Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 3 out of 7
TOMARCHER, I am now a distinguished litterytour, but that was not
the real bent of my genius. I was the best player of hide-and-seek
going; not a good runner, I was up to every shift and dodge, I
could jink very well, I could crawl without any noise through
leaves, I could hide under a carrot plant, it used to be my
favourite boast that I always WALKED into the den. You may care to
hear, Tomarcher, about the children in these parts; their parents
obey them, they do not obey their parents; and I am sorry to tell
you (for I dare say you are already thinking the idea a good one)
that it does not pay one halfpenny. There are three sorts of
civilisation, Tomarcher: the real old-fashioned one, in which
children either had to find out how to please their dear papas, or
their dear papas cut their heads off. This style did very well,
but is now out of fashion. Then the modern European style: in
which children have to behave reasonably well, and go to school and
say their prayers, or their dear papas WILL KNOW THE REASON WHY.
This does fairly well. Then there is the South Sea Island plan,
which does not do one bit. The children beat their parents here;
it does not make their parents any better; so do not try it.
Dear Tomarcher, I have forgotten the address of your new house, but
will send this to one of your papa's publishers. Remember us all
to all of you, and believe me, yours respectably,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
TAUTIRA (THE GARDEN OF THE WORLD), OTHERWISE CALLED HANS-CHRISTIAN-
ANDERSEN-VILLE [NOVEMBER 1888].
MY DEAR CHARLES, - Whether I have a penny left in the wide world, I
know not, nor shall know, till I get to Honolulu, where I
anticipate a devil of an awakening. It will be from a mighty
pleasant dream at least: Tautira being mere Heaven. But suppose,
for the sake of argument, any money to be left in the hands of my
painful doer, what is to be done with it? Save us from exile would
be the wise man's choice, I suppose; for the exile threatens to be
eternal. But yet I am of opinion - in case there should be SOME
dibs in the hand of the P.D., I.E. painful doer; because if there
be none, I shall take to my flageolet on the high-road, and work
home the best way I can, having previously made away with my family
- I am of opinion that if - and his are in the customary state, and
you are thinking of an offering, and there should be still some
funds over, you would be a real good P.D. to put some in with yours
and tak' the credit o't, like a wee man! I know it's a beastly
thing to ask; but it, after all, does no earthly harm, only that
much good. And besides, like enough there's nothing in the till,
and there is an end. Yet I live here in the full lustre of
millions; it is thought I am the richest son of man that has yet
been to Tautira: I! - and I am secretly eaten with the fear of
lying in pawn, perhaps for the remainder of my days, in San
Francisco. As usual, my colds have much hashed my finances.
Do tell Henley I write this just after having dismissed Ori the
sub-chief, in whose house I live, Mrs. Ori, and Pairai, their
adopted child, from the evening hour of music: during which I
Publickly (with a k) Blow on the Flageolet. These are words of
truth. Yesterday I told Ori about W. E. H., counterfeited his
playing on the piano and the pipe, and succeeded in sending the six
feet four there is of that sub-chief somewhat sadly to his bed;
feeling that his was not the genuine article after all. Ori is
exactly like a colonel in the Guards. - I am, dear Charles, ever
R. L. S.
Letter: TAUTIRA, 10TH NOVEMBER '88.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - Our mainmast is dry-rotten, and we are all to
the devil; I shall lie in a debtor's jail. Never mind, Tautira is
first chop. I am so besotted that I shall put on the back of this
my attempt at words to Wandering Willie; if you can conceive at all
the difficulty, you will also conceive the vanity with which I
regard any kind of result; and whatever mine is like, it has some
sense, and Burns's has none.
Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather;
Thick drives the rain, and my roof is in the dust.
Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree.
The true word of welcome was spoken in the door -
Dear days of old, with the faces in the firelight,
Kind folks of old, you come again no more.
Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moorland;
Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.
Now, when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO J. A. SYMONDS
NOVEMBER 11TH 1888.
One November night, in the village of Tautira, we sat at the high
table in the hall of assembly, hearing the natives sing. It was
dark in the hall, and very warm; though at times the land wind blew
a little shrewdly through the chinks, and at times, through the
larger openings, we could see the moonlight on the lawn. As the
songs arose in the rattling Tahitian chorus, the chief translated
here and there a verse. Farther on in the volume you shall read
the songs themselves; and I am in hopes that not you only, but all
who can find a savour in the ancient poetry of places, will read
them with some pleasure. You are to conceive us, therefore, in
strange circumstances and very pleasing; in a strange land and
climate, the most beautiful on earth; surrounded by a foreign race
that all travellers have agreed to be the most engaging; and taking
a double interest in two foreign arts.
We came forth again at last, in a cloudy moonlight, on the forest
lawn which is the street of Tautira. The Pacific roared outside
upon the reef. Here and there one of the scattered palm-built
lodges shone out under the shadow of the wood, the lamplight
bursting through the crannies of the wall. We went homeward
slowly, Ori a Ori carrying behind us the lantern and the chairs,
properties with which we had just been enacting our part of the
distinguished visitor. It was one of those moments in which minds
not altogether churlish recall the names and deplore the absence of
congenial friends; and it was your name that first rose upon our
lips. 'How Symonds would have enjoyed this evening!' said one, and
then another. The word caught in my mind; I went to bed, and it
was still there. The glittering, frosty solitudes in which your
days are cast arose before me: I seemed to see you walking there
in the late night, under the pine-trees and the stars; and I
received the image with something like remorse.
There is a modern attitude towards fortune; in this place I will
not use a graver name. Staunchly to withstand her buffets and to
enjoy with equanimity her favours was the code of the virtuous of
old. Our fathers, it should seem, wondered and doubted how they
had merited their misfortunes: we, rather how we have deserved our
happiness. And we stand often abashed and sometimes revolted, at
those partialities of fate by which we profit most. It was so with
me on that November night: I felt that our positions should be
changed. It was you, dear Symonds, who should have gone upon that
voyage and written this account. With your rich stores of
knowledge, you could have remarked and understood a thousand things
of interest and beauty that escaped my ignorance; and the brilliant
colours of your style would have carried into a thousand sickrooms
the sea air and the strong sun of tropic islands. It was otherwise
decreed. But suffer me at least to connect you, if only in name
and only in the fondness of imagination, with the voyage of the
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
DEAR SYMONDS, - I send you this (November 11th), the morning of its
completion. If I ever write an account of this voyage, may I place
this letter at the beginning? It represents - I need not tell you,
for you too are an artist - a most genuine feeling, which kept me
long awake last night; and though perhaps a little elaborate, I
think it a good piece of writing. We are IN HEAVEN HERE. Do not
R. L. S.
Please keep this: I have no perfect copy.
TAUTIRA, ON THE PENINSULA OF TAHITI.
Letter: TO THOMAS ARCHER
TAUTIRA, ISLAND OF TAHITI [NOVEMBER 1888].
DEAR TOMARCHER, - This is a pretty state of things! seven o'clock
and no word of breakfast! And I was awake a good deal last night,
for it was full moon, and they had made a great fire of cocoa-nut
husks down by the sea, and as we have no blinds or shutters, this
kept my room very bright. And then the rats had a wedding or a
school-feast under my bed. And then I woke early, and I have
nothing to read except Virgil's AENEID, which is not good fun on an
empty stomach, and a Latin dictionary, which is good for naught,
and by some humorous accident, your dear papa's article on
Skerryvore. And I read the whole of that, and very impudent it is,
but you must not tell your dear papa I said so, or it might come to
a battle in which you might lose either a dear papa or a valued
correspondent, or both, which would be prodigal. And still no
breakfast; so I said 'Let's write to Tomarcher.'
This is a much better place for children than any I have hitherto
seen in these seas. The girls (and sometimes the boys) play a very
elaborate kind of hopscotch. The boys play horses exactly as we do
in Europe; and have very good fun on stilts, trying to knock each
other down, in which they do not often succeed. The children of
all ages go to church and are allowed to do what they please,
running about the aisles, rolling balls, stealing mamma's bonnet
and publicly sitting on it, and at last going to sleep in the
middle of the floor. I forgot to say that the whips to play
horses, and the balls to roll about the church - at least I never
saw them used elsewhere - grow ready made on trees; which is rough
on toy-shops. The whips are so good that I wanted to play horses
myself; but no such luck! my hair is grey, and I am a great, big,
ugly man. The balls are rather hard, but very light and quite
round. When you grow up and become offensively rich, you can
charter a ship in the port of London, and have it come back to you
entirely loaded with these balls; when you could satisfy your mind
as to their character, and give them away when done with to your
uncles and aunts. But what I really wanted to tell you was this:
besides the tree-top toys (Hush-a-by, toy-shop, on the tree-top!),
I have seen some real MADE toys, the first hitherto observed in the
This was how. You are to imagine a four-wheeled gig; one horse; in
the front seat two Tahiti natives, in their Sunday clothes, blue
coat, white shirt, kilt (a little longer than the Scotch) of a blue
stuff with big white or yellow flowers, legs and feet bare; in the
back seat me and my wife, who is a friend of yours; under our feet,
plenty of lunch and things: among us a great deal of fun in broken
Tahitian, one of the natives, the sub-chief of the village, being a
great ally of mine. Indeed we have exchanged names; so that he is
now called Rui, the nearest they can come to Louis, for they have
no L and no S in their language. Rui is six feet three in his
stockings, and a magnificent man. We all have straw hats, for the
sun is strong. We drive between the sea, which makes a great
noise, and the mountains; the road is cut through a forest mostly
of fruit trees, the very creepers, which take the place of our ivy,
heavy with a great and delicious fruit, bigger than your head and
far nicer, called Barbedine. Presently we came to a house in a
pretty garden, quite by itself, very nicely kept, the doors and
windows open, no one about, and no noise but that of the sea. It
looked like a house in a fairy-tale, and just beyond we must ford a
river, and there we saw the inhabitants. Just in the mouth of the
river, where it met the sea waves, they were ducking and bathing
and screaming together like a covey of birds: seven or eight
little naked brown boys and girls as happy as the day was long; and
on the banks of the stream beside them, real toys - toy ships, full
rigged, and with their sails set, though they were lying in the
dust on their beam ends. And then I knew for sure they were all
children in a fairy-story, living alone together in that lonely
house with the only toys in all the island; and that I had myself
driven, in my four-wheeled gig, into a corner of the fairy-story,
and the question was, should I get out again? But it was all
right; I guess only one of the wheels of the gig had got into the
fairy-story; and the next jolt the whole thing vanished, and we
drove on in our sea-side forest as before, and I have the honour to
be Tomarcher's valued correspondent, TERIITEPA, which he was
previously known as
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO SIDNEY COLVIN
YACHT 'CASCO,' AT SEA, 14TH JANUARY, 1889.
