Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 6 out of 7
least you have drunk, and you can enter perhaps into my annoyance
when I suddenly find a glass of claret or a brandy-and-water give
me a splitting headache the next morning. No mistake about it;
drink anything, and there's your headache. Tobacco just as bad for
me. If I live through this breach of habit, I shall be a white-
livered puppy indeed. Actually I am so made, or so twisted, that I
do not like to think of a life without the red wine on the table
and the tobacco with its lovely little coal of fire. It doesn't
amuse me from a distance. I may find it the Garden of Eden when I
go in, but I don't like the colour of the gate-posts. Suppose
somebody said to you, you are to leave your home, and your books,
and your clubs, and go out and camp in mid-Africa, and command an
expedition, you would howl, and kick, and flee. I think the same
of a life without wine and tobacco; and if this goes on, I've got
to go and do it, sir, in the living flesh!
I thought Bourget was a friend of yours? And I thought the French
were a polite race? He has taken my dedication with a stately
silence that has surprised me into apoplexy. Did I go and dedicate
my book to the nasty alien, and the 'norrid Frenchman, and the
Bloody Furrineer? Well, I wouldn't do it again; and unless his
case is susceptible of explanation, you might perhaps tell him so
over the walnuts and the wine, by way of speeding the gay hours.
Sincerely, I thought my dedication worth a letter.
If anything be worth anything here below! Do you know the story of
the man who found a button in his hash, and called the waiter?
'What do you call that?' says he. 'Well,' said the waiter, 'what
d'you expect? Expect to find a gold watch and chain?' Heavenly
apologue, is it not? I expected (rather) to find a gold watch and
chain; I expected to be able to smoke to excess and drink to
comfort all the days of my life; and I am still indignantly staring
on this button! It's not even a button; it's a teetotal badge! -
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO HENRY JAMES
APIA, JULY 1893.
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, - Yes. LES TROPHEES, on the whole, a book.
It is excellent; but is it a life's work? I always suspect YOU of
a volume of sonnets up your sleeve; when is it coming down? I am
in one of my moods of wholesale impatience with all fiction and all
verging on it, reading instead, with rapture, FOUNTAINHALL'S
DECISIONS. You never read it: well, it hasn't much form, and is
inexpressibly dreary, I should suppose, to others - and even to me
for pages. It's like walking in a mine underground, and with a
damned bad lantern, and picking out pieces of ore. This, and war,
will be my excuse for not having read your (doubtless) charming
work of fiction. The revolving year will bring me round to it; and
I know, when fiction shall begin to feel a little SOLID to me
again, that I shall love it, because it's James. Do you know, when
I am in this mood, I would rather try to read a bad book? It's not
so disappointing, anyway. And FOUNTAINHALL is prime, two big folio
volumes, and all dreary, and all true, and all as terse as an
obituary; and about one interesting fact on an average in twenty
pages, and ten of them unintelligible for technicalities. There's
literature, if you like! It feeds; it falls about you genuine like
rain. Rain: nobody has done justice to rain in literature yet:
surely a subject for a Scot. But then you can't do rain in that
ledger-book style that I am trying for - or between a ledger-book
and an old ballad. How to get over, how to escape from, the
besotting PARTICULARITY of fiction. 'Roland approached the house;
it had green doors and window blinds; and there was a scraper on
the upper step.' To hell with Roland and the scraper! - Yours
R. L. S.
Letter: TO A. CONAN DOYLE
VAILIMA, JULY 12, 1893.
MY DEAR DR. CONAN DOYLE, - The WHITE COMPANY has not yet turned up;
but when it does - which I suppose will be next mail - you shall
hear news of me. I have a great talent for compliment, accompanied
by a hateful, even a diabolic frankness.
Delighted to hear I have a chance of seeing you and Mrs. Doyle;
Mrs. Stevenson bids me say (what is too true) that our rations are
often spare. Are you Great Eaters? Please reply.
As to ways and means, here is what you will have to do. Leave San
Francisco by the down mail, get off at Samoa, and twelve days or a
fortnight later, you can continue your journey to Auckland per
Upolu, which will give you a look at Tonga and possibly Fiji by the
way. Make this a FIRST PART OF YOUR PLANS. A fortnight, even of
Vailima diet, could kill nobody.
We are in the midst of war here; rather a nasty business, with the
head-taking; and there seem signs of other trouble. But I believe
you need make no change in your design to visit us. All should be
well over; and if it were not, why! you need not leave the steamer.
- Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
19TH JULY '93.
. . . We are in the thick of war - see ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS - we
have only two outside boys left to us. Nothing is doing, and PER
CONTRA little paying. . . My life here is dear; but I can live
within my income for a time at least - so long as my prices keep up
- and it seems a clear duty to waste none of it on gadding about. .
. . My life of my family fills up intervals, and should be an
excellent book when it is done, but big, damnably big.
My dear old man, I perceive by a thousand signs that we grow old,
and are soon to pass away! I hope with dignity; if not, with
courage at least. I am myself very ready; or would be - will be -
when I have made a little money for my folks. The blows that have
fallen upon you are truly terrifying; I wish you strength to bear
them. It is strange, I must seem to you to blaze in a Birmingham
prosperity and happiness; and to myself I seem a failure. The
truth is, I have never got over the last influenza yet, and am
miserably out of heart and out of kilter. Lungs pretty right,
stomach nowhere, spirits a good deal overshadowed; but we'll come
through it yet, and cock our bonnets. (I confess with sorrow that
I am not yet quite sure about the INTELLECTS; but I hope it is only
one of my usual periods of non-work. They are more unbearable now,
because I cannot rest. NO REST BUT THE GRAVE FOR SIR WALTER! O
the words ring in a man's head.)
R. L. S.
Letter: TO A. CONAN DOYLE
VAILIMA, AUGUST 23RD, 1893.
MY DEAR DR. CONAN DOYLE, - I am reposing after a somewhat severe
experience upon which I think it my duty to report to you.
Immediately after dinner this evening it occurred to me to re-
narrate to my native overseer Simele your story of THE ENGINEER'S
THUMB. And, sir, I have done it. It was necessary, I need hardly
say, to go somewhat farther afield than you have done. To explain
(for instance) what a railway is, what a steam hammer, what a coach
and horse, what coining, what a criminal, and what the police. I
pass over other and no less necessary explanations. But I did
actually succeed; and if you could have seen the drawn, anxious
features and the bright, feverish eyes of Simele, you would have
(for the moment at least) tasted glory. You might perhaps think
that, were you to come to Samoa, you might be introduced as the
Author of THE ENGINEER'S THUMB. Disabuse yourself. They do not
know what it is to make up a story. THE ENGINEER'S THUMB (God
forgive me) was narrated as a piece of actual and factual history.
Nay, and more, I who write to you have had the indiscretion to
perpetrate a trifling piece of fiction entitled THE BOTTLE IMP.
Parties who come up to visit my unpretentious mansion, after having
admired the ceilings by Vanderputty and the tapestry by Gobbling,
manifest towards the end a certain uneasiness which proves them to
be fellows of an infinite delicacy. They may be seen to shrug a
brown shoulder, to roll up a speaking eye, and at last secret
bursts from them: 'Where is the bottle?' Alas, my friends (I feel
tempted to say), you will find it by the Engineer's Thumb! Talofa-
Oa'u, O lau no moni, O Tusitala.
More commonly known as,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Have read the REFUGEES; Conde and old P. Murat very good; Louis
XIV. and Louvois with the letter bag very rich. You have reached a
trifle wide perhaps; too MANY celebrities? Though I was delighted
to re-encounter my old friend Du Chaylu. Old Murat is perhaps your
high water mark; 'tis excellently human, cheerful and real. Do it
again. Madame de Maintenon struck me as quite good. Have you any
document for the decapitation? It sounds steepish. The devil of
all that first part is that you see old Dumas; yet your Louis XIV.
is DISTINCTLY GOOD. I am much interested with this book, which
fulfils a good deal, and promises more. Question: How far a
Historical Novel should be wholly episodic? I incline to that
view, with trembling. I shake hands with you on old Murat.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO GEORGE MEREDITH
SEPT. 5TH, 1893, VAILIMA PLANTATION, UPOLU, SAMOA.
MY DEAR MEREDITH, - I have again and again taken up the pen to
write to you, and many beginnings have gone into the waste paper
basket (I have one now - for the second time in my life - and feel
a big man on the strength of it). And no doubt it requires some
decision to break so long a silence. My health is vastly restored,
and I am now living patriarchally in this place six hundred feet
above the sea on the shoulder of a mountain of 1500. Behind me,
the unbroken bush slopes up to the backbone of the island (3 to
4000) without a house, with no inhabitants save a few runaway black
boys, wild pigs and cattle, and wild doves and flying foxes, and
many parti-coloured birds, and many black, and many white: a very
eerie, dim, strange place and hard to travel. I am the head of a
household of five whites, and of twelve Samoans, to all of whom I
am the chief and father: my cook comes to me and asks leave to
marry - and his mother, a fine old chief woman, who has never lived
here, does the same. You may be sure I granted the petition. It
is a life of great interest, complicated by the Tower of Babel,
that old enemy. And I have all the time on my hands for literary
work. My house is a great place; we have a hall fifty feet long
with a great red-wood stair ascending from it, where we dine in
state - myself usually dressed in a singlet and a pair of trousers
- and attended on by servants in a single garment, a kind of kilt -
also flowers and leaves - and their hair often powdered with lime.
The European who came upon it suddenly would think it was a dream.
