[SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH], AUGUST 1887.
DEAR LAD, — I write to inform you that Mr. Stevenson’s well-known work, VIRGINIBUS PUERISQUE, is about to be reprinted. At the same time a second volume called MEMORIES AND PORTRAITS will issue from the roaring loom. Its interest will be largely autobiographical, Mr. S. having sketched there the lineaments of many departed friends, and dwelt fondly, and with a m’istened eye, upon byegone pleasures. The two will be issued under the common title of FAMILIAR ESSAYS; but the volumes will be vended separately to those who are mean enough not to hawk at both.
The blood is at last stopped: only yesterday. I began to think I should not get away. However, I hope — I hope — remark the word — no boasting — I hope I may luff up a bit now. Dobell, whom I saw, gave as usual a good account of my lungs, and expressed himself, like his neighbours, hopefully about the trip. He says, my uncle says, Scott says, Brown says — they all say — You ought not to be in such a state of health; you should recover. Well, then, I mean to. My spirits are rising again after three months of black depression: I almost begin to feel as if I should care to live: I would, by God! And so I believe I shall. — Yours, BULLETIN M’GURDER.
How has the Deacon gone?
[SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH], August 6TH, 1887.
MY DEAR LOW, — We — my mother, my wife, my stepson, my maidservant, and myself, five souls — leave, if all is well, Aug. 20th, per Wilson line SS. LUDGATE HILL. Shall probably evade N. Y. at first, cutting straight to a watering-place: Newport, I believe, its name. Afterwards we shall steal incognito into LA BONNE VILLA, and see no one but you and the Scribners, if it may be so managed. You must understand I have been very seedy indeed, quite a dead body; and unless the voyage does miracles, I shall have to draw it dam fine. Alas, ‘The Canoe Speaks’ is now out of date; it will figure in my volume of verses now imminent. However, I may find some inspiration some day. — Till very soon, yours ever,
R. L. S.
BOURNEMOUTH, AUGUST 19TH, 1887.
MY DEAR MISS BOODLE, — I promise you the paper-knife shall go to sea with me; and if it were in my disposal, I should promise it should return with me too. All that you say, I thank you for very much; I thank you for all the pleasantness that you have brought about our house; and I hope the day may come when I shall see you again in poor old Skerryvore, now left to the natives of Canada, or to worse barbarians, if such exist. I am afraid my attempt to jest is rather A CONTRE-COEUR. Good-bye — AU REVOIR— and do not forget your friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
BOURNEMOUTH [AUGUST 1887].
DEAR SIRS, — I here enclose the two titles. Had you not better send me the bargains to sign? I shall be here till Saturday; and shall have an address in London (which I shall send you) till Monday, when I shall sail. Even if the proofs do not reach you till Monday morning, you could send a clerk from Fenchurch Street Station at 10.23 A.M. for Galleons Station, and he would find me embarking on board the LUDGATE HILL, Island Berth, Royal Albert Dock. Pray keep this in case it should be necessary to catch this last chance. I am most anxious to have the proofs with me on the voyage. — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
H.M.S. ‘VULGARIUM,’ OFF HAVRE DE GRACE, THIS 22ND DAY OF AUGUST .
SIR, — The weather has been hitherto inimitable. Inimitable is the only word that I can apply to our fellow-voyagers, whom a categorist, possibly premature, has been already led to divide into two classes — the better sort consisting of the baser kind of Bagman, and the worser of undisguised Beasts of the Field. The berths are excellent, the pasture swallowable, the champagne of H. James (to recur to my favourite adjective) inimitable. As for the Commodore, he slept awhile in the evening, tossed off a cup of Henry James with his plain meal, walked the deck till eight, among sands and floating lights and buoys and wrecked brigantines, came down (to his regret) a minute too soon to see Margate lit up, turned in about nine, slept, with some interruptions, but on the whole sweetly, until six, and has already walked a mile or so of deck, among a fleet of other steamers waiting for the tide, within view of Havre, and pleasantly entertained by passing fishing-boats, hovering sea-gulls, and Vulgarians pairing on deck with endearments of primitive simplicity. There, sir, can be viewed the sham quarrel, the sham desire for information, and every device of these two poor ancient sexes (who might, you might think, have learned in the course of the ages something new) down to the exchange of head- gear. — I am, sir, yours,
BOLD BOB BOLTSPRIT.
B. B. B. (ALIAS the Commodore) will now turn to his proofs. Havre de Grace is a city of some show. It is for-ti-fied; and, so far as I can see, is a place of some trade. It is situ-ated in France, a country of Europe. You always complain there are no facts in my letters.
R. L. S.
NEWPORT, R. I. U.S.A. [SEPTEMBER 1887].
MY DEAR COLVIN, — So long it went excellent well, and I had a time I am glad to have had; really enjoying my life. There is nothing like being at sea, after all. And O, why have I allowed myself to rot so long on land? But on the Banks I caught a cold, and I have not yet got over it. My reception here was idiotic to the last degree. . . . It is very silly, and not pleasant, except where humour enters; and I confess the poor interviewer lads pleased me. They are too good for their trade; avoided anything I asked them to avoid, and were no more vulgar in their reports than they could help. I liked the lads.
O, it was lovely on our stable-ship, chock full of stallions. She rolled heartily, rolled some of the fittings out of our state-room, and I think a more dangerous cruise (except that it was summer) it would be hard to imagine. But we enjoyed it to the masthead, all but Fanny; and even she perhaps a little. When we got in, we had run out of beer, stout, cocoa, soda-water, water, fresh meat, and (almost) of biscuit. But it was a thousandfold pleasanter than a great big Birmingham liner like a new hotel; and we liked the officers, and made friends with the quartermasters, and I (at least) made a friend of a baboon (for we carried a cargo of apes), whose embraces have pretty near cost me a coat. The passengers improved, and were a very good specimen lot, with no drunkard, no gambling that I saw, and less grumbling and backbiting than one would have asked of poor human nature. Apes, stallions, cows, matches, hay, and poor men-folk, all, or almost all, came successfully to land. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
[NEWPORT, U.S.A., SEPTEMBER 1887.]
MY DEAR JAMES, — Here we are at Newport in the house of the good Fairchilds; and a sad burthen we have laid upon their shoulders. I have been in bed practically ever since I came. I caught a cold on the Banks after having had the finest time conceivable, and enjoyed myself more than I could have hoped on board our strange floating menagerie: stallions and monkeys and matches made our cargo; and the vast continent of these incongruities rolled the while like a haystack; and the stallions stood hypnotised by the motion, looking through the ports at our dinner-table, and winked when the crockery was broken; and the little monkeys stared at each other in their cages, and were thrown overboard like little bluish babies; and the big monkey, Jacko, scoured about the ship and rested willingly in my arms, to the ruin of my clothing; and the man of the stallions made a bower of the black tarpaulin, and sat therein at the feet of a raddled divinity, like a picture on a box of chocolates; and the other passengers, when they were not sick, looked on and laughed. Take all this picture, and make it roll till the bell shall sound unexpected notes and the fittings shall break lose in our state- room, and you have the voyage of the LUDGATE HILL. She arrived in the port of New York, without beer, porter, soda-water, curacoa, fresh meat, or fresh water; and yet we lived, and we regret her.
My wife is a good deal run down, and I am no great shakes.
America is, as I remarked, a fine place to eat in, and a great place for kindness; but, Lord, what a silly thing is popularity! I envy the cool obscurity of Skerryvore. If it even paid, said Meanness! and was abashed at himself. — Yours most sincerely,
R. L S.
[NEW YORK: END OF SEPTEMBER 1887.]
MY DEAR S. C., — Your delightful letter has just come, and finds me in a New York hotel, waiting the arrival of a sculptor (St. Gaudens) who is making a medallion of yours truly and who is (to boot) one of the handsomest and nicest fellows I have seen. I caught a cold on the Banks; fog is not for me; nearly died of interviewers and visitors, during twenty-four hours in New York; cut for Newport with Lloyd and Valentine, a journey like fairy-land for the most engaging beauties, one little rocky and pine-shaded cove after another, each with a house and a boat at anchor, so that I left my heart in each and marvelled why American authors had been so unjust to their country; caught another cold on the train; arrived at Newport to go to bed and to grow worse, and to stay in bed until I left again; the Fairchilds proving during this time kindness itself; Mr. Fairchild simply one of the most engaging men in the world, and one of the children, Blair, AET. ten, a great joy and amusement in his solemn adoring attitude to the author of TREASURE ISLAND.
