The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson - Swanston Edition Vol. 23 (of 25)
by Robert Louis Stevenson
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Of this SWANSTON EDITION in Twenty-five Volumes of the Works of ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON Two Thousand and Sixty Copies have been printed, of which only Two Thousand Copies are for sale.

This is No. .......





For permission to use the LETTERS in the SWANSTON EDITION OF STEVENSON'S WORKS the Publishers are indebted to the kindness of MESSRS. METHUEN & CO., LTD.










LETTERS— To Thomas Stevenson 13 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 14 To the Same 15 To the Same 17 To the Same 19 To the Same 21 To the Same 24 To Mrs. Churchill Babington 30 To Alison Cunningham 32 To Charles Baxter 33 To the Same 35 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 36 To the Same 38 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 39 To Thomas Stevenson 42 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 44 To Charles Baxter 46 To Charles Baxter 49 To the Same 52

II.—STUDENT DAYS—continued



LETTERS— To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 56 To Mrs. Sitwell 57 To the Same 58 To the Same 61 To the Same 63 To the Same 66 To the Same 68 To the Same 71 To the Same 74 To Sidney Colvin 76 To the Same 76 To Mrs. Sitwell 77 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 81 To Mrs. Sitwell 83 To the Same 83 To the Same 86 To Charles Baxter 89 To Mrs. Sitwell 91 To the Same 93 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 94 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 96 To the Same 97 To the Same 99 To Mrs. Sitwell 101 To the Same 103 To the Same 104 To Sidney Colvin 105 To the Same 106 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 107 To Sidney Colvin 108 To Mrs. Sitwell 110 To Thomas Stevenson 111 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 112 To Thomas Stevenson 113 To Mrs. Sitwell 115 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 116 To the Same 117 To the Same 118 To the Same 118 To the Same 120 To Mrs. Sitwell 121




LETTERS— To Sidney Colvin 124 To Mrs. Sitwell 125 To Sidney Colvin 127 To Mrs. Sitwell 127 To Sidney Colvin 129 To Mrs. Sitwell 131 To the Same 133 To the Same 137 To the Same 139 To Sidney Colvin 140 To Mrs. Sitwell 140 To Sidney Colvin 141 To the Same 143 To Mrs. Sitwell 144 To the Same 148 To the Same 149 To the Same 151 To the Same 153 To the Same 155 To the Same 156 To Sidney Colvin 157 To Mrs. Sitwell 158 To the Same 161 To the Same 164 To the Same 166 To Sidney Colvin 167 To Mrs. Sitwell 168 To Sidney Colvin 169 To Mrs. Sitwell 171 To Sidney Colvin 173 To Mrs. Sitwell 174 To the Same 174 To the Same 175 To the Same 177 To Sidney Colvin 178 To the Same 178 To Mrs. Sitwell 179 To the Same 180 To the Same 181




LETTERS— To Sidney Colvin 186 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 187 To Mrs. Sitwell 187 To the Same 189 To Sidney Colvin 191 To Charles Baxter 193 To Sidney Colvin 195 To the Same 196 To Mrs. Sitwell 197 To the Same 198 To Mrs. de Mattos 199 To Mrs. Sitwell 200 To Sidney Colvin 201 To the Same 202 To Mrs. Sitwell 203 To W. E. Henley 204 To Mrs. Sitwell 205 To Sidney Colvin 206 To Mrs. Sitwell 207 To A. Patchett Martin 208 To the Same 209 To Sidney Colvin 211 To the Same 212 To Thomas Stevenson 213 To Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 215 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 215 To the Same 216 To W. E. Henley 217 To Charles Baxter 217 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 218 To W. E. Henley 219 To Edmund Gosse 219 To W. E. Henley 221 To Miss Jane Balfour 223 To Edmund Gosse 224 To Sidney Colvin 225 To Edmund Gosse 226




LETTERS— To Sidney Colvin 230 To the Same 232 To W. E. Henley 233 To Sidney Colvin 234 To the Same 235 To Edmund Gosse 236 To W. E. Henley 238 To the Same 238 To Sidney Colvin 241 To P. G. Hamerton 242 To Edmund Gosse 243 To Sidney Colvin 244 To Edmund Gosse 245 To Sidney Colvin 247 To W. E. Henley 249 To Sidney Colvin 251 To the Same 253 To W. E. Henley 255 To the Same 256 To Sidney Colvin 258 To Edmund Gosse 260 To Charles Baxter 262 To Professor Meiklejohn 263 To W. E. Henley 265 To Sidney Colvin 267 To the Same 269 To J. W. Ferrier 269 To Edmund Gosse 271 To Dr. W. Bamford 272 To Sidney Colvin 272 To the Same 273 To the Same 274 To C. W. Stoddard 275 To Sidney Colvin 276