MY DEAR COLVIN, - Twenty days out from Papeete. Yes, sir, all
that, and only (for a guess) in 4 degrees north or at the best 4
degrees 30 minutes, though already the wind seems to smell a little
of the North Pole. My handwriting you must take as you get, for we
are speeding along through a nasty swell, and I can only keep my
place at the table by means of a foot against the divan, the
unoccupied hand meanwhile gripping the ink-bottle. As we begin (so
very slowly) to draw near to seven months of correspondence, we are
all in some fear; and I want to have letters written before I shall
be plunged into that boiling pot of disagreeables which I
constantly expect at Honolulu. What is needful can be added there.
We were kept two months at Tautira in the house of my dear old
friend, Ori a Ori, till both the masts of this invaluable yacht had
been repaired. It was all for the best: Tautira being the most
beautiful spot, and its people the most amiable, I have ever found.
Besides which, the climate suited me to the ground; I actually went
sea-bathing almost every day, and in our feasts (we are all huge
eaters in Taiarapu) have been known to apply four times for pig.
And then again I got wonderful materials for my book, collected
songs and legends on the spot; songs still sung in chorus by
perhaps a hundred persons, not two of whom can agree on their
translation; legends, on which I have seen half a dozen seniors
sitting in conclave and debating what came next. Once I went a
day's journey to the other side of the island to Tati, the high
chief of the Tevas - MY chief that is, for I am now a Teva and
Teriitera, at your service - to collect more and correct what I had
already. In the meanwhile I got on with my work, almost finished
the MASTER OF BALLANTRAE, which contains more human work than
anything of mine but KIDNAPPED, and wrote the half of another
ballad, the SONG OF RAHERO, on a Taiarapu legend of my own clan,
sir - not so much fire as the FEAST OF FAMINE, but promising to be
more even and correct. But the best fortune of our stay at Tautira
was my knowledge of Ori himself, one of the finest creatures
extant. The day of our parting was a sad one. We deduced from it
a rule for travellers: not to stay two months in one place - which
is to cultivate regrets.
At last our contemptible ship was ready; to sea we went, bound for
Honolulu and the letter-bag, on Christmas Day; and from then to now
have experienced every sort of minor misfortune, squalls, calms,
contrary winds and seas, pertinacious rains, declining stores, till
we came almost to regard ourselves as in the case of Vanderdecken.
Three days ago our luck seemed to improve, we struck a leading
breeze, got creditably through the doldrums, and just as we looked
to have the N.E. trades and a straight run, the rains and squalls
and calms began again about midnight, and this morning, though
there is breeze enough to send us along, we are beaten back by an
obnoxious swell out of the north. Here is a page of complaint,
when a verse of thanksgiving had perhaps been more in place. For
all this time we must have been skirting past dangerous weather, in
the tail and circumference of hurricanes, and getting only
annoyance where we should have had peril, and ill-humour instead of
I wonder if I have managed to give you any news this time, or
whether the usual damn hangs over my letter? 'The midwife
whispered, Be thou dull!' or at least inexplicit. Anyway I have
tried my best, am exhausted with the effort, and fall back into the
land of generalities. I cannot tell you how often we have planned
our arrival at the Monument: two nights ago, the 12th January, we
had it all planned out, arrived in the lights and whirl of
Waterloo, hailed a hansom, span up Waterloo Road, over the bridge,
etc. etc., and hailed the Monument gate in triumph and with
indescribable delight. My dear Custodian, I always think we are
too sparing of assurances: Cordelia is only to be excused by Regan
and Goneril in the same nursery; I wish to tell you that the longer
I live, the more dear do you become to me; nor does my heart own
any stronger sentiment. If the bloody schooner didn't send me
flying in every sort of direction at the same time, I would say
better what I feel so much; but really, if you were here, you would
not be writing letters, I believe; and even I, though of a more
marine constitution, am much perturbed by this bobbery and wish - O
ye Gods, how I wish! - that it was done, and we had arrived, and I
had Pandora's Box (my mail bag) in hand, and was in the lively hope
of something eatable for dinner instead of salt horse, tinned
mutton, duff without any plums, and pie fruit, which now make up
our whole repertory. O Pandora's Box! I wonder what you will
contain. As like as not you will contain but little money: if
that be so, we shall have to retire to 'Frisco in the CASCO, and
thence by sea VIA Panama to Southampton, where we should arrive in
April. I would like fine to see you on the tug: ten years older
both of us than the last time you came to welcome Fanny and me to
England. If we have money, however, we shall do a little
differently: send the CASCO away from Honolulu empty of its high-
born lessees, for that voyage to 'Frisco is one long dead beat in
foul and at last in cold weather; stay awhile behind, follow by
steamer, cross the States by train, stay awhile in New York on
business, and arrive probably by the German Line in Southampton.
But all this is a question of money. We shall have to lie very
dark awhile to recruit our finances: what comes from the book of
the cruise, I do not want to touch until the capital is repaid.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO E. L. BURLINGAME
HONOLULU, JANUARY 1889.
MY DEAR BURLINGAME, - Here at last I have arrived. We could not
get away from Tahiti till Christmas Day, and then had thirty days
of calms and squalls, a deplorable passage. This has thrown me all
out of gear in every way. I plunge into business.
1. THE MASTER: Herewith go three more parts. You see he grows in
balk; this making ten already, and I am not yet sure if I can
finish it in an eleventh; which shall go to you QUAM PRIMUM - I
hope by next mail.
2. ILLUSTRATIONS TO M. I totally forgot to try to write to Hole.
It was just as well, for I find it impossible to forecast with
sufficient precision. You had better throw off all this and let
him have it at once. PLEASE DO: ALL, AND AT ONCE: SEE FURTHER;
and I should hope he would still be in time for the later numbers.
The three pictures I have received are so truly good that I should
bitterly regret having the volume imperfectly equipped. They are
the best illustrations I have seen since I don't know when.
3. MONEY. To-morrow the mail comes in, and I hope it will bring
me money either from you or home, but I will add a word on that
4. My address will be Honolulu - no longer Yacht CASCO, which I am
packing off - till probably April.
5. As soon as I am through with THE MASTER, I shall finish the
GAME OF BLUFF - now rechristened THE WRONG BOX. This I wish to
sell, cash down. It is of course copyright in the States; and I
offer it to you for five thousand dollars. Please reply on this by
return. Also please tell the typewriter who was so good as to be
amused by our follies that I am filled with admiration for his
piece of work.
6. MASTER again. Please see that I haven't the name of the
Governor of New York wrong (1764 is the date) in part ten. I have
no book of reference to put me right. Observe you now have up to
August inclusive in hand, so you should begin to feel happy.
Is this all? I wonder, and fear not. Henry the Trader has not yet
turned up: I hope he may to-morrow, when we expect a mail. Not
one word of business have I received either from the States or
England, nor anything in the shape of coin; which leaves me in a
fine uncertainty and quite penniless on these islands. H.M. (who
is a gentleman of a courtly order and much tinctured with letters)
is very polite; I may possibly ask for the position of palace
doorkeeper. My voyage has been a singular mixture of good and ill-
fortune. As far as regards interest and material, the fortune has
been admirable; as far as regards time, money, and impediments of
all kinds, from squalls and calms to rotten masts and sprung spars,
simply detestable. I hope you will be interested to hear of two
volumes on the wing. The cruise itself, you are to know, will make
a big volume with appendices; some of it will first appear as (what
they call) letters in some of M'Clure's papers. I believe the book
when ready will have a fair measure of serious interest: I have
had great fortune in finding old songs and ballads and stories, for
instance, and have many singular instances of life in the last few
years among these islands.
The second volume is of ballads. You know TICONDEROGA. I have
written another: THE FEAST OF FAMINE, a Marquesan story. A third
is half done: THE SONG OF RAHERO, a genuine Tahitian legend. A
fourth dances before me. A Hawaiian fellow this, THE PRIEST'S
DROUGHT, or some such name. If, as I half suspect, I get enough
subjects out of the islands, TICONDEROGA shall be suppressed, and
we'll call the volume SOUTH SEA BALLADS. In health, spirits,
renewed interest in life, and, I do believe, refreshed capacity for
work, the cruise has proved a wise folly. Still we're not home,
and (although the friend of a crowned head) are penniless upon
these (as one of my correspondents used to call them) 'lovely but
FATIL islands.' By the way, who wrote the LION OF THE NILE? My
dear sir, that is Something Like. Overdone in bits, it has a true
thought and a true ring of language. Beg the anonymous from me, to
delete (when he shall republish) the two last verses, and end on
'the lion of the Nile.' One Lampman has a good sonnet on a 'Winter
Evening' in, I think, the same number: he seems ill named, but I
am tempted to hope a man is not always answerable for his name.
For instance, you would think you knew mine. No such matter. It
is - at your service and Mr. Scribner's and that of all of the
faithful - Teriitera (pray pronounce Tayree-Tayra) or (GALLICE)
R. L. S.
More when the mail shall come.
I am an idiot. I want to be clear on one point. Some of Hole's
drawings must of course be too late; and yet they seem to me so
excellent I would fain have the lot complete. It is one thing for
you to pay for drawings which are to appear in that soul-swallowing
machine, your magazine: quite another if they are only to
illustrate a volume. I wish you to take a brisk (even a fiery)
decision on the point; and let Hole know. To resume my desultory
song, I desire you would carry the same fire (hereinbefore
suggested) into your decision on the WRONG BOX; for in my present
state of benighted ignorance as to my affairs for the last seven
months - I know not even whether my house or my mother's house have
been let - I desire to see something definite in front of me -
outside the lot of palace doorkeeper. I believe the said WRONG BOX
is a real lark; in which, of course, I may be grievously deceived;
but the typewriter is with me. I may also be deceived as to the
numbers of THE MASTER now going and already gone; but to me they
seem First Chop, sir, First Chop. I hope I shall pull off that
damned ending; but it still depresses me: this is your doing, Mr.
Burlingame: you would have it there and then, and I fear it - I
fear that ending.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
HONOLULU, FEBRUARY 8TH, 1889.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - Here we are at Honolulu, and have dismissed the
yacht, and lie here till April anyway, in a fine state of haze,
which I am yet in hopes some letter of yours (still on the way) may
dissipate. No money, and not one word as to money! However, I
have got the yacht paid off in triumph, I think; and though we stay
here impignorate, it should not be for long, even if you bring us
no extra help from home. The cruise has been a great success, both
as to matter, fun, and health; and yet, Lord, man! we're pleased to
be ashore! Yon was a very fine voyage from Tahiti up here, but -
the dry land's a fine place too, and we don't mind squalls any
longer, and eh, man, that's a great thing. Blow, blow, thou wintry
wind, thou hast done me no appreciable harm beyond a few grey
hairs! Altogether, this foolhardy venture is achieved; and if I
have but nine months of life and any kind of health, I shall have
both eaten my cake and got it back again with usury. But, man,
there have been days when I felt guilty, and thought I was in no
position for the head of a house.