We have prayers on Sunday night - I am a perfect pariah in the
island not to have them oftener, but the spirit is unwilling and
the flesh proud, and I cannot go it more. It is strange to see the
long line of the brown folk crouched along the wall with lanterns
at intervals before them in the big shadowy hall, with an oak
cabinet at one end of it and a group of Rodin's (which native taste
regards as PRODIGIEUSEMENT LESTE) presiding over all from the top -
and to hear the long rambling Samoan hymn rolling up (God bless me,
what style! But I am off business to-day, and this is not meant to
I have asked Colvin to send you a copy of CATRIONA, which I am
sometimes tempted to think is about my best work. I hear word
occasionally of the AMAZING MARRIAGE. It will be a brave day for
me when I get hold of it. Gower Woodseer is now an ancient, lean,
grim, exiled Scot, living and labouring as for a wager in the
tropics; still active, still with lots of fire in him, but the
youth - ah, the youth where is it? For years after I came here,
the critics (those genial gentlemen) used to deplore the relaxation
of my fibre and the idleness to which I had succumbed. I hear less
of this now; the next thing is they will tell me I am writing
myself out! and that my unconscientious conduct is bringing their
grey hairs with sorrow to the dust. I do not know - I mean I do
know one thing. For fourteen years I have not had a day's real
health; I have wakened sick and gone to bed weary; and I have done
my work unflinchingly. I have written in bed, and written out of
it, written in hemorrhages, written in sickness, written torn by
coughing, written when my head swam for weakness; and for so long,
it seems to me I have won my wager and recovered my glove. I am
better now, have been rightly speaking since first I came to the
Pacific; and still, few are the days when I am not in some physical
distress. And the battle goes on - ill or well, is a trifle; so as
it goes. I was made for a contest, and the Powers have so willed
that my battlefield should be this dingy, inglorious one of the bed
and the physic bottle. At least I have not failed, but I would
have preferred a place of trumpetings and the open air over my
This is a devilish egotistical yarn. Will you try to imitate me in
that if the spirit ever moves you to reply? And meantime be sure
that away in the midst of the Pacific there is a house on a wooded
island where the name of George Meredith is very dear, and his
memory (since it must be no more) is continually honoured. - Ever
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Remember me to Mariette, if you please; and my wife sends her most
kind remembrances to yourself.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO AUGUSTUS ST. GAUDENS
VAILIMA, SEPTEMBER 1893.
MY DEAR ST. GAUDENS, - I had determined not to write to you till I
had seen the medallion, but it looks as if that might mean the
Greek Kalends or the day after to-morrow. Reassure yourself, your
part is done, it is ours that halts - the consideration of
conveyance over our sweet little road on boys' backs, for we cannot
very well apply the horses to this work; there is only one; you
cannot put it in a panier; to put it on the horse's back we have
not the heart. Beneath the beauty of R. L. S., to say nothing of
his verses, which the publishers find heavy enough, and the genius
of the god-like sculptor, the spine would snap and the well-knit
limbs of the (ahem) cart-horse would be loosed by death. So you
are to conceive me, sitting in my house, dubitative, and the
medallion chuckling in the warehouse of the German firm, for some
days longer; and hear me meanwhile on the golden letters.
Alas! they are all my fancy painted, but the price is prohibitive.
I cannot do it. It is another day-dream burst. Another gable of
Abbotsford has gone down, fortunately before it was builded, so
there's nobody injured - except me. I had a strong conviction that
I was a great hand at writing inscriptions, and meant to exhibit
and test my genius on the walls of my house; and now I see I can't.
It is generally thus. The Battle of the Golden Letters will never
be delivered. On making preparation to open the campaign, the King
found himself face to face with invincible difficulties, in which
the rapacity of a mercenary soldiery and the complaints of an
impoverished treasury played an equal part. - Ever yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
I enclose a bill for the medallion; have been trying to find your
letter, quite in vain, and therefore must request you to pay for
the bronze letters yourself and let me know the damage.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO J. HORNE STEVENSON
VAILIMA, SAMOA, NOVEMBER 5TH, 1893.
MY DEAR STEVENSON, - A thousand thanks for your voluminous and
delightful collections. Baxter - so soon as it is ready - will let
you see a proof of my introduction, which is only sent out as a
sprat to catch whales. And you will find I have a good deal of
what you have, only mine in a perfectly desultory manner, as is
necessary to an exile. My uncle's pedigree is wrong; there was
never a Stevenson of Caldwell, of course, but they were tenants of
the Muirs; the farm held by them is in my introduction; and I have
already written to Charles Baxter to have a search made in the
Register House. I hope he will have had the inspiration to put it
under your surveillance. Your information as to your own family is
intensely interesting, and I should not wonder but what you and we
and old John Stevenson, 'land labourer in the parish of Dailly,'
came all of the same stock. Ayrshire - and probably Cunningham -
seems to be the home of the race - our part of it. From the
distribution of the name - which your collections have so much
extended without essentially changing my knowledge of - we seem
rather pointed to a British origin. What you say of the Engineers
is fresh to me, and must be well thrashed out. This introduction
of it will take a long while to walk about! - as perhaps I may be
tempted to let it become long; after all, I am writing THIS for my
own pleasure solely. Greetings to you and other Speculatives of
our date, long bygone, alas! - Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. - I have a different version of my grandfather's arms - or my
father had if I could find it.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO JOHN P-N
VAILIMA, SAMOA, DECEMBER 3RD, 1893.
DEAR JOHNNIE, - Well, I must say you seem to be a tremendous
fellow! Before I was eight I used to write stories - or dictate
them at least - and I had produced an excellent history of Moses,
for which I got 1 pound from an uncle; but I had never gone the
length of a play, so you have beaten me fairly on my own ground. I
hope you may continue to do so, and thanking you heartily for your
nice letter, I shall beg you to believe me yours truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO RUSSELL P-N
VAILIMA, SAMOA, DECEMBER 3RD, 1893.
DEAR RUSSELL, - I have to thank you very much for your capital
letter, which came to hand here in Samoa along with your mother's.
When you 'grow up and write stories like me,' you will be able to
understand that there is scarce anything more painful than for an
author to hold a pen; he has to do it so much that his heart
sickens and his fingers ache at the sight or touch of it; so that
you will excuse me if I do not write much, but remain (with
compliments and greetings from one Scot to another - though I was
not born in Ceylon - you're ahead of me there). - Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO ALISON CUNNINGHAM
VAILIMA, DECEMBER 5, 1893.
MY DEAREST CUMMY, - This goes to you with a Merry Christmas and a
Happy New Year. The Happy New Year anyway, for I think it should
reach you about NOOR'S DAY. I dare say it may be cold and frosty.
Do you remember when you used to take me out of bed in the early
morning, carry me to the back windows, show me the hills of Fife,
and quote to me.
'A' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
An' winter's noo come fairly'?
There is not much chance of that here! I wonder how my mother is
going to stand the winter. If she can, it will be a very good
thing for her. We are in that part of the year which I like the
best - the Rainy or Hurricane Season. 'When it is good, it is
very, very good; and when it is bad, it is horrid,' and our fine
days are certainly fine like heaven; such a blue of the sea, such
green of the trees, and such crimson of the hibiscus flowers, you
never saw; and the air as mild and gentle as a baby's breath, and
yet not hot!
The mail is on the move, and I must let up. - With much love, I am,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
6TH DECEMBER 1893.
'OCTOBER 25, 1685. - At Privy Council, George Murray, Lieutenant of
the King's Guard, and others, did, on the 21st of September last,
obtain a clandestine order of Privy Council to apprehend the person
of Janet Pringle, daughter to the late Clifton, and she having
retired out of the way upon information, he got an order against
Andrew Pringle, her uncle, to produce her. . . . But she having
married Andrew Pringle, her uncle's son (to disappoint all their
designs of selling her), a boy of thirteen years old.' But my boy
is to be fourteen, so I extract no further. - FOUNTAINHALL, i. 320.
'MAY 6, 1685. - Wappus Pringle of Clifton was still alive after
all, and in prison for debt, and transacts with Lieutenant Murray,
giving security for 7000 marks.' - i. 372.
No, it seems to have been HER brother who had succeeded.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - The above is my story, and I wonder if any light
can be thrown on it. I prefer the girl's father dead; and the
question is, How in that case could Lieutenant George Murray get
his order to 'apprehend' and his power to 'sell' her in marriage?
Or - might Lieutenant G. be her tutor, and she fugitive to the
Pringles, and on the discovery of her whereabouts hastily married?
A good legal note on these points is very ardently desired by me;
it will be the corner-stone of my novel.
This is for - I am quite wrong to tell you - for you will tell
others - and nothing will teach you that all my schemes are in the
air, and vanish and reappear again like shapes in the clouds - it
is for HEATHERCAT: whereof the first volume will be called THE
KILLING TIME, and I believe I have authorities ample for that. But
the second volume is to be called (I believe) DARIEN, and for that
I want, I fear, a good deal of truck:-
I hope may do me. Some sort of general history of the Darien
affair (if there is a decent one, which I misdoubt), it would also
be well to have - the one with most details, if possible. It is
singular how obscure to me this decade of Scots history remains,
1690-1700 - a deuce of a want of light and grouping to it!
However, I believe I shall be mostly out of Scotland in my tale;
first in Carolina, next in Darien. I want also - I am the daughter
of the horse-leech truly - 'Black's new large map of Scotland,'
sheets 3, 4, and 5, a 7s. 6d. touch. I believe, if you can get the
they had better come also; and if there be any reasonable work -
but no, I must call a halt. . . .
I fear the song looks doubtful, but I'll consider of it, and I can
promise you some reminiscences which it will amuse me to write,
whether or not it will amuse the public to read of them. But it's
an unco business to SUPPLY deid-heid coapy.
Letter: TO J. M. BARRIE
VAILIMA, SAMOA, DECEMBER 7TH, 1893.
MY DEAR BARRIE, - I have received duly the MAGNUM OPUS, and it
really is a MAGNUM OPUS. It is a beautiful specimen of Clark's
printing, paper sufficient, and the illustrations all my fancy
painted. But the particular flower of the flock to whom I have
hopelessly lost my heart is Tibby Birse. I must have known Tibby
Birse when she was a servant's mantua-maker in Edinburgh and
answered to the name of Miss BRODDIE. She used to come and sew
with my nurse, sitting with her legs crossed in a masculine manner;
and swinging her foot emphatically, she used to pour forth a
perfectly unbroken stream of gossip. I didn't hear it, I was
immersed in far more important business with a box of bricks, but
the recollection of that thin, perpetual, shrill sound of a voice
has echoed in my ears sinsyne. I am bound to say she was younger
than Tibbie, but there is no mistaking that and the indescribable
and eminently Scottish expression.