LETTERS— To Sidney Colvin 284 To Charles Baxter 285 To Isobel Strong 286 To A. G. Dew-Smith 287 To Thomas Stevenson 290 To Sidney Colvin 291 To Edmund Gosse 292 To the Same 293 To Charles Warren Stoddard 294 To Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 296 To Sidney Colvin 297 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 298 To Sidney Colvin 300 To Horatio F. Brown 303 To the Same 303 To the Same 304 To Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 305 To Edmund Gosse 306 To Sidney Colvin 308 To Professor AEneas Mackay 309 To the Same 309 To Sidney Colvin 310 To Edmund Gosse 311 To Charles J. Guthrie 312 To the Same 312 To Edmund Gosse 313 To P. G. Hamerton 314 To Sidney Colvin 316 To W. E. Henley 317 To the Same 319 To Sidney Colvin 320 To Dr. Alexander Japp 321 To Mrs. Sitwell 323 To Edmund Gosse 324 To the Same 325 To the Same 325 To W. E. Henley 326 To Dr. Alexander Japp 327 To W. E. Henley 328 To the Same 330 To Thomas Stevenson 331 To Edmund Gosse 332 To W. E. Henley 333 To P. G. Hamerton 335 To Charles Baxter 336 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 337 To Edmund Gosse 338 To Sidney Colvin 339 To Alison Cunningham 340 To Charles Baxter 341 To W. E. Henley 341 To the Same 342 To Alexander Ireland 345 To Mrs. Gosse 347 To Sidney Colvin 349 To Edmund Gosse 350 To Dr. Alexander Japp 351 To the Same 351 To W. E. Henley 352 To Mrs. Thomas Stevenson 354 To R. A. M. Stevenson 356 To Trevor Haddon 357 To Edmund Gosse 359 To Trevor Haddon 360 To Edmund Gosse 360 To W. E. Henley 361


The circumstances which have made me responsible for selecting and editing the correspondence of Robert Louis Stevenson are the following. He was for many years my closest friend. We first met in 1873, when he was in his twenty-third year and I in my twenty-ninth, at the place and in the manner mentioned at page 54 of this volume. It was my good fortune then to be of use to him, partly by such technical hints as even the most brilliant beginner may take from an older hand, partly by recommending him to editors—first, if I remember right, to Mr. Hamerton and Mr. Richmond Seeley, of the Portfolio, then in succession to Mr. George Grove (Macmillan's Magazine), Mr. Leslie Stephen (Cornhill), and Dr. Appleton (the Academy); and somewhat, lastly, by helping to raise him in the estimation of parents who loved but for the moment failed to understand him. It belonged to the richness of his nature to repay in all things much for little, [Greek: hekatomboi enneaboion], and from these early relations sprang the affection and confidence, to me inestimable, of which the following correspondence bears evidence.

One day in the autumn of 1888, in the island of Tahiti, during an illness which he supposed might be his last, Stevenson put into the hands of his stepson, Mr. Lloyd Osbourne, a sealed paper with a request that it might be opened after his death. He recovered, and had strength enough to enjoy six years more of active life and work in the Pacific Islands. When the end came, the paper was opened and found to contain, among other things, the expression of his wish that I should prepare for publication "a selection of his letters and a sketch of his life." I had already, in 1892, when he was anxious—needlessly, as it turned out—as to the provision he might be able to leave for his family, received from him a suggestion that "some kind of a book" might be made out of the monthly journal-letters which he had been in the habit of writing me from Samoa: letters begun at first with no thought of publication and simply in order to maintain our intimacy, so far as might be, undiminished by separation. This part of his wishes I was able to carry out promptly, and the result appeared under the title Vailima Letters in the autumn following his death (1895). Lack of leisure delayed the execution of the remaining part. For one thing, the body of correspondence which came in from various quarters turned out much larger than had been anticipated. He did not love writing letters, and will be found somewhere in the following pages referring to himself as one "essentially and originally incapable of the art epistolary." That he was a bad correspondent had come to be an accepted view among his friends; but in truth it was only during one period of his life that he at all deserved such a reproach.[1] At other times, as became apparent after his death, he had shown a degree of industry and spirit in letter-writing extraordinary considering his health and his occupations. It was indeed he and not his friends, as will abundantly appear in the course of these volumes, who oftenest had cause to complain of answers neglected or delayed. His letters, it is true, were often the most informal in the world, and he generally neglected to date them, a habit which is the despair of editors: but after his own whim and fashion he wrote a vast number, so that the work of sifting, copying, and arranging was long and laborious. It was not until the autumn of 1899 that the Letters to his Family and Friends were ready for publication, and in the meantime the task of writing the Life had been taken over by his cousin and my friend, Mr. Graham Balfour, who completed it two years later.

"In considering the scale and plan on which my friend's instruction should be carried out" (I quote, with the change of a word or two, from my Introduction of 1899), "it seemed necessary to take into account, not his own always modest opinion of himself, but the place which he seemed likely to take ultimately in the world's regard. The four or five years following the death of a writer much applauded in his lifetime are generally the years when the decline of his reputation begins, if it is going to suffer decline at all. At present, certainly, Stevenson's name seems in no danger of going down. On the stream of daily literary reference and allusion it floats more actively than ever. In another sense its vitality is confirmed by the material test of continued sales and of the market. Since we have lost him other writers, whose beginnings he watched with sympathetic interest, have come to fill a greater immediate place in public attention; but none has exercised Stevenson's peculiar and personal power to charm, to attach, and to inspirit. By his study of perfection in form and style—qualities for which his countrymen in general have been apt to care little—he might seem destined to give pleasure chiefly to the fastidious and the artistically minded. But as to its matter, the main appeal of his work is not to any mental tastes and fashions of the few; it is rather to universal, hereditary instincts, to the primitive sources of imaginative excitement and entertainment in the race.