Your letter and accounts are doubtless at S. F., and will reach me
in course. My wife is no great shakes; she is the one who has
suffered most. My mother has had a Huge Old Time; Lloyd is first
chop; I so well that I do not know myself - sea-bathing, if you
please, and what is far more dangerous, entertaining and being
entertained by His Majesty here, who is a very fine intelligent
fellow, but O, Charles! what a crop for the drink! He carries it,
too, like a mountain with a sparrow on its shoulders. We
calculated five bottles of champagne in three hours and a half
(afternoon), and the sovereign quite presentable, although
perceptibly more dignified at the end. . . .
The extraordinary health I enjoy and variety of interests I find
among these islands would tempt me to remain here; only for Lloyd,
who is not well placed in such countries for a permanency; and a
little for Colvin, to whom I feel I owe a sort of filial duty. And
these two considerations will no doubt bring me back - to go to bed
again - in England. - Yours ever affectionately,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO R. A. M. STEVENSON
HONOLULU, HAWAIIAN ISLANDS, FEBRUARY 1889.
MY DEAR BOB, - My extremely foolhardy venture is practically over.
How foolhardy it was I don't think I realised. We had a very small
schooner, and, like most yachts, over-rigged and over-sparred, and
like many American yachts on a very dangerous sail plan. The
waters we sailed in are, of course, entirely unlighted, and very
badly charted; in the Dangerous Archipelago, through which we were
fools enough to go, we were perfectly in ignorance of where we were
for a whole night and half the next day, and this in the midst of
invisible islands and rapid and variable currents; and we were
lucky when we found our whereabouts at last. We have twice had all
we wanted in the way of squalls: once, as I came on deck, I found
the green sea over the cockpit coamings and running down the
companion like a brook to meet me; at that same moment the foresail
sheet jammed and the captain had no knife; this was the only
occasion on the cruise that ever I set a hand to a rope, but I
worked like a Trojan, judging the possibility of haemorrhage better
than the certainty of drowning. Another time I saw a rather
singular thing: our whole ship's company as pale as paper from the
captain to the cook; we had a black squall astern on the port side
and a white squall ahead to starboard; the complication passed off
innocuous, the black squall only fetching us with its tail, and the
white one slewing off somewhere else. Twice we were a long while
(days) in the close vicinity of hurricane weather, but again luck
prevailed, and we saw none of it. These are dangers incident to
these seas and small craft. What was an amazement, and at the same
time a powerful stroke of luck, both our masts were rotten, and we
found it out - I was going to say in time, but it was stranger and
luckier than that. The head of the mainmast hung over so that
hands were afraid to go to the helm; and less than three weeks
before - I am not sure it was more than a fortnight - we had been
nearly twelve hours beating off the lee shore of Eimeo (or Moorea,
next island to Tahiti) in half a gale of wind with a violent head
sea: she would neither tack nor wear once, and had to be boxed off
with the mainsail - you can imagine what an ungodly show of kites
we carried - and yet the mast stood. The very day after that, in
the southern bight of Tahiti, we had a near squeak, the wind
suddenly coming calm; the reefs were close in with, my eye! what a
surf! The pilot thought we were gone, and the captain had a boat
cleared, when a lucky squall came to our rescue. My wife, hearing
the order given about the boats, remarked to my mother, 'Isn't that
nice? We shall soon be ashore!' Thus does the female mind
unconsciously skirt along the verge of eternity. Our voyage up
here was most disastrous - calms, squalls, head sea, waterspouts of
rain, hurricane weather all about, and we in the midst of the
hurricane season, when even the hopeful builder and owner of the
yacht had pronounced these seas unfit for her. We ran out of food,
and were quite given up for lost in Honolulu: people had ceased to
speak to Belle about the CASCO, as a deadly subject.
But the perils of the deep were part of the programme; and though I
am very glad to be done with them for a while and comfortably
ashore, where a squall does not matter a snuff to any one, I feel
pretty sure I shall want to get to sea again ere long. The
dreadful risk I took was financial, and double-headed. First, I
had to sink a lot of money in the cruise, and if I didn't get
health, how was I to get it back? I have got health to a wonderful
extent; and as I have the most interesting matter for my book, bar
accidents, I ought to get all I have laid out and a profit. But,
second (what I own I never considered till too late), there was the
danger of collisions, of damages and heavy repairs, of disablement,
towing, and salvage; indeed, the cruise might have turned round and
cost me double. Nor will this danger be quite over till I hear the
yacht is in San Francisco; for though I have shaken the dust of her
deck from my feet, I fear (as a point of law) she is still mine
till she gets there.
From my point of view, up to now the cruise has been a wonderful
success. I never knew the world was so amusing. On the last
voyage we had grown so used to sea-life that no one wearied, though
it lasted a full month, except Fanny, who is always ill. All the
time our visits to the islands have been more like dreams than
realities: the people, the life, the beachcombers, the old stories
and songs I have picked up, so interesting; the climate, the
scenery, and (in some places) the women, so beautiful. The women
are handsomest in Tahiti, the men in the Marquesas; both as fine
types as can be imagined. Lloyd reminds me, I have not told you
one characteristic incident of the cruise from a semi-naval point
of view. One night we were going ashore in Anaho Bay; the most
awful noise on deck; the breakers distinctly audible in the cabin;
and there I had to sit below, entertaining in my best style a
negroid native chieftain, much the worse for rum! You can imagine
the evening's pleasure.
This naval report on cruising in the South Seas would be incomplete
without one other trait. On our voyage up here I came one day into
the dining-room, the hatch in the floor was open, the ship's boy
was below with a baler, and two of the hands were carrying buckets
as for a fire; this meant that the pumps had ceased working.
One stirring day was that in which we sighted Hawaii. It blew
fair, but very strong; we carried jib, foresail, and mainsail, all
single-reefed, and she carried her lee rail under water and flew.
The swell, the heaviest I have ever been out in - I tried in vain
to estimate the height, AT LEAST fifteen feet - came tearing after
us about a point and a half off the wind. We had the best hand -
old Louis - at the wheel; and, really, he did nobly, and had noble
luck, for it never caught us once. At times it seemed we must have
it; Louis would look over his shoulder with the queerest look and
dive down his neck into his shoulders; and then it missed us
somehow, and only sprays came over our quarter, turning the little
outside lane of deck into a mill race as deep as to the cockpit
coamings. I never remember anything more delightful and exciting.
Pretty soon after we were lying absolutely becalmed under the lee
of Hawaii, of which we had been warned; and the captain never
confessed he had done it on purpose, but when accused, he smiled.
Really, I suppose he did quite right, for we stood committed to a
dangerous race, and to bring her to the wind would have been rather
a heart-sickening manoeuvre.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MARCEL SCHWOB
HONOLULU, SANDWICH ISLANDS, FEBRUARY 8TH, 1889.
DEAR SIR, - I thank you - from the midst of such a flurry as you
can imagine, with seven months' accumulated correspondence on my
table - for your two friendly and clever letters. Pray write me
again. I shall be home in May or June, and not improbably shall
come to Paris in the summer. Then we can talk; or in the interval
I may be able to write, which is to-day out of the question. Pray
take a word from a man of crushing occupations, and count it as a
volume. Your little CONTE is delightful. Ah yes, you are right, I
love the eighteenth century; and so do you, and have not listened
to its voice in vain. - The Hunted One,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
HONOLULU, 8TH MARCH 1889.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - At last I have the accounts: the Doer has done
excellently, and in the words of -, 'I reciprocate every step of
your behaviour.' . . I send a letter for Bob in your care, as I
don't know his Liverpool address, by which (for he is to show you
part of it) you will see we have got out of this adventure - or
hope to have - with wonderful fortune. I have the retrospective
horrors on me when I think of the liabilities I incurred; but,
thank God, I think I'm in port again, and I have found one climate
in which I can enjoy life. Even Honolulu is too cold for me; but
the south isles were a heaven upon earth to a puir, catarrhal party
like Johns'one. We think, as Tahiti is too complete a banishment,
to try Madeira. It's only a week from England, good
communications, and I suspect in climate and scenery not unlike our
dear islands; in people, alas! there can be no comparison. But
friends could go, and I could come in summer, so I should not be
quite cut off.
Lloyd and I have finished a story, THE WRONG BOX. If it is not
funny, I am sure I do not know what is. I have split over writing
it. Since I have been here, I have been toiling like a galley
slave: three numbers of THE MASTER to rewrite, five chapters of
the WRONG BOX to write and rewrite, and about five hundred lines of
a narrative poem to write, rewrite, and re-rewrite. Now I have THE
MASTER waiting me for its continuation, two numbers more; when
that's done, I shall breathe. This spasm of activity has been
chequered with champagne parties: Happy and Glorious, Hawaii Ponoi
paua: kou moi - (Native Hawaiians, dote upon your monarch!)
Hawaiian God save the King. (In addition to my other labours, I am
learning the language with a native moonshee.) Kalakaua is a
terrible companion; a bottle of fizz is like a glass of sherry to
him, he thinks nothing of five or six in an afternoon as a whet for
dinner. You should see a photograph of our party after an
afternoon with H. H. M.: my! what a crew! - Yours ever
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO HENRY JAMES
HONOLULU [MARCH 1889].
MY DEAR JAMES, - Yes - I own up - I am untrue to friendship and
(what is less, but still considerable) to civilisation. I am not
coming home for another year. There it is, cold and bald, and now
you won't believe in me at all, and serve me right (says you) and
the devil take me. But look here, and judge me tenderly. I have
had more fun and pleasure of my life these past months than ever
before, and more health than any time in ten long years. And even
here in Honolulu I have withered in the cold; and this precious
deep is filled with islands, which we may still visit; and though
the sea is a deathful place, I like to be there, and like squalls
(when they are over); and to draw near to a new island, I cannot
say how much I like. In short, I take another year of this sort of
life, and mean to try to work down among the poisoned arrows, and
mean (if it may be) to come back again when the thing is through,
and converse with Henry James as heretofore; and in the meanwhile
issue directions to H. J. to write to me once more. Let him
address here at Honolulu, for my views are vague; and if it is sent
here it will follow and find me, if I am to be found; and if I am
not to be found the man James will have done his duty, and we shall
be at the bottom of the sea, where no post-office clerk can be
expected to discover us, or languishing on a coral island, the
philosophic drudges of some barbarian potentate: perchance, of an
American Missionary. My wife has just sent to Mrs. Sitwell a
translation (TANT BIEN QUE MAL) of a letter I have had from my
chief friend in this part of the world: go and see her, and get a
hearing of it; it will do you good; it is a better method of
correspondence 'than even Henry James's. I jest, but seriously it
is a strange thing for a tough, sick, middle-aged scrivener like R.
