you may have been led to fancy, to our rustic raiment of an evening.
As to that question, I would deal, in so far as in me lies, fairly with all men. We are not dressy people by nature; but it sometimes occurs to us to entertain angels. In the country, I believe, even angels may be decently welcomed in tweed; I have faced many great personages, for my own part, in a tasteful suit of sea-cloth with an end of carpet pending from my gullet. Still, we do maybe twice a summer burst out in the direction of blacks . . . and yet we do it seldom. . . . In short, let your own heart decide, and the capacity of your portmanteau. If you came in camel’s hair, you would still, although conspicuous, be welcome.
The sooner the better after Tuesday. — Yours ever,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
BRAEMAR [AUGUST 25, 1881].
MY DEAR HENLEY, — Of course I am a rogue. Why, Lord, it’s known, man; but you should remember I have had a horrid cold. Now, I’m better, I think; and see here — nobody, not you, nor Lang, nor the devil, will hurry me with our crawlers. They are coming. Four of them are as good as done, and the rest will come when ripe; but I am now on another lay for the moment, purely owing to Lloyd, this one; but I believe there’s more coin in it than in any amount of crawlers: now, see here, ‘The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island: A Story for Boys.’
If this don’t fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day. Will you be surprised to learn that it is about Buccaneers, that it begins in the ADMIRAL BENBOW public-house on Devon coast, that it’s all about a map, and a treasure, and a mutiny, and a derelict ship, and a current, and a fine old Squire Trelawney (the real Tre, purged of literature and sin, to suit the infant mind), and a doctor, and another doctor, and a sea-cook with one leg, and a sea-song with the chorus ‘Yo-ho-ho-and a bottle of rum’ (at the third Ho you heave at the capstan bars), which is a real buccaneer’s song, only known to the crew of the late Captain Flint (died of rum at Key West, much regretted, friends will please accept this intimation); and lastly, would you be surprised to hear, in this connection, the name of ROUTLEDGE? That’s the kind of man I am, blast your eyes. Two chapters are written, and have been tried on Lloyd with great success; the trouble is to work it off without oaths. Buccaneers without oaths — bricks without straw. But youth and the fond parient have to be consulted.
And now look here — this is next day — and three chapters are written and read. (Chapter I. The Old Sea-dog at the ADMIRAL BENBOW. Chapter II. Black Dog appears and disappears. Chapter III. The Black Spot) All now heard by Lloyd, F., and my father and mother, with high approval. It’s quite silly and horrid fun, and what I want is the BEST book about the Buccaneers that can be had — the latter B’s above all, Blackbeard and sich, and get Nutt or Bain to send it skimming by the fastest post. And now I know you’ll write to me, for ‘The Sea Cook’s’ sake.
Your ‘Admiral Guinea’ is curiously near my line, but of course I’m fooling; and your Admiral sounds like a shublime gent. Stick to him like wax — he’ll do. My Trelawney is, as I indicate, several thousand sea-miles off the lie of the original or your Admiral Guinea; and besides, I have no more about him yet but one mention of his name, and I think it likely he may turn yet farther from the model in the course of handling. A chapter a day I mean to do; they are short; and perhaps in a month the ‘Sea Cook’ may to Routledge go, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! My Trelawney has a strong dash of Landor, as I see him from here. No women in the story, Lloyd’s orders; and who so blithe to obey? It’s awful fun boys’ stories; you just indulge the pleasure of your heart, that’s all; no trouble, no strain. The only stiff thing is to get it ended — that I don’t see, but I look to a volcano. O sweet, O generous, O human toils. You would like my blind beggar in Chapter III. I believe; no writing, just drive along as the words come and the pen will scratch!
R. L. S.
Author of BOYS’ STORIES.
MY DEAR DR. JAPP, — My father has gone, but I think may take it upon me to ask you to keep the book. Of all things you could do to endear yourself to me, you have done the best, for my father and you have taken a fancy to each other.
I do not know how to thank you for all your kind trouble in the matter of ‘The Sea-Cook,’ but I am not unmindful. My health is still poorly, and I have added intercostal rheumatism — a new attraction — which sewed me up nearly double for two days, and still gives me a list to starboard — let us be ever nautical!
I do not think with the start I have there will be any difficulty in letting Mr. Henderson go ahead whenever he likes. I will write my story up to its legitimate conclusion; and then we shall be in a position to judge whether a sequel would be desirable, and I would then myself know better about its practicability from the story- teller’s point of view. — Yours ever very sincerely,
R. L. STEVENSON.
BRAEMAR, SEPTEMBER 1881.