"The voice of the advocatus diaboli has been heard against him, as it is right and proper that it should be heard against any man before his reputation can be held fully established. One such advocate in this country has thought to dispose of him by the charge of 'externality.' But the reader who remembers things like the sea-frenzy of Gordon Darnaway, or the dialogue of Markheim with his other self in the house of murder, or the re-baptism of the spirit of Seraphina in the forest dews, or the failure of Herrick to find in the waters of the island lagoon a last release from dishonour, or the death of Goguelat, or the appeal of Kirstie Elliot in the midnight chamber—such a reader can only smile at a criticism like this and put it by. These and a score of other passages breathe the essential poetry and significance of things as they reveal themselves to true masters only: they are instinct at once with the morality and the romance which lie deep together at the soul of nature and experience. Not in vain had Stevenson read the lesson of the Lantern-Bearers, and hearkened to the music of the pipes of Pan. He was feeling his way all his life towards a fuller mastery of his means, preferring always to leave unexpressed what he felt that he could not express adequately; and in much of his work was content merely to amuse himself and others. But even when he is playing most fancifully with his art and his readers, as in the shudders, tempered with laughter, of the Suicide Club, or the airy sentimental comedy of Providence and the Guitar, or the schoolboy historical inventions of Dickon Crookback and the old sailor Arblaster, a writer of his quality cannot help striking notes from the heart of life and the inwardness of things deeper than will ever be struck, or even apprehended, by another who labours, with never a smile either of his own or of his reader's, upon the most solemn enterprises of realistic fiction, but is born without the magician's touch and insight.

"Another advocate on the same side, in the United States, has made much of the supposed dependence of this author on his models, and classed him among writers whose inspiration is imitative and second-hand. But this is to be quite misled by the well-known passage of Stevenson's own, in which he speaks of himself as having in his prentice years played the 'sedulous ape' to many writers of different styles and periods. In doing this he was not seeking inspiration, but simply practising the use of the tools which were to help him to express his own inspirations. Truly he was always much of a reader: but it was life, not books, that always in the first degree allured and taught him.

'He loved of life the myriad sides, Pain, prayer, or pleasure, act or sleep, As wallowing narwhals love the deep'—

so with just self-knowledge he wrote of himself; and the books which he most cared for and lived with were those of which the writers seemed—to quote again a phrase of his own—to have been 'eavesdropping at the door of his heart': those which told of experiences or cravings after experience, pains, pleasures, or conflicts of the spirit, which in the eagerness of youthful living and thinking had already been his own. No man, in fact, was ever less inclined to take anything at second-hand. The root of all originality was in him, in the shape of an extreme natural vividness of perception, imagination, and feeling. An instinctive and inbred unwillingness to accept the accepted and conform to the conventional was of the essence of his character, whether in life or art, and was a source to him both of strength and weakness. He would not follow a general rule—least of all if it was a prudential rule—of conduct unless he was clear that it was right according to his private conscience; nor would he join, in youth, in the ordinary social amusements of his class when he had once found out that they did not amuse him; nor wear their clothes if he could not feel at ease and be himself in them; nor use, whether in speech or writing, any trite or inanimate form of words that did not faithfully and livingly express his thought. A readier acceptance alike of current usages and current phrases might have been better for him, but was simply not in his nature. No reader of this book will close it, I am sure, without feeling that he has been throughout in the company of a spirit various indeed and many-mooded, but profoundly sincere and real. Ways that in another might easily have been mere signs of affectation were in him the true expression of a nature ten times more spontaneously itself and individually alive than that of others. Self-consciousness, in many characters that possess it, deflects and falsifies conduct; and so does the dramatic instinct. Stevenson was self-conscious in a high degree, but only as a part of his general activity of mind; only in so far as he could not help being an extremely intelligent spectator of his own doings and feelings: these themselves came from springs of character and impulse much too deep and strong to be diverted. He loved also, with a child's or actor's gusto, to play a part and make a drama out of life: but the part was always for the moment his very own: he had it not in him to pose for anything but what he truly was.