L. S. to receive a letter so conceived from a man fifty years old,
a leading politician, a crack orator, and the great wit of his
village: boldly say, 'the highly popular M.P. of Tautira.' My
nineteenth century strikes here, and lies alongside of something
beautiful and ancient. I think the receipt of such a letter might
humble, shall I say even -? and for me, I would rather have
received it than written REDGAUNTLET or the SIXTH AENEID. All
told, if my books have enabled or helped me to make this voyage, to
know Rui, and to have received such a letter, they have (in the old
prefatorial expression) not been writ in vain. It would seem from
this that I have been not so much humbled as puffed up; but, I
assure you, I have in fact been both. A little of what that letter
says is my own earning; not all, but yet a little; and the little
makes me proud, and all the rest ashamed; and in the contrast, how
much more beautiful altogether is the ancient man than him of to-
Well, well, Henry James is pretty good, though he IS of the
nineteenth century, and that glaringly. And to curry favour with
him, I wish I could be more explicit; but, indeed, I am still of
necessity extremely vague, and cannot tell what I am to do, nor
where I am to go for some while yet. As soon as I am sure, you
shall hear. All are fairly well - the wife, your countrywoman,
least of all; troubles are not entirely wanting; but on the whole
we prosper, and we are all affectionately yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO SIDNEY COLVIN
HONOLULU, APRIL 2ND, 1889.
MY DEAR COLVIN, - I am beginning to be ashamed of writing on to you
without the least acknowledgment, like a tramp; but I do not care -
I am hardened; and whatever be the cause of your silence, I mean to
write till all is blue. I am outright ashamed of my news, which is
that we are not coming home for another year. I cannot but hope it
may continue the vast improvement of my health: I think it good
for Fanny and Lloyd; and we have all a taste for this wandering and
dangerous life. My mother I send home, to my relief, as this part
of our cruise will be (if we can carry it out) rather difficult in
places. Here is the idea: about the middle of June (unless the
Boston Board objects) we sail from Honolulu in the missionary ship
(barquentine auxiliary steamer) MORNING STAR: she takes us through
the Gilberts and Marshalls, and drops us (this is my great idea) on
Ponape, one of the volcanic islands of the Carolines. Here we stay
marooned among a doubtful population, with a Spanish vice-governor
and five native kings, and a sprinkling of missionaries all at
loggerheads, on the chance of fetching a passage to Sydney in a
trader, a labour ship, or (maybe, but this appears too bright) a
ship of war. If we can't get the MORNING STAR (and the Board has
many reasons that I can see for refusing its permission) I mean to
try to fetch Fiji, hire a schooner there, do the Fijis and
Friendlies, hit the course of the RICHMOND at Tonga Tabu, make back
by Tahiti, and so to S. F., and home: perhaps in June 1890. For
the latter part of the cruise will likely be the same in either
case. You can see for yourself how much variety and adventure this
promises, and that it is not devoid of danger at the best; but if
we can pull it off in safety, gives me a fine book of travel, and
Lloyd a fine lecture and diorama, which should vastly better our
I feel as if I were untrue to friendship; believe me, Colvin, when
I look forward to this absence of another year, my conscience sinks
at thought of the Monument; but I think you will pardon me if you
consider how much this tropical weather mends my health. Remember
me as I was at home, and think of me sea-bathing and walking about,
as jolly as a sandboy: you will own the temptation is strong; and
as the scheme, bar fatal accidents, is bound to pay into the
bargain, sooner or later, it seems it would be madness to come home
now, with an imperfect book, no illustrations to speak of, no
diorama, and perhaps fall sick again by autumn. I do not think I
delude myself when I say the tendency to catarrh has visibly
It is a singular tiring that as I was packing up old papers ere I
left Skerryvore, I came on the prophecies of a drunken Highland
sibyl, when I was seventeen. She said I was to be very happy, to
visit America, and TO BE MUCH UPON THE SEA. It seems as if it were
coming true with a vengeance. Also, do you remember my strong,
old, rooted belief that I shall die by drowning? I don't want that
to come true, though it is an easy death; but it occurs to me
oddly, with these long chances in front. I cannot say why I like
the sea; no man is more cynically and constantly alive to its
perils; I regard it as the highest form of gambling; and yet I love
the sea as much as I hate gambling. Fine, clean emotions; a world
all and always beautiful; air better than wine; interest
unflagging; there is upon the whole no better life. - Yours ever,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO E. L. BURLINGAME
[HONOLULU, APRIL 1889.]
MY DEAR BURLINGAME, - This is to announce the most prodigious
change of programme. I have seen so much of the South Seas that I
desire to see more, and I get so much health here that I dread a
return to our vile climates. I have applied accordingly to the
missionary folk to let me go round in the MORNING STAR; and if the
Boston Board should refuse, I shall get somehow to Fiji, hire a
trading schooner, and see the Fijis and Friendlies and Samoa. He
would be a South Seayer, Mr. Burlingame. Of course, if I go in the
MORNING STAR, I see all the eastern (or western?) islands.
Before I sail, I shall make out to let you have the last of THE
MASTER: though I tell you it sticks! - and I hope to have had some
proofs forbye, of the verses anyway. And now to business.
I want (if you can find them) in the British sixpenny edition, if
not, in some equally compact and portable shape - Seaside Library,
for instance - the Waverley Novels entire, or as entire as you can
get 'em, and the following of Marryat: PHANTOM SHIP, PETER SIMPLE,
PERCIVAL KEENE, PRIVATEERSMAN, CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST, FRANK
MILDMAY, NEWTON FORSTER, DOG FIEND (SNARLEYYOW). Also MIDSHIPMAN
EASY, KINGSBURN, Carlyle's FRENCH REVOLUTION, Motley's DUTCH
REPUBLIC, Lang's LETTERS ON LITERATURE, a complete set of my works,
JENKIN, in duplicate; also FAMILIAR STUDIES, ditto.
I have to thank you for the accounts, which are satisfactory
indeed, and for the cheque for $1000. Another account will have
come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate
in colour. I am quite worked out, and this cursed end of THE
MASTER hangs over me like the arm of the gallows; but it is always
darkest before dawn, and no doubt the clouds will soon rise; but it
is a difficult thing to write, above all in Mackellarese; and I
cannot yet see my way clear. If I pull this off, THE MASTER will
be a pretty good novel or I am the more deceived; and even if I
don't pull it off, it'll still have some stuff in it.
We shall remain here until the middle of June anyway; but my mother
leaves for Europe early in May. Hence our mail should continue to
come here; but not hers. I will let you know my next address,
which will probably be Sydney. If we get on the MORNING STAR, I
propose at present to get marooned on Ponape, and take my chance of
getting a passage to Australia. It will leave times and seasons
mighty vague, and the cruise is risky; but I shall know something
of the South Seas when it is done, or else the South Seas will
contain all there is of me. It should give me a fine book of
Low will probably come and ask some dollars of you. Pray let him
have them, they are for outfit. O, another complete set of my
books should go to Captain A. H. Otis, care of Dr. Merritt, Yacht
CASCO, Oakland, Cal. In haste,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MISS ADELAIDE BOODLE
HONOLULU, APRIL 6TH, 1889.
MY DEAR MISS BOODLE, - Nobody writes a better letter than my
Gamekeeper: so gay, so pleasant, so engagingly particular,
answering (by some delicate instinct) all the questions she
suggests. It is a shame you should get such a poor return as I can
make, from a mind essentially and originally incapable of the art
epistolary. I would let the paper-cutter take my place; but I am
sorry to say the little wooden seaman did after the manner of
seamen, and deserted in the Societies. The place he seems to have
stayed at - seems, for his absence was not observed till we were
near the Equator - was Tautira, and, I assure you, he displayed
good taste, Tautira being as 'nigh hand heaven' as a paper-cutter
or anybody has a right to expect.
I think all our friends will be very angry with us, and I give the
grounds of their probable displeasure bluntly - we are not coming
home for another year. My mother returns next month. Fanny,
Lloyd, and I push on again among the islands on a trading schooner,
the EQUATOR - first for the Gilbert group, which we shall have an
opportunity to explore thoroughly; then, if occasion serve, to the
Marshalls and Carolines; and if occasion (or money) fail, to Samoa,
and back to Tahiti. I own we are deserters, but we have excuses.
You cannot conceive how these climates agree with the wretched
house-plant of Skerryvore: he wonders to find himself sea-bathing,
and cutting about the world loose, like a grown-up person. They
agree with Fanny too, who does not suffer from her rheumatism, and
with Lloyd also. And the interest of the islands is endless; and
the sea, though I own it is a fearsome place, is very delightful.
We had applied for places in the American missionary ship, the
MORNING STAR, but this trading schooner is a far preferable idea,
giving us more time and a thousandfold more liberty; so we
determined to cut off the missionaries with a shilling.
The Sandwich Islands do not interest us very much; we live here,
oppressed with civilisation, and look for good things in the
future. But it would surprise you if you came out to-night from
Honolulu (all shining with electric lights, and all in a bustle
from the arrival of the mail, which is to carry you these lines)
and crossed the long wooden causeway along the beach, and came out
on the road through Kapiolani park, and seeing a gate in the
palings, with a tub of gold-fish by the wayside, entered casually
in. The buildings stand in three groups by the edge of the beach,
where an angry little spitfire sea continually spirts and thrashes
with impotent irascibility, the big seas breaking further out upon
the reef. The first is a small house, with a very large summer
parlour, or LANAI, as they call it here, roofed, but practically
open. There you will find the lamps burning and the family sitting
about the table, dinner just done: my mother, my wife, Lloyd,
Belle, my wife's daughter, Austin her child, and to-night (by way
of rarity) a guest. All about the walls our South Sea curiosities,
war clubs, idols, pearl shells, stone axes, etc.; and the walls are
only a small part of a lanai, the rest being glazed or latticed
windows, or mere open space. You will see there no sign of the
Squire, however; and being a person of a humane disposition, you
will only glance in over the balcony railing at the merry-makers in
the summer parlour, and proceed further afield after the Exile.
You look round, there is beautiful green turf, many trees of an
outlandish sort that drop thorns - look out if your feet are bare;
but I beg your pardon, you have not been long enough in the South
Seas - and many oleanders in full flower. The next group of
buildings is ramshackle, and quite dark; you make out a coach-house
door, and look in - only some cocoanuts; you try round to the left
and come to the sea front, where Venus and the moon are making
luminous tracks on the water, and a great swell rolls and shines on
the outer reef; and here is another door - all these places open
from the outside - and you go in, and find photography, tubs of
water, negatives steeping, a tap, and a chair and an inkbottle,
where my wife is supposed to write; round a little further, a third
door, entering which you find a picture upon the easel and a table
sticky with paints; a fourth door admits you to a sort of court,
where there is a hen sitting - I believe on a fallacious egg. No
sign of the Squire in all this. But right opposite the studio door
you have observed a third little house, from whose open door
lamplight streams and makes hay of the strong moonlight shadows.