I have been very much prevented of late, having carried out
thoroughly to my own satisfaction two considerable illnesses, had a
birthday, and visited Honolulu, where politics are (if possible) a
shade more exasperating than they are with us. I am told that it
was just when I was on the point of leaving that I received your
superlative epistle about the cricket eleven. In that case it is
impossible I should have answered it, which is inconsistent with my
own recollection of the fact. What I remember is, that I sat down
under your immediate inspiration and wrote an answer in every way
worthy. If I didn't, as it seems proved that I couldn't, it will
never be done now. However, I did the next best thing, I equipped
my cousin Graham Balfour with a letter of introduction, and from
him, if you know how - for he is rather of the Scottish character -
you may elicit all the information you can possibly wish to have as
to us and ours. Do not be bluffed off by the somewhat stern and
monumental first impression that he may make upon you. He is one
of the best fellows in the world, and the same sort of fool that we
are, only better-looking, with all the faults of Vailimans and some
of his own - I say nothing about virtues.
I have lately been returning to my wallowing in the mire. When I
was a child, and indeed until I was nearly a man, I consistently
read Covenanting books. Now that I am a grey-beard - or would be,
if I could raise the beard - I have returned, and for weeks back
have read little else but Wodrow, Walker, Shields, etc. Of course
this is with an idea of a novel, but in the course of it I made a
very curious discovery. I have been accustomed to hear refined and
intelligent critics - those who know so much better what we are
than we do ourselves, - trace down my literary descent from all
sorts of people, including Addison, of whom I could never read a
word. Well, laigh i' your lug, sir - the clue was found. My style
is from the Covenanting writers. Take a particular case - the
fondness for rhymes. I don't know of any English prose-writer who
rhymes except by accident, and then a stone had better be tied
around his neck and himself cast into the sea. But my Covenanting
buckies rhyme all the time - a beautiful example of the unconscious
rhyme above referred to.
Do you know, and have you really tasted, these delightful works?
If not, it should be remedied; there is enough of the Auld Licht in
you to be ravished.
I suppose you know that success has so far attended my banners - my
political banners I mean, and not my literary. In conjunction with
the Three Great Powers I have succeeded in getting rid of My
President and My Chief-Justice. They've gone home, the one to
Germany, the other to Souwegia. I hear little echoes of footfalls
of their departing footsteps through the medium of the newspapers.
. . .
Whereupon I make you my salute with the firm remark that it is time
to be done with trifling and give us a great book, and my ladies
fall into line with me to pay you a most respectful courtesy, and
we all join in the cry, 'Come to Vailima!'
My dear sir, your soul's health is in it - you will never do the
great book, you will never cease to work in L., etc., till you come
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO R. LE GALLIENNE
VAILIMA, SAMOA, DECEMBER 28TH, 1893.
DEAR MR. LE GALLIENNE, - I have received some time ago, through our
friend Miss Taylor, a book of yours. But that was by no means my
first introduction to your name. The same book had stood already
on my shelves; I had read articles of yours in the ACADEMY; and by
a piece of constructive criticism (which I trust was sound) had
arrived at the conclusion that you were 'Log-roller.' Since then I
have seen your beautiful verses to your wife. You are to conceive
me, then, as only too ready to make the acquaintance of a man who
loved good literature and could make it. I had to thank you,
besides, for a triumphant exposure of a paradox of my own: the
literary-prostitute disappeared from view at a phrase of yours -
'The essence is not in the pleasure but the sale.' True: you are
right, I was wrong; the author is not the whore, but the libertine;
and yet I shall let the passage stand. It is an error, but it
illustrated the truth for which I was contending, that literature -
painting - all art, are no other than pleasures, which we turn into
And more than all this, I had, and I have to thank you for the
intimate loyalty you have shown to myself; for the eager welcome
you give to what is good - for the courtly tenderness with which
you touch on my defects. I begin to grow old; I have given my top
note, I fancy; - and I have written too many books. The world
begins to be weary of the old booth; and if not weary, familiar
with the familiarity that breeds contempt. I do not know that I am
sensitive to criticism, if it be hostile; I am sensitive indeed,
when it is friendly; and when I read such criticism as yours, I am
emboldened to go on and praise God.
You are still young, and you may live to do much. The little,
artificial popularity of style in England tends, I think, to die
out; the British pig returns to his true love, the love of the
styleless, of the shapeless, of the slapdash and the disorderly.
There is trouble coming, I think; and you may have to hold the fort
for us in evil days.
Lastly, let me apologise for the crucifixion that I am inflicting
on you (BIEN A CONTRE-COEUR) by my bad writing. I was once the
best of writers; landladies, puzzled as to my 'trade,' used to have
their honest bosoms set at rest by a sight of a page of manuscript.
- 'Ah,' they would say, 'no wonder they pay you for that'; - and
when I sent it in to the printers, it was given to the boys! I was
about thirty-nine, I think, when I had a turn of scrivener's palsy;
my hand got worse; and for the first time, I received clean proofs.
But it has gone beyond that now, I know I am like my old friend
James Payn, a terror to correspondents; and you would not believe
the care with which this has been written. - Believe me to be, very
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. A. BAKER
DEAR MADAM, - There is no trouble, and I wish I could help instead.
As it is, I fear I am only going to put you to trouble and
vexation. This Braille writing is a kind of consecration, and I
would like if I could to have your copy perfect. The two volumes
are to be published as Vols. I. and II. of THE ADVENTURES OF DAVID
BALFOUR. 1st, KIDNAPPED; 2nd, CATRIONA. I am just sending home a
corrected KIDNAPPED for this purpose to Messrs. Cassell, and in
order that I may if possible be in time, I send it to you first of
all. Please, as soon as you have noted the changes, forward the
same to Cassell and Co., La Belle Sauvage Yard, Ludgate Hill.
I am writing to them by this mail to send you CATRIONA.
You say, dear madam, you are good enough to say, it is 'a keen
pleasure' to you to bring my book within the reach of the blind.
Conceive then what it is to me! and believe me, sincerely yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
I was a barren tree before,
I blew a quenched coal,
I could not, on their midnight shore,
The lonely blind console.
A moment, lend your hand, I bring
My sheaf for you to bind,
And you can teach my words to sing
In the darkness of the blind.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO HENRY JAMES
APIA, DECEMBER 1893.
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, - The mail has come upon me like an armed man
three days earlier than was expected; and the Lord help me! It is
impossible I should answer anybody the way they should be. Your
jubilation over CATRIONA did me good, and still more the subtlety
and truth of your remark on the starving of the visual sense in
that book. 'Tis true, and unless I make the greater effort - and
am, as a step to that, convinced of its necessity - it will be more
true I fear in the future. I HEAR people talking, and I FEEL them
acting, and that seems to me to be fiction. My two aims may be
described as -
1ST. War to the adjective.
2ND. Death to the optic nerve.
Admitted we live in an age of the optic nerve in literature. For
how many centuries did literature get along without a sign of it?
However, I'll consider your letter.
How exquisite is your character of the critic in ESSAYS IN LONDON!
I doubt if you have done any single thing so satisfying as a piece
of style and of insight. - Yours ever,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
1ST JANUARY '94.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - I am delighted with your idea, and first, I will
here give an amended plan and afterwards give you a note of some of
[Plan of the Edinburgh edition - 14 vols.]
. . . It may be a question whether my TIMES letters might not be
appended to the 'Footnote' with a note of the dates of discharge of
Cedercrantz and Pilsach.
I am particularly pleased with this idea of yours, because I am
come to a dead stop. I never can remember how bad I have been
before, but at any rate I am bad enough just now, I mean as to
literature; in health I am well and strong. I take it I shall be
six months before I'm heard of again, and this time I could put in
to some advantage in revising the text and (if it were thought
desirable) writing prefaces. I do not know how many of them might
be thought desirable. I have written a paper on TREASURE ISLAND,
which is to appear shortly. MASTER OF BALLANTRAE - I have one
drafted. THE WRECKER is quite sufficiently done already with the
last chapter, but I suppose an historic introduction to DAVID
BALFOUR is quite unavoidable. PRINCE OTTO I don't think I could
say anything about, and BLACK ARROW don't want to. But it is
probable I could say something to the volume of TRAVELS. In the
verse business I can do just what I like better than anything else,
and extend UNDERWOODS with a lot of unpublished stuff. APROPOS, if
I were to get printed off a very few poems which are somewhat too
intimate for the public, could you get them run up in some luxuous
manner, so that fools might be induced to buy them in just a
sufficient quantity to pay expenses and the thing remain still in a
manner private? We could supply photographs of the illustrations -
and the poems are of Vailima and the family - I should much like to
get this done as a surprise for Fanny.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO H. B. BAILDON
VAILIMA, JANUARY 15TH, 1894.
MY DEAR BAILDON, - Last mail brought your book and its Dedication.
'Frederick Street and the gardens, and the short-lived Jack o'
Lantern,' are again with me - and the note of the east wind, and
Froebel's voice, and the smell of soup in Thomson's stair. Truly,
you had no need to put yourself under the protection of any other
saint, were that saint our Tamate himself! Yourself were enough,
and yourself coming with so rich a sheaf.
For what is this that you say about the Muses? They have certainly
never better inspired you than in 'Jael and Sisera,' and 'Herodias
and John the Baptist,' good stout poems, fiery and sound. ''Tis
but a mask and behind it chuckles the God of the Garden,' I shall
never forget. By the by, an error of the press, page 49, line 4,
'No infant's lesson are the ways of God.' THE is dropped.
And this reminds me you have a bad habit which is to be comminated
in my theory of letters. Same page, two lines lower: 'But the
vulture's track' is surely as fine to the ear as 'But vulture's
track,' and this latter version has a dreadful baldness. The
reader goes on with a sense of impoverishment, of unnecessary
sacrifice; he has been robbed by footpads, and goes scouting for
his lost article! Again, in the second Epode, these fine verses
would surely sound much finer if they began, 'As a hardy climber
who has set his heart,' than with the jejune 'As hardy climber.' I
do not know why you permit yourself this license with grammar; you
show, in so many pages, that you are superior to the paltry sense
of rhythm which usually dictates it - as though some poetaster had
been suffered to correct the poet's text. By the way, I confess to
a heartfelt weakness for AURICULAS. - Believe me the very grateful
and characteristic pick-thank, but still sincere and affectionate,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO W. H. LOW.