"When a man so constituted had once mastered his craft of letters, he might take up whatever instrument he pleased with the instinctive and just confidence that he would play upon it to a tune and with a manner of his own. This is indeed the true mark and test of his originality. He has no need to be, or to seem, especially original in the form and mode of literature which he attempts. By his choice of these he may at any time give himself and his reader the pleasure of recalling, like a familiar air, some strain of literary association; but in so doing he only adds a secondary charm to his work; the vision, the temperament, the mode of conceiving and handling, are in every case personal to himself. He may try his hand in youth at a Sentimental Journey, but R. L. S. cannot choose but be at the opposite pole of human character and feeling from Laurence Sterne. In tales of mystery, allegorical or other, he may bear in mind the precedent of Edgar Poe, and yet there is nothing in style and temper much wider apart than Markheim and Jekyll and Hyde are from the Murders in the Rue Morgue or William Wilson. He may set out to tell a pirate story for boys 'exactly in the ancient way,' and it will come from him not in the ancient way at all, but re-minted; marked with a sharpness and saliency in the characters, a private stamp of buccaneering ferocity combined with smiling humour, an energy of vision and happy vividness of presentment, which are shiningly his own. Another time, he may desert the paths of Kingston and Ballantyne for those of Sir Walter Scott; but literature presents few stronger contrasts than between any scene of Waverley or Redgauntlet and any scene of the Master of Ballantrae or Catriona, whether in their strength or weakness: and it is the most loyal lovers of the older master who take the greatest pleasure in reading the work of the younger, so much less opulently gifted as is probable—though we must remember that Stevenson died at the age when Scott wrote Waverley—so infinitely more careful of his gift. Stevenson may even blow upon the pipe of Burns and yet his tune will be no echo, but one which utters the heart and mind of a Scots maker who has his own outlook on life, his own special and profitable vein of smiling or satirical contemplation.

"Not by reason, then, of 'externality,' for sure, nor yet of imitativeness, will this writer lose his hold on the attention and regard of his countrymen. The debate, before his place in literature is settled, must rather turn on other points: as whether the genial essayist and egoist or the romantic inventor and narrator was the stronger in him—whether the Montaigne and Pepys elements prevailed in his literary composition or the Scott and Dumas elements—a question indeed which among those who care for him most has always been at issue. Or again, what degree of true inspiring and illuminating power belongs to the gospel, or gospels, airily encouraging or gravely didactic, which are set forth in the essays with so captivating a grace? Or whether in romance and tale he had a power of inventing and constructing a whole fable comparable to his admitted power of conceiving and presenting single scenes and situations in a manner which stamps them indelibly on the reader's mind? And whether his figures are sustained continuously by the true spontaneous breath of creation, or are but transitorily animated at happy moments by flashes of spiritual and dramatic insight, aided by the conscious devices of his singularly adroit and spirited art? These are questions which no criticism but that of time can solve. To contend, as some do, that strong creative impulse and so keen an artistic self-consciousness as Stevenson's was cannot exist together, is quite idle. The truth, of course, is that the deep-seated energies of imaginative creation are found sometimes in combination, and sometimes not in combination, with an artistic intelligence thus keenly conscious of its own purpose and watchful of its own working.

"Once more, it may be questioned whether, among the many varieties of work which Stevenson has left, all distinguished by a grace and precision of workmanship which are the rarest qualities in English art, there are any which can be pointed to as absolute masterpieces, such as the future cannot be expected to let die. Let the future decide. What is certain is that posterity must either be very well or very ill occupied if it can consent to give up so much sound entertainment, and better than entertainment, as this writer afforded his contemporaries. In the meantime, among judicious readers on both sides of the Atlantic, Stevenson stands, I think it may safely be said, as a true master of English prose; scarcely surpassed for the union of lenity and lucidity with suggestive pregnancy and poetic animation; for harmony of cadence and the well-knit structure of sentences; and for the art of imparting to words the vital quality of things, and making them convey the precise—sometimes, let it be granted, the too curiously precise—expression of the very shade and colour of the thought, feeling, or vision in his mind. He stands, moreover, as the writer who, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, has handled with the most of freshness and inspiriting power the widest range of established literary forms—the moral, critical, and personal essay, travels sentimental and other, romances and short tales both historical and modern, parables and tales of mystery, boys' stories of adventure, memoirs—nor let lyrical and meditative verse both English and Scottish, and especially nursery verse, a new vein for genius to work in, be forgotten. To some of these forms Stevenson gave quite new life; through all alike he expressed vividly an extremely personal way of seeing and being, a sense of nature and romance, of the aspects of human existence and problems of human conduct, which was essentially his own. And in so doing he contrived to make friends and even lovers of his readers. Those whom he attracts at all (and there is no writer who attracts every one) are drawn to him over and over again, finding familiarity not lessen but increase the charm of his work, and desiring ever closer intimacy with the spirit and personality which they divine behind it.

"As to the fitting scale, then, on which to treat the memory of a man who fills five years after his death such a place as this in the general regard, and who has desired that a selection from his letters shall be made public, the word 'selection' has evidently to be given a pretty liberal interpretation. Readers, it must be supposed, will scarce be content without the opportunity of a fairly ample intercourse with such a man as he was accustomed to reveal himself in writing to his familiars. In choosing from among the material before me" (I still quote from the Introduction of 1899), "I have used the best discretion that I could. Stevenson's feelings and relations throughout life were in almost all directions so warm and kindly, that very little had to be suppressed from fear of giving pain.[2] On the other hand, he drew people towards him with so much confidence and affection, and met their openness with so much of his own, that an editor could not but feel the frequent risk of inviting readers to trespass too far on purely private affairs and feelings, including those of the living. This was a point upon which in his lifetime he felt strongly. That excellent critic, Mr. Walter Raleigh, has noticed, as one of the merits of Stevenson's personal essays and accounts of travel, that few men have written more or more attractively of themselves without ever taking the public unduly into familiarity or overstepping proper bounds of reticence. Public prying into private lives, the propagation of gossip by the press, and printing of private letters during the writer's lifetime, were things he hated. Once, indeed, he very superfluously gave himself a dangerous cold, by dancing before a bonfire in his garden at the news of a 'society' editor having been committed to prison; and the only approach to a difference he ever had with one of his lifelong friends arose from the publication, without permission, of one of his letters written during his first Pacific voyage.