You had supposed it made no part of the grounds, for a fence runs
round it lined with oleander; but as the Squire is nowhere else, is
it not just possible he may be here? It is a grim little wooden
shanty; cobwebs bedeck it; friendly mice inhabit its recesses; the
mailed cockroach walks upon the wall; so also, I regret to say, the
scorpion. Herein are two pallet beds, two mosquito curtains,
strung to the pitch-boards of the roof, two tables laden with books
and manuscripts, three chairs, and, in one of the beds, the Squire
busy writing to yourself, as it chances, and just at this moment
somewhat bitten by mosquitoes. He has just set fire to the insect
powder, and will be all right in no time; but just now he
contemplates large white blisters, and would like to scratch them,
but knows better. The house is not bare; it has been inhabited by
Kanakas, and - you know what children are! - the bare wood walls
are pasted over with pages from the GRAPHIC, HARPER'S WEEKLY, etc.
The floor is matted, and I am bound to say the matting is filthy.
There are two windows and two doors, one of which is condemned; on
the panels of that last a sheet of paper is pinned up, and covered
with writing. I cull a few plums:-
'A duck-hammock for each person.
A patent organ like the commandant's at Taiohae.
Cheap and bad cigars for presents.
Permanganate of potass.
Liniment for the head and sulphur.
What do you think this is? Simply life in the South Seas
foreshortened. These are a few of our desiderata for the next
trip, which we jot down as they occur.
There, I have really done my best and tried to send something like
a letter - one letter in return for all your dozens. Pray remember
us all to yourself, Mrs. Boodle, and the rest of your house. I do
hope your mother will be better when this comes. I shall write and
give you a new address when I have made up my mind as to the most
probable, and I do beg you will continue to write from time to time
and give us airs from home. To-morrow - think of it - I must be
off by a quarter to eight to drive in to the palace and breakfast
with his Hawaiian Majesty at 8.30: I shall be dead indeed. Please
give my news to Scott, I trust he is better; give him my warm
regards. To you we all send all kinds of things, and I am the
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
HONOLULU, APRIL 1889.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - As usual, your letter is as good as a cordial,
and I thank you for it, and all your care, kindness, and generous
and thoughtful friendship, from my heart. I was truly glad to hear
a word of Colvin, whose long silence has terrified me; and glad to
hear that you condoned the notion of my staying longer in the South
Seas, for I have decided in that sense. The first idea was to go
in the MORNING STAR, missionary ship; but now I have found a
trading schooner, the EQUATOR, which is to call for me here early
in June and carry us through the Gilberts. What will happen then,
the Lord knows. My mother does not accompany us: she leaves here
for home early in May, and you will hear of us from her; but not, I
imagine, anything more definite. We shall get dumped on
Butaritari, and whether we manage to go on to the Marshalls and
Carolines, or whether we fall back on Samoa, Heaven must decide;
but I mean to fetch back into the course of the RICHMOND - (to
think you don't know what the RICHMOND is! - the steamer of the
Eastern South Seas, joining New Zealand, Tongatabu, the Samoas,
Taheite, and Rarotonga, and carrying by last advices sheep in the
saloon!) - into the course of the RICHMOND and make Taheite again
on the home track. Would I like to see the SCOTS OBSERVER?
Wouldn't I not? But whaur? I'm direckit at space. They have nae
post offishes at the Gilberts, and as for the Car'lines! Ye see,
Mr. Baxter, we're no just in the punkshewal CENTRE o' civ'lisation.
But pile them up for me, and when I've decided on an address, I'll
let you ken, and ye'll can send them stavin' after me. - Ever your
R. L. S.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
HONOLULU, 10TH MAY 1889.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - I am appalled to gather from your last just to
hand that you have felt so much concern about the letter. Pray
dismiss it from your mind. But I think you scarce appreciate how
disagreeable it is to have your private affairs and private
unguarded expressions getting into print. It would soon sicken any
one of writing letters. I have no doubt that letter was very
wisely selected, but it just shows how things crop up. There was a
raging jealousy between the two yachts; our captain was nearly in a
fight over it. However, no more; and whatever you think, my dear
fellow, do not suppose me angry with you or -; although I was
ANNOYED AT THE CIRCUMSTANCE - a very different thing. But it is
difficult to conduct life by letter, and I continually feel I may
be drifting into some matter of offence, in which my heart takes no
I must now turn to a point of business. This new cruise of ours is
somewhat venturesome; and I think it needful to warn you not to be
in a hurry to suppose us dead. In these ill-charted seas, it is
quite on the cards we might be cast on some unvisited, or very
rarely visited, island; that there we might lie for a long time,
even years, unheard of; and yet turn up smiling at the hinder end.
So do not let me be 'rowpit' till you get some certainty we have
gone to Davie Jones in a squall, or graced the feast of some
barbarian in the character of Long Pig.
I have just been a week away alone on the lee coast of Hawaii, the
only white creature in many miles, riding five and a half hours one
day, living with a native, seeing four lepers shipped off to
Molokai, hearing native causes, and giving my opinion as AMICUS
CURIAE as to the interpretation of a statute in English; a lovely
week among God's best - at least God's sweetest works -
Polynesians. It has bettered me greatly. If I could only stay
there the time that remains, I could get my work done and be happy;
but the care of my family keeps me in vile Honolulu, where I am
always out of sorts, amidst heat and cold and cesspools and beastly
HAOLES. What is a haole? You are one; and so, I am sorry to say,
am I. After so long a dose of whites, it was a blessing to get
among Polynesians again even for a week.
Well, Charles, there are waur haoles than yoursel', I'll say that
for ye; and trust before I sail I shall get another letter with
more about yourself. - Ever your affectionate friend
R. L. S.
Letter: TO W. H. LOW
HONOLULU, (ABOUT) 20TH MAY '89.
MY DEAR LOW, - The goods have come; many daughters have done
virtuously, but thou excellest them all. - I have at length
finished THE MASTER; it has been a sore cross to me; but now he is
buried, his body's under hatches, - his soul, if there is any hell
to go to, gone to hell; and I forgive him: it is harder to forgive
Burlingame for having induced me to begin the publication, or
myself for suffering the induction. - Yes, I think Hole has done
finely; it will be one of the most adequately illustrated books of
our generation; he gets the note, he tells the story - MY story: I
know only one failure - the Master standing on the beach. - You
must have a letter for me at Sydney - till further notice.
Remember me to Mrs. Will. H., the godlike sculptor, and any of the
faithful. If you want to cease to be a republican, see my little
Kaiulani, as she goes through - but she is gone already. You will
die a red, I wear the colours of that little royal maiden, NOUS
ALLONS CHANTER A LA RONDE, SI VOUS VOULEZ! only she is not blonde
by several chalks, though she is but a half-blood, and the wrong
half Edinburgh Scots like mysel'. But, O Low, I love the
Polynesian: this civilisation of ours is a dingy, ungentlemanly
business; it drops out too much of man, and too much of that the
very beauty of the poor beast: who has his beauties in spite of
Zola and Co. As usual, here is a whole letter with no news: I am
a bloodless, inhuman dog; and no doubt Zola is a better
correspondent. - Long live your fine old English admiral - yours, I
mean - the U.S.A. one at Samoa; I wept tears and loved myself and
mankind when I read of him: he is not too much civilised. And
there was Gordon, too; and there are others, beyond question. But
if you could live, the only white folk, in a Polynesian village;
and drink that warm, light VIN DU PAYS of human affection, and
enjoy that simple dignity of all about you - I will not gush, for I
am now in my fortieth year, which seems highly unjust, but there it
is, Mr. Low, and the Lord enlighten your affectionate
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. R. L. STEVENSON
KALAWAO, MOLOKAI [MAY 1889].
DEAR FANNY, - I had a lovely sail up. Captain Cameron and Mr.
Gilfillan, both born in the States, yet the first still with a
strong Highland, and the second still with a strong Lowland accent,
were good company; the night was warm, the victuals plain but good.
Mr. Gilfillan gave me his berth, and I slept well, though I heard
the sisters sick in the next stateroom, poor souls. Heavy rolling
woke me in the morning; I turned in all standing, so went right on
the upper deck. The day was on the peep out of a low morning bank,
and we were wallowing along under stupendous cliffs. As the lights
brightened, we could see certain abutments and buttresses on their
front where wood clustered and grass grew brightly. But the whole
brow seemed quite impassable, and my heart sank at the sight. Two
thousand feet of rock making 19 degrees (the Captain guesses)
seemed quite beyond my powers. However, I had come so far; and, to
tell you the truth, I was so cowed with fear and disgust that I
dared not go back on the adventure in the interests of my own self-
respect. Presently we came up with the leper promontory: lowland,
quite bare and bleak and harsh, a little town of wooden houses, two
churches, a landing-stair, all unsightly, sour, northerly, lying
athwart the sunrise, with the great wall of the pali cutting the
world out on the south. Our lepers were sent on the first boat,
about a dozen, one poor child very horrid, one white man, leaving a
large grown family behind him in Honolulu, and then into the second
stepped the sisters and myself. I do not know how it would have
been with me had the sisters not been there. My horror of the
horrible is about my weakest point; but the moral loveliness at my
elbow blotted all else out; and when I found that one of them was
crying, poor soul, quietly under her veil, I cried a little myself;
then I felt as right as a trivet, only a little crushed to be there
so uselessly. I thought it was a sin and a shame she should feel
unhappy; I turned round to her, and said something like this:
'Ladies, God Himself is here to give you welcome. I'm sure it is
good for me to be beside you; I hope it will be blessed to me; I
thank you for myself and the good you do me.' It seemed to cheer
her up; but indeed I had scarce said it when we were at the
landing-stairs, and there was a great crowd, hundreds of (God save
us!) pantomime masks in poor human flesh, waiting to receive the
sisters and the new patients.
Every hand was offered: I had gloves, but I had made up my mind on
the boat's voyage NOT to give my hand; that seemed less offensive
than the gloves. So the sisters and I went up among that crew, and
presently I got aside (for I felt I had no business there) and set
off on foot across the promontory, carrying my wrap and the camera.
All horror was quite gone from me: to see these dread creatures
smile and look happy was beautiful. On my way through Kalaupapa I
was exchanging cheerful ALOHAS with the patients coming galloping
over on their horses; I was stopping to gossip at house-doors; I
was happy, only ashamed of myself that I was here for no good. One
woman was pretty, and spoke good English, and was infinitely
engaging and (in the old phrase) towardly; she thought I was the
new white patient; and when she found I was only a visitor, a
curious change came in her face and voice - the only sad thing,
morally sad, I mean - that I met that morning. But for all that,
they tell me none want to leave. Beyond Kalaupapa the houses
became rare; dry stone dykes, grassy, stony land, one sick
pandanus; a dreary country; from overhead in the little clinging
wood shogs of the pali chirruping of birds fell; the low sun was
right in my face; the trade blew pure and cool and delicious; I
felt as right as ninepence, and stopped and chatted with the
patients whom I still met on their horses, with not the least
disgust. About half-way over, I met the superintendent (a leper)
with a horse for me, and O, wasn't I glad! But the horse was one
of those curious, dogged, cranky brutes that always dully want to
go somewhere else, and my traffic with him completed my crushing
fatigue. I got to the guest-house, an empty house with several
rooms, kitchen, bath, etc. There was no one there, and I let the
horse go loose in the garden, lay down on the bed, and fell asleep.