VAILIMA, JANUARY 15th, 1894.
MY DEAR LOW, - . . . Pray you, stoop your proud head, and sell
yourself to some Jew magazine, and make the visit out. I assure
you, this is the spot for a sculptor or painter. This, and no
other - I don't say to stay there, but to come once and get the
living colour into them. I am used to it; I do not notice it;
rather prefer my grey, freezing recollections of Scotland; but
there it is, and every morning is a thing to give thanks for, and
every night another - bar when it rains, of course.
About THE WRECKER - rather late days, and I still suspect I had
somehow offended you; however, all's well that ends well, and I am
glad I am forgiven - did you not fail to appreciate the attitude of
Dodd? He was a fizzle and a stick, he knew it, he knew nothing
else, and there is an undercurrent of bitterness in him. And then
the problem that Pinkerton laid down: why the artist can DO
NOTHING ELSE? is one that continually exercises myself. He cannot:
granted. But Scott could. And Montaigne. And Julius Caesar. And
many more. And why can't R. L. S.? Does it not amaze you? It
does me. I think of the Renaissance fellows, and their all-round
human sufficiency, and compare it with the ineffable smallness of
the field in which we labour and in which we do so little. I think
DAVID BALFOUR a nice little book, and very artistic, and just the
thing to occupy the leisure of a busy man; but for the top flower
of a man's life it seems to me inadequate. Small is the word; it
is a small age, and I am of it. I could have wished to be
otherwise busy in this world. I ought to have been able to build
lighthouses and write DAVID BALFOURS too. HINC ILLAE LACRYMAE. I
take my own case as most handy, but it is as illustrative of my
quarrel with the age. We take all these pains, and we don't do as
well as Michael Angelo or Leonardo, or even Fielding, who was an
active magistrate, or Richardson, who was a busy bookseller. J'AI
HONTE POUR NOUS; my ears burn.
I am amazed at the effect which this Chicago exhibition has
produced upon you and others. It set Mrs. Fairchild literally mad
- to judge by her letters. And I wish I had seen anything so
influential. I suppose there was an aura, a halo, some sort of
effulgency about the place; for here I find you louder than the
rest. Well, it may be there is a time coming; and I wonder, when
it comes, whether it will be a time of little, exclusive, one-eyed
rascals like you and me, or parties of the old stamp who can paint
and fight, and write and keep books of double entry, and sculp, and
scalp. It might be. You have a lot of stuff in the kettle, and a
great deal of it Celtic. I have changed my mind progressively
about England, practically the whole of Scotland is Celtic, and the
western half of England, and all Ireland, and the Celtic blood
makes a rare blend for art. If it is stiffened up with Latin
blood, you get the French. We were less lucky: we had only
Scandinavians, themselves decidedly artistic, and the Low-German
lot. However, that is a good starting-point, and with all the
other elements in your crucible, it may come to something great
very easily. I wish you would hurry up and let me see it. Here is
a long while I have been waiting for something GOOD in art; and
what have I seen? Zola's DEBACLE and a few of Kipling's tales.
Are you a reader of Barbey d'Aurevilly? He is a never-failing
source of pleasure to me, for my sins, I suppose. What a work is
the RIDEAU CRAMOISI! and L'ENSORCELEE! and LE CHEVALIER DES
This is degenerating into mere twaddle. So please remember us all
most kindly to Mrs. Low, and believe me ever yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. - Were all your privateers voiceless in the war of 1812? Did
NO ONE of them write memoirs? I shall have to do my privateer from
chic, if you can't help me. My application to Scribner has been
quite in vain. See if you can get hold of some historic sharp in
the club, and tap him; they must some of them have written memoirs
or notes of some sort; perhaps still unprinted; if that be so, get
them copied for me.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO H. B. BAILDON
VAILIMA, JANUARY 30TH, 1894.
MY DEAR BAILDON, - 'Call not blessed.' - Yes, if I could die just
now, or say in half a year, I should have had a splendid time of it
on the whole. But it gets a little stale, and my work will begin
to senesce; and parties to shy bricks at me; and now it begins to
look as if I should survive to see myself impotent and forgotten.
It's a pity suicide is not thought the ticket in the best circles.
But your letter goes on to congratulate me on having done the one
thing I am a little sorry for; a little - not much - for my father
himself lived to think that I had been wiser than he. But the
cream of the jest is that I have lived to change my mind; and think
that he was wiser than I. Had I been an engineer, and literature
my amusement, it would have been better perhaps. I pulled it off,
of course, I won the wager, and it is pleasant while it lasts; but
how long will it last? I don't know, say the Bells of Old Bow.
All of which goes to show that nobody is quite sane in judging
himself. Truly, had I given way and gone in for engineering, I
should be dead by now. Well, the gods know best.
I hope you got my letter about the RESCUE. - Adieu,
R. L. S.
True for you about the benefit: except by kisses, jests, song, ET
HOC GENUS OMNE, man CANNOT convey benefit to another. The
universal benefactor has been there before him.
Letter: TO J. H. BATES
VAILIMA, SAMOA, MARCH 25TH, 1894.
MY DEAR MR. JOE H. BATES, - I shall have the greatest pleasure in
acceding to your complimentary request. I shall think it an honour
to be associated with your chapter, and I need not remind you (for
you have said it yourself) how much depends upon your own exertions
whether to make it to me a real honour or only a derision. This is
to let you know that I accept the position that you have seriously
offered to me in a quite serious spirit. I need scarce tell you
that I shall always be pleased to receive reports of your
proceedings; and if I do not always acknowledge them, you are to
remember that I am a man very much occupied otherwise, and not at
all to suppose that I have lost interest in my chapter.
In this world, which (as you justly say) is so full of sorrow and
suffering, it will always please me to remember that my name is
connected with some efforts after alleviation, nor less so with
purposes of innocent recreation which, after all, are the only
certain means at our disposal for bettering human life.
With kind regards, to yourself, to Mr. L. C. Congdon, to E. M. G.
Bates, and to Mr. Edward Hugh Higlee Bates, and the heartiest
wishes for the future success of the chapter, believe me, yours
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO WILLIAM ARCHER
VAILIMA, SAMOA, MARCH 27TH, 1894.
MY DEAR ARCHER, - Many thanks for your THEATRICAL WORLD. Do you
know, it strikes me as being really very good? I have not yet read
much of it, but so far as I have looked, there is not a dull and
not an empty page in it. Hazlitt, whom you must often have thought
of, would have been pleased. Come to think of it, I shall put this
book upon the Hazlitt shelf. You have acquired a manner that I can
only call august; otherwise, I should have to call it such amazing
impudence. The BAUBLE SHOP and BECKET are examples of what I mean.
But it 'sets you weel.'
Marjorie Fleming I have known, as you surmise, for long. She was
possibly - no, I take back possibly - she was one of the greatest
works of God. Your note about the resemblance of her verses to
mine gave me great joy, though it only proved me a plagiarist. By
the by, was it not over THE CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES that we first
scraped acquaintance? I am sorry indeed to hear that my esteemed
correspondent Tomarcher has such poor taste in literature. I fear
he cannot have inherited this trait from his dear papa. Indeed, I
may say I know it, for I remember the energy of papa's disapproval
when the work passed through his hands on its way to a second
birth, which none regrets more than myself. It is an odd fact, or
perhaps a very natural one; I find few greater pleasures than
reading my own works, but I never, O I never read THE BLACK ARROW.
In that country Tomarcher reigns supreme. Well, and after all, if
Tomarcher likes it, it has not been written in vain.
We have just now a curious breath from Europe. A young fellow just
beginning letters, and no fool, turned up here with a letter of
introduction in the well-known blue ink and decorative hieroglyphs
of George Meredith. His name may be known to you. It is Sidney
Lysaght. He is staying with us but a day or two, and it is strange
to me and not unpleasant to hear all the names, old and new, come
up again. But oddly the new are so much more in number. If I
revisited the glimpses of the moon on your side of the ocean, I
should know comparatively few of them.
My amanuensis deserts me - I should have said you, for yours is the
loss, my script having lost all bond with humanity. One touch of
nature makes the whole world kin: that nobody can read my hand.
It is a humiliating circumstance that thus evens us with printers!
You must sometimes think it strange - or perhaps it is only I that
should so think it - to be following the old round, in the gas
lamps and the crowded theatres, when I am away here in the tropical
forest and the vast silences!
My dear Archer, my wife joins me in the best wishes to yourself and
Mrs. Archer, not forgetting Tom; and I am yours very cordially,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO W. B. YEATS
VAILIMA, SAMOA, APRIL 14, 1894.
DEAR SIR, - Long since when I was a boy I remember the emotions
with which I repeated Swinburne's poems and ballads. Some ten
years ago, a similar spell was cast upon me by Meredith's LOVE IN
THE VALLEY; the stanzas beginning 'When her mother tends her'
haunted me and made me drunk like wine; and I remember waking with
them all the echoes of the hills about Hyeres. It may interest you
to hear that I have a third time fallen in slavery: this is to
your poem called the LAKE ISLE OF INNISFRAE. It is so quaint and
airy, simple, artful, and eloquent to the heart - but I seek words
in vain. Enough that 'always night and day I hear lake water
lapping with low sounds on the shore,' and am, yours gratefully,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO GEORGE MEREDITH
VAILIMA, SAMOA, APRIL 17TH, 1894.
MY DEAR MEREDITH, - Many good things have the gods sent to me of
late. First of all there was a letter from you by the kind hand of
Mariette, if she is not too great a lady to be remembered in such a
style; and then there came one Lysaght with a charming note of
introduction in the well-known hand itself. We had but a few days
of him, and liked him well. There was a sort of geniality and
inward fire about him at which I warmed my hands. It is long since
I have seen a young man who has left in me such a favourable
impression; and I find myself telling myself, 'O, I must tell this
to Lysaght,' or, 'This will interest him,' in a manner very unusual
after so brief an acquaintance. The whole of my family shared in
this favourable impression, and my halls have re-echoed ever since,
I am sure he will be amused to know, with WIDDICOMBE FAIR.