"How far, then, must I regard his instructions about publication as authorising me to go after his death beyond the limits which he had been so careful in observing and desiring others to observe in life? How much may now fairly become public of that which had been held sacred and hitherto private among his friends? To cut out all that is strictly personal and intimate were to leave his story untold and half the charm of his character unrevealed: to put in too much were to break all bonds of that privacy which he so carefully regarded while he lived. I know not if I have at all been able to hit the mean, and to succeed in making these letters, as it has been my object to make them, present, without offence or intrusion, a just, a living, and proportionate picture of the man as far as they will yield it. There is one respect in which his own practice and principle has had to be in some degree violated, if the work was to be done at all. Except in the single case of the essay Ordered South, he would never in writing for the public adopt the invalid point of view, or invite any attention to his infirmities. 'To me,' he says, 'the medicine bottles on my chimney and the blood on my handkerchief are accidents; they do not colour my view of life; and I should think myself a trifler and in bad taste if I introduced the world to these unimportant privacies.' But from his letters to his family and friends these matters could not possibly be left out. The tale of his life, in the years when he was most of a correspondent, was in truth a tale of daily and nightly battle against weakness and physical distress and danger. To those who loved him, the incidents of this battle were communicated, sometimes gravely, sometimes laughingly. I have greatly cut down such bulletins, but could not possibly omit them altogether."

In 1911, twelve years after the above words were written, the estimate expressed in them of Stevenson's qualities as a writer, and of the place he seemed likely to maintain in the affections of English readers all the world over, had been amply confirmed by the lapse of time. The sale of his works kept increasing rather than diminishing. Editions kept multiplying. A new generation of readers had found life and letters, nature and human nature, touched by him at so many points with so vivifying and illuminating a charm that it had become scarcely possible to take up any newspaper or magazine and not find some reference to his work and name. Both series of letters—even one mainly concerned, as the Vailima Letters are, with matters of interest both remote and transitory—had been read in edition after edition: and readers had been and were continually asking for more. The time was thought to have come for a new and definitive edition, in which the two series of letters already published should be thrown into one, and as much new material added as could be found suitable. The task of carrying out this scheme fell again upon me. The new edition constituted in effect a nearly complete epistolary autobiography. It contained not less than a hundred and fifty of Stevenson's letters hitherto unpublished. They dated from all periods of his life, those written in the brilliant and troubled days of his youth predominating, and giving a picture, perhaps unique in its kind, of a character and talent in the making. The present edition is a reprint of the edition of 1911, with a few errors of transcription and one or two of date corrected, and with a very few new letters added.

Much, of course, remains and ought to remain unprinted. Some of the outpourings of the early time are too sacred and intimate for publicity. Many of the letters of his maturer years are dry business letters of no general interest: many others are mere scraps tossed in jest to his familiars and full of catchwords and code-words current in their talk but meaningless to outsiders. Above all, many have to be omitted because they deal with the intimate affairs of private persons. Stevenson has been sometimes called an egoist, as though he had been one in the practical sense as well as in the sense of taking a lively interest in his own moods and doings. Nothing can be more untrue. The letters printed in these volumes are indeed for the most part about himself: but it was of himself that his correspondents of all things most cared to hear. If the letters concerned with the private affairs of other people could be printed, as of course they cannot, the balance would come more than even. We should see him throwing himself with sympathetic ardour and without thought of self into the cares and interests of his correspondents, and should learn to recognise him as having been truly the helper in many a relation where he might naturally have been taken for the person helped.

As to the form in which the Letters are now presented, they fill three volumes instead of the four of the 1911 edition, the division into fourteen sections according to date being retained. As to the text, it is faithful to the original except in so far as I have freely used the editorial privilege of omission when I thought it desirable, and as I have not felt myself bound to reproduce slips and oddities, however characteristic, of spelling. In formal matters like the use of quote-marks, italics, and so forth, I have adopted a more uniform practice than his, which was very casual and variable.

To some readers, perhaps—(from this point I again resume my Introduction of 1899, but with more correction and abridgment)—to some, perhaps, the very lack of art as a correspondent to which Stevenson, as above quoted, pleads guilty may give the reading an added charm and flavour. What he could do as an artist in letters we know. I remember Sir John Millais, a shrewd and very independent judge of books, calling across to me at a dinner-table, "You know Stevenson, don't you?" and then going on, "Well, I wish you would tell him from me, if he cares to know, that to my mind he is the very first of living artists. I don't mean writers merely, but painters and all of us. Nobody living can see with such an eye as that fellow, and nobody is such a master of his tools." But in his letters, excepting a few written in youth and having more or less the character of exercises, and a few in after years which were intended for the public eye, Stevenson the deliberate artist is scarcely forthcoming at all. He does not care a fig for order or logical sequence or congruity, or for striking a key of expression and keeping it, but becomes simply the most spontaneous and unstudied of human beings. He has at his command the whole vocabularies of the English and Scottish languages, classical and slang, with good stores of the French, and tosses and tumbles them about irresponsibly to convey the impression or affection, the mood or freak of the moment; pouring himself out in all manner of rhapsodical confessions and speculations, grave or gay, notes of observation and criticism, snatches of remembrance and autobiography, moralisings on matters uppermost for the hour in his mind, comments on his own work or other people's, or mere idle fun and foolery.