Dr. Swift woke me and gave me breakfast, then I came back and slept
again while he was at the dispensary, and he woke me for dinner;
and I came back and slept again, and he woke me about six for
supper; and then in about an hour I felt tired again, and came up
to my solitary guest-house, played the flageolet, and am now
writing to you. As yet, you see, I have seen nothing of the
settlement, and my crushing fatigue (though I believe that was
moral and a measure of my cowardice) and the doctor's opinion make
me think the pali hopeless. 'You don't look a strong man,' said
the doctor; 'but are you sound?' I told him the truth; then he
said it was out of the question, and if I were to get up at all, I
must be carried up. But, as it seems, men as well as horses
continually fall on this ascent: the doctor goes up with a change
of clothes - it is plain that to be carried would in itself be very
fatiguing to both mind and body; and I should then be at the
beginning of thirteen miles of mountain road to be ridden against
time. How should I come through? I hope you will think me right
in my decision: I mean to stay, and shall not be back in Honolulu
till Saturday, June first. You must all do the best you can to
Dr. Swift has a wife and an infant son, beginning to toddle and
run, and they live here as composed as brick and mortar - at least
the wife does, a Kentucky German, a fine enough creature, I
believe, who was quite amazed at the sisters shedding tears! How
strange is mankind! Gilfillan too, a good fellow I think, and far
from a stupid, kept up his hard Lowland Scottish talk in the boat
while the sister was covering her face; but I believe he knew, and
did it (partly) in embarrassment, and part perhaps in mistaken
kindness. And that was one reason, too, why I made my speech to
them. Partly, too, I did it, because I was ashamed to do so, and
remembered one of my golden rules, 'When you are ashamed to speak,
speak up at once.' But, mind you, that rule is only golden with
strangers; with your own folks, there are other considerations.
This is a strange place to be in. A bell has been sounded at
intervals while I wrote, now all is still but a musical humming of
the sea, not unlike the sound of telegraph wires; the night is
quite cool and pitch dark, with a small fine rain; one light over
in the leper settlement, one cricket whistling in the garden, my
lamp here by my bedside, and my pen cheeping between my inky
Next day, lovely morning, slept all night, 80 degrees in the shade,
strong, sweet Anaho trade-wind.
Letter: TO SIDNEY COLVIN
HONOLULU, JUNE 1889.
MY DEAR COLVIN, - I am just home after twelve days journey to
Molokai, seven of them at the leper settlement, where I can only
say that the sight of so much courage, cheerfulness, and devotion
strung me too high to mind the infinite pity and horror of the
sights. I used to ride over from Kalawao to Kalaupapa (about three
miles across the promontory, the cliff-wall, ivied with forest and
yet inaccessible from steepness, on my left), go to the Sisters'
home, which is a miracle of neatness, play a game of croquet with
seven leper girls (90 degrees in the shade), got a little old-maid
meal served me by the Sisters, and ride home again, tired enough,
but not too tired. The girls have all dolls, and love dressing
them. You who know so many ladies delicately clad, and they who
know so many dressmakers, please make it known it would be an
acceptable gift to send scraps for doll dressmaking to the Reverend
Sister Maryanne, Bishop Home, Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaiian Islands.
I have seen sights that cannot be told, and heard stories that
cannot be repeated: yet I never admired my poor race so much, nor
(strange as it may seem) loved life more than in the settlement. A
horror of moral beauty broods over the place: that's like bad
Victor Hugo, but it is the only way I can express the sense that
lived with me all these days. And this even though it was in great
part Catholic, and my sympathies flew never with so much difficulty
as towards Catholic virtues. The pass-book kept with heaven stirs
me to anger and laughter. One of the sisters calls the place 'the
ticket office to heaven.' Well, what is the odds? They do their
darg and do it with kindness and efficiency incredible; and we must
take folk's virtues as we find them, and love the better part. Of
old Damien, whose weaknesses and worse perhaps I heard fully, I
think only the more. It was a European peasant: dirty, bigoted,
untruthful, unwise, tricky, but superb with generosity, residual
candour and fundamental good-humour: convince him he had done
wrong (it might take hours of insult) and he would undo what he had
done and like his corrector better. A man, with all the grime and
paltriness of mankind, but a saint and hero all the more for that.
The place as regards scenery is grand, gloomy, and bleak. Mighty
mountain walls descending sheer along the whole face of the island
into a sea unusually deep; the front of the mountain ivied and
furred with clinging forest, one viridescent cliff: about half-way
from east to west, the low, bare, stony promontory edged in between
the cliff and the ocean; the two little towns (Kalawao and
Kalaupapa) seated on either side of it, as bare almost as bathing
machines upon a beach; and the population - gorgons and chimaeras
dire. All this tear of the nerves I bore admirably; and the day
after I got away, rode twenty miles along the opposite coast and up
into the mountains: they call it twenty, I am doubtful of the
figures: I should guess it nearer twelve; but let me take credit
for what residents allege; and I was riding again the day after, so
I need say no more about health. Honolulu does not agree with me
at all: I am always out of sorts there, with slight headache,
blood to the head, etc. I had a good deal of work to do and did it
with miserable difficulty; and yet all the time I have been gaining
strength, as you see, which is highly encouraging. By the time I
am done with this cruise I shall have the material for a very
singular book of travels: names of strange stories and characters,
cannibals, pirates, ancient legends, old Polynesian poetry, - never
was so generous a farrago. I am going down now to get the story of
a shipwrecked family, who were fifteen months on an island with a
murderer: there is a specimen. The Pacific is a strange place;
the nineteenth century only exists there in spots: all round, it
is a no man's land of the ages, a stir-about of epochs and races,
barbarisms and civilisations, virtues and crimes.
It is good of you to let me stay longer, but if I had known how ill
you were, I should be now on my way home. I had chartered my
schooner and made all arrangements before (at last) we got definite
news. I feel highly guilty; I should be back to insult and worry
you a little. Our address till further notice is to be c/o R.
Towns and Co., Sydney. That is final: I only got the arrangement
made yesterday; but you may now publish it abroad. - Yours ever,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO JAMES PAYN
HONOLULU, H.I., JUNE 13TH, 1889.
MY DEAR JAMES PAYN, - I get sad news of you here at my offsetting
for further voyages: I wish I could say what I feel. Sure there
was never any man less deserved this calamity; for I have heard you
speak time and again, and I remember nothing that was unkind,
nothing that was untrue, nothing that was not helpful, from your
lips. It is the ill-talkers that should hear no more. God knows,
I know no word of consolation; but I do feel your trouble. You are
the more open to letters now; let me talk to you for two pages. I
have nothing but happiness to tell; and you may bless God you are a
man so sound-hearted that (even in the freshness of your calamity)
I can come to you with my own good fortune unashamed and secure of
sympathy. It is a good thing to be a good man, whether deaf or
whether dumb; and of all our fellow-craftsmen (whom yet they count
a jealous race), I never knew one but gave you the name of honesty
and kindness: come to think of it gravely, this is better than the
finest hearing. We are all on the march to deafness, blindness,
and all conceivable and fatal disabilities; we shall not all get
there with a report so good. My good news is a health
astonishingly reinstated. This climate; these voyagings; these
landfalls at dawn; new islands peaking from the morning bank; new
forested harbours; new passing alarms of squalls and surf; new
interests of gentle natives, - the whole tale of my life is better
to me than any poem.
I am fresh just now from the leper settlement of Molokai, playing
croquet with seven leper girls, sitting and yarning with old,
blind, leper beachcombers in the hospital, sickened with the
spectacle of abhorrent suffering and deformation amongst the
patients, touched to the heart by the sight of lovely and effective
virtues in their helpers: no stranger time have I ever had, nor
any so moving. I do not think it a little thing to be deaf, God
knows, and God defend me from the same! - but to be a leper, of one
of the self-condemned, how much more awful! and yet there's a way
there also. 'There are Molokais everywhere,' said Mr. Dutton,
Father Damien's dresser; you are but new landed in yours; and my
dear and kind adviser, I wish you, with all my soul, that patience
and courage which you will require. Think of me meanwhile on a
trading schooner, bound for the Gilbert Islands, thereafter for the
Marshalls, with a diet of fish and cocoanut before me; bound on a
cruise of - well, of investigation to what islands we can reach,
and to get (some day or other) to Sydney, where a letter addressed
to the care of R. Towns & Co. will find me sooner or later; and if
it contain any good news, whether of your welfare or the courage
with which you bear the contrary, will do me good. - Yours
affectionately (although so near a stranger),
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO SIDNEY COLVIN
SCHOONER 'EQUATOR,' APAIANG LAGOON, AUGUST 22ND, 1889.
MY DEAR COLVIN, - The missionary ship is outside the reef trying
(vainly) to get in; so I may have a chance to get a line off. I am
glad to say I shall be home by June next for the summer, or we
shall know the reason why. For God's sake be well and jolly for
the meeting. I shall be, I believe, a different character from
what you have seen this long while. This cruise is up to now a
huge success, being interesting, pleasant, and profitable. The
beachcomber is perhaps the most interesting character here; the
natives are very different, on the whole, from Polynesians: they
are moral, stand-offish (for good reasons), and protected by a dark
tongue. It is delightful to meet the few Hawaiians (mostly
missionaries) that are dotted about, with their Italian BRIO and
their ready friendliness. The whites are a strange lot, many of
them good, kind, pleasant fellows; others quite the lowest I have
ever seen even in the slums of cities. I wish I had time to
narrate to you the doings and character of three white murderers
(more or less proven) I have met. One, the only undoubted assassin
of the lot, quite gained my affection in his big home out of a
wreck, with his New Hebrides wife in her savage turban of hair and
yet a perfect lady, and his three adorable little girls in Rob Roy
Macgregor dresses, dancing to the hand organ, performing circus on
the floor with startling effects of nudity, and curling up together
on a mat to sleep, three sizes, three attitudes, three Rob Roy
dresses, and six little clenched fists: the murderer meanwhile
brooding and gloating over his chicks, till your whole heart went
out to him; and yet his crime on the face of it was dark:
disembowelling, in his own house, an old man of seventy, and him
It is lunch-time, I see, and I must close up with my warmest love
to you. I wish you were here to sit upon me when required. Ah! if
you were but a good sailor! I will never leave the sea, I think;
it is only there that a Briton lives: my poor grandfather, it is
from him I inherit the taste, I fancy, and he was round many
islands in his day; but I, please God, shall beat him at that
before the recall is sounded. Would you be surprised to learn that
I contemplate becoming a shipowner? I do, but it is a secret.