MY DEAR HENLEY, — Thanks for your last. The 100 pounds fell through, or dwindled at least into somewhere about 30 pounds. However, that I’ve taken as a mouthful, so you may look out for ‘The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island: A Tale of the Buccaneers,’ in YOUNG FOLKS. (The terms are 2 pounds, 10s. a page of 4500 words; that’s not noble, is it? But I have my copyright safe. I don’t get illustrated — a blessing; that’s the price I have to pay for my copyright.)
I’ll make this boys’ book business pay; but I have to make a beginning. When I’m done with YOUNG FOLKS, I’ll try Routledge or some one. I feel pretty sure the ‘Sea Cook’ will do to reprint, and bring something decent at that.
Japp is a good soul. The poet was very gay and pleasant. He told me much: he is simply the most active young man in England, and one of the most intelligent. ‘He shall o’er Europe, shall o’er earth extend.’ He is now extending over adjacent parts of Scotland.
I propose to follow up the ‘Sea Cook’ at proper intervals by ‘Jerry Abershaw: A Tale of Putney Heath’ (which or its site I must visit), ‘The Leading Light: A Tale of the Coast,’ ‘The Squaw Men: or the Wild West,’ and other instructive and entertaining work. ‘Jerry Abershaw’ should be good, eh? I love writing boys’ books. This first is only an experiment; wait till you see what I can make ‘em with my hand in. I’ll be the Harrison Ainsworth of the future; and a chalk better by St. Christopher; or at least as good. You’ll see that even by the ‘Sea Cook.’
Jerry Abershaw — O what a title! Jerry Abershaw: d-n it, sir, it’s a poem. The two most lovely words in English; and what a sentiment! Hark you, how the hoofs ring! Is this a blacksmith’s? No, it’s a wayside inn. Jerry Abershaw. ‘It was a clear, frosty evening, not 100 miles from Putney,’ etc. Jerry Abershaw. Jerry Abershaw. Jerry Abershaw. The ‘Sea Cook’ is now in its sixteenth chapter, and bids for well up in the thirties. Each three chapters is worth 2 pounds, 10s. So we’ve 12 pounds, 10s. already.
Don’t read Marryat’s’ PIRATE anyhow; it is written in sand with a salt-spoon: arid, feeble, vain, tottering production. But then we’re not always all there. He was all somewhere else that trip. It’s DAMNABLE, Henley. I don’t go much on the ‘Sea Cook’; but, Lord, it’s a little fruitier than the PIRATE by Cap’n. Marryat.
Since this was written ‘The Cook’ is in his nineteenth chapter. Yo-heave ho!
R. L. S.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, AUTUMN 1881.]
MY DEAR FATHER, — It occurred to me last night in bed that I could write
The Murder of Red Colin, A Story of the Forfeited Estates.
This I have all that is necessary for, with the following exceptions:-
TRIALS OF THE SONS OF ROY ROB WITH ANECDOTES: Edinburgh, 1818, and
The second volume of BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE.
You might also look in Arnot’s CRIMINAL TRIALS up in my room, and see what observations he has on the case (Trial of James Stewart in Appin for murder of Campbell of Glenure, 1752); if he has none, perhaps you could see — O yes, see if Burton has it in his two vols. of trial stories. I hope he hasn’t; but care not; do it over again anyway.
The two named authorities I must see. With these, I could soon pull off this article; and it shall be my first for the electors. — Ever affectionate son,
R. L. S.
CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, AUTUMN .
MY DEAR MR. HAMERTON, — My conscience has long been smiting me, till it became nearly chronic. My excuses, however, are many and not pleasant. Almost immediately after I last wrote to you, I had a hemorreage (I can’t spell it), was badly treated by a doctor in the country, and have been a long while picking up — still, in fact, have much to desire on that side. Next, as soon as I got here, my wife took ill; she is, I fear, seriously so; and this combination of two invalids very much depresses both.
I have a volume of republished essays coming out with Chatto and Windus; I wish they would come, that my wife might have the reviews to divert her. Otherwise my news is NIL. I am up here in a little chalet, on the borders of a pinewood, overlooking a great part of the Davos Thal, a beautiful scene at night, with the moon upon the snowy mountains, and the lights warmly shining in the village. J. A. Symonds is next door to me, just at the foot of my Hill Difficulty (this you will please regard as the House Beautiful), and his society is my great stand-by.
Did you see I had joined the band of the rejected? ‘Hardly one of us,’ said my CONFRERES at the bar.