He will have told you doubtless more of my news than I could tell
you myself; he has your European perspective, a thing long lost to
me. I heard with a great deal of interest the news of Box Hill.
And so I understand it is to be enclosed! Allow me to remark, that
seems a far more barbaric trait of manners than the most barbarous
of ours. We content ourselves with cutting off an occasional head.
I hear we may soon expect the AMAZING MARRIAGE. You know how long,
and with how much curiosity, I have looked forward to the book.
Now, in so far as you have adhered to your intention, Gower
Woodsere will be a family portrait, age twenty-five, of the highly
respectable and slightly influential and fairly aged TUSITALA. You
have not known that gentleman; console yourself, he is not worth
knowing. At the same time, my dear Meredith, he is very sincerely
yours - for what he is worth, for the memories of old times, and in
the expectation of many pleasures still to come. I suppose we
shall never see each other again; flitting youths of the Lysaght
species may occasionally cover these unconscionable leagues and
bear greetings to and fro. But we ourselves must be content to
converse on an occasional sheet of notepaper, and I shall never see
whether you have grown older, and you shall never deplore that
Gower Woodsere should have declined into the pantaloon TUSITALA.
It is perhaps better so. Let us continue to see each other as we
were, and accept, my dear Meredith, my love and respect.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. - My wife joins me in the kindest messages to yourself and
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
[VAILIMA], APRIL 17, '94.
MY DEAR CHARLES, - ST. IVES is now well on its way into the second
volume. There remains no mortal doubt that it will reach the three
I am very anxious that you should send me -
1ST. TOM AND JERRY, a cheap edition.
2nd. The book by Ashton - the DAWN OF THE CENTURY, I think it was
called - which Colvin sent me, and which has miscarried, and
3rd. If it is possible, a file of the EDINBURGH COURANT for the
years 1811, 1812, 1813, or 1814. I should not care for a whole
year. If it were possible to find me three months, winter months
by preference, it would do my business not only for ST. IVES, but
for the JUSTICE-CLERK as well. Suppose this to be impossible,
perhaps I could get the loan of it from somebody; or perhaps it
would be possible to have some one read a file for me and make
notes. This would be extremely bad, as unhappily one man's food is
another man's poison, and the reader would probably leave out
everything I should choose. But if you are reduced to that, you
might mention to the man who is to read for me that balloon
ascensions are in the order of the day.
4th. It might be as well to get a book on balloon ascension,
particularly in the early part of the century.
. . . . .
III. At last this book has come from Scribner, and, alas! I have
the first six or seven chapters of ST. IVES to recast entirely.
Who could foresee that they clothed the French prisoners in yellow?
But that one fatal fact - and also that they shaved them twice a
week - damns the whole beginning. If it had been sent in time, it
would have saved me a deal of trouble. . . .
I have had a long letter from Dr. Scott Dalgleish, 25 Mayfield
Terrace, asking me to put my name down to the Ballantyne Memorial
Committee. I have sent him a pretty sharp answer in favour of
cutting down the memorial and giving more to the widow and
children. If there is to be any foolery in the way of statues or
other trash, please send them a guinea; but if they are going to
take my advice and put up a simple tablet with a few heartfelt
words, and really devote the bulk of the subscriptions to the wife
and family, I will go to the length of twenty pounds, if you will
allow me (and if the case of the family be at all urgent), and at
least I direct you to send ten pounds. I suppose you had better
see Scott Dalgleish himself on the matter. I take the opportunity
here to warn you that my head is simply spinning with a multitude
of affairs, and I shall probably forget a half of my business at
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
VAILIMA, APRIL 1894.
MY DEAR FRIEND, - I have at last got some photographs, and hasten
to send you, as you asked, a portrait of Tusitala. He is a strange
person; not so lean, say experts, but infinitely battered; mighty
active again on the whole; going up and down our break-neck road at
all hours of the day and night on horseback; holding meetings with
all manner of chiefs; quite a political personage - God save the
mark! - in a small way, but at heart very conscious of the
inevitable flat failure that awaits every one. I shall never do a
better book than CATRIONA, that is my high-water mark, and the
trouble of production increases on me at a great rate - and mighty
anxious about how I am to leave my family: an elderly man, with
elderly preoccupations, whom I should be ashamed to show you for
your old friend; but not a hope of my dying soon and cleanly, and
'winning off the stage.' Rather I am daily better in physical
health. I shall have to see this business out, after all; and I
think, in that case, they should have - they might have - spared me
all my ill-health this decade past, if it were not to unbar the
doors. I have no taste for old age, and my nose is to be rubbed in
it in spite of my face. I was meant to die young, and the gods do
not love me.
This is very like an epitaph, bar the handwriting, which is
anything but monumental, and I dare say I had better stop. Fanny
is down at her own cottage planting or deplanting or replanting, I
know not which, and she will not be home till dinner, by which time
the mail will be all closed, else she would join me in all good
messages and remembrances of love. I hope you will congratulate
Burne Jones from me on his baronetcy. I cannot make out to be
anything but raspingly, harrowingly sad; so I will close, and not
affect levity which I cannot feel. Do not altogether forget me;
keep a corner of your memory for the exile
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
[VAILIMA, MAY 1894.]
MY DEAR CHARLES, - My dear fellow, I wish to assure you of the
greatness of the pleasure that this Edinburgh Edition gives me. I
suppose it was your idea to give it that name. No other would have
affected me in the same manner. Do you remember, how many years
ago - I would be afraid to hazard a guess - one night when I
communicated to you certain intimations of early death and
aspirations after fame? I was particularly maudlin; and my remorse
the next morning on a review of my folly has written the matter
very deeply in my mind; from yours it may easily have fled. If any
one at that moment could have shown me the Edinburgh Edition, I
suppose I should have died. It is with gratitude and wonder that I
consider 'the way in which I have been led.' Could a more
preposterous idea have occurred to us in those days when we used to
search our pockets for coppers, too often in vain, and combine
forces to produce the threepence necessary for two glasses of beer,
or wander down the Lothian Road without any, than that I should be
strong and well at the age of forty-three in the island of Upolu,
and that you should be at home bringing out the Edinburgh Edition?
If it had been possible, I should almost have preferred the Lothian
Road Edition, say, with a picture of the old Dutch smuggler on the
covers. I have now something heavy on my mind. I had always a
great sense of kinship with poor Robert Fergusson - so clever a
boy, so wild, of such a mixed strain, so unfortunate, born in the
same town with me, and, as I always felt, rather by express
intimation than from evidence, so like myself. Now the injustice
with which the one Robert is rewarded and the other left out in the
cold sits heavy on me, and I wish you could think of some way in
which I could do honour to my unfortunate namesake. Do you think
it would look like affectation to dedicate the whole edition to his
memory? I think it would. The sentiment which would dictate it to
me is too abstruse; and besides, I think my wife is the proper
person to receive the dedication of my life's work. At the same
time, it is very odd - it really looks like the transmigration of
souls - I feel that I must do something for Fergusson; Burns has
been before me with the gravestone. It occurs to me you might take
a walk down the Canongate and see in what condition the stone is.
If it be at all uncared for, we might repair it, and perhaps add a
few words of inscription.
I must tell you, what I just remembered in a flash as I was walking
about dictating this letter - there was in the original plan of the
MASTER OF BALLANTRAE a sort of introduction describing my arrival
in Edinburgh on a visit to yourself and your placing in my hands
the papers of the story. I actually wrote it, and then condemned
the idea - as being a little too like Scott, I suppose. Now I must
really find the MS. and try to finish it for the E. E. It will
give you, what I should so much like you to have, another corner of
your own in that lofty monument.
Suppose we do what I have proposed about Fergusson's monument, I
wonder if an inscription like this would look arrogant -
This stone originally erected
by Robert Burns has been
repaired at the
charges of Robert Louis Stevenson,
and is by him re-dedicated to
the memory of Robert Fergusson,
as the gift of one Edinburgh
lad to another.
In spacing this inscription I would detach the names of Fergusson
and Burns, but leave mine in the text.
Or would that look like sham modesty, and is it better to bring out
the three Roberts?
Letter: TO R. A. M. STEVENSON
VAILIMA, JUNE 1894.
MY DEAR BOB, - I must make out a letter this mail or perish in the
attempt. All the same, I am deeply stupid, in bed with a cold,
deprived of my amanuensis, and conscious of the wish but not the
furnished will. You may be interested to hear how the family
inquiries go. It is now quite certain that we are a second-rate
lot, and came out of Cunningham or Clydesdale, therefore BRITISH
folk; so that you are Cymry on both sides, and I Cymry and Pict.
We may have fought with King Arthur and known Merlin. The first of
the family, Stevenson of Stevenson, was quite a great party, and
dates back to the wars of Edward First. The last male heir of
Stevenson of Stevenson died 1670, 220 pounds, 10s. to the bad, from
drink. About the same time the Stevensons, who were mostly in
Cunningham before, crop up suddenly in the parish of Neilston, over
the border in Renfrewshire. Of course, they may have been there
before, but there is no word of them in that parish till 1675 in
any extracts I have. Our first traceable ancestor was a tenant
farmer of Muir of Cauldwells - James in Nether-Carsewell.
Presently two families of maltmen are found in Glasgow, both, by
re-duplicated proofs, related to James (the son of James) in Nether
Carsewell. We descend by his second marriage from Robert; one of
these died 1733. It is not very romantic up to now, but has
interested me surprisingly to fish out, always hoping for more -
and occasionally getting at least a little clearness and
confirmation. But the earliest date, 1655, apparently the marriage
of James in Nether Carsewell, cannot as yet be pushed back. From
which of any number of dozen little families in Cunningham we
should derive, God knows! Of course, it doesn't matter a hundred
years hence, an argument fatal to all human enterprise, industry,
or pleasure. And to me it will be a deadly disappointment if I
cannot roll this stone away! One generation further might be
nothing, but it is my present object of desire, and we are so near
it! There is a man in the same parish called Constantine; if I
could only trace to him, I could take you far afield by that one
talisman of the strange Christian name of Constantine. But no such
luck! And I kind of fear we shall stick at James.