Here I was interrupted by the arrival of my sculptor. I have begged him to make a medallion of himself and give me a copy. I will not take up the sentence in which I was wandering so long, but begin fresh. I was ten or twelve days at Newport; then came back convalescent to New York. Fanny and Lloyd are off to the Adirondacks to see if that will suit; and the rest of us leave Monday (this is Saturday) to follow them up. I hope we may manage to stay there all winter. I have a splendid appetite and have on the whole recovered well after a mighty sharp attack. I am now on a salary of 500 pounds a year for twelve articles in SCRIBNER’S MAGAZINE on what I like; it is more than 500 pounds, but I cannot calculate more precisely. You have no idea how much is made of me here; I was offered 2000 pounds for a weekly article — eh heh! how is that? but I refused that lucrative job. The success of UNDERWOODS is gratifying. You see, the verses are sane; that is their strong point, and it seems it is strong enough to carry them.
A thousand thanks for your grand letter, ever yours,
R. L. S.
NEW YORK [SEPTEMBER 1887]
MY DEAR LAD, — Herewith verses for Dr. Hake, which please communicate. I did my best with the interviewers; I don’t know if Lloyd sent you the result; my heart was too sick: you can do nothing with them; and yet — literally sweated with anxiety to please, and took me down in long hand!
I have been quite ill, but go better. I am being not busted, but medallioned, by St. Gaudens, who is a first-rate, plain, high- minded artist and honest fellow; you would like him down to the ground. I believe sculptors are fine fellows when they are not demons. O, I am now a salaried person, 600 pounds a year, to write twelve articles in SCRIBNER’S MAGAZINE; it remains to be seen if it really pays, huge as the sum is, but the slavery may overweigh me. I hope you will like my answer to Hake, and specially that he will.
Love to all. — Yours affectionately,
R. L. S.
SARANAC LAKE, ADIRONDACKS, NEW YORK, U.S.A. [OCTOBER 1887].
MY DEAR BOB, — The cold [of Colorado] was too rigorous for me; I could not risk the long railway voyage, and the season was too late to risk the Eastern, Cape Hatteras side of the steamer one; so here we stuck and stick. We have a wooden house on a hill-top, overlooking a river, and a village about a quarter of a mile away, and very wooded hills; the whole scene is very Highland, bar want of heather and the wooden houses.
I have got one good thing of my sea voyage: it is proved the sea agrees heartily with me, and my mother likes it; so if I get any better, or no worse, my mother will likely hire a yacht for a month or so in summer. Good Lord! What fun! Wealth is only useful for two things: a yacht and a string quartette. For these two I will sell my soul. Except for these I hold that 700 pounds a year is as much as anybody can possibly want; and I have had more, so I know, for the extry coins were for no use, excepting for illness, which damns everything.
I was so happy on board that ship, I could not have believed it possible. We had the beastliest weather, and many discomforts; but the mere fact of its being a tramp-ship gave us many comforts; we could cut about with the men and officers, stay in the wheel-house, discuss all manner of things, and really be a little at sea. And truly there is nothing else. I had literally forgotten what happiness was, and the full mind — full of external and physical things, not full of cares and labours and rot about a fellow’s behaviour. My heart literally sang; I truly care for nothing so much as for that. We took so north a course, that we saw Newfoundland; no one in the ship had ever seen it before.
It was beyond belief to me how she rolled; in seemingly smooth water, the bell striking, the fittings bounding out of our state- room. It is worth having lived these last years, partly because I have written some better books, which is always pleasant, but chiefly to have had the joy of this voyage. I have been made a lot of here, and it is sometimes pleasant, sometimes the reverse; but I could give it all up, and agree that — was the author of my works, for a good seventy ton schooner and the coins to keep her on. And to think there are parties with yachts who would make the exchange! I know a little about fame now; it is no good compared to a yacht; and anyway there is more fame in a yacht, more genuine fame; to cross the Atlantic and come to anchor in Newport (say) with the Union Jack, and go ashore for your letters and hang about the pier, among the holiday yachtsmen — that’s fame, that’s glory, and nobody can take it away; they can’t say your book is bad; you HAVE crossed the Atlantic. I should do it south by the West Indies, to avoid the damned Banks; and probably come home by steamer, and leave the skipper to bring the yacht home.
Well, if all goes well, we shall maybe sail out of Southampton water some of these days and take a run to Havre, and try the Baltic, or somewhere.
Love to you all. — Ever your afft.,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC LAKE, OCT. 8TH, 1887.
MY DEAR GOSSE, — I have just read your article twice, with cheers of approving laughter. I do not believe you ever wrote anything so funny: Tyndall’s ‘shell,’ the passage on the Davos press and its invaluable issues, and that on V. Hugo and Swinburne, are exquisite; so, I say it more ruefully, is the touch about the doctors. For the rest, I am very glad you like my verses so well; and the qualities you ascribe to them seem to me well found and well named. I own to that kind of candour you attribute to me: when I am frankly interested, I suppose I fancy the public will be so too; and when I am moved, I am sure of it. It has been my luck hitherto to meet with no staggering disillusion. ‘Before’ and ‘After’ may be two; and yet I believe the habit is now too thoroughly ingrained to be altered. About the doctors, you were right, that dedication has been the subject of some pleasantries that made me grind, and of your happily touched reproof which made me blush. And to miscarry in a dedication is an abominable form of book-wreck; I am a good captain, I would rather lose the tent and save my dedication.
I am at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, I suppose for the winter: it seems a first-rate place; we have a house in the eye of many winds, with a view of a piece of running water — Highland, all but the dear hue of peat — and of many hills — Highland also, but for the lack of heather. Soon the snow will close on us; we are here some twenty miles — twenty-seven, they say, but this I profoundly disbelieve — in the woods; communication by letter is slow and (let me be consistent) aleatory; by telegram is as near as may be impossible.
I had some experience of American appreciation; I liked a little of it, but there is too much; a little of that would go a long way to spoil a man; and I like myself better in the woods. I am so damned candid and ingenuous (for a cynic), and so much of a ‘cweatu’ of impulse — aw’ (if you remember that admirable Leech), that I begin to shirk any more taffy; I think I begin to like it too well. But let us trust the Gods; they have a rod in pickle; reverently I doff my trousers, and with screwed eyes await the AMARI ALIQUID of the great God Busby.
I thank you for the article in all ways, and remain yours affectionately,
R. L. S.
[SARANAC, OCTOBER 1887.]
SIR, — I have to trouble you with the following PAROLES BIEN SENTIES. We are here at a first-rate place. ‘Baker’s’ is the name of our house, but we don’t address there; we prefer the tender care of the Post-Office, as more aristocratic (it is no use to telegraph even to the care of the Post-Office who does not give a single damn). Baker’s has a prophet’s chamber, which the hypercritical might describe as a garret with a hole in the floor: in that garret, sir, I have to trouble you and your wife to come and slumber. Not now, however: with manly hospitality, I choke off any sudden impulse. Because first, my wife and my mother are gone (a note for the latter, strongly suspected to be in the hand of your talented wife, now sits silent on the mantel shelf), one to Niagara and t’other to Indianapolis. Because, second, we are not yet installed. And because third, I won’t have you till I have a buffalo robe and leggings, lest you should want to paint me as a plain man, which I am not, but a rank Saranacker and wild man of the woods. — Yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC LAKE, OCTOBER 1887.
DEAR ARCHER, — Many thanks for the Wondrous Tale. It is scarcely a work of genius, as I believe you felt. Thanks also for your pencillings; though I defend ‘shrew,’ or at least many of the shrews.
We are here (I suppose) for the winter in the Adirondacks, a hill and forest country on the Canadian border of New York State, very unsettled and primitive and cold, and healthful, or we are the more bitterly deceived. I believe it will do well for me; but must not boast.
My wife is away to Indiana to see her family; my mother, Lloyd, and I remain here in the cold, which has been exceeding sharp, and the hill air, which is inimitably fine. We all eat bravely, and sleep well, and make great fires, and get along like one o’clock,
I am now a salaried party; I am a BOURGEOIS now; I am to write a weekly paper for Scribner’s, at a scale of payment which makes my teeth ache for shame and diffidence. The editor is, I believe, to apply to you; for we were talking over likely men, and when I instanced you, he said he had had his eye upon you from the first. It is worth while, perhaps, to get in tow with the Scribners; they are such thorough gentlefolk in all ways that it is always a pleasure to deal with them. I am like to be a millionaire if this goes on, and be publicly hanged at the social revolution: well, I would prefer that to dying in my bed; and it would be a godsend to my biographer, if ever I have one. What are you about? I hope you are all well and in good case and spirits, as I am now, after a most nefast experience of despondency before I left; but indeed I was quite run down. Remember me to Mrs. Archer, and give my respects to Tom. — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[SARANAC LAKE, OCTOBER 1887.] I know not the day; but the month it is the drear October by the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, — This is to say FIRST, the voyage was a huge success. We all enjoyed it (bar my wife) to the ground: sixteen days at sea with a cargo of hay, matches, stallions, and monkeys, and in a ship with no style on, and plenty of sailors to talk to, and the endless pleasures of the sea — the romance of it, the sport of the scratch dinner and the smashing crockery, the pleasure — an endless pleasure — of balancing to the swell: well, it’s over.