By this medley of moods and manners, Stevenson's letters at their best come nearer than anything else to the full-blooded charm and variety of his conversation. Nearer, yet not quite near; for it was in company only that his genial spirit rose to his very best. Few men probably have had in them such a richness and variety of human nature; and few can ever have been better gifted than he was to express the play of being that was in him by means of the apt, expressive word and the animated look and gesture. Divers et ondoyant, in the words of Montaigne, beyond other men, he seemed to contain within himself a whole troop of singularly assorted characters. Though prose was his chosen medium of expression, he was by temperament a born poet, to whom the world was full of enchantment and of latent romance, only waiting to take shape and substance in the forms of art. It was his birthright—

"to hear The great bell beating far and near— The odd, unknown, enchanted gong That on the road hales men along, That from the mountain calls afar, That lures the vessel from a star, And with a still, aerial sound Makes all the earth enchanted ground."

He had not only the poet's mind but the poet's senses: in youth ginger was only too hot in his mouth, and the chimes at midnight only too favourite a music. At the same time he was not less a born preacher and moralist and son of the Covenanters after his fashion. He had about him, as has been said, little spirit of social or other conformity; but an active and searching private conscience kept him for ever calling in question both the grounds of his own conduct and the validity of the accepted codes and compromises of society. He must try to work out a scheme of morality suitable to his own case and temperament, which found the prohibitory law of Moses chill and uninspiring, but in the Sermon on the Mount a strong incentive to all those impulses of pity and charity to which his heart was prone. In early days his sense of social injustice and the inequalities of human opportunity made him inwardly much of a rebel, who would have embraced and acted on theories of socialism or communism, could he have found any that did not seem to him at variance with ineradicable instincts of human nature. All his life the artist and the moralist in him alike were in rebellion against the bourgeois spirit,—against timid, negative, and shuffling substitutes for active and courageous well-doing,—and declined to worship at the shrine of what he called the bestial goddesses Comfort and Respectability. The moralist in him helped the artist by backing with the force of a highly sensitive conscience his instinctive love of perfection in his work. The artist qualified the moralist by discountenancing any preference for the harsh, the sour, or the self-mortifying forms of virtue, and encouraging the love for all tender or heroic, glowing, generous, and cheerful forms.

Above all things, perhaps, Stevenson was by instinct an adventurer and practical experimentalist in life. Many poets are content to dream, and many, perhaps most, moralists to preach: Stevenson must ever be doing and undergoing. He was no sentimentalist, to pay himself with fine feelings whether for mean action or slack inaction. He had an insatiable zest for all experiences, not the pleasurable only, but including the more harsh and biting—those that bring home to a man the pinch and sting of existence as it is realised by the disinherited of the world, and excluding only what he thought the prim, the conventional, the dead-alive, and the cut-and-dry. On occasion the experimentalist and man of adventure in him would enter into special partnership with the moralist and man of conscience: he was prone to plunge into difficult social passes and ethical dilemmas, which he might sometimes more wisely have avoided, for the sake of trying to behave in them to the utmost according to his own personal sense of the obligations of honour, duty, and kindness. In yet another part of his being he cherished, as his great countryman Scott had done before him, an intense underlying longing for the life of action, danger and command. "Action, Colvin, action," I remember his crying eagerly to me with his hand on my arm as we lay basking for his health's sake in a boat off the scented shores of the Cap Martin. Another time—this was on his way to a winter cure at Davos—some friend had given him General Hamley's Operations of War:—"in which," he writes to his father, "I am drowned a thousand fathoms deep, and O that I had been a soldier is still my cry." Fortunately, with all these ardent and divers instincts, there were present two invaluable gifts besides: that of humour, which for all his stress of being and vivid consciousness of self saved him from ever seeing himself for long together out of a just proportion, and kept wholesome laughter always ready at his lips; and that of a most tender and loyal heart, which through all his experiments and agitations made the law of kindness the one ruling law of his life. In the end, lack of health determined his career, giving the chief part in his life to the artist and man of imagination, and keeping the man of action a prisoner in the sickroom until, by a singular turn of destiny, he was able to wring a real prolonged and romantically successful adventure out of that voyage to the Pacific which had been, in its origin, the last despairing resource of the invalid.