So much, though all inchoate, I trouble you with, knowing that you,
at least, must take an interest in it. So much is certain of that
strange Celtic descent, that the past has an interest for it
apparently gratuitous, but fiercely strong. I wish to trace my
ancestors a thousand years, if I trace them by gallowses. It is
not love, not pride, not admiration; it is an expansion of the
identity, intimately pleasing, and wholly uncritical; I can expend
myself in the person of an inglorious ancestor with perfect
comfort; or a disgraced, if I could find one. I suppose, perhaps,
it is more to me who am childless, and refrain with a certain shock
from looking forwards. But, I am sure, in the solid grounds of
race, that you have it also in some degree.
I. JAMES, a tenant of the Muirs, in Nether-Carsewell,
Neilston, married (1665?) Jean Keir.
II. ROBERT (Maltman in Glasgow), died 1733,
| married 1st; married second,
| Elizabeth Cumming.
William (Maltman in ||
+-------------+--------------+ III. ROBERT (Maltman
ROBERT, MARION, ELIZABETH. in Glasgow), married
Margaret Fulton (had
NOTE. - Between 1730-1766 flourished a large family).
in Glasgow Alan the Coppersmith, who ||
acts as a kind of a pin to the whole ||
Stevenson system there. He was caution IV. ALAN, West India
to Robert the Second's will, and to merchant, married
William's will, and to the will of a Jean Lillie.
John, another maltman. ||
V. ROBERT, married
VI. ALAN. - Margaret
VII. R. A. M. S.
Enough genealogy. I do not know if you will be able to read my
hand. Unhappily, Belle, who is my amanuensis, is out of the way on
other affairs, and I have to make the unwelcome effort. (O this is
beautiful, I am quite pleased with myself.) Graham has just
arrived last night (my mother is coming by the other steamer in
three days), and has told me of your meeting, and he said you
looked a little older than I did; so that I suppose we keep step
fairly on the downward side of the hill. He thought you looked
harassed, and I could imagine that too. I sometimes feel harassed.
I have a great family here about me, a great anxiety. The loss (to
use my grandfather's expression), the 'loss' of our family is that
we are disbelievers in the morrow - perhaps I should say, rather,
in next year. The future is ALWAYS black to us; it was to Robert
Stevenson; to Thomas; I suspect to Alan; to R. A. M. S. it was so
almost to his ruin in youth; to R. L. S., who had a hard hopeful
strain in him from his mother, it was not so much so once, but
becomes daily more so. Daily so much more so, that I have a
painful difficulty in believing I can ever finish another book, or
that the public will ever read it.
I have so huge a desire to know exactly what you are doing, that I
suppose I should tell you what I am doing by way of an example. I
have a room now, a part of the twelve-foot verandah sparred in, at
the most inaccessible end of the house. Daily I see the sunrise
out of my bed, which I still value as a tonic, a perpetual tuning
fork, a look of God's face once in the day. At six my breakfast
comes up to me here, and I work till eleven. If I am quite well, I
sometimes go out and bathe in the river before lunch, twelve. In
the afternoon I generally work again, now alone drafting, now with
Belle dictating. Dinner is at six, and I am often in bed by eight.
This is supposing me to stay at home. But I must often be away,
sometimes all day long, sometimes till twelve, one, or two at
night, when you might see me coming home to the sleeping house,
sometimes in a trackless darkness, sometimes with a glorious tropic
moon, everything drenched with dew - unsaddling and creeping to
bed; and you would no longer be surprised that I live out in this
country, and not in Bournemouth - in bed.
My great recent interruptions have (as you know) come from
politics; not much in my line, you will say. But it is impossible
to live here and not feel very sorely the consequences of the
horrid white mismanagement. I tried standing by and looking on,
and it became too much for me. They are such illogical fools; a
logical fool in an office, with a lot of red tape, is conceivable.
Furthermore, he is as much as we have any reason to expect of
officials - a thoroughly common-place, unintellectual lot. But
these people are wholly on wires; laying their ears down, skimming
away, pausing as though shot, and presto! full spread on the other
tack. I observe in the official class mostly an insane jealousy of
the smallest kind, as compared to which the artist's is of a grave,
modest character - the actor's, even; a desire to extend his little
authority, and to relish it like a glass of wine, that is
IMPAYABLE. Sometimes, when I see one of these little kings
strutting over one of his victories - wholly illegal, perhaps, and
certain to be reversed to his shame if his superiors ever heard of
it - I could weep. The strange thing is that they HAVE NOTHING
ELSE. I auscultate them in vain; no real sense of duty, no real
comprehension, no real attempt to comprehend, no wish for
information - you cannot offend one of them more bitterly than by
offering information, though it is certain that you have MORE, and
obvious that you have OTHER, information than they have; and
talking of policy, they could not play a better stroke than by
listening to you, and it need by no means influence their action.
TENEZ, you know what a French post office or railway official is?
That is the diplomatic card to the life. Dickens is not in it;
All this keeps me from my work, and gives me the unpleasant side of
the world. When your letters are disbelieved it makes you angry,
and that is rot; and I wish I could keep out of it with all my
soul. But I have just got into it again, and farewell peace!
My work goes along but slowly. I have got to a crossing place, I
suppose; the present book, SAINT IVES, is nothing; it is in no
style in particular, a tissue of adventures, the central character
not very well done, no philosophic pith under the yarn; and, in
short, if people will read it, that's all I ask; and if they won't,
damn them! I like doing it though; and if you ask me why! - after
that I am on WEIR OF HERMISTON and HEATHERCAT, two Scotch stories,
which will either be something different, or I shall have failed.
The first is generally designed, and is a private story of two or
three characters in a very grim vein. The second - alas! the
thought - is an attempt at a real historical novel, to present a
whole field of time; the race - our own race - the west land and
Clydesdale blue bonnets, under the influence of their last trial,
when they got to a pitch of organisation in madness that no other
peasantry has ever made an offer at. I was going to call it THE
KILLING TIME, but this man Crockett has forestalled me in that.
Well, it'll be a big smash if I fail in it; but a gallant attempt.
All my weary reading as a boy, which you remember well enough, will
come to bear on it; and if my mind will keep up to the point it was
in a while back, perhaps I can pull it through.
For two months past, Fanny, Belle, Austin (her child), and I have
been alone; but yesterday, as I mentioned, Graham Balfour arrived,
and on Wednesday my mother and Lloyd will make up the party to its
full strength. I wish you could drop in for a month or a week, or
two hours. That is my chief want. On the whole, it is an
unexpectedly pleasant corner I have dropped into for an end of it,
which I could scarcely have foreseen from Wilson's shop, or the
Princes Street Gardens, or the Portobello Road. Still, I would
like to hear what my ALTER EGO thought of it; and I would sometimes
like to have my old MAITRE ES ARTS express an opinion on what I do.
I put this very tamely, being on the whole a quiet elderly man; but
it is a strong passion with me, though intermittent. Now, try to
follow my example and tell me something about yourself, Louisa, the
Bab, and your work; and kindly send me some specimens of what
you're about. I have only seen one thing by you, about Notre Dame
in the WESTMINSTER or ST. JAMES'S, since I left England, now I
suppose six years ago.
I have looked this trash over, and it is not at all the letter I
wanted to write - not truck about officials, ancestors, and the
like rancidness - but you have to let your pen go in its own
broken-down gait, like an old butcher's pony, stop when it pleases,
and go on again as it will. - Ever, my dear Bob, your affectionate
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO HENRY JAMES
VAILIMA, JULY 7TH, 1894.
DEAR HENRY JAMES, - I am going to try and dictate to you a letter
or a note, and begin the same without any spark of hope, my mind
being entirely in abeyance. This malady is very bitter on the
literary man. I have had it now coming on for a month, and it
seems to get worse instead of better. If it should prove to be
softening of the brain, a melancholy interest will attach to the
present document. I heard a great deal about you from my mother
and Graham Balfour; the latter declares that you could take a First
in any Samoan subject. If that be so, I should like to hear you on
the theory of the constitution. Also to consult you on the force
of the particles O LO 'O and UA, which are the subject of a dispute
among local pundits. You might, if you ever answer this, give me
your opinion on the origin of the Samoan race, just to complete the
They both say that you are looking well, and I suppose I may
conclude from that that you are feeling passably. I wish I was.
Do not suppose from this that I am ill in body; it is the numskull
that I complain of. And when that is wrong, as you must be very
keenly aware, you begin every day with a smarting disappointment,
which is not good for the temper. I am in one of the humours when
a man wonders how any one can be such an ass as to embrace the
profession of letters, and not get apprenticed to a barber or keep
a baked-potato stall. But I have no doubt in the course of a week,
or perhaps to-morrow, things will look better.
We have at present in port the model warship of Great Britain. She
is called the CURACOA, and has the nicest set of officers and men
conceivable. They, the officers, are all very intimate with us,
and the front verandah is known as the Curacoa Club, and the road
up to Vailima is known as the Curacoa Track. It was rather a
surprise to me; many naval officers have I known, and somehow had
not learned to think entirely well of them, and perhaps sometimes
ask myself a little uneasily how that kind of men could do great
actions? and behold! the answer comes to me, and I see a ship that
I would guarantee to go anywhere it was possible for men to go, and
accomplish anything it was permitted man to attempt. I had a
cruise on board of her not long ago to Manu'a, and was delighted.
