Vailima Letters, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter XV

My Dear Colvin, — No letter at all from you, and this scratch from me! Here is a year that opens ill. Lloyd is off to ‘the coast’ sick — the coast means California over most of the Pacific — I have been down all month with influenza, and am just recovering — I am overlaid with proofs, which I am just about half fit to attend to. One of my horses died this morning, and another is now dying on the front lawn — Lloyd’s horse and Fanny’s. Such is my quarrel with destiny. But I am mending famously, come and go on the balcony, have perfectly good nights, and though I still cough, have no oppression and no hemorrhage and no fever. So if I can find time and courage to add no more, you will know my news is not altogether of the worst; a year or two ago, and what a state I should have been in now! Your silence, I own, rather alarms me. But I tell myself you have just miscarried; had you been too ill to write, some one would have written me. Understand, I send this brief scratch not because I am unfit to write more, but because I have 58 galleys of the Wrecker and 102 of the Beach of Falesa to get overhauled somehow or other in time for the mail, and for three weeks I have not touched a pen with my finger.

Feb. 1st.

The second horse is still alive, but I still think dying. The first was buried this morning. My proofs are done; it was a rough two days of it, but done. Consummatum est; na uma. I believe the Wrecker ends well; if I know what a good yarn is, the last four chapters make a good yarn — but pretty horrible. The Beach of Falesa I still think well of, but it seems it’s immoral and there’s a to-do, and financially it may prove a heavy disappointment. The plaintive request sent to me, to make the young folks married properly before ‘that night,’ I refused; you will see what would be left of the yarn, had I consented. This is a poison bad world for the romancer, this Anglo-Saxon world; I usually get out of it by not having any women in it at all; but when I remember I had the Treasure of Franchard refused as unfit for a family magazine, I feel despair weigh upon my wrists.

As I know you are always interested in novels, I must tell you that a new one is now entirely planned. It is to be called Sophia Scarlet, and is in two parts. Part I. The Vanilla Planter. Part II. The Overseers. No chapters, I think; just two dense blocks of narrative, the first of which is purely sentimental, but the second has some rows and quarrels, and winds up with an explosion, if you please! I am just burning to get at Sophia, but I must do this Samoan journalism — that’s a cursed duty. The first part of Sophia, bar the first twenty or thirty pages, writes itself; the second is more difficult, involving a good many characters — about ten, I think — who have to be kept all moving, and give the effect of a society. I have three women to handle, out and well-away! but only Sophia is in full tone. Sophia and two men, Windermere, the Vanilla Planter, who dies at the end of Part I., and Rainsforth, who only appears in the beginning of Part II. The fact is, I blush to own it, but Sophia is a Regular novel; heroine and hero, and false accusation, and love, and marriage, and all the rest of it — all planted in a big South Sea plantation run by ex-English officers — a la Stewart’s plantation in Tahiti. There is a strong undercurrent of labour trade, which gives it a kind of Uncle Tom flavour, absit omen! The first start is hard; it is hard to avoid a little tedium here, but I think by beginning with the arrival of the three Miss Scarlets hot from school and society in England, I may manage to slide in the information. The problem is exactly a Balzac one, and I wish I had his fist — for I have already a better method — the kinetic, whereas he continually allowed himself to be led into the static. But then he had the fist, and the most I can hope is to get out of it with a modicum of grace and energy, but for sure without the strong impression, the full, dark brush. Three people have had it, the real creator’s brush: Scott, see much of The Antiquary and The Heart of Midlothian (especially all round the trial, before, during, and after) — Balzac — and Thackeray in Vanity Fair. Everybody else either paints thin, or has to stop to paint, or paints excitedly, so that you see the author skipping before his canvas. Here is a long way from poor Sophia Scarlet!

This day is published
Sophia Scarlet
Robert Louis Stevenson.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00