I was blamed by a common friend for asking you to give me a testimonial; in the circumstances he thought it was indelicate. Lest, by some calamity, you should ever have felt the same way, I must say in two words how the matter appeared to me. That silly story of the election altered in no tittle the value of your testimony: so much for that. On the other hand, it led me to take quite a particular pleasure in asking you to give it; and so much for the other. I trust, even if you cannot share it, you will understand my view.
I am in treaty with Bentley for a life of Hazlitt; I hope it will not fall through, as I love the subject, and appear to have found a publisher who loves it also. That, I think, makes things more pleasant. You know I am a fervent Hazlittite; I mean regarding him as THE English writer who has had the scantiest justice. Besides which, I am anxious to write biography; really, if I understand myself in quest of profit, I think it must be good to live with another man from birth to death. You have tried it, and know.
How has the cruising gone? Pray remember me to Mrs. Hamerton and your son, and believe me, yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[CHALET AM STEIN], DAVOS, DECEMBER 5, 1881.
MY DEAR CHARLES, — We have been in miserable case here; my wife worse and worse; and now sent away with Lloyd for sick nurse, I not being allowed to go down. I do not know what is to become of us; and you may imagine how rotten I have been feeling, and feel now, alone with my weasel-dog and my German maid, on the top of a hill here, heavy mist and thin snow all about me, and the devil to pay in general. I don’t care so much for solitude as I used to; results, I suppose, of marriage.
Pray write me something cheery. A little Edinburgh gossip, in Heaven’s name. Ah! what would I not give to steal this evening with you through the big, echoing, college archway, and away south under the street lamps, and away to dear Brash’s, now defunct! But the old time is dead also, never, never to revive. It was a sad time too, but so gay and so hopeful, and we had such sport with all our low spirits and all our distresses, that it looks like a kind of lamplit fairyland behind me. O for ten Edinburgh minutes — sixpence between us, and the ever-glorious Lothian Road, or dear mysterious Leith Walk! But here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling; here in this strange place, whose very strangeness would have been heaven to him then; and aspires, yes, C. B., with tears, after the past. See what comes of being left alone. Do you remember Brash? the sheet of glass that we followed along George Street? Granton? the blight at Bonny mainhead? the compass near the sign of the TWINKLING EYE? the night I lay on the pavement in misery?
I swear it by the eternal sky Johnson — nor Thomson — ne’er shall die!
Yet I fancy they are dead too; dead like Brash.
R. L. S.
CHALET BUOL, DAVOS-PLATZ, DECEMBER 26, 1881.
MY DEAR MOTHER, — Yesterday, Sunday and Christmas, we finished this eventful journey by a drive in an OPEN sleigh — none others were to be had — seven hours on end through whole forests of Christmas trees. The cold was beyond belief. I have often suffered less at a dentist’s. It was a clear, sunny day, but the sun even at noon falls, at this season, only here and there into the Prattigau. I kept up as long as I could in an imitation of a street singer:-
Away, ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses, etc.
At last Lloyd remarked, a blue mouth speaking from a corpse- coloured face, ‘You seem to be the only one with any courage left?’ And, do you know, with that word my courage disappeared, and I made the rest of the stage in the same dumb wretchedness as the others. My only terror was lest Fanny should ask for brandy, or laudanum, or something. So awful was the idea of putting my hands out, that I half thought I would refuse.
Well, none of us are a penny the worse, Lloyd’s cold better; I, with a twinge of the rheumatic; and Fanny better than her ordinary.
General conclusion between Lloyd and me as to the journey: A prolonged visit to the dentist’s, complicated with the fear of death.
Never, O never, do you get me there again. — Ever affectionate son,
R. L. S.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS-PLATZ, FEBRUARY 1882.]
MY DEAR CUMMY, — My wife and I are very much vexed to hear you are still unwell. We are both keeping far better; she especially seems quite to have taken a turn — THE turn, we shall hope. Please let us know how you get on, and what has been the matter with you; Braemar I believe — the vile hole. You know what a lazy rascal I am, so you won’t be surprised at a short letter, I know; indeed, you will be much more surprised at my having had the decency to write at all. We have got rid of our young, pretty, and incompetent maid; and now we have a fine, canny, twinkling, shrewd, auld-farrant peasant body, who gives us good food and keeps us in good spirits. If we could only understand what she says! But she speaks Davos language, which is to German what Aberdeen-awa’ is to English, so it comes heavy. God bless you, my dear Cummy; and so says Fanny forbye. — Ever your affectionate,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS], 22ND FEBRUARY ‘82.