SECOND, I had a fine time, rather a troubled one, at Newport and New York; saw much of and liked hugely the Fairchilds, St. Gaudens the sculptor, Gilder of the CENTURY— just saw the dear Alexander — saw a lot of my old and admirable friend Will Low, whom I wish you knew and appreciated — was medallioned by St. Gaudens, and at last escaped to
THIRD, Saranac Lake, where we now are, and which I believe we mean to like and pass the winter at. Our house — emphatically ‘Baker’s’ - is on a hill, and has a sight of a stream turning a corner in the valley — bless the face of running water! — and sees some hills too, and the paganly prosaic roofs of Saranac itself; the Lake it does not see, nor do I regret that; I like water (fresh water I mean) either running swiftly among stones, or else largely qualified with whisky. As I write, the sun (which has been long a stranger) shines in at my shoulder; from the next room, the bell of Lloyd’s typewriter makes an agreeable music as it patters off (at a rate which astonishes this experienced novelist) the early chapters of a humorous romance; from still further off — the walls of Baker’s are neither ancient nor massive — rumours of Valentine about the kitchen stove come to my ears; of my mother and Fanny I hear nothing, for the excellent reason that they have gone sparking off, one to Niagara, one to Indianapolis. People complain that I never give news in my letters. I have wiped out that reproach.
But now, FOURTH, I have seen the article; and it may be from natural partiality, I think it the best you have written. O— I remember the Gautier, which was an excellent performance; and the Balzac, which was good; and the Daudet, over which I licked my chops; but the R. L. S. is better yet. It is so humorous, and it hits my little frailties with so neat (and so friendly) a touch; and Alan is the occasion for so much happy talk, and the quarrel is so generously praised. I read it twice, though it was only some hours in my possession; and Low, who got it for me from the CENTURY, sat up to finish it ere he returned it; and, sir, we were all delighted. Here is the paper out, nor will anything, not even friendship, not even gratitude for the article, induce me to begin a second sheet; so here with the kindest remembrances and the warmest good wishes, I remain, yours affectionately,
R. L. S.
SARANAC, 18TH NOVEMBER 1887.
MY DEAR CHARLES, — No likely I’m going to waste a sheet of paper. . . . I am offered 1600 pounds ($8000) for the American serial rights on my next story! As you say, times are changed since the Lothian Road. Well, the Lothian Road was grand fun too; I could take an afternoon of it with great delight. But I’m awfu’ grand noo, and long may it last!
Remember me to any of the faithful — if there are any left. I wish I could have a crack with you. — Yours ever affectionately,
R. L. S.
I find I have forgotten more than I remembered of business. . . . Please let us know (if you know) for how much Skerryvore is let; you will here detect the female mind; I let it for what I could get; nor shall the possession of this knowledge (which I am happy to have forgot) increase the amount by so much as the shadow of a sixpenny piece; but my females are agog. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
[SARANAC, NOVEMBER 20 OR 21, 1887.]
MY DEAR MR. SCRIBNER, — Heaven help me, I am under a curse just now. I have played fast and loose with what I said to you; and that, I beg you to believe, in the purest innocence of mind. I told you you should have the power over all my work in this country; and about a fortnight ago, when M’Clure was here, I calmly signed a bargain for the serial publication of a story. You will scarce believe that I did this in mere oblivion; but I did; and all that I can say is that I will do so no more, and ask you to forgive me. Please write to me soon as to this.
Will you oblige me by paying in for three articles, as already sent, to my account with John Paton & Co., 52 William Street? This will be most convenient for us.
The fourth article is nearly done; and I am the more deceived, or it is A BUSTER.
Now as to the first thing in this letter, I do wish to hear from you soon; and I am prepared to hear any reproach, or (what is harder to hear) any forgiveness; for I have deserved the worst. — Yours sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC, NOVEMBER 1887.
DEAR MR. BURLINGAME, — I enclose corrected proof of BEGGARS, which seems good. I mean to make a second sermon, which, if it is about the same length as PULVIS ET UMBRA, might go in along with it as two sermons, in which case I should call the first ‘The Whole Creation,’ and the second ‘Any Good.’ We shall see; but you might say how you like the notion.
One word: if you have heard from Mr. Scribner of my unhappy oversight in the matter of a story, you will make me ashamed to write to you, and yet I wish to beg you to help me into quieter waters. The oversight committed — and I do think it was not so bad as Mr. Scribner seems to think it-and discovered, I was in a miserable position. I need not tell you that my first impulse was to offer to share or to surrender the price agreed upon when it should fall due; and it is almost to my credit that I arranged to refrain. It is one of these positions from which there is no escape; I cannot undo what I have done. And I wish to beg you — should Mr. Scribner speak to you in the matter — to try to get him to see this neglect of mine for no worse than it is: unpardonable enough, because a breach of an agreement; but still pardonable, because a piece of sheer carelessness and want of memory, done, God knows, without design and since most sincerely regretted. I have no memory. You have seen how I omitted to reserve the American rights in JEKYLL: last winter I wrote and demanded, as an increase, a less sum than had already been agreed upon for a story that I gave to Cassell’s. For once that my forgetfulness has, by a cursed fortune, seemed to gain, instead of lose, me money, it is painful indeed that I should produce so poor an impression on the mind of Mr. Scribner. But I beg you to believe, and if possible to make him believe, that I am in no degree or sense a FAISEUR, and that in matters of business my design, at least, is honest. Nor (bating bad memory and self-deception) am I untruthful in such affairs.
If Mr. Scribner shall have said nothing to you in the matter, please regard the above as unwritten, and believe me, yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC, NOVEMBER 1887.
DEAR MR. BURLINGAME, — The revise seemed all right, so I did not trouble you with it; indeed, my demand for one was theatrical, to impress that obdurate dog, your reader. Herewith a third paper: it has been a cruel long time upon the road, but here it is, and not bad at last, I fondly hope. I was glad you liked the LANTERN BEARERS; I did, too. I thought it was a good paper, really contained some excellent sense, and was ingeniously put together. I have not often had more trouble than I have with these papers; thirty or forty pages of foul copy, twenty is the very least I have had. Well, you pay high; it is fit that I should have to work hard, it somewhat quiets my conscience. — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC LAKE, ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS, NEW YORK, U.S.A., NOVEMBER 21, 1887.
MY DEAR SYMONDS, — I think we have both meant and wanted to write to you any time these months; but we have been much tossed about, among new faces and old, and new scenes and old, and scenes (like this of Saranac) which are neither one nor other. To give you some clue to our affairs, I had best begin pretty well back. We sailed from the Thames in a vast bucket of iron that took seventeen days from shore to shore. I cannot describe how I enjoyed the voyage, nor what good it did me; but on the Banks I caught friend catarrh. In New York and then in Newport I was pretty ill; but on my return to New York, lying in bed most of the time, with St. Gaudens the sculptor sculping me, and my old friend Low around, I began to pick up once more. Now here we are in a kind of wilderness of hills and firwoods and boulders and snow and wooden houses. So far as we have gone the climate is grey and harsh, but hungry and somnolent; and although not charming like that of Davos, essentially bracing and briskening. The country is a kind of insane mixture of Scotland and a touch of Switzerland and a dash of America, and a thought of the British Channel in the skies. We have a decent house —
- A decent house, as I was saying, sir, on a hill-top, with a look down a Scottish river in front, and on one hand a Perthshire hill; on the other, the beginnings and skirts of the village play hide and seek among other hills. We have been below zero, I know not how far (10 at 8 A.M. once), and when it is cold it is delightful; but hitherto the cold has not held, and we have chopped in and out from frost to thaw, from snow to rain, from quiet air to the most disastrous north-westerly curdlers of the blood. After a week of practical thaw, the ice still bears in favoured places. So there is hope.
I wonder if you saw my book of verses? It went into a second edition, because of my name, I suppose, and its PROSE merits. I do not set up to be a poet. Only an all-round literary man: a man who talks, not one who sings. But I believe the very fact that it was only speech served the book with the public. Horace is much a speaker, and see how popular! most of Martial is only speech, and I cannot conceive a person who does not love his Martial; most of Burns, also, such as ‘The Louse,’ ‘The Toothache,’ ‘The Haggis,’ and lots more of his best. Excuse this little apology for my house; but I don’t like to come before people who have a note of song, and let it be supposed I do not know the difference.