Life is far better fun than people dream who fall asleep among the
chimney stacks and telegraph wires.
Love to Henry James and others near. - Ever yours, my dear fellow,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
EQUATOR TOWN, APEMAMA, OCTOBER 1889.
No MORNING STAR came, however; and so now I try to send this to you
by the schooner J. L. TIERNAN. We have been about a month ashore,
camping out in a kind of town the king set up for us: on the idea
that I was really a 'big chief' in England. He dines with us
sometimes, and sends up a cook for a share of our meals when he
does not come himself. This sounds like high living! alas,
undeceive yourself. Salt junk is the mainstay; a low island,
except for cocoanuts, is just the same as a ship at sea: brackish
water, no supplies, and very little shelter. The king is a great
character - a thorough tyrant, very much of a gentleman, a poet, a
musician, a historian, or perhaps rather more a genealogist - it is
strange to see him lying in his house among a lot of wives (nominal
wives) writing the History of Apemama in an account-book; his
description of one of his own songs, which he sang to me himself,
as 'about sweethearts, and trees, and the sea - and no true, all-
the-same lie,' seems about as compendious a definition of lyric
poetry as a man could ask. Tembinoka is here the great attraction:
all the rest is heat and tedium and villainous dazzle, and yet more
villainous mosquitoes. We are like to be here, however, many a
long week before we get away, and then whither? A strange trade
this voyaging: so vague, so bound-down, so helpless. Fanny has
been planting some vegetables, and we have actually onions and
radishes coming up: ah, onion-despiser, were you but awhile in a
low island, how your heart would leap at sight of a coster's
barrow! I think I could shed tears over a dish of turnips. No
doubt we shall all be glad to say farewell to low islands - I had
near said for ever. They are very tame; and I begin to read up the
directory, and pine for an island with a profile, a running brook,
or were it only a well among the rocks. The thought of a mango
came to me early this morning and set my greed on edge; but you do
not know what a mango is, so -.
I have been thinking a great deal of you and the Monument of late,
and even tried to get my thoughts into a poem, hitherto without
success. God knows how you are: I begin to weary dreadfully to
see you - well, in nine months, I hope; but that seems a long time.
I wonder what has befallen me too, that flimsy part of me that
lives (or dwindles) in the public mind; and what has befallen THE
MASTER, and what kind of a Box the Merry Box has been found. It is
odd to know nothing of all this. We had an old woman to do devil-
work for you about a month ago, in a Chinaman's house on Apaiang
(August 23rd or 24th). You should have seen the crone with a noble
masculine face, like that of an old crone [SIC], a body like a
man's (naked all but the feathery female girdle), knotting cocoanut
leaves and muttering spells: Fanny and I, and the good captain of
the EQUATOR, and the Chinaman and his native wife and sister-in-
law, all squatting on the floor about the sibyl; and a crowd of
dark faces watching from behind her shoulder (she sat right in the
doorway) and tittering aloud with strange, appalled, embarrassed
laughter at each fresh adjuration. She informed us you were in
England, not travelling and now no longer sick; she promised us a
fair wind the next day, and we had it, so I cherish the hope she
was as right about Sidney Colvin. The shipownering has rather
petered out since I last wrote, and a good many other plans beside.
Health? Fanny very so-so; I pretty right upon the whole, and
getting through plenty work: I know not quite how, but it seems to
me not bad and in places funny.
South Sea Yarns:
1. THE WRECKER }
} R. L. S.
2. THE PEARL FISHER } by and
} Lloyd O.
3. THE BEACHCOMBERS }
THE PEARL FISHER, part done, lies in Sydney. It is THE WRECKER we
are now engaged upon: strange ways of life, I think, they set
forth: things that I can scarce touch upon, or even not at all, in
my travel book; and the yarns are good, I do believe. THE PEARL
FISHER is for the NEW YORK LEDGER: the yarn is a kind of Monte
Cristo one. THE WRECKER is the least good as a story, I think; but
the characters seem to me good. THE BEACHCOMBERS is more
sentimental. These three scarce touch the outskirts of the life we
have been viewing; a hot-bed of strange characters and incidents:
Lord, how different from Europe or the Pallid States! Farewell.
Heaven knows when this will get to you. I burn to be in Sydney and
R. L. S.
Letter: TO SIDNEY COLVIN
SCHOONER 'EQUATOR,' AT SEA. 190 MILES OFF SAMOA. MONDAY, DECEMBER
MY DEAR COLVIN, - We are just nearing the end of our long cruise.
Rain, calms, squalls, bang - there's the foretopmast gone; rain,
calm, squalls, away with the staysail; more rain, more calm, more
squalls; a prodigious heavy sea all the time, and the EQUATOR
staggering and hovering like a swallow in a storm; and the cabin, a
great square, crowded with wet human beings, and the rain
avalanching on the deck, and the leaks dripping everywhere: Fanny,
in the midst of fifteen males, bearing up wonderfully. But such
voyages are at the best a trial. We had one particularity: coming
down on Winslow Reef, p. d. (position doubtful): two positions in
the directory, a third (if you cared to count that) on the chart;
heavy sea running, and the night due. The boats were cleared,
bread put on board, and we made up our packets for a boat voyage of
four or five hundred miles, and turned in, expectant of a crash.
Needless to say it did not come, and no doubt we were far to
leeward. If we only had twopenceworth of wind, we might be at
dinner in Apia to-morrow evening; but no such luck: here we roll,
dead before a light air - and that is no point of sailing at all
for a fore and aft schooner - the sun blazing overhead, thermometer
88 degrees, four degrees above what I have learned to call South
Sea temperature; but for all that, land so near, and so much grief
being happily astern, we are all pretty gay on board, and have been
photographing and draught-playing and sky-larking like anything. I
am minded to stay not very long in Samoa and confine my studies
there (as far as any one can forecast) to the history of the late
war. My book is now practically modelled: if I can execute what
is designed, there are few better books now extant on this globe,
bar the epics, and the big tragedies, and histories, and the choice
lyric poetics and a novel or so - none. But it is not executed
yet; and let not him that putteth on his armour, vaunt himself. At
least, nobody has had such stuff; such wild stories, such beautiful
scenes, such singular intimacies, such manners and traditions, so
incredible a mixture of the beautiful and horrible, the savage and
civilised. I will give you here some idea of the table of
contents, which ought to make your mouth water. I propose to call
the book THE SOUTH SEAS: it is rather a large title, but not many
people have seen more of them than I, perhaps no one - certainly no
one capable of using the material.
PART I. GENERAL. 'OF SCHOONERS, ISLANDS, AND MAROONS.'
CHAPTER I. Marine.
II. Contraband (smuggling, barratry, labour traffic).
III. The Beachcomber.
IV. Beachcomber stories. i. The Murder of the Chinaman. ii. Death
of a Beachcomber. iii. A Character. iv. The Apia Blacksmith.
PART II. THE MARQUESAS.
V. Anaho. i. Arrival. ii. Death. iii. The Tapu. iv. Morals. v.
VI. Tai-o-hae. i. Arrival. ii. The French. iii. The Royal
Family. iv. Chiefless Folk. v. The Catholics. vi. Hawaiian
VII. Observations of a Long Pig. i. Cannibalism. ii. Hatiheu.
iii. Frere Michel. iv. Toahauka and Atuona. v. The Vale of
Atuona. vi. Moipu. vii. Captain Hati.
PART III. THE DANGEROUS ARCHIPELAGO.
VIII. The Group.
IX. A House to let in a Low Island.
X. A Paumotuan Funeral. i. The Funeral. ii. Tales of the Dead.
PART IV. TAHITI.
XII. Village Government in Tahiti.
XIII. A Journey in Quest of Legends.
XIV. Legends and Songs.
XV. Life in Eden.
XVI. Note on the French Regimen.
PART V. THE EIGHT ISLANDS.
XVII. A Note on Missions.
XVIII. The Kona Coast of Hawaii. i. Hookena. ii. A Ride in the
Forest. iii. A Law Case. iv. The City of Refuge. v. The Lepers.
XIX. Molokai. i. A Week in the Precinct. ii. History of the Leper
Settlement. iii. The Mokolii. iv. The Free Island.
PART VI. THE GILBERTS.
XX. The Group. ii. Position of Woman. iii. The Missions. iv.
Devilwork. v. Republics.
XXI. Rule and Misrule on Makin. i. Butaritari, its King and Court.
ii. History of Three Kings. iii. The Drink Question.
XXII. A Butaritarian Festival.
XXIII. The King of Apemama. i. First Impressions. ii. Equator
Town and the Palace. iii. The Three Corselets.
PART VII. SAMOA.
which I have not yet reached.
Even as so sketched it makes sixty chapters, not less than 300
CORNHILL pages; and I suspect not much under 500. Samoa has yet to
be accounted for: I think it will be all history, and I shall work
in observations on Samoan manners, under the similar heads in other
Polynesian islands. It is still possible, though unlikely, that I
may add a passing visit to Fiji or Tonga, or even both; but I am
growing impatient to see yourself, and I do not want to be later
than June of coming to England. Anyway, you see it will be a large
work, and as it will be copiously illustrated, the Lord knows what
it will cost. We shall return, God willing, by Sydney, Ceylon,
Suez and, I guess, Marseilles the many-masted (copyright epithet).
I shall likely pause a day or two in Paris, but all that is too far
ahead - although now it begins to look near - so near, and I can
hear the rattle of the hansom up Endell Street, and see the gates
swing back, and feel myself jump out upon the Monument steps -
Hosanna! - home again. My dear fellow, now that my father is done
with his troubles, and 17 Heriot Row no more than a mere shell, you
and that gaunt old Monument in Bloomsbury are all that I have in
view when I use the word home; some passing thoughts there may be
of the rooms at Skerryvore, and the black-birds in the chine on a
May morning; but the essence is S. C. and the Museum. Suppose, by
some damned accident, you were no more: well, I should return just
the same, because of my mother and Lloyd, whom I now think to send
to Cambridge; but all the spring would have gone out of me, and
ninety per cent. of the attraction lost. I will copy for you here
a copy of verses made in Apemama.
I heard the pulse of the besieging sea
Throb far away all night. I heard the wind
Fly crying, and convulse tumultuous palms.
I rose and strolled. The isle was all bright sand,
And flailing fans and shadows of the palm:
The heaven all moon, and wind, and the blind vault -
The keenest planet slain, for Venus slept.
The King, my neighbour, with his host of wives,
Slept in the precinct of the palisade:
Where single, in the wind, under the moon,
Among the slumbering cabins, blazed a fire,
Sole street-lamp and the only sentinel.
To other lands and nights my fancy turned,
To London first, and chiefly to your house,
The many-pillared and the well-beloved.