MY DEAR CHARLES, — Your most welcome letter has raised clouds of sulphur from my horizon . . . .
I am glad you have gone back to your music. Life is a poor thing, I am more and more convinced, without an art, that always waits for us and is always new. Art and marriage are two very good stand- by’s.
In an article which will appear sometime in the CORNHILL, ‘Talk and Talkers,’ and where I have full-lengthened the conversation of Bob, Henley, Jenkin, Simpson, Symonds, and Gosse, I have at the end one single word about yourself. It may amuse you to see it.
We are coming to Scotland after all, so we shall meet, which pleases me, and I do believe I am strong enough to stand it this time. My knee is still quite lame.
My wife is better again. . . . But we take it by turns; it is the dog that is ill now. — Ever yours,
R. L. S.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS-PLATZ, FEBRUARY 1882.]
MY DEAR HENLEY, — Here comes the letter as promised last night. And first two requests: Pray send the enclosed to c/o Blackmore’s publisher, ‘tis from Fanny; second, pray send us Routledge’s shilling book, Edward Mayhew’s DOGS, by return if it can be managed.
Our dog is very ill again, poor fellow, looks very ill too, only sleeps at night because of morphine; and we do not know what ails him, only fear it to be canker of the ear. He makes a bad, black spot in our life, poor, selfish, silly, little tangle; and my wife is wretched. Otherwise she is better, steadily and slowly moving up through all her relapses. My knee never gets the least better; it hurts to-night, which it has not done for long. I do not suppose my doctor knows any least thing about it. He says it is a nerve that I struck, but I assure you he does not know.
I have just finished a paper, ‘A Gossip on Romance,’ in which I have tried to do, very popularly, about one-half of the matter you wanted me to try. In a way, I have found an answer to the question. But the subject was hardly fit for so chatty a paper, and it is all loose ends. If ever I do my book on the Art of Literature, I shall gather them together and be clear.
To-morrow, having once finished off the touches still due on this, I shall tackle SAN FRANCISCO for you. Then the tide of work will fairly bury me, lost to view and hope. You have no idea what it costs me to wring out my work now. I have certainly been a fortnight over this Romance, sometimes five hours a day; and yet it is about my usual length — eight pages or so, and would be a d-d sight the better for another curry. But I do not think I can honestly re-write it all; so I call it done, and shall only straighten words in a revision currently.
I had meant to go on for a great while, and say all manner of entertaining things. But all’s gone. I am now an idiot. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, MARCH 1882.]
MY DEAR HENLEY, — . . . Last night we had a dinner-party, consisting of the John Addington, curry, onions (lovely onions), and beefsteak. So unusual is any excitement, that F. and I feel this morning as if we had been to a coronation. However I must, I suppose, write.
I was sorry about your female contributor squabble. ‘Tis very comic, but really unpleasant. But what care I? Now that I illustrate my own books, I can always offer you a situation in our house — S. L. Osbourne and Co. As an author gets a halfpenny a copy of verses, and an artist a penny a cut, perhaps a proof-reader might get several pounds a year.
O that Coronation! What a shouting crowd there was! I obviously got a firework in each eye. The king looked very magnificent, to be sure; and that great hall where we feasted on seven hundred delicate foods, and drank fifty royal wines — QUEL COUP D’OEIL! but was it not over-done, even for a coronation — almost a vulgar luxury? And eleven is certainly too late to begin dinner. (It was really 6.30 instead of 5.30.)
Your list of books that Cassells have refused in these weeks is not quite complete; they also refused:-
1. Six undiscovered Tragedies, one romantic Comedy, a fragment of Journal extending over six years, and an unfinished Autobiography reaching up to the first performance of King John. By William Shakespeare.
2. The journals and Private Correspondence of David, King of Israel.
3. Poetical Works of Arthur, Iron Dook of Wellington, including a Monody on Napoleon.
4. Eight books of an unfinished novel, SOLOMON CRABB. By Henry Fielding.
5. Stevenson’s Moral Emblems.
You also neglected to mention, as PER CONTRA, that they had during the same time accepted and triumphantly published Brown’s HANDBOOK TO CRICKET, Jones’s FIRST FRENCH READER, and Robinson’s PICTURESQUE CHESHIRE, uniform with the same author’s STATELY HOMES OF SALOP.