Again, it was characteristic of this multiple personality that he never seemed to be cramped like the rest of us, at any given time of life, within the limits of his proper age, but to be child, boy, young man, and old man all at once. There was never a time in his life when Stevenson had to say with St. Augustine, "Behold! my childhood is dead, but I am alive." The child lived on always in him, not in memory only, but in real survival, with all its freshness of perception unimpaired, and none of its play instincts in the least degree extinguished or made ashamed. As for the perennial boy in Stevenson, that is too apparent to need remark. It was as a boy for boys that he wrote the best known of his books, Treasure Island, and with all boys that he met, provided they were really boys and not prigs nor puppies, he was instantly and delightedly at home. At the same time, even when I first knew him, he showed already surprising occasional traits and glimpses of old sagacity, of premature life-wisdom and experience.

Once more, it is said that in every poet there must be something of the woman. If to be quick in sympathy and feeling, ardent in attachment, and full of pity for the weak and suffering, is to be womanly, Stevenson was certainly all those; he was even like a woman in being [Greek: artidakrus], easily moved to tears at the touch of pity or affection, or even at any specially poignant impression of art or beauty. But yet, if any one word were to be chosen for the predominant quality of his character and example, I suppose that word would be manly. In his gentle and complying nature there were strains of iron tenacity and will: occasionally even, let it be admitted, of perversity and Scottish "thrawnness." He had both kinds of physical courage—the active, delighting in danger, and the passive, unshaken in endurance. In the moral courage of facing situations and consequences, of readiness to pay for faults committed, of outspokenness, admitting no ambiguous relations and clearing away the clouds from human intercourse, I have not known his equal. The great Sir Walter himself, as this book will prove, was not more manfully free from artistic jealousy or irritability under criticism, or more unfeignedly inclined to exaggerate the qualities of other people's work and to underrate those of his own. Of the humorous and engaging parts of vanity and egoism, which led him to make infinite talk and fun about himself, and use his own experiences as a key for unlocking the confidences of others, Stevenson had plenty; but of the morose and fretful parts never a shade. "A little Irish girl," he wrote once during a painful crisis of his life, "is now reading my book aloud to her sister at my elbow; they chuckle, and I feel flattered.—Yours, R. L. S. P.S.—Now they yawn, and I am indifferent. Such a wisely conceived thing is vanity." If only vanity so conceived were commoner! And whatever might be the abstract and philosophical value of that somewhat grimly stoical conception of the universe, of conduct and duty, at which in mature years he had arrived, want of manliness is certainly not its fault. Take the kind of maxims which he was accustomed to forge for his own guidance:—"Acts may be forgiven; not even God can forgive the hanger-back." "Choose the best, if you can; or choose the worst; that which hangs in the wind dangles from a gibbet." "'Shall I?' said Feeble-mind; and the echo said, 'Fie!'" "'Do I love?' said Loveless; and the echo laughed." "A fault known is a fault cured to the strong; but to the weak it is a fetter riveted." "The mean man doubts, the great-hearted is deceived." "Great-heart was deceived. 'Very well,' said Great-heart." "'I have not forgotten my umbrella,' said the careful man; but the lightning struck him." "Shame had a fine bed, but where was slumber? Once he was in jail he slept." With this moralist maxims meant actions; and where shall we easily find a much manlier spirit of wisdom than this?

There was yet another and very different side to Stevenson which struck others more than it struck myself, namely, that of the freakish or elvish, irresponsible madcap or jester which sometimes appeared in him. It is true that his demoniac quickness of wit and intelligence suggested occasionally a "spirit of air and fire" rather than one of earth; that he was abundantly given to all kinds of quirk and laughter; and that there was no jest (saving the unkind) he would not make and relish. The late Mr. J. A. Symonds always called him Sprite; qualifying the name, however, by the epithets "most fantastic, but most human." To me the essential humanity was always the thing most apparent. In a fire well nourished of seasoned ship-timber, the flames glance fantastically and of many colours, but the glow at heart is ever deep and strong; it was at such a glow that the friends of Stevenson were accustomed to warm their hands, while they admired and were entertained by the shifting lights.

It was only in company, as I have said, that all these many lights and colours could be seen in full play. He would begin no matter how—perhaps with a jest at some absurd adventure of his own, perhaps with the recitation, in his vibrating voice and full Scotch accent, of some snatch of poetry that was haunting him, perhaps with a rhapsody of analytic delight over some minute accident of beauty or expressiveness that had struck him in man, woman, child, or external nature. And forthwith the floodgates would be opened, and the talk would stream on in endless, never importunate, flood and variety. A hundred fictitious characters would be invented and launched on their imaginary careers; a hundred ingenious problems of conduct and cases of honour would be set and solved; romantic voyages would be planned and followed out in vision, with a thousand incidents; the possibilities of life and art would be illuminated with search-lights of bewildering range and penetration, sober argument and high poetic eloquence alternating with coruscations of insanely apposite slang—the earthiest jape anon shooting up into the empyrean and changing into the most ethereal fantasy—the stalest and most vulgarised forms of speech gaining brilliancy and illuminating power from some hitherto undreamt-of application—and all the while an atmosphere of goodwill diffusing itself from the speaker, a glow of eager benignity and affectionate laughter emanating from his presence, till every one about him seemed to catch something of his own gift and inspiration. This sympathetic power of inspiring others was the special and distinguishing note of Stevenson's conversation. He would keep a houseful or a single companion entertained all day, and day after day and half the nights, yet never seemed to monopolise the talk or absorb it; rather he helped every one about him to discover and to exercise unexpected powers of their own.

