JUNE 18TH, '93
Well, I have left fiction wholly, and gone to my GRANDFATHER, and on the whole found peace. By next month my GRANDFATHER will begin to be quite grown up. I have already three chapters about as good as done; by which, of course, as you know, I mean till further notice or the next discovery. I like biography far better than fiction myself: fiction is too free. In biography you have your little handful of facts, little bits of a puzzle, and you sit and think, and fit 'em together this way and that, and get up and throw 'em down, and say damn, and go out for a walk. And it's real soothing; and when done, gives an idea of finish to the writer that is very peaceful. Of course, it's not really so finished as quite a rotten novel; it always has and always must have the incurable illogicalities of life about it, the fathoms of slack and the miles of tedium. Still, that's where the fun comes in; and when you have at last managed to shut up the castle spectre (dulness), the very outside of his door looks beautiful by contrast. There are pages in these books that may seem nothing to the reader; but you REMEMBER WHAT THEY WERE, YOU KNOW WHAT THEY MIGHT HAVE BEEN, and they seem to you witty beyond comparison. In my GRANDFATHER I've had (for instance) to give up the temporal order almost entirely; doubtless the temporal order is the great foe of the biographer; it is so tempting, so easy, and lo! there you are in the bog! - Ever yours,
R. L. STEVENSON.
With all kind messages from self and wife to you and yours. My wife is very much better, having been the early part of this year alarmingly ill. She is now all right, only complaining of trifles, annoying to her, but happily not interesting to her friends. I am in a hideous state, having stopped drink and smoking; yes, both. No wine, no tobacco; and the dreadful part of it is that - looking forward - I have - what shall I say? - nauseating intimations that it ought to be for ever.
Letter: TO HENRY JAMES
VAILIMA PLANTATION, SAMOAN ISLANDS, JUNE 17TH, 1893.
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, - I believe I have neglected a mail in answering yours. You will be very sorry to hear that my wife was exceedingly ill, and very glad to hear that she is better. I cannot say that I feel any more anxiety about her. We shall send you a photograph of her taken in Sydney in her customary island habit as she walks and gardens and shrilly drills her brown assistants. She was very ill when she sat for it, which may a little explain the appearance of the photograph. It reminds me of a friend of my grandmother's who used to say when talking to younger women, 'Aweel, when I was young, I wasnae just exactly what ye wad call BONNY, but I was pale, penetratin', and interestin'.' I would not venture to hint that Fanny is 'no bonny,' but there is no doubt but that in this presentment she is 'pale, penetratin', and interesting.'
As you are aware, I have been wading deep waters and contending with the great ones of the earth, not wholly without success. It is, you may be interested to hear, a dreary and infuriating business. If you can get the fools to admit one thing, they will always save their face by denying another. If you can induce them to take a step to the right hand, they generally indemnify themselves by cutting a caper to the left. I always held (upon no evidence whatever, from a mere sentiment or intuition) that politics was the dirtiest, the most foolish, and the most random of human employments. I always held, but now I know it! Fortunately, you have nothing to do with anything of the kind, and I may spare you the horror of further details.
I received from you a book by a man by the name of Anatole France. Why should I disguise it? I have no use for Anatole. He writes very prettily, and then afterwards? Baron Marbot was a different pair of shoes. So likewise is the Baron de Vitrolles, whom I am now perusing with delight. His escape in 1814 is one of the best pages I remember anywhere to have read. But Marbot and Vitrolles are dead, and what has become of the living? It seems as if literature were coming to a stand. I am sure it is with me; and I am sure everybody will say so when they have the privilege of reading THE EBB TIDE. My dear man, the grimness of that story is not to be depicted in words. There are only four characters, to be sure, but they are such a troop of swine! And their behaviour is really so deeply beneath any possible standard, that on a retrospect I wonder I have been able to endure them myself until the yarn was finished. Well, there is always one thing; it will serve as a touchstone. If the admirers of Zola admire him for his pertinent ugliness and pessimism, I think they should admire this; but if, as I have long suspected, they neither admire nor understand the man's art, and only wallow in his rancidness like a hound in offal, then they will certainly be disappointed in THE EBB TIDE. ALAS! poor little tale, it is not EVEN rancid.
By way of an antidote or febrifuge, I am going on at a great rate with my HISTORY OF THE STEVENSONS, which I hope may prove rather amusing, in some parts at least. The excess of materials weighs upon me. My grandfather is a delightful comedy part; and I have to treat him besides as a serious and (in his way) a heroic figure, and at times I lose my way, and I fear in the end will blur the effect. However, A LA GRACE DE DIEU! I'll make a spoon or spoil a horn. You see, I have to do the Building of the Bell Rock by cutting down and packing my grandsire's book, which I rather hope I have done, but do not know. And it makes a huge chunk of a very different style and quality between Chapters II. and IV. And it can't be helped! It is just a delightful and exasperating necessity. You know, the stuff is really excellent narrative: only, perhaps there's too much of it! There is the rub. Well, well, it will be plain to you that my mind is affected; it might be with less. THE EBB TIDE and NORTHERN LIGHTS are a full meal for any plain man.
I have written and ordered your last book, THE REAL THING, so be sure and don't send it. What else are you doing or thinking of doing? News I have none, and don't want any. I have had to stop all strong drink and all tobacco, and am now in a transition state between the two, which seems to be near madness. You never smoked, I think, so you can never taste the joys of stopping it. But at 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! - Ever yours,
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 ever,
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- soifuia.
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 be literature.).
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 head.
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 your friend,
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, your laddie,
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:-
DARIEN PAPERS, CARSTAIRS PAPERS, MARCHMONT PAPERS, JERVISWOODE CORRESPONDENCE,
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 to Vailima.
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 trades.
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 sincerely yours,
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 the difficulties.
[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 TOUCHES!
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 cordially,
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 Mariette.
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 volume standard.
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 last.
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 Glasgow). + + + -+ + 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 Jean Smith. VI. ALAN. - Margaret Jones 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; caricature fails.
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 cousin,
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 favour.
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 well.
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!