O if that list could come true! How we would tear at Solomon Crabb! O what a bully, bully, bully business. Which would you read first — Shakespeare’s autobiography, or his journals? What sport the monody on Napoleon would be — what wooden verse, what stucco ornament! I should read both the autobiography and the journals before I looked at one of the plays, beyond the names of them, which shows that Saintsbury was right, and I do care more for life than for poetry. No — I take it back. Do you know one of the tragedies — a Bible tragedy too — DAVID— was written in his third period — much about the same time as Lear? The comedy, APRIL RAIN, is also a late work. BECKETT is a fine ranting piece, like RICHARD II., but very fine for the stage. Irving is to play it this autumn when I’m in town; the part rather suits him — but who is to play Henry — a tremendous creation, sir. Betterton in his private journal seems to have seen this piece; and he says distinctly that Henry is the best part in any play. ‘Though,’ he adds, ‘how it be with the ancient plays I know not. But in this I have ever feared to do ill, and indeed will not be persuaded to that undertaking.’ So says Betterton. RUFUS is not so good; I am not pleased with RUFUS; plainly a RIFACCIMENTO of some inferior work; but there are some damned fine lines. As for the purely satiric ill-minded ABELARD AND HELOISE, another TROILUS, QUOI! it is not pleasant, truly, but what strength, what verve, what knowledge of life, and the Canon! What a finished, humorous, rich picture is the Canon! Ah, there was nobody like Shakespeare. But what I like is the David and Absalom business. Absalom is so well felt — you love him as David did; David’s speech is one roll of royal music from the first act to the fifth.
I am enjoying SOLOMON CRABB extremely; Solomon’s capital adventure with the two highwaymen and Squire Trecothick and Parson Vance; it is as good, I think, as anything in Joseph Andrews. I have just come to the part where the highwayman with the black patch over his eye has tricked poor Solomon into his place, and the squire and the parson are hearing the evidence. Parson Vance is splendid. How good, too, is old Mrs. Crabb and the coastguardsman in the third chapter, or her delightful quarrel with the sexton of Seaham; Lord Conybeare is surely a little overdone; but I don’t know either; he’s such damned fine sport. Do you like Sally Barnes? I’m in love with her. Constable Muddon is as good as Dogberry and Verges put together; when he takes Solomon to the cage, and the highwayman gives him Solomon’s own guinea for his pains, and kisses Mrs. Muddon, and just then up drives Lord Conybeare, and instead of helping Solomon, calls him all the rascals in Christendom — O Henry Fielding, Henry Fielding! Yet perhaps the scenes at Seaham are the best. But I’m bewildered among all these excellences.
Stay, cried a voice that made the welkin crack — This here’s a dream, return and study BLACK!
- Ever yours,
R. L. S.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, MARCH 1882.]
MY DEAR SIR, — This formidable paper need not alarm you; it argues nothing beyond penury of other sorts, and is not at all likely to lead me into a long letter. If I were at all grateful it would, for yours has just passed for me a considerable part of a stormy evening. And speaking of gratitude, let me at once and with becoming eagerness accept your kind invitation to Bowdon. I shall hope, if we can agree as to dates when I am nearer hand, to come to you sometime in the month of May. I was pleased to hear you were a Scot; I feel more at home with my compatriots always; perhaps the more we are away, the stronger we feel that bond.
You ask about Davos; I have discoursed about it already, rather sillily I think, in the PALL MALL, and I mean to say no more, but the ways of the Muse are dubious and obscure, and who knows? I may be wiled again. As a place of residence, beyond a splendid climate, it has to my eyes but one advantage — the neighbourhood of J. A. Symonds — I dare say you know his work, but the man is far more interesting. It has done me, in my two winters’ Alpine exile, much good; so much, that I hope to leave it now for ever, but would not be understood to boast. In my present unpardonably crazy state, any cold might send me skipping, either back to Davos, or further off. Let us hope not. It is dear; a little dreary; very far from many things that both my taste and my needs prompt me to seek; and altogether not the place that I should choose of my free will.
I am chilled by your description of the man in question, though I had almost argued so much from his cold and undigested volume. If the republication does not interfere with my publisher, it will not interfere with me; but there, of course, comes the hitch. I do not know Mr. Bentley, and I fear all publishers like the devil from legend and experience both. However, when I come to town, we shall, I hope, meet and understand each other as well as author and publisher ever do. I liked his letters; they seemed hearty, kind, and personal. Still — I am notedly suspicious of the trade — your news of this republication alarms me.
The best of the present French novelists seems to me, incomparably, Daudet. LES ROIS EN EXIL comes very near being a masterpiece. For Zola I have no toleration, though the curious, eminently bourgeois, and eminently French creature has power of a kind. But I would he were deleted. I would not give a chapter of old Dumas (meaning himself, not his collaborators) for the whole boiling of the Zolas. Romance with the smallpox — as the great one: diseased anyway and blackhearted and fundamentally at enmity with joy.