To return to the more important — news. My wife again suffers in high and cold places; I again profit. She is off to-day to New York for a change, as heretofore to Berne, but I am glad to say in better case than then. Still it is undeniable she suffers, and you must excuse her (at least) if we both prove bad correspondents. I am decidedly better, but I have been terribly cut up with business complications: one disagreeable, as threatening loss; one, of the most intolerable complexion, as involving me in dishonour. The burthen of consistent carelessness: I have lost much by it in the past; and for once (to my damnation) I have gained. I am sure you will sympathise. It is hard work to sleep; it is hard to be told you are a liar, and have to hold your peace, and think, ‘Yes, by God, and a thief too!’ You remember my lectures on Ajax, or the Unintentional Sin? Well, I know all about that now. Nothing seems so unjust to the sufferer: or is more just in essence. LAISSEZ PASSER LA JUSTICE DE DIEU.
Lloyd has learned to use the typewriter, and has most gallantly completed upon that the draft of a tale, which seems to me not without merit and promise, it is so silly, so gay, so absurd, in spots (to my partial eyes) so genuinely humorous. It is true, he would not have written it but for the New Arabian Nights; but it is strange to find a young writer funny. Heavens, but I was depressing when I took the pen in hand! And now I doubt if I am sadder than my neighbours. Will this beginner move in the inverse direction?
Let me have your news, and believe me, my dear Symonds, with genuine affection, yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC [DECEMBER 1887].
MY DEAR LAD, — I was indeed overjoyed to hear of the Dumas. In the matter of the dedication, are not cross dedications a little awkward? Lang and Rider Haggard did it, to be sure. Perpend. And if you should conclude against a dedication, there is a passage in MEMORIES AND PORTRAITS written AT you, when I was most desperate (to stir you up a bit), which might be quoted: something about Dumas still waiting his biographer. I have a decent time when the weather is fine; when it is grey, or windy, or wet (as it too often is), I am merely degraded to the dirt. I get some work done every day with a devil of a heave; not extra good ever; and I regret my engagement. Whiles I have had the most deplorable business annoyances too; have been threatened with having to refund money; got over that; and found myself in the worse scrape of being a kind of unintentional swindler. These have worried me a great deal; also old age with his stealing steps seems to have clawed me in his clutch to some tune.
Do you play All Fours? We are trying it; it is still all haze to me. Can the elder hand BEG more than once? The Port Admiral is at Boston mingling with millionaires. I am but a weed on Lethe wharf. The wife is only so-so. The Lord lead us all: if I can only get off the stage with clean hands, I shall sing Hosanna. ‘Put’ is described quite differently from your version in a book I have; what are your rules? The Port Admiral is using a game of put in a tale of his, the first copy of which was gloriously finished about a fortnight ago, and the revise gallantly begun: THE FINSBURY TONTINE it is named, and might fill two volumes, and is quite incredibly silly, and in parts (it seems to me) pretty humorous. — Love to all from
AN OLD, OLD MAN.
I say, Taine’s ORIGINES DE LA FRANCE CONTEMPORAINE is no end; it would turn the dead body of Charles Fox into a living Tory.
[SARANAC LAKE, DECEMBER 1887.]
MY DEAR MRS. JENKIN, — The Opal is very well; it is fed with glycerine when it seems hungry. I am very well, and get about much more than I could have hoped. My wife is not very well; there is no doubt the high level does not agree with her, and she is on the move for a holiday to New York. Lloyd is at Boston on a visit, and I hope has a good time. My mother is really first-rate; she and I, despairing of other games for two, now play All Fours out of a gamebook, and have not yet discovered its niceties, if any.
You will have heard, I dare say, that they made a great row over me here. They also offered me much money, a great deal more than my works are worth: I took some of it, and was greedy and hasty, and am now very sorry. I have done with big prices from now out. Wealth and self-respect seem, in my case, to be strangers.
We were talking the other day of how well Fleeming managed to grow rich. Ah, that is a rare art; something more intellectual than a virtue. The book has not yet made its appearance here; the life alone, with a little preface, is to appear in the States; and the Scribners are to send you half the royalties. I should like it to do well, for Fleeming’s sake.
Will you please send me the Greek water-carrier’s song? I have a particular use for it.
Have I any more news, I wonder? — and echo wonders along with me. I am strangely disquieted on all political matters; and I do not know if it is ‘the signs of the times’ or the sign of my own time of life. But to me the sky seems black both in France and England, and only partly clear in America. I have not seen it so dark in my time; of that I am sure.
Please let us have some news; and, excuse me, for the sake of my well-known idleness; and pardon Fanny, who is really not very well, for this long silence. — Very sincerely your friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[SARANAC LAKE, DECEMBER 1887.]
MY DEAR MISS BOODLE, — I am so much afraid, our gamekeeper may weary of unacknowledged reports! Hence, in the midst of a perfect horror of detestable weathers of a quite incongruous strain, and with less desire for correspondence than — well, than — well, with no desire for correspondence, behold me dash into the breach. Do keep up your letters. They are most delightful to this exiled backwoods family; and in your next, we shall hope somehow or other to hear better news of you and yours — that in the first place — and to hear more news of our beasts and birds and kindly fruits of earth and those human tenants who are (truly) too much with us.
I am very well; better than for years: that is for good. But then my wife is no great shakes; the place does not suit her — it is my private opinion that no place does — and she is now away down to New York for a change, which (as Lloyd is in Boston) leaves my mother and me and Valentine alone in our wind-beleaguered hilltop hatbox of a house. You should hear the cows butt against the walls in the early morning while they feed; you should also see our back log when the thermometer goes (as it does go) away — away below zero, till it can be seen no more by the eye of man — not the thermometer, which is still perfectly visible, but the mercury, which curls up into the bulb like a hibernating bear; you should also see the lad who ‘does chores’ for us, with his red stockings and his thirteen year old face, and his highly manly tramp into the room; and his two alternative answers to all questions about the weather: either ‘Cold,’ or with a really lyrical movement of the voice, ‘LOVELY— raining!’
Will you take this miserable scarp for what it is worth? Will you also understand that I am the man to blame, and my wife is really almost too much out of health to write, or at least doesn’t write? - And believe me, with kind remembrance to Mrs. Boodle and your sisters, very sincerely yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
SARANAC, 12TH DECEMBER ‘87.
Give us news of all your folk. A Merry Christmas from all of us.
MY DEAR CHARLES, — Will you please send 20 pounds to — for a Christmas gift from —? Moreover, I cannot remember what I told you to send to —; but as God has dealt so providentially with me this year, I now propose to make it 20 pounds.
I beg of you also to consider my strange position. I jined a club which it was said was to defend the Union; and had a letter from the secretary, which his name I believe was Lord Warmingpan (or words to that effect), to say I am elected, and had better pay up a certain sum of money, I forget what. Now I cannae verra weel draw a blank cheque and send to —
LORD WARMINGPAN (or words to that effect), London, England.
And, man, if it was possible, I would be dooms glad to be out o’ this bit scrapie. Mebbe the club was ca’d ‘The Union,’ but I wouldnae like to sweir; and mebbe it wasnae, or mebbe only words to that effec’ — but I wouldnae care just exac’ly about sweirin’. Do ye no think Henley, or Pollick, or some o’ they London fellies, micht mebbe perhaps find out for me? and just what the soom was? And that you would aiblins pay for me? For I thocht I was sae dam patriotic jinin’, and it would be a kind o’ a come-doun to be turned out again. Mebbe Lang would ken; or mebbe Rider Haggyard: they’re kind o’ Union folks. But it’s my belief his name was Warmingpan whatever. Yours,
THOMSON, ALIAS ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Could it be Warminster?
SARANAC LAKE, NEW YORK [DECEMBER 19, 1887].
DEAR MISS MONROE, — Many thanks for your letter and your good wishes. It was much my desire to get to Chicago: had I done — or if I yet do — so, I shall hope to see the original of my photograph, which is one of my show possessions; but the fates are rather contrary. My wife is far from well; I myself dread worse than almost any other imaginable peril, that miraculous and really insane invention the American Railroad Car. Heaven help the man — may I add the woman — that sets foot in one! Ah, if it were only an ocean to cross, it would be a matter of small thought to me — and great pleasure. But the railroad car — every man has his weak point; and I fear the railroad car as abjectly as I do an earwig, and, on the whole, on better grounds. You do not know how bitter it is to have to make such a confession; for you have not the pretension nor the weakness of a man. If I do get to Chicago, you will hear of me: so much can be said. And do you never come east?
I was pleased to recognise a word of my poor old Deacon in your letter. It would interest me very much to hear how it went and what you thought of piece and actors; and my collaborator, who knows and respects the photograph, would be pleased too. — Still in the hope of seeing you, I am, yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC LAKE, WINTER 1887-8.