The goodwill of all on board; the grim playfulness of - quarters,
with the wounded falling down at the word; the ambulances hastening
up and carrying them away; the Captain suddenly crying, 'Fire in
the ward-room!' and the squad hastening forward with the hose; and,
last and most curious spectacle of all, all the men in their dust-
coloured fatigue clothes, at a note of the bugle, falling
simultaneously flat on deck, and the ship proceeding with its
prostrate crew - QUASI to ram an enemy; our dinner at night in a
wild open anchorage, the ship rolling almost to her gunwales, and
showing us alternately her bulwarks up in the sky, and then the
wild broken cliffy palm-crested shores of the island with the surf
thundering and leaping close aboard. We had the ward-room mess on
deck, lit by pink wax tapers, everybody, of course, in uniform but
myself, and the first lieutenant (who is a rheumaticky body)
wrapped in a boat cloak. Gradually the sunset faded out, the
island disappeared from the eye, though it remained menacingly
present to the ear with the voice of the surf; and then the captain
turned on the searchlight and gave us the coast, the beach, the
trees, the native houses, and the cliffs by glimpses of daylight, a
kind of deliberate lightning. About which time, I suppose, we must
have come as far as the dessert, and were probably drinking our
first glass of port to Her Majesty. We stayed two days at the
island, and had, in addition, a very picturesque snapshot at the
native life. The three islands of Manu'a are independent, and are
ruled over by a little slip of a half-caste girl about twenty, who
sits all day in a pink gown, in a little white European house with
about a quarter of an acre of roses in front of it, looking at the
palm-trees on the village street, and listening to the surf. This,
so far as I could discover, was all she had to do. 'This is a very
dull place,' she said. It appears she could go to no other village
for fear of raising the jealousy of her own people in the capital.
And as for going about 'tafatafaoing,' as we say here, its cost was
too enormous. A strong able-bodied native must walk in front of
her and blow the conch shell continuously from the moment she
leaves one house until the moment she enters another. Did you ever
blow the conch shell? I presume not; but the sweat literally
hailed off that man, and I expected every moment to see him burst a
blood-vessel. We were entertained to kava in the guest-house with
some very original features. The young men who run for the KAVA
have a right to misconduct themselves AD LIBITUM on the way back;
and though they were told to restrain themselves on the occasion of
our visit, there was a strange hurly-burly at their return, when
they came beating the trees and the posts of the houses, leaping,
shouting, and yelling like Bacchants.
I tasted on that occasion what it is to be great. My name was
called next after the captain's, and several chiefs (a thing quite
new to me, and not at all Samoan practice) drank to me by name.
And now, if you are not sick of the CURACOA and Manu'a, I am, at
least on paper. And I decline any longer to give you examples of
how not to write.
By the by, you sent me long ago a work by Anatole France, which I
confess I did not TASTE. Since then I have made the acquaintance
of the ABBE COIGNARD, and have become a faithful adorer. I don't
think a better book was ever written.
And I have no idea what I have said, and I have no idea what I
ought to have said, and I am a total ass, but my heart is in the
right place, and I am, my dear Henry James, yours,
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MR. MARCEL SCHWOB
VAILIMA, UPOLU, SAMOA, JULY 7, 1894.
DEAR MR. MARCEL SCHWOB, - Thank you for having remembered me in my
exile. I have read MIMES twice as a whole; and now, as I write, I
am reading it again as it were by accident, and a piece at a time,
my eye catching a word and travelling obediently on through the
whole number. It is a graceful book, essentially graceful, with
its haunting agreeable melancholy, its pleasing savour of
antiquity. At the same time, by its merits, it shows itself rather
as the promise of something else to come than a thing final in
itself. You have yet to give us - and I am expecting it with
impatience - something of a larger gait; something daylit, not
twilit; something with the colours of life, not the flat tints of a
temple illumination; something that shall be SAID with all the
clearnesses and the trivialities of speech, not SUNG like a semi-
articulate lullaby. It will not please yourself as well, when you
come to give it us, but it will please others better. It will be
more of a whole, more worldly, more nourished, more commonplace -
and not so pretty, perhaps not even so beautiful. No man knows
better than I that, as we go on in life, we must part from
prettiness and the graces. We but attain qualities to lose them;
life is a series of farewells, even in art; even our proficiencies
are deciduous and evanescent. So here with these exquisite pieces
the XVIIth, XVIIIth, and IVth of the present collection. You will
perhaps never excel them; I should think the 'Hermes,' never.
Well, you will do something else, and of that I am in expectation.
- Yours cordially,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO A. ST. GAUDENS
VAILIMA, SAMOA, JULY 8, 1894.
MY DEAR ST. GAUDENS, - This is to tell you that the medallion has
been at last triumphantly transported up the hill and placed over
my smoking-room mantelpiece. It is considered by everybody a
first-rate but flattering portrait. We have it in a very good
light, which brings out the artistic merits of the god-like
sculptor to great advantage. As for my own opinion, I believe it
to be a speaking likeness, and not flattered at all; possibly a
little the reverse. The verses (curse the rhyme) look remarkably
Please do not longer delay, but send me an account for the expense
of the gilt letters. I was sorry indeed that they proved beyond
the means of a small farmer. - Yours very sincerely,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MISS ADELAIDE BOODLE
VAILIMA, JULY 14, 1894.
MY DEAR ADELAIDE, - . . . So, at last, you are going into mission
work? where I think your heart always was. You will like it in a
way, but remember it is dreary long. Do you know the story of the
American tramp who was offered meals and a day's wage to chop with
the back of an axe on a fallen trunk. 'Damned if I can go on
chopping when I can't see the chips fly!' You will never see the
chips fly in mission work, never; and be sure you know it
beforehand. The work is one long dull disappointment, varied by
acute revulsions; and those who are by nature courageous and
cheerful and have grown old in experience, learn to rub their hands
over infinitesimal successes. However, as I really believe there
is some good done in the long run - GUTTA CAVAT LAPIDEM NON VI in
this business - it is a useful and honourable career in which no
one should be ashamed to embark. Always remember the fable of the
sun, the storm, and the traveller's cloak. Forget wholly and for
ever all small pruderies, and remember that YOU CANNOT CHANGE
ANCESTRAL FEELINGS OF RIGHT AND WRONG WITHOUT WHAT IS PRACTICALLY
SOUL-MURDER. Barbarous as the customs may seem, always hear them
with patience, always judge them with gentleness, always find in
them some seed of good; see that you always develop them; remember
that all you can do is to civilise the man in the line of his own
civilisation, such as it is. And never expect, never believe in,
thaumaturgic conversions. They may do very well for St. Paul; in
the case of an Andaman islander they mean less than nothing. In
fact, what you have to do is to teach the parents in the interests
of their great-grandchildren.
Now, my dear Adelaide, dismiss from your mind the least idea of
fault upon your side; nothing is further from the fact. I cannot
forgive you, for I do not know your fault. My own is plain enough,
and the name of it is cold-hearted neglect; and you may busy
yourself more usefully in trying to forgive me. But ugly as my
fault is, you must not suppose it to mean more than it does; it
does not mean that we have at all forgotten you, that we have
become at all indifferent to the thought of you. See, in my life
of Jenkin, a remark of his, very well expressed, on the friendships
of men who do not write to each other. I can honestly say that I
have not changed to you in any way; though I have behaved thus ill,
thus cruelly. Evil is done by want of - well, principally by want
of industry. You can imagine what I would say (in a novel) of any
one who had behaved as I have done, DETERIORA SEQUOR. And you must
somehow manage to forgive your old friend; and if you will be so
very good, continue to give us news of you, and let us share the
knowledge of your adventures, sure that it will be always followed
with interest - even if it is answered with the silence of
ingratitude. For I am not a fool; I know my faults, I know they
are ineluctable, I know they are growing on me. I know I may
offend again, and I warn you of it. But the next time I offend,
tell me so plainly and frankly like a lady, and don't lacerate my
heart and bludgeon my vanity with imaginary faults of your own and
purely gratuitous penitence. I might suspect you of irony!
We are all fairly well, though I have been off work and off - as
you know very well - letter-writing. Yet I have sometimes more
than twenty letters, and sometimes more than thirty, going out each
mail. And Fanny has had a most distressing bronchitis for some
time, which she is only now beginning to get over. I have just
been to see her; she is lying - though she had breakfast an hour
ago, about seven - in her big cool, mosquito-proof room,
ingloriously asleep. As for me, you see that a doom has come upon
me: I cannot make marks with a pen - witness 'ingloriously' above;
and my amanuensis not appearing so early in the day, for she is
then immersed in household affairs, and I can hear her 'steering
the boys' up and down the verandahs - you must decipher this
unhappy letter for yourself and, I fully admit, with everything
against you. A letter should be always well written; how much more
a letter of apology! Legibility is the politeness of men of
letters, as punctuality of kings and beggars. By the punctuality
of my replies, and the beauty of my hand-writing, judge what a fine
conscience I must have!
Now, my dear gamekeeper, I must really draw to a close. For I have
much else to write before the mail goes out three days hence.
Fanny being asleep, it would not be conscientious to invent a
message from her, so you must just imagine her sentiments. I find
I have not the heart to speak of your recent loss. You remember
perhaps, when my father died, you told me those ugly images of
sickness, decline, and impaired reason, which then haunted me day
and night, would pass away and be succeeded by things more happily
characteristic. I have found it so. He now haunts me, strangely
enough, in two guises; as a man of fifty, lying on a hillside and
carving mottoes on a stick, strong and well; and as a younger man,
running down the sands into the sea near North Berwick, myself -
AETAT. II - somewhat horrified at finding him so beautiful when
stripped! I hand on your own advice to you in case you have
forgotten it, as I know one is apt to do in seasons of bereavement.
- Ever yours, with much love and sympathy,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. BAKER
VAILIMA, SAMOA, JULY 16, 1894.
DEAR MRS. BAKER, - I am very much obliged to you for your letter
and the enclosure from Mr. Skinner. Mr. Skinner says he 'thinks
Mr. Stevenson must be a very kind man'; he little knows me. But I
am very sure of one thing, that you are a very kind woman. I envy
you - my amanuensis being called away, I continue in my own hand,
or what is left of it - unusually legible, I am thankful to see - I
envy you your beautiful choice of an employment. There must be no
regrets at least for a day so spent; and when the night falls you
need ask no blessing on your work.
'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these.' - Yours truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO J. M. BARRIE
VAILIMA, JULY 13, 1894.