I trust that Mrs. Ireland does not object to smoking; and if you are a teetotaller, I beg you to mention it before I come — I have all the vices; some of the virtues also, let us hope — that, at least, of being a Scotchman, and yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. — My father was in the old High School the last year, and walked in the procession to the new. I blush to own I am an Academy boy; it seems modern, and smacks not of the soil.
P.P.S. — I enclose a good joke — at least, I think so — my first efforts at wood engraving printed by my stepson, a boy of thirteen. I will put in also one of my later attempts. I have been nine days at the art — observe my progress.
R. L. S.
DAVOS, MARCH 23, 1882.
MY DEAR WEG, — And I had just written the best note to Mrs. Gosse that was in my power. Most blameable.
I now send (for Mrs. Gosse).
Also an advertisement of my new appearance as poet (bard, rather) and hartis on wood. The cut represents the Hero and the Eagle, and is emblematic of Cortez first viewing the Pacific Ocean, which (according to the bard Keats) it took place in Darien. The cut is much admired for the sentiment of discovery, the manly proportions of the voyager, and the fine impression of tropical scenes and the untrodden WASTE, so aptly rendered by the hartis.
I would send you the book; but I declare I’m ruined. I got a penny a cut and a halfpenny a set of verses from the flint-hearted publisher, and only one specimen copy, as I’m a sinner. — was apostolic alongside of Osbourne.
I hope you will be able to decipher this, written at steam speed with a breaking pen, the hotfast postman at my heels. No excuse, says you. None, sir, says I, and touches my ‘at most civil (extraordinary evolution of pen, now quite doomed — to resume — ) I have not put pen to the Bloody Murder yet. But it is early on my list; and when once I get to it, three weeks should see the last bloodstain — maybe a fortnight. For I am beginning to combine an extraordinary laborious slowness while at work, with the most surprisingly quick results in the way of finished manuscripts. How goes Gray? Colvin is to do Keats. My wife is still not well. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, MARCH 1882.]
MY DEAR DR. JAPP, — You must think me a forgetful rogue, as indeed I am; for I have but now told my publisher to send you a copy of the FAMILIAR STUDIES. However, I own I have delayed this letter till I could send you the enclosed. Remembering the nights at Braemar when we visited the Picture Gallery, I hoped they might amuse you. You see, we do some publishing hereaway. I shall hope to see you in town in May. — Always yours faithfully,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
CHALET BUOL, DAVOS, APRIL 1, 1882.
MY DEAR DR. JAPP, — A good day to date this letter, which is in fact a confession of incapacity. During my wife’s illness I somewhat lost my head, and entirely lost a great quire of corrected proofs. This is one of the results; I hope there are none more serious. I was never so sick of any volume as I was of that; was continually receiving fresh proofs with fresh infinitesimal difficulties. I was ill — I did really fear my wife was worse than ill. Well, it’s out now; and though I have observed several carelessnesses myself, and now here’s another of your finding — of which, indeed, I ought to be ashamed — it will only justify the sweeping humility of the Preface.
Symonds was actually dining with us when your letter came, and I communicated your remarks. . . . He is a far better and more interesting thing than any of his books.
The Elephant was my wife’s; so she is proportionately elate you should have picked it out for praise — from a collection, let me add, so replete with the highest qualities of art.
My wicked carcase, as John Knox calls it, holds together wonderfully. In addition to many other things, and a volume of travel, I find I have written, since December, 90 CORNHILL pages of magazine work — essays and stories: 40,000 words, and I am none the worse — I am the better. I begin to hope I may, if not outlive this wolverine upon my shoulders, at least carry him bravely like Symonds and Alexander Pope. I begin to take a pride in that hope.
I shall be much interested to see your criticisms; you might perhaps send them to me. I believe you know that is not dangerous; one folly I have not — I am not touchy under criticism.
Lloyd and my wife both beg to be remembered; and Lloyd sends as a present a work of his own. I hope you feel flattered; for this is SIMPLY THE FIRST TIME HE HAS EVER GIVEN ONE AWAY. I have to buy my own works, I can tell you. — Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, APRIL 1882.]
MY DEAR HENLEY, — I hope and hope for a long letter — soon I hope to be superseded by long talks — and it comes not. I remember I have never formally thanked you for that hundred quid, nor in general for the introduction to Chatto and Windus, and continue to bury you in copy as if you were my private secretary. Well, I am not unconscious of it all; but I think least said is often best, generally best; gratitude is a tedious sentiment, it’s not ductile, not dramatic.