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, — It may please you to know how our family has been employed. In the silence of the snow the afternoon lamp has lighted an eager fireside group: my mother reading, Fanny, Lloyd, and I devoted listeners; and the work was really one of the best works I ever heard; and its author is to be praised and honoured; and what do you suppose is the name of it? and have you ever read it yourself? and (I am bound I will get to the bottom of the page before I blow the gaff, if I have to fight it out on this line all summer; for if you have not to turn a leaf, there can be no suspense, the conspectory eye being swift to pick out proper names; and without suspense, there can be little pleasure in this world, to my mind at least) — and, in short, the name of it is RODERICK HUDSON, if you please. My dear James, it is very spirited, and very sound, and very noble too. Hudson, Mrs. Hudson, Rowland, O, all first-rate: Rowland a very fine fellow; Hudson as good as he can stick (did you know Hudson? I suspect you did), Mrs. H. his real born mother, a thing rarely managed in fiction.
We are all keeping pretty fit and pretty hearty; but this letter is not from me to you, it is from a reader of R. H. to the author of the same, and it says nothing, and has nothing to say, but thank you.
We are going to re-read CASAMASSIMA as a proper pendant. Sir, I think these two are your best, and care not who knows it.
May I beg you, the next time RODERICK is printed off, to go over the sheets of the last few chapters, and strike out ‘immense’ and ‘tremendous’? You have simply dropped them there like your pocket- handkerchief; all you have to do is to pick them up and pouch them, and your room — what do I say? — your cathedral! — will be swept and garnished. — I am, dear sir, your delighted reader,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. — Perhaps it is a pang of causeless honesty, perhaps. I hope it will set a value on my praise of RODERICK, perhaps it’s a burst of the diabolic, but I must break out with the news that I can’t bear the PORTRAIT OF A LADY. I read it all, and I wept too; but I can’t stand your having written it; and I beg you will write no more of the like. INFRA, sir; Below you: I can’t help it — it may be your favourite work, but in my eyes it’s BELOW YOU to write and me to read. I thought RODERICK was going to be another such at the beginning; and I cannot describe my pleasure as I found it taking bones and blood, and looking out at me with a moved and human countenance, whose lineaments are written in my memory until my last of days.
R. L. S.
My wife begs your forgiveness; I believe for her silence.
SARANAC LAKE [DECEMBER 1887].
MY DEAR COLVIN, — This goes to say that we are all fit, and the place is very bleak and wintry, and up to now has shown no such charms of climate as Davos, but is a place where men eat and where the cattarh, catarrh (cattarrh, or cattarrhh) appears to be unknown. I walk in my verandy in the snaw, sir, looking down over one of those dabbled wintry landscapes that are (to be frank) so chilly to the human bosom, and up at a grey, English — nay, MEHERCLE, Scottish — heaven; and I think it pretty bleak; and the wind swoops at me round the corner, like a lion, and fluffs the snow in my face; and I could aspire to be elsewhere; but yet I do not catch cold, and yet, when I come in, I eat. So that hitherto Saranac, if not deliriously delectable, has not been a failure; nay, from the mere point of view of the wicked body, it has proved a success. But I wish I could still get to the woods; alas, NOUS N’IRONS PLUS AU BOIS is my poor song; the paths are buried, the dingles drifted full, a little walk is grown a long one; till spring comes, I fear the burthen will hold good.
I get along with my papers for SCRIBNER not fast, nor so far specially well; only this last, the fourth one (which makes a third part of my whole task), I do believe is pulled off after a fashion. It is a mere sermon: ‘Smith opens out’; but it is true, and I find it touching and beneficial, to me at least; and I think there is some fine writing in it, some very apt and pregnant phrases. PULVIS ET UMBRA, I call it; I might have called it a Darwinian Sermon, if I had wanted. Its sentiments, although parsonic, will not offend even you, I believe. The other three papers, I fear, bear many traces of effort, and the ungenuine inspiration of an income at so much per essay, and the honest desire of the incomer to give good measure for his money. Well, I did my damndest anyway.
We have been reading H. James’s RODERICK HUDSON, which I eagerly press you to get at once: it is a book of a high order — the last volume in particular. I wish Meredith would read it. It took my breath away.
I am at the seventh book of the AENEID, and quite amazed at its merits (also very often floored by its difficulties). The Circe passage at the beginning, and the sublime business of Amata with the simile of the boy’s top — O Lord, what a happy thought! — have specially delighted me. — I am, dear sir, your respected friend,
JOHN GREGG GILLSON, J.P., M.R.I.A., etc
[SARANAC, DECEMBER 24, 1887.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — Thank you for your explanations. I have done no more Virgil since I finished the seventh book, for I have, first been eaten up with Taine, and next have fallen head over heels into a new tale, THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE. No thought have I now apart from it, and I have got along up to page ninety-two of the draft with great interest. It is to me a most seizing tale: there are some fantastic elements; the most is a dead genuine human problem — human tragedy, I should say rather. It will be about as long, I imagine, as KIDNAPPED.
(1) My old Lord Durrisdeer.
(2) The Master of Ballantrae, AND
(3) Henry Durie, HIS SONS.
(4) Clementina, ENGAGED TO THE FIRST, MARRIED TO THE SECOND.
(5) Ephraim Mackellar, LAND STEWARD AT DURRISDEER AND NARRATOR OF THE MOST OF THE BOOK.
(6) Francis Burke, Chevalier de St. Louis, ONE OF PRINCE CHARLIE’S IRISHMEN AND NARRATOR OF THE REST.
Besides these, many instant figures, most of them dumb or nearly so: Jessie Brown the whore, Captain Crail, Captain MacCombie, our old friend Alan Breck, our old friend Riach (both only for an instant), Teach the pirate (vulgarly Blackbeard), John Paul and Macconochie, servants at Durrisdeer. The date is from 1745 to ‘65 (about). The scene, near Kirkcudbright, in the States, and for a little moment in the French East Indies. I have done most of the big work, the quarrel, duel between the brothers, and announcement of the death to Clementina and my Lord — Clementina, Henry, and Mackellar (nicknamed Squaretoes) are really very fine fellows; the Master is all I know of the devil. I have known hints of him, in the world, but always cowards; he is as bold as a lion, but with the same deadly, causeless duplicity I have watched with so much surprise in my two cowards. ‘Tis true, I saw a hint of the same nature in another man who was not a coward; but he had other things to attend to; the Master has nothing else but his devilry. Here come my visitors — and have now gone, or the first relay of them; and I hope no more may come. For mark you, sir, this is our ‘day’ - Saturday, as ever was, and here we sit, my mother and I, before a large wood fire and await the enemy with the most steadfast courage; and without snow and greyness: and the woman Fanny in New York for her health, which is far from good; and the lad Lloyd at the inn in the village because he has a cold; and the handmaid Valentine abroad in a sleigh upon her messages; and to-morrow Christmas and no mistake. Such is human life: LA CARRIERE HUMAINE. I will enclose, if I remember, the required autograph.
I will do better, put it on the back of this page. Love to all, and mostly, my very dear Colvin, to yourself. For whatever I say or do, or don’t say or do, you may be very sure I am, — Yours always affectionately,
R. L. S.
SARANAC LAKE, ADIRONDACKS, N.Y., U.S.A., CHRISTMAS 1887.
MY DEAR MISS BOODLE, — And a very good Christmas to you all; and better fortune; and if worse, the more courage to support it — which I think is the kinder wish in all human affairs. Somewhile — I fear a good while — after this, you should receive our Christmas gift; we have no tact and no taste, only a welcome and (often) tonic brutality; and I dare say the present, even after my friend Baxter has acted on and reviewed my hints, may prove a White Elephant. That is why I dread presents. And therefore pray understand if any element of that hamper prove unwelcome, IT IS TO BE EXCHANGED. I will not sit down under the name of a giver of White Elephants. I never had any elephant but one, and his initials were R. L. S.; and he trod on my foot at a very early age. But this is a fable, and not in the least to the point: which is that if, for once in my life, I have wished to make things nicer for anybody but the Elephant (see fable), do not suffer me to have made them ineffably more embarrassing, and exchange — ruthlessly exchange!
For my part, I am the most cockered up of any mortal being; and one of the healthiest, or thereabout, at some modest distance from the bull’s eye. I am condemned to write twelve articles in SCRIBNER’S MAGAZINE for the love of gain; I think I had better send you them; what is far more to the purpose, I am on the jump with a new story which has bewitched me — I doubt it may bewitch no one else. It is called THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE— pronounce Ballan-tray. If it is not good, well, mine will be the fault; for I believe it is a good tale.
The greetings of the season to you, and your mother, and your sisters. My wife heartily joins. — And I am, yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. — You will think me an illiterate dog: I am, for the first time, reading ROBERTSON’S SERMONS. I do not know how to express how much I think of them. If by any chance you should be as illiterate as I, and not know them, it is worth while curing the defect.
R. L. S.
SARANAC LAKE, JANUARY ‘88.