MY DEAR BARRIE, - This is the last effort of an ulcerated
conscience. I have been so long owing you a letter, I have heard
so much of you, fresh from the press, from my mother and Graham
Balfour, that I have to write a letter no later than to-day, or
perish in my shame. But the deuce of it is, my dear fellow, that
you write such a very good letter that I am ashamed to exhibit
myself before my junior (which you are, after all) in the light of
the dreary idiot I feel. Understand that there will be nothing
funny in the following pages. If I can manage to be rationally
coherent, I shall be more than satisfied.
In the first place, I have had the extreme satisfaction to be shown
that photograph of your mother. It bears evident traces of the
hand of an amateur. How is it that amateurs invariably take better
photographs than professionals? I must qualify invariably. My own
negatives have always represented a province of chaos and old night
in which you might dimly perceive fleecy spots of twilight,
representing nothing; so that, if I am right in supposing the
portrait of your mother to be yours, I must salute you as my
superior. Is that your mother's breakfast? Or is it only
afternoon tea? If the first, do let me recommend to Mrs. Barrie to
add an egg to her ordinary. Which, if you please, I will ask her
to eat to the honour of her son, and I am sure she will live much
longer for it, to enjoy his fresh successes. I never in my life
saw anything more deliciously characteristic. I declare I can hear
her speak. I wonder my mother could resist the temptation of your
proposed visit to Kirriemuir, which it was like your kindness to
propose. By the way, I was twice in Kirriemuir, I believe in the
year '71, when I was going on a visit to Glenogil. It was
Kirriemuir, was it not? I have a distinct recollection of an inn
at the end - I think the upper end - of an irregular open place or
square, in which I always see your characters evolve. But, indeed,
I did not pay much attention; being all bent upon my visit to a
shooting-box, where I should fish a real trout-stream, and I
believe preserved. I did, too, and it was a charming stream, clear
as crystal, without a trace of peat - a strange thing in Scotland -
and alive with trout; the name of it I cannot remember, it was
something like the Queen's River, and in some hazy way connected
with memories of Mary Queen of Scots. It formed an epoch in my
life, being the end of all my trout-fishing. I had always been
accustomed to pause and very laboriously to kill every fish as I
took it. But in the Queen's River I took so good a basket that I
forgot these niceties; and when I sat down, in a hard rain shower,
under a bank, to take my sandwiches and sherry, lo! and behold,
there was the basketful of trouts still kicking in their agony. I
had a very unpleasant conversation with my conscience. All that
afternoon I persevered in fishing, brought home my basket in
triumph, and sometime that night, 'in the wee sma' hours ayont the
twal,' I finally forswore the gentle craft of fishing. I dare say
your local knowledge may identify this historic river; I wish it
could go farther and identify also that particular Free kirk in
which I sat and groaned on Sunday. While my hand is in I must tell
you a story. At that antique epoch you must not fall into the
vulgar error that I was myself ancient. I was, on the contrary,
very young, very green, and (what you will appreciate, Mr. Barrie)
very shy. There came one day to lunch at the house two very
formidable old ladies - or one very formidable, and the other what
you please - answering to the honoured and historic name of the
Miss C- A-'s of Balnamoon. At table I was exceedingly funny, and
entertained the company with tales of geese and bubbly-jocks. I
was great in the expression of my terror for these bipeds, and
suddenly this horrid, severe, and eminently matronly old lady put
up a pair of gold eye-glasses, looked at me awhile in silence, and
pronounced in a clangorous voice her verdict. 'You give me very
much the effect of a coward, Mr. Stevenson!' I had very nearly
left two vices behind me at Glenogil - fishing and jesting at
table. And of one thing you may be very sure, my lips were no more
opened at that meal.
No, Barrie, 'tis in vain they try to alarm me with their bulletins.
No doubt, you're ill, and unco ill, I believe; but I have been so
often in the same case that I know pleurisy and pneumonia are in
vain against Scotsmen who can write, (I once could.) You cannot
imagine probably how near me this common calamity brings you. CE
QUE J'AI TOUSSE DANS MA VIE! How often and how long have I been on
the rack at night and learned to appreciate that noble passage in
the Psalms when somebody or other is said to be more set on
something than they 'who dig for hid treasures - yea, than those
who long for the morning' - for all the world, as you have been
racked and you have longed. Keep your heart up, and you'll do.
Tell that to your mother, if you are still in any danger or
suffering. And by the way, if you are at all like me - and I tell
myself you are very like me - be sure there is only one thing good
for you, and that is the sea in hot climates. Mount, sir, into 'a
little frigot' of 5000 tons or so, and steer peremptorily for the
tropics; and what if the ancient mariner, who guides your frigot,
should startle the silence of the ocean with the cry of land ho! -
say, when the day is dawning - and you should see the turquoise
mountain tops of Upolu coming hand over fist above the horizon?
Mr. Barrie, sir, 'tis then there would be larks! And though I
cannot be certain that our climate would suit you (for it does not
suit some), I am sure as death the voyage would do you good - would
do you BEST - and if Samoa didn't do, you needn't stay beyond the
month, and I should have had another pleasure in my life, which is
a serious consideration for me. I take this as the hand of the
Lord preparing your way to Vailima - in the desert, certainly - in
the desert of Cough and by the ghoul-haunted woodland of Fever -
but whither that way points there can be no question - and there
will be a meeting of the twa Hoasting Scots Makers in spite of
fate, fortune, and the Devil. ABSIT OMEN!
My dear Barrie, I am a little in the dark about this new work of
yours: what is to become of me afterwards? You say carefully -
methought anxiously - that I was no longer me when I grew up? I
cannot bear this suspense: what is it? It's no forgery? And AM I
HANGIT? These are the elements of a very pretty lawsuit which you
had better come to Samoa to compromise. I am enjoying a great
pleasure that I had long looked forward to, reading Orme's HISTORY
OF INDOSTAN; I had been looking out for it everywhere; but at last,
in four volumes, large quarto, beautiful type and page, and with a
delectable set of maps and plans, and all the names of the places
wrongly spelled - it came to Samoa, little Barrie. I tell you
frankly, you had better come soon. I am sair failed a'ready; and
what I may be if you continue to dally, I dread to conceive. I may
be speechless; already, or at least for a month or so, I'm little
better than a teetoller - I beg pardon, a teetotaller. It is not
exactly physical, for I am in good health, working four or five
hours a day in my plantation, and intending to ride a paper-chase
next Sunday - ay, man, that's a fact, and I havena had the hert to
breathe it to my mother yet - the obligation's poleetical, for I am
trying every means to live well with my German neighbours - and, O
Barrie, but it's no easy! To be sure, there are many exceptions.
And the whole of the above must be regarded as private - strictly
private. Breathe it not in Kirriemuir: tell it not to the
daughters of Dundee! What a nice extract this would make for the
daily papers! and how it would facilitate my position here! . . .
This is Sunday, the Lord's Day. 'The hour of attack approaches.'
And it is a singular consideration what I risk; I may yet be the
subject of a tract, and a good tract too - such as one which I
remember reading with recreant awe and rising hair in my youth, of
a boy who was a very good boy, and went to Sunday Schule, and one
day kipped from it, and went and actually bathed, and was dashed
over a waterfall, and he was the only son of his mother, and she
was a widow. A dangerous trade, that, and one that I have to
practise. I'll put in a word when I get home again, to tell you
whether I'm killed or not. 'Accident in the (Paper) Hunting Field:
death of a notorious author. We deeply regret to announce the
death of the most unpopular man in Samoa, who broke his neck at the
descent of Magagi, from the misconduct of his little raving lunatic
of an old beast of a pony. It is proposed to commemorate the
incident by the erection of a suitable pile. The design (by our
local architect, Mr. Walker) is highly artificial, with a rich and
voluminous Crockett at each corner, a small but impervious Barrieer
at the entrance, an arch at the top, an Archer of a pleasing but
solid character at the bottom; the colour will be genuine William-
Black; and Lang, lang may the ladies sit wi' their fans in their
hands.' Well, well, they may sit as they sat for me, and little
they'll reck, the ungrateful jauds! Muckle they cared about
Tusitala when they had him! But now ye can see the difference;
now, leddies, ye can repent, when ower late, o' your former
cauldness and what ye'll perhaps allow me to ca' your TEPEEDITY!
He was beautiful as the day, but his day is done! And perhaps, as
he was maybe gettin' a wee thing fly-blawn, it's nane too shune.
MONDAY, AUGUST 6TH.
Well, sir, I have escaped the dangerous conjunction of the widow's
only son and the Sabbath Day. We had a most enjoyable time, and
Lloyd and I were 3 and 4 to arrive; I will not tell here what
interval had elapsed between our arrival and the arrival of 1 and
2; the question, sir, is otiose and malign; it deserves, it shall
have no answer. And now without further delay to the main purpose
of this hasty note. We received and we have already in fact
distributed the gorgeous fahbrics of Kirriemuir. Whether from the
splendour of the robes themselves, or from the direct nature of the
compliments with which you had directed us to accompany the
presentations, one young lady blushed as she received the proofs of
your munificence. . . . Bad ink, and the dregs of it at that, but
the heart in the right place. Still very cordially interested in
my Barrie and wishing him well through his sickness, which is of
the body, and long defended from mine, which is of the head, and by
the impolite might be described as idiocy. The whole head is
useless, and the whole sitting part painful: reason, the recent
There was racing and chasing in Vailile plantation,
And vastly we enjoyed it,
But, alas! for the state of my foundation,
For it wholly has destroyed it.
Come, my mind is looking up. The above is wholly impromptu. - On
AUGUST 12, 1894
And here, Mr. Barrie, is news with a vengeance. Mother Hubbard's
dog is well again - what did I tell you? Pleurisy, pneumonia, and
all that kind of truck is quite unavailing against a Scotchman who
can write - and not only that, but it appears the perfidious dog is
married. This incident, so far as I remember, is omitted from the
original epic -
She went to the graveyard
To see him get him buried,
And when she came back
The Deil had got merried.
It now remains to inform you that I have taken what we call here
'German offence' at not receiving cards, and that the only
reparation I will accept is that Mrs. Barrie shall incontinently
upon the receipt of this Take and Bring you to Vailima in order to
apologise and be pardoned for this offence. The commentary of
Tamaitai upon the event was brief but pregnant: 'Well, it's a
comfort our guest-room is furnished for two.'
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