If Chatto should take both, CUI DEDICARE? I am running out of dedikees; if I do, the whole fun of writing is stranded. TREASURE ISLAND, if it comes out, and I mean it shall, of course goes to Lloyd. Lemme see, I have now dedicated to
W. E. H. [William Ernest Henley].
S. C. [Sidney Colvin].
T. S. [Thomas Stevenson].
Simp. [Sir Walter Simpson].
There remain: C. B., the Williamses — you know they were the parties who stuck up for us about our marriage, and Mrs. W. was my guardian angel, and our Best Man and Bridesmaid rolled in one, and the only third of the wedding party — my sister-in-law, who is booked for PRINCE OTTO— Jenkin I suppose sometime — George Meredith, the only man of genius of my acquaintance, and then I believe I’ll have to take to the dead, the immortal memory business.
Talking of Meredith, I have just re-read for the third and fourth time THE EGOIST. When I shall have read it the sixth or seventh, I begin to see I shall know about it. You will be astonished when you come to re-read it; I had no idea of the matter — human, red matter he has contrived to plug and pack into that strange and admirable book. Willoughby is, of course, a pure discovery; a complete set of nerves, not heretofore examined, and yet running all over the human body — a suit of nerves. Clara is the best girl ever I saw anywhere. Vernon is almost as good. The manner and the faults of the book greatly justify themselves on further study. Only Dr. Middleton does not hang together; and Ladies Busshe and Culmer SONT DES MONSTRUOSITES. Vernon’s conduct makes a wonderful odd contrast with Daniel Deronda’s. I see more and more that Meredith is built for immortality.
Talking of which, Heywood, as a small immortal, an immortalet, claims some attention. THE WOMAN KILLED WITH KINDNESS is one of the most striking novels — not plays, though it’s more of a play than anything else of his — I ever read. He had such a sweet, sound soul, the old boy. The death of the two pirates in FORTUNE BY SEA AND LAND is a document. He had obviously been present, and heard Purser and Clinton take death by the beard with similar braggadocios. Purser and Clinton, names of pirates; Scarlet and Bobbington, names of highwaymen. He had the touch of names, I think. No man I ever knew had such a sense, such a tact, for English nomenclature: Rainsforth, Lacy, Audley, Forrest, Acton, Spencer, Frankford — so his names run.
Byron not only wrote DON JUAN; he called Joan of Arc ‘a fanatical strumpet.’ These are his words. I think the double shame, first to a great poet, second to an English noble, passes words.
Here is a strange gossip. — I am yours loquaciously,
R. L. S.
My lungs are said to be in a splendid state. A cruel examination, an exaNIMation I may call it, had this brave result. TAIAUT! Hillo! Hey! Stand by! Avast! Hurrah!
[CHALET AM STEIN, DAVOS, APRIL 9, 1882.]
MY DEAR MOTHER, — Herewith please find belated birthday present. Fanny has another.
Cockshot=Jenkin. But Jack=Bob. pray Burly=Henley. regard Athelred=Simpson. these Opalstein=Symonds. as Purcel=Gosse. secrets.
My dear mother, how can I keep up with your breathless changes? Innerleithen, Cramond, Bridge of Allan, Dunblane, Selkirk. I lean to Cramond, but I shall be pleased anywhere, any respite from Davos; never mind, it has been a good, though a dear lesson. Now, with my improved health, if I can pass the summer, I believe I shall be able no more to exceed, no more to draw on you. It is time I sufficed for myself indeed. And I believe I can.
I am still far from satisfied about Fanny; she is certainly better, but it is by fits a good deal, and the symptoms continue, which should not be. I had her persuaded to leave without me this very day (Saturday 8th), but the disclosure of my mismanagement broke up that plan; she would not leave me lest I should mismanage more. I think this an unfair revenge; but I have been so bothered that I cannot struggle. All Davos has been drinking our wine. During the month of March, three litres a day were drunk — O it is too sickening — and that is only a specimen. It is enough to make any one a misanthrope, but the right thing is to hate the donkey that was duped — which I devoutly do.
I have this winter finished TREASURE ISLAND, written the preface to the STUDIES, a small book about the INLAND VOYAGE size, THE SILVERADO SQUATTERS, and over and above that upwards of ninety (90) CORNHILL pages of magazine work. No man can say I have been idle. - Your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
[EDINBURGH] SUNDAY [JUNE 1882].