DEAR CHARLES, — You are the flower of Doers. . . . Will my doer collaborate thus much in my new novel? In the year 1794 or 5, Mr. Ephraim Mackellar, A.M., late. steward on the Durrisdeer estates, completed a set of memoranda (as long as a novel) with regard to the death of the (then) late Lord Durrisdeer, and as to that of his attainted elder brother, called by the family courtesy title the Master of Ballantrae. These he placed in the hands of John Macbrair. W.S., the family agent, on the understanding they were to be sealed until 1862, when a century would have elapsed since the affair in the wilderness (my lord’s death). You succeeded Mr. Macbrair’s firm; the Durrisdeers are extinct; and last year, in an old green box, you found these papers with Macbrair’s indorsation. It is that indorsation of which I want a copy; you may remember, when you gave me the papers, I neglected to take that, and I am sure you are a man too careful of antiquities to have let it fall aside. I shall have a little introduction descriptive of my visit to Edinburgh, arrival there, denner with yoursel’, and first reading of the papers in your smoking-room: all of which, of course, you well remember. — Ever yours affectionately,
R. L S.
Your name is my friend Mr. Johnstone Thomson, W.S.!!!
SARANAC, WINTER 1887-8.
DEAR MR. BURLINGAME, — I am keeping the sermon to see if I can’t add another. Meanwhile, I will send you very soon a different paper which may take its place. Possibly some of these days soon I may get together a talk on things current, which should go in (if possible) earlier than either. I am now less nervous about these papers; I believe I can do the trick without great strain, though the terror that breathed on my back in the beginning is not yet forgotten.
THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE I have had to leave aside, as I was quite worked out. But in about a week I hope to try back and send you the first four numbers: these are all drafted, it is only the revision that has broken me down, as it is often the hardest work. These four I propose you should set up for me at once, and we’ll copyright ‘em in a pamphlet. I will tell you the names of the BONA FIDE purchasers in England.
The numbers will run from twenty to thirty pages of my manuscript. You can give me that much, can you not? It is a howling good tale - at least these first four numbers are; the end is a trifle more fantastic, but ‘tis all picturesque.
Don’t trouble about any more French books; I am on another scent, you see, just now. Only the FRENCH IN HINDUSTAN I await with impatience, as that is for BALLANTRAE. The scene of that romance is Scotland — the States — Scotland — India — Scotland — and the States again; so it jumps like a flea. I have enough about the States now, and very much obliged I am; yet if Drake’s TRAGEDIES OF the WILDERNESS is (as I gather) a collection of originals, I should like to purchase it. If it is a picturesque vulgarisation, I do not wish to look it in the face. Purchase, I say; for I think it would be well to have some such collection by me with a view to fresh works. — Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. — If you think of having the MASTER illustrated, I suggest that Hole would be very well up to the Scottish, which is the larger part. If you have it done here, tell your artist to look at the hall of Craigievar in Billing’s BARONIAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL ANTIQUITIES, and he will get a broad hint for the hall at Durrisdeer: it is, I think, the chimney of Craigievar and the roof of Pinkie, and perhaps a little more of Pinkie altogether; but I should have to see the book myself to be sure. Hole would be invaluable for this. I dare say if you had it illustrated, you could let me have one or two for the English edition.
R. L. S.
[SARANAC, WINTER 1887-8.]
MY DEAR ARCHER, — What am I to say? I have read your friend’s book with singular relish. If he has written any other, I beg you will let me see it; and if he has not, I beg him to lose no time in supplying the deficiency. It is full of promise; but I should like to know his age. There are things in it that are very clever, to which I attach small importance; it is the shape of the age. And there are passages, particularly the rally in presence of the Zulu king, that show genuine and remarkable narrative talent — a talent that few will have the wit to understand, a talent of strength, spirit, capacity, sufficient vision, and sufficient self-sacrifice, which last is the chief point in a narrator.
As a whole, it is (of course) a fever dream of the most feverish. Over Bashville the footman I howled with derision and delight; I dote on Bashville — I could read of him for ever; DE BASHVILLE JE SUIS LE FERVENT— there is only one Bashville, and I am his devoted slave; BASHVILLE EST MAGNIFIQUE, MAIS IL N’EST GUERE POSSIBLE. He is the note of the book. It is all mad, mad and deliriously delightful; the author has a taste in chivalry like Walter Scott’s or Dumas’, and then he daubs in little bits of socialism; he soars away on the wings of the romantic griffon — even the griffon, as he cleaves air, shouting with laughter at the nature of the quest — and I believe in his heart he thinks he is labouring in a quarry of solid granite realism.
It is this that makes me — the most hardened adviser now extant — stand back and hold my peace. If Mr. Shaw is below five-and- twenty, let him go his path; if he is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open; — or perhaps he knows it; — God knows! — my brain is softened.
It is HORRID FUN. All I ask is more of it. Thank you for the pleasure you gave us, and tell me more of the inimitable author.
(I say, Archer, my God, what women!) — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC, FEBRUARY 1888.
MY DEAR ARCHER, — Pretty sick in bed; but necessary to protest and continue your education.
Why was Jenkin an amateur in my eyes? You think because not amusing (I think he often was amusing). The reason is this: I never, or almost never, saw two pages of his work that I could not have put in one without the smallest loss of material. That is the only test I know of writing. If there is anywhere a thing said in two sentences that could have been as clearly and as engagingly and as forcibly said in one, then it’s amateur work. Then you will bring me up with old Dumas. Nay, the object of a story is to be long, to fill up hours; the story-teller’s art of writing is to water out by continual invention, historical and technical, and yet not seem to water; seem on the other hand to practise that same wit of conspicuous and declaratory condensation which is the proper art of writing. That is one thing in which my stories fail: I am always cutting the flesh off their bones.
I would rise from the dead to preach!
Hope all well. I think my wife better, but she’s not allowed to write; and this (only wrung from me by desire to Boss and Parsonise and Dominate, strong in sickness) is my first letter for days, and will likely be my last for many more. Not blame my wife for her silence: doctor’s orders. All much interested by your last, and fragment from brother, and anecdotes of Tomarcher. — The sick but still Moral
R. L. S.
Tell Shaw to hurry up: I want another.
[SARANAC, SPRING 1888?]
MY DEAR ARCHER, — It happened thus. I came forth from that performance in a breathing heat of indignation. (Mind, at this distance of time and with my increased knowledge, I admit there is a problem in the piece; but I saw none then, except a problem in brutality; and I still consider the problem in that case not established.) On my way down the FRANCAIS stairs, I trod on an old gentleman’s toes, whereupon with that suavity that so well becomes me, I turned about to apologise, and on the instant, repenting me of that intention, stopped the apology midway, and added something in French to this effect: No, you are one of the LACHES who have been applauding that piece. I retract my apology. Said the old Frenchman, laying his hand on my arm, and with a smile that was truly heavenly in temperance, irony, good-nature, and knowledge of the world, ‘Ah, monsieur, vous etes bien jeune!’ — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
SARANAC [FEBRUARY 1888].
DEAR MR. BURLINGAME, — Will you send me (from the library) some of the works of my dear old G. P. R. James. With the following especially I desire to make or to renew acquaintance: THE SONGSTER, THE GIPSY, THE CONVICT, THE STEPMOTHER, THE GENTLEMAN OF THE OLD SCHOOL, THE ROBBER.
EXCUSEZ DU PEU.
This sudden return to an ancient favourite hangs upon an accident. The ‘Franklin County Library’ contains two works of his, THE CAVALIER and MORLEY ERNSTEIN. I read the first with indescribable amusement — it was worse than I had feared, and yet somehow engaging; the second (to my surprise) was better than I had dared to hope: a good honest, dull, interesting tale, with a genuine old-fashioned talent in the invention when not strained; and a genuine old-fashioned feeling for the English language. This experience awoke appetite, and you see I have taken steps to stay it.
R. L. S.
[SARANAC, FEBRUARY 1888.]
DEAR MR. BURLINGAME, — 1. Of course then don’t use it. Dear Man, I write these to please you, not myself, and you know a main sight better than I do what is good. In that case, however, I enclose another paper, and return the corrected proof of PULVIS ET UMBRA, so that we may be afloat.
2. I want to say a word as to the MASTER. (THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE shall be the name by all means.) If you like and want it, I leave it to you to make an offer. You may remember I thought the offer you made when I was still in England too small; by which I did not at all mean, I thought it less than it was worth, but too little to tempt me to undergo the disagreeables of serial publication. This tale (if you want it) you are to have; for it is the least I can do for you; and you are to observe that the sum you pay me for my articles going far to meet my wants, I am quite open to be satisfied with less than formerly. I tell you I do dislike this battle of the dollars. I feel sure you all pay too much here in America; and I beg you not to spoil me any more. For I am getting spoiled: I do not want wealth, and I feel these big sums demoralise me.