There yearning fancy lighted; there again
In the upper room I lay and heard far off
The unsleeping city murmur like a shell;
The muffled tramp of the Museum guard
Once more went by me; I beheld again
Lamps vainly brighten the dispeopled street;
Again I longed for the returning morn,
The awaking traffic, the bestirring birds,
The consentaneous trill of tiny song
That weaves round monumental cornices
A passing charm of beauty: most of all,
For your light foot I wearied, and your knock
That was the glad reveille of my day.
Lo, now, when to your task in the great house
At morning through the portico you pass,
One moment glance where, by the pillared wall,
Far-voyaging island gods, begrimed with smoke,
Sit now unworshipped, the rude monument
Of faiths forgot and races undivined;
Sit now disconsolate, remembering well
The priest, the victim, and the songful crowd,
The blaze of the blue noon, and that huge voice
Incessant, of the breakers on the shore.
As far as these from their ancestral shrine,
So far, so foreign, your divided friends
Wander, estranged in body, not in mind.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO E. L. BURLINGAME
SCHOONER 'EQUATOR,' AT SEA, WEDNESDAY, 4TH DECEMBER 1889.
MY DEAR BURLINGAME, - We are now about to rise, like whales, from
this long dive, and I make ready a communication which is to go to
you by the first mail from Samoa. How long we shall stay in that
group I cannot forecast; but it will be best still to address at
Sydney, where I trust, when I shall arrive, perhaps in one month
from now, more probably in two or three, to find all news.
BUSINESS. - Will you be likely to have a space in the Magazine for
a serial story, which should be, ready, I believe, by April, at
latest by autumn? It is called THE WRECKER; and in book form will
appear as number 1 of South Sea Yarns by R. L. S. and Lloyd
Osbourne. Here is the table as far as fully conceived, and indeed
The story is founded on fact, the mystery I really believe to be
insoluble; the purchase of a wreck has never been handled before,
no more has San Francisco. These seem all elements of success.
There is, besides, a character, Jim Pinkerton, of the advertising
American, on whom we build a good deal; and some sketches of the
American merchant marine, opium smuggling in Honolulu, etc. It
should run to (about) three hundred pages of my MS. I would like
to know if this tale smiles upon you, if you will have a vacancy,
and what you will be willing to pay. It will of course be
copyright in both the States and England. I am a little anxious to
have it tried serially, as it tests the interest of the mystery.
PLEASURE. - We have had a fine time in the Gilbert group, though
four months on low islands, which involves low diet, is a largish
order; and my wife is rather down. I am myself, up to now, a
pillar of health, though our long and vile voyage of calms,
squalls, cataracts of rain, sails carried away, foretopmast lost,
boats cleared and packets made on the approach of a p. d. reef,
etc., has cured me of salt brine, and filled me with a longing for
beef steak and mangoes not to be depicted. The interest has been
immense. Old King Tembinoka of Apemama, the Napoleon of the group,
poet, tyrant, altogether a man of mark, gave me the woven corselets
of his grandfather, his father and his uncle, and, what pleased me
more, told me their singular story, then all manner of strange
tales, facts and experiences for my South Sea book, which should be
a Tearer, Mr. Burlingame: no one at least has had such stuff.
We are now engaged in the hell of a dead calm, the heat is cruel -
it is the only time when I suffer from heat: I have nothing on but
a pair of serge trousers, and a singlet without sleeves of Oxford
gauze - O, yes, and a red sash about my waist; and yet as I sit
here in the cabin, sweat streams from me. The rest are on deck
under a bit of awning; we are not much above a hundred miles from
port, and we might as well be in Kamschatka. However, I should be
honest: this is the first calm I have endured without the added
bane of a heavy swell, and the intoxicated blue-bottle wallowings
and knockings of the helpless ship.
I wonder how you liked the end of THE MASTER; that was the hardest
job I ever had to do; did I do it?
My wife begs to be remembered to yourself and Mrs. Burlingame.
Remember all of us to all friends, particularly Low, in case I
don't get a word through for him. - I am, yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
SAMOA, [DECEMBER 1889].
MY DEAR BAXTER, - . . . I cannot return until I have seen either
Tonga or Fiji or both: and I must not leave here till I have
finished my collections on the war - a very interesting bit of
history, the truth often very hard to come at, and the search (for
me) much complicated by the German tongue, from the use of which I
have desisted (I suppose) these fifteen years. The last two days I
have been mugging with a dictionary from five to six hours a day;
besides this, I have to call upon, keep sweet, and judiciously
interview all sorts of persons - English, American, German, and
Samoan. It makes a hard life; above all, as after every interview
I have to come and get my notes straight on the nail. I believe I
should have got my facts before the end of January, when I shall
make our Tonga or Fiji. I am down right in the hurricane season;
but they had so bad a one last year, I don't imagine there will be
much of an edition this. Say that I get to Sydney some time in
April, and I shall have done well, and be in a position to write a
very singular and interesting book, or rather two; for I shall
begin, I think, with a separate opuscule on the Samoan Trouble,
about as long as KIDNAPPED, not very interesting, but valuable -
and a thing proper to be done. And then, hey! for the big South
Sea Book: a devil of a big one, and full of the finest sport.
This morning as I was going along to my breakfast a little before
seven, reading a number of BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, I was startled by
a soft TALOFA, ALII (note for my mother: they are quite courteous
here in the European style, quite unlike Tahiti), right in my ear:
it was Mataafa coming from early mass in his white coat and white
linen kilt, with three fellows behind him. Mataafa is the nearest
thing to a hero in my history, and really a fine fellow; plenty
sense, and the most dignified, quiet, gentle manners. Talking of
BLACKWOOD - a file of which I was lucky enough to find here in the
lawyer's - Mrs. Oliphant seems in a staggering state: from the
WRONG BOX to THE MASTER I scarce recognise either my critic or
myself. I gather that THE MASTER should do well, and at least that
notice is agreeable reading. I expect to be home in June: you
will have gathered that I am pretty well. In addition to my
labours, I suppose I walk five or six miles a day, and almost every
day I ride up and see Fanny and Lloyd, who are in a house in the
bush with Ah Fu. I live in Apia for history's sake with Moors, an
American trader. Day before yesterday I was arrested and fined for
riding fast in the street, which made my blood bitter, as the wife
of the manager of the German Firm has twice almost ridden me down,
and there seems none to say her nay. The Germans have behaved
pretty badly here, but not in all ways so ill as you may have
gathered: they were doubtless much provoked; and if the insane
Knappe had not appeared upon the scene, might have got out of the
muddle with dignity. I write along without rhyme or reason, as
things occur to me.
I hope from my outcries about printing you do not think I want you
to keep my news or letters in a Blue Beard closet. I like all
friends to hear of me; they all should if I had ninety hours in the
day, and strength for all of them; but you must have gathered how
hard worked I am, and you will understand I go to bed a pretty
29TH DECEMBER, .
To-morrow (Monday, I won't swear to my day of the month; this is
the Sunday between Christmas and New Year) I go up the coast with
Mr. Clarke, one of the London Society missionaries, in a boat to
examine schools, see Tamasese, etc. Lloyd comes to photograph.
Pray Heaven we have good weather; this is the rainy season; we
shall be gone four or five days; and if the rain keep off, I shall
be glad of the change; if it rain, it will be beastly. This
explains still further how hard pressed I am, as the mail will be
gone ere I return, and I have thus lost the days I meant to write
in. I have a boy, Henry, who interprets and copies for me, and is
a great nuisance. He said he wished to come to me in order to
learn 'long expressions.' Henry goes up along with us; and as I am
not fond of him, he may before the trip is over hear some 'strong
expressions.' I am writing this on the back balcony at Moors',
palms and a hill like the hill of Kinnoull looking in at me; myself
lying on the floor, and (like the parties in Handel's song) 'clad
in robes of virgin white'; the ink is dreadful, the heat delicious,
a fine going breeze in the palms, and from the other side of the
house the sudden angry splash and roar of the Pacific on the reef,
where the warships are still piled from last year's hurricane, some
under water, one high and dry upon her side, the strangest figure
of a ship was ever witnessed; the narrow bay there is full of
ships; the men-of-war covered with sail after the rains, and
(especially the German ship, which is fearfully and awfully top
heavy) rolling almost yards in, in what appears to be calm water.
Samoa, Apia at least, is far less beautiful than the Marquesas or
Tahiti: a more gentle scene, gentler acclivities, a tamer face of
nature; and this much aided, for the wanderer, by the great German
plantations with their countless regular avenues of palms. The
island has beautiful rivers, of about the bigness of our waters in
the Lothians, with pleasant pools and waterfalls and overhanging
verdure, and often a great volume of sound, so that once I thought
I was passing near a mill, and it was only the voice of the river.
I am not specially attracted by the people; but they are courteous;
the women very attractive, and dress lovely; the men purposelike,
well set up, tall, lean, and dignified. As I write the breeze is
brisking up, doors are beginning to slam: and shutters; a strong
draught sweeps round the balcony; it looks doubtful for to-morrow.
Here I shut up. - Ever your affectionate,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO DR. SCOTT
APIA, SAMOA, JANUARY 20TH, 1890.
MY DEAR SCOTT, - Shameful indeed that you should not have heard of
me before! I have now been some twenty months in the South Seas,
and am (up to date) a person whom you would scarce know. I think
nothing of long walks and rides: I was four hours and a half gone
the other day, partly riding, partly climbing up a steep ravine. I
have stood a six months' voyage on a copra schooner with about
three months ashore on coral atolls, which means (except for
cocoanuts to drink) no change whatever from ship's food. My wife
suffered badly - it was too rough a business altogether - Lloyd
suffered - and, in short, I was the only one of the party who 'kept
my end up.'
I am so pleased with this climate that I have decided to settle;
have even purchased a piece of land from three to four hundred
acres, I know not which till the survey is completed, and shall
only return next summer to wind up my affairs in England;
thenceforth I mean to be a subject of the High Commissioner.
Now you would have gone longer yet without news of your truant
patient, but that I have a medical discovery to communicate. I
find I can (almost immediately) fight off a cold with liquid
extract of coca; two or (if obstinate) three teaspoonfuls in the
day for a variable period of from one to five days sees the cold
generally to the door. I find it at once produces a glow, stops
rigour, and though it makes one very uncomfortable, prevents the
advance of the disease. Hearing of this influenza, it occurred to
me that this might prove remedial; and perhaps a stronger
exhibition - injections of cocaine, for instance - still better.
If on my return I find myself let in for this epidemic, which seems
highly calculated to nip me in the bud, I shall feel very much
inclined to make the experiment. See what a gulf you may save me
from if you shall have previously made it on ANIMA VILI, on some
less important sufferer, and shall have found it worse than
How is Miss Boodle and her family? Greeting to your brother and
all friends in Bournemouth, yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
FEBRUAR DEN 3EN 1890.
DAMPFER LUBECK ZWISCHEN APIA UND SYDNEY.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - I have got one delightful letter from you, and
heard from my mother of your kindness in going to see her. Thank
you for that: you can in no way more touch and serve me. . . . Ay,
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