. . . NOTE turned up, but no gray opuscule, which, however, will probably turn up to-morrow in time to go out with me to Stobo Manse, Peeblesshire, where, if you can make it out, you will be a good soul to pay a visit. I shall write again about the opuscule; and about Stobo, which I have not seen since I was thirteen, though my memory speaks delightfully of it.
I have been very tired and seedy, or I should have written before, INTER ALIA, to tell you that I had visited my murder place and found LIVING TRADITIONS not yet in any printed book; most startling. I also got photographs taken, but the negatives have not yet turned up. I lie on the sofa to write this, whence the pencil; having slept yesterdays — 1+4+7.5 = 12.5 hours and being (9 A.M.) very anxious to sleep again. The arms of Porpus, quoi! A poppy gules, etc.
From Stobo you can conquer Peebles and Selkirk, or to give them their old decent names, Tweeddale and Ettrick. Think of having been called Tweeddale, and being called PEEBLES! Did I ever tell you my skit on my own travel books? We understand that Mr. Stevenson has in the press another volume of unconventional travels: PERSONAL ADVENTURES IN PEEBLESSHIRE. JE LA TROUVE MECHANTE. — Yours affectionately,
R. L. S.
- Did I say I had seen a verse on two of the Buccaneers? I did, and CA-Y-EST.
STOBO MANSE, PEEBLESSHIRE [JULY 1882].
I would shoot you, but I have no bow: The place is not called Stobs, but Stobo. As Gallic Kids complain of ‘Bobo,’ I mourn for your mistake of Stobo.
First, we shall be gone in September. But if you think of coming in August, my mother will hunt for you with pleasure. We should all be overjoyed — though Stobo it could not be, as it is but a kirk and manse, but possibly somewhere within reach. Let us know.
Second, I have read your Gray with care. A more difficult subject I can scarce fancy; it is crushing; yet I think you have managed to shadow forth a man, and a good man too; and honestly, I doubt if I could have done the same. This may seem egoistic; but you are not such a fool as to think so. It is the natural expression of real praise. The book as a whole is readable; your subject peeps every here and there out of the crannies like a shy violet — he could do no more — and his aroma hangs there.
I write to catch a minion of the post. Hence brevity. Answer about the house. — Yours affectionately,
R. L S.
[STOBO MANSE, JULY 1882.]
DEAR HENLEY, . . . I am not worth an old damn. I am also crushed by bad news of Symonds; his good lung going; I cannot help reading it as a personal hint; God help us all! Really I am not very fit for work; but I try, try, and nothing comes of it.
I believe we shall have to leave this place; it is low, damp, and MAUCHY; the rain it raineth every day; and the glass goes tol-de- rol-de riddle.
Yet it’s a bonny bit; I wish I could live in it, but doubt. I wish I was well away somewhere else. I feel like flight some days; honour bright.
Pirbright Smith is well. Old Mr. Pegfurth Bannatyne is here staying at a country inn. His whole baggage is a pair of socks and a book in a fishing-basket; and he borrows even a rod from the landlord. He walked here over the hills from Sanquhar, ‘singin’, he says, ‘like a mavis.’ I naturally asked him about Hazlitt. ‘He wouldnae take his drink,’ he said, ‘a queer, queer fellow.’ But did not seem further communicative. He says he has become ‘releegious,’ but still swears like a trooper. I asked him if he had no headquarters. ‘No likely,’ said he. He says he is writing his memoirs, which will be interesting. He once met Borrow; they boxed; ‘and Geordie,’ says the old man chuckling, ‘gave me the damnedest hiding.’ Of Wordsworth he remarked, ‘He wasnae sound in the faith, sir, and a milk-blooded, blue-spectacled bitch forbye. But his po’mes are grand — there’s no denying that.’ I asked him what his book was. ‘I havenae mind,’ said he — that was his only book! On turning it out, I found it was one of my own, and on showing it to him, he remembered it at once. ‘O aye,’ he said, ‘I mind now. It’s pretty bad; ye’ll have to do better than that, chieldy,’ and chuckled, chuckled. He is a strange old figure, to be sure. He cannot endure Pirbright Smith — ‘a mere aesthAtic,’ he said. ‘Pooh!’ ‘Fishin’ and releegion — these are my aysthatics,’ he wound up.
I thought this would interest you, so scribbled it down. I still hope to get more out of him about Hazlitt, though he utterly pooh- poohed the idea of writing H.‘s life. ‘Ma life now,’ he said, ‘there’s been queer things in IT.’ He is seventy-nine! but may well last to a hundred! — Yours ever,
R. L S.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00