My wife came here pretty ill; she had a dreadful bad night; to-day she is better. But now Valentine is ill; and Lloyd and I have got breakfast, and my hand somewhat shakes after washing dishes. — Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. — Please order me the EVENING POST for two months. My subscription is run out. The MUTINY and EDWARDES to hand.
[SARANAC, MARCH 1888.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, — Fanny has been very unwell. She is not long home, has been ill again since her return, but is now better again to a degree. You must not blame her for not writing, as she is not allowed to write at all, not even a letter. To add to our misfortunes, Valentine is quite ill and in bed. Lloyd and I get breakfast; I have now, 10.15, just got the dishes washed and the kitchen all clear, and sit down to give you as much news as I have spirit for, after such an engagement. Glass is a thing that really breaks my spirit: I do not like to fail, and with glass I cannot reach the work of my high calling — the artist’s.
I am, as you may gather from this, wonderfully better: this harsh, grey, glum, doleful climate has done me good. You cannot fancy how sad a climate it is. When the thermometer stays all day below 10 degrees, it is really cold; and when the wind blows, O commend me to the result. Pleasure in life is all delete; there is no red spot left, fires do not radiate, you burn your hands all the time on what seem to be cold stones. It is odd, zero is like summer heat to us now; and we like, when the thermometer outside is really low, a room at about 48 degrees: 60 degrees we find oppressive. Yet the natives keep their holes at 90 degrees or even 100 degrees.
This was interrupted days ago by household labours. Since then I have had and (I tremble to write it, but it does seem as if I had) beaten off an influenza. The cold is exquisite. Valentine still in bed. The proofs of the first part of the MASTER OF BALLANTRAE begin to come in; soon you shall have it in the pamphlet form; and I hope you will like it. The second part will not be near so good; but there — we can but do as it’ll do with us. I have every reason to believe this winter has done me real good, so far as it has gone; and if I carry out my scheme for next winter, and succeeding years, I should end by being a tower of strength. I want you to save a good holiday for next winter; I hope we shall be able to help you to some larks. Is there any Greek Isle you would like to explore? or any creek in Asia Minor? — Yours ever affectionately,
R. L. S.
[SARANAC LAKE, WINTER 1887-1888.]
MY DEAR DR. CHARTERIS, — I have asked Douglas and Foulis to send you my last volume, so that you may possess my little paper on my father in a permanent shape; not for what that is worth, but as a tribute of respect to one whom my father regarded with such love, esteem, and affection. Besides, as you will see, I have brought you under contribution, and I have still to thank you for your letter to my mother; so more than kind; in much, so just. It is my hope, when time and health permit, to do something more definite for my father’s memory. You are one of the very few who can (if you will) help me. Pray believe that I lay on you no obligation; I know too well, you may believe me, how difficult it is to put even two sincere lines upon paper, where all, too, is to order. But if the spirit should ever move you, and you should recall something memorable of your friend, his son will heartily thank you for a note of it. — With much respect, believe me, yours sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[SARANAC LAKE, MARCH 1888.]
MY DEAR DELIGHTFUL JAMES, — To quote your heading to my wife, I think no man writes so elegant a letter, I am sure none so kind, unless it be Colvin, and there is more of the stern parent about him. I was vexed at your account of my admired Meredith: I wish I could go and see him; as it is I will try to write. I read with indescribable admiration your EMERSON. I begin to long for the day when these portraits of yours shall be collected: do put me in. But Emerson is a higher flight. Have you a TOURGUENEFF? You have told me many interesting things of him, and I seem to see them written, and forming a graceful and BILDEND sketch. My novel is a tragedy; four parts out of six or seven are written, and gone to Burlingame. Five parts of it are sound, human tragedy; the last one or two, I regret to say, not so soundly designed; I almost hesitate to write them; they are very picturesque, but they are fantastic; they shame, perhaps degrade, the beginning. I wish I knew; that was how the tale came to me however. I got the situation; it was an old taste of mine: The older brother goes out in the ‘45, the younger stays; the younger, of course, gets title and estate and marries the bride designate of the elder — a family match, but he (the younger) had always loved her, and she had really loved the elder. Do you see the situation? Then the devil and Saranac suggested this DENOUEMENT, and I joined the two ends in a day or two of constant feverish thought, and began to write. And now — I wonder if I have not gone too far with the fantastic? The elder brother is an INCUBUS: supposed to be killed at Culloden, he turns up again and bleeds the family of money; on that stopping he comes and lives with them, whence flows the real tragedy, the nocturnal duel of the brothers (very naturally, and indeed, I think, inevitably arising), and second supposed death of the elder. Husband and wife now really make up, and then the cloven hoof appears. For the third supposed death and the manner of the third reappearance is steep; steep, sir. It is even very steep, and I fear it shames the honest stuff so far; but then it is highly pictorial, and it leads up to the death of the elder brother at the hands of the younger in a perfectly cold-blooded murder, of which I wish (and mean) the reader to approve. You see how daring is the design. There are really but six characters, and one of these episodic, and yet it covers eighteen years, and will be, I imagine, the longest of my works. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
READ GOSSE’S RALEIGH. First-rate. — Yours ever,
R. L. S.
SARANAC LAKE, ADIRONDACKS, NEW YORK, U.S.A., SPRING 1888.
MY DEAR DR. CHARTERIS, — The funeral letter, your notes, and many other things, are reserved for a book, MEMORIALS OF A SCOTTISH FAMILY, if ever I can find time and opportunity. I wish I could throw off all else and sit down to it to-day. Yes, my father was a ‘distinctly religious man,’ but not a pious. The distinction painfully and pleasurably recalls old conflicts; it used to be my great gun — and you, who suffered for the whole Church, know how needful it was to have some reserve artillery! His sentiments were tragic; he was a tragic thinker. Now, granted that life is tragic to the marrow, it seems the proper function of religion to make us accept and serve in that tragedy, as officers in that other and comparable one of war. Service is the word, active service, in the military sense; and the religious man — I beg pardon, the pious man - is he who has a military joy in duty — not he who weeps over the wounded. We can do no more than try to do our best. Really, I am the grandson of the manse — I preach you a kind of sermon. Box the brat’s ears!
My mother — to pass to matters more within my competence — finely enjoys herself. The new country, some new friends we have made, the interesting experiment of this climate-which (at least) is tragic — all have done her good. I have myself passed a better winter than for years, and now that it is nearly over have some diffident hopes of doing well in the summer and ‘eating a little more air’ than usual.
I thank you for the trouble you are taking, and my mother joins with me in kindest regards to yourself and Mrs. Charteris. — Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[SARANAC LAKE, SPRING 1888.]
DEAR MINISTER OF THE FREE KIRK AT PENICUIK, — For O, man, I cannae read your name! — That I have been so long in answering your delightful letter sits on my conscience badly. The fact is I let my correspondence accumulate until I am going to leave a place; and then I pitch in, overhaul the pile, and my cries of penitence might be heard a mile about. Yesterday I despatched thirty-five belated letters: conceive the state of my conscience, above all as the Sins of Omission (see boyhood’s guide, the Shorter Catechism) are in my view the only serious ones; I call it my view, but it cannot have escaped you that it was also Christ’s. However, all that is not to the purpose, which is to thank you for the sincere pleasure afforded by your charming letter. I get a good few such; how few that please me at all, you would be surprised to learn — or have a singularly just idea of the dulness of our race; how few that please me as yours did, I can tell you in one word — NONE. I am no great kirkgoer, for many reasons — and the sermon’s one of them, and the first prayer another, but the chief and effectual reason is the stuffiness. I am no great kirkgoer, says I, but when I read yon letter of yours, I thought I would like to sit under ye. And then I saw ye were to send me a bit buik, and says I, I’ll wait for the bit buik, and then I’ll mebbe can read the man’s name, and anyway I’ll can kill twa birds wi’ ae stane. And, man! the buik was ne’er heard tell o’!
That fact is an adminicle of excuse for my delay.
And now, dear minister of the illegible name, thanks to you, and greeting to your wife, and may you have good guidance in your difficult labours, and a blessing on your life.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
(No just so young sae young’s he was, though — I’m awfae near forty, man.)
Address c/o CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS, 743 BROADWAY, NEW YORK.
Don’t put ‘N.B.’ in your paper: put SCOTLAND, and be done with it. Alas, that I should be thus stabbed in the home of my friends! The name of my native land is not NORTH BRITAIN, whatever may be the name of yours.
R. L. S.
[SARANAC LAKE, APRIL 1888.]
MY DEAREST COGGIE, — I wish I could find the letter I began to you some time ago when I was ill; but I can’t and I don’t believe there was much in it anyway. We have all behaved like pigs and beasts and barn-door poultry to you; but I have been sunk in work, and the lad is lazy and blind and has been working too; and as for Fanny, she has been (and still is) really unwell. I had a mean hope you might perhaps write again before I got up steam: I could not have been more ashamed of myself than I am, and I should have had another laugh.
They always say I cannot give news in my letters: I shall shake off that reproach. On Monday, if she is well enough, Fanny leaves for California to see her friends; it is rather an anxiety to let her go alone; but the doctor simply forbids it in my case, and she is better anywhere than here — a bleak, blackguard, beggarly climate, of which I can say no good except that it suits me and some others of the same or similar persuasions whom (by all rights) it ought to kill. It is a form of Arctic St. Andrews, I should imagine; and the miseries of forty degrees below zero, with a high wind, have to be felt to be appreciated. The greyness of the heavens here is a circumstance eminently revolting to the soul; I have near forgot the aspect of the sun — I doubt if this be news; it is certainly no news to us. My mother suffers a little from the inclemency of the place, but less on the whole than would be imagined. Among other wild schemes, we have been projecting yacht voyages; and I beg to inform you that Cogia Hassan was cast for the part of passenger. They may come off! — Again this is not news. The lad? Well, the lad wrote a tale this winter, which appeared to me so funny that I have taken it in hand, and some of these days you will receive a copy of a work entitled ‘A GAME OF BLUFF, by Lloyd Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson.’
Otherwise he (the lad) is much as usual. There remains, I believe, to be considered only R. L. S., the house-bond, prop, pillar, bread-winner, and bully of the establishment. Well, I do think him much better; he is making piles of money; the hope of being able to hire a yacht ere long dances before his eyes; otherwise he is not in very high spirits at this particular moment, though compared with last year at Bournemouth an angel of joy.
And now is this news, Cogia, or is it not? It all depends upon the point of view, and I call it news. The devil of it is that I can think of nothing else, except to send you all our loves, and to wish exceedingly you were here to cheer us all up. But we’ll see about that on board the yacht. — Your affectionate friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
[SARANAC LAKE], APRIL 9TH!! 1888
MY DEAR COLVIN, — I have been long without writing to you, but am not to blame, I had some little annoyances quite for a private eye, but they ran me so hard that I could not write without lugging them in, which (for several reasons) I did not choose to do. Fanny is off to San Francisco, and next week I myself flit to New York: address Scribner’s. Where we shall go I know not, nor (I was going to say) care; so bald and bad is my frame of mind. Do you know our - ahem! — fellow clubman, Colonel Majendie? I had such an interesting letter from him. Did you see my sermon? It has evoked the worst feeling: I fear people don’t care for the truth, or else I don’t tell it. Suffer me to wander without purpose. I have sent off twenty letters to-day, and begun and stuck at a twenty-first, and taken a copy of one which was on business, and corrected several galleys of proof, and sorted about a bushel of old letters; so if any one has a right to be romantically stupid it is I— and I am. Really deeply stupid, and at that stage when in old days I used to pour out words without any meaning whatever and with my mind taking no part in the performance. I suspect that is now the case. I am reading with extraordinary pleasure the life of Lord Lawrence: Lloyd and I have a mutiny novel —
(NEXT MORNING, AFTER TWELVE OTHER LETTERS) — mutiny novel on hand — a tremendous work — so we are all at Indian books. The idea of the novel is Lloyd’s: I call it a novel. ‘Tis a tragic romance, of the most tragic sort: I believe the end will be almost too much for human endurance — when the hero is thrown to the ground with one of his own (Sepoy) soldier’s knees upon his chest, and the cries begin in the Beebeeghar. O truly, you know it is a howler! The whole last part is — well the difficulty is that, short of resuscitating Shakespeare, I don’t know who is to write it.
I still keep wonderful. I am a great performer before the Lord on the penny whistle. Dear sir, sincerely yours,
[SARANAC LAKE, APRIL 1888.] ADDRESS C/O MESSRS. SCRIBNER’S SONS, 743 BROADWAY, N.Y.
MY DEAR GAMEKEEPER, — Your p. c. (proving you a good student of Micawber) has just arrived, and it paves the way to something I am anxious to say. I wrote a paper the other day — PULVIS ET UMBRA; — I wrote it with great feeling and conviction: to me it seemed bracing and healthful, it is in such a world (so seen by me), that I am very glad to fight out my battle, and see some fine sunsets, and hear some excellent jests between whiles round the camp fire. But I find that to some people this vision of mine is a nightmare, and extinguishes all ground of faith in God or pleasure in man. Truth I think not so much of; for I do not know it. And I could wish in my heart that I had not published this paper, if it troubles folk too much: all have not the same digestion, nor the same sight of things. And it came over me with special pain that perhaps this article (which I was at the pains to send to her) might give dismalness to my GAMEKEEPER AT HOME. Well, I cannot take back what I have said; but yet I may add this. If my view be everything but the nonsense that it may be — to me it seems self- evident and blinding truth — surely of all things it makes this world holier. There is nothing in it but the moral side — but the great battle and the breathing times with their refreshments. I see no more and no less. And if you look again, it is not ugly, and it is filled with promise.
Pray excuse a desponding author for this apology. My wife is away off to the uttermost parts of the States, all by herself. I shall be off, I hope, in a week; but where? Ah! that I know not. I keep wonderful, and my wife a little better, and the lad flourishing. We now perform duets on two D tin whistles; it is no joke to make the bass; I think I must really send you one, which I wish you would correct . . . I may be said to live for these instrumental labours now, but I have always some childishness on hand. — I am, dear Gamekeeper, your indulgent but intemperate Squire,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
UNION HOUSE, MANASQUAN, N.J., BUT ADDRESS TO SCRIBNER’S, 11TH MAY 1888.
MY DEAR CHARLES, — I have found a yacht, and we are going the full pitch for seven months. If I cannot get my health back (more or less), ‘tis madness; but, of course, there is the hope, and I will play big. . . . If this business fails to set me up, well, 2000 pounds is gone, and I know I can’t get better. We sail from San Francisco, June 15th, for the South Seas in the yacht CASCO. — With a million thanks for all your dear friendliness, ever yours affectionately,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
MANASQUAN, NEW JERSEY, 27TH MAY 1888.
DEAR HOMER ST. GAUDENS, — Your father has brought you this day to see me, and he tells me it is his hope you may remember the occasion. I am going to do what I can to carry out his wish; and it may amuse you, years after, to see this little scrap of paper and to read what I write. I must begin by testifying that you yourself took no interest whatever in the introduction, and in the most proper spirit displayed a single-minded ambition to get back to play, and this I thought an excellent and admirable point in your character. You were also (I use the past tense, with a view to the time when you shall read, rather than to that when I am writing) a very pretty boy, and (to my European views) startlingly self-possessed. My time of observation was so limited that you must pardon me if I can say no more: what else I marked, what restlessness of foot and hand, what graceful clumsiness, what experimental designs upon the furniture, was but the common inheritance of human youth. But you may perhaps like to know that the lean flushed man in bed, who interested you so little, was in a state of mind extremely mingled and unpleasant: harassed with work which he thought he was not doing well, troubled with difficulties to which you will in time succeed, and yet looking forward to no less a matter than a voyage to the South Seas and the visitation of savage and desert islands. — Your father’s friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
MANASQUAN (AHEM!), NEW JERSEY, MAY 28TH, 1888.
MY DEAR JAMES, — With what a torrent it has come at last! Up to now, what I like best is the first number of a LONDON LIFE. You have never done anything better, and I don’t know if perhaps you have ever done anything so good as the girl’s outburst: tip-top. I have been preaching your later works in your native land. I had to present the Beltraffio volume to Low, and it has brought him to his knees; he was AMAZED at the first part of Georgina’s Reasons, although (like me) not so well satisfied with Part II. It is annoying to find the American public as stupid as the English, but they will waken up in time: I wonder what they will think of TWO NATIONS? . .
This, dear James, is a valedictory. On June 15th the schooner yacht CASCO will (weather and a jealous providence permitting) steam through the Golden Gates for Honolulu, Tahiti, the Galapagos, Guayaquil, and — I hope NOT the bottom of the Pacific. It will contain your obedient ‘umble servant and party. It seems too good to be true, and is a very good way of getting through the green- sickness of maturity which, with all its accompanying ills, is now declaring itself in my mind and life. They tell me it is not so severe as that of youth; if I (and the CASCO) are spared, I shall tell you more exactly, as I am one of the few people in the world who do not forget their own lives.
Good-bye, then, my dear fellow, and please write us a word; we expect to have three mails in the next two months: Honolulu, Tahiti, and Guayaquil. But letters will be forwarded from Scribner’s, if you hear nothing more definite directly. In 3 (three) days I leave for San Francisco. — Ever yours most cordially,
R. L. S.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00