Imagine all this helped by the most speaking of presences: a steady, penetrating fire in the brown, wide-set eyes, a compelling power and richness in the smile; courteous, waving gestures of the arms and long, nervous hands, a lit cigarette generally held between the fingers; continual rapid shiftings and pacings to and fro as he conversed: rapid, but not flurried nor awkward, for there was a grace in his attenuated but well-carried figure, and his movements were light, deft, and full of spring. There was something for strangers, and even for friends, to get over in the queer garments which in youth it was his whim to wear—the badge, as they always seemed to me, partly of a genuine carelessness, certainly of a genuine lack of cash (the little he had was always absolutely at the disposal of his friends), partly of a deliberate detachment from any particular social class or caste, partly of his love of pickles and adventures, which he thought befel a man thus attired more readily than another. But this slender, slovenly, nondescript apparition, long-visaged and long-haired, had only to speak in order to be recognised in the first minute for a witty and charming gentleman, and within the first five for a master spirit and man of genius. There were, indeed, certain stolidly conventional and superciliously official kinds of persons, both at home and abroad, who were incapable of looking beyond the clothes, and eyed him always with frozen suspicion. This attitude used sometimes in youth to drive him into fits of flaming anger, which put him helplessly at a disadvantage unless, or until, he could call the sense of humour to his help. Apart from these his human charm was the same for all kinds of people, without distinction of class or caste; for worldly-wise old great ladies, whom he reminded of famous poets in their youth; for his brother artists and men of letters, perhaps, above all; for the ordinary clubman; for his physicians, who could never do enough for him; for domestic servants, who adored him; for the English policeman even, on whom he often tried, quite in vain, to pass himself as one of the criminal classes; for the shepherd, the street arab, or the tramp, the common seaman, the beach-comber, or the Polynesian high-chief. Even in the imposed silence and restraint of extreme sickness the power and attraction of the man made themselves felt, and there seemed to be more vitality and fire of the spirit in him as he lay exhausted and speechless in bed than in an ordinary roomful of people in health.

But I have strayed from my purpose, which was only to indicate that in the best of these letters of Stevenson's you have some echo, far away indeed, but yet the nearest, of his talk—talk which could not possibly be taken down, and of which nothing remains save in the memory of his friends an impression magical and never to be effaced.



[1] From 1876 to 1879—see p. 185.

[2] The point was one on which Stevenson himself felt strongly. In a letter of instructions to his wife found among his posthumous papers he writes: "It is never worth while to inflict pain upon a snail for any literary purpose; and where events may appear to be favourable to me and contrary to others, I would rather be misunderstood than cause a pang to any one whom I have known, far less whom I have loved." Whether an editor or biographer would be justified in carrying out this principle to the full may perhaps be doubted.








The following section consists chiefly of extracts from the correspondence and journals addressed by Louis Stevenson, as a lad of eighteen to twenty-two, to his father and mother during summer excursions to the Scottish coast or to the Continent. There exist enough of them to fill a volume; but it is not in letters of this kind to his family that a young man unbosoms himself most freely, and these are perhaps not quite devoid of the qualities of the guide-book and the descriptive exercise. Nevertheless they seem to me to contain enough signs of the future master-writer, enough of character, observation, and skill in expression, to make a certain number worth giving by way of an opening chapter to the present book. Among them are interspersed four or five of a different character addressed to other correspondents, and chiefly to his lifelong friend and intimate, Mr. Charles Baxter.

On both sides of the house Stevenson came of interesting stock. His grandfather was Robert Stevenson, civil engineer, highly distinguished as the builder of the Bell Rock lighthouse. By this Robert Stevenson, his three sons, and two of his grandsons now living, the business of civil engineers in general, and of official engineers to the Commissioners of Northern Lights in particular, has been carried on at Edinburgh with high credit and public utility for almost a century. Thomas Stevenson, the youngest of the three sons of the original Robert, was Robert Louis Stevenson's father. He was a man not only of mark, zeal, and inventiveness in his profession, but of a strong and singular personality; a staunch friend and sagacious adviser, trenchant in judgment and demonstrative in emotion, outspoken, dogmatic,—despotic, even, in little things, but withal essentially chivalrous and soft-hearted; apt to pass with the swiftest transition from moods of gloom or sternness to those of tender or freakish gaiety, and commanding a gift of humorous and figurative speech second only to that of his more famous son.

Thomas Stevenson was married to Margaret Isabella, youngest daughter of the Rev. Lewis Balfour, for many years minister of the parish of Colinton in Midlothian. This Mr. Balfour (described by his grandson in the essay called The Manse) was of the stock of the Balfours of Pilrig, and grandson to that James Balfour, professor first of moral philosophy and afterwards of the law of nature and of nations, who was held in particular esteem as a philosophical controversialist by David Hume. His wife, Henrietta Smith, a daughter of the Rev. George Smith of Galston, to whose gift as a preacher Burns refers scoffingly in the Holy Fair, is said to have been a woman of uncommon beauty and charm of manner. Their daughter, Mrs. Thomas Stevenson, suffered in early and middle life from chest and nerve troubles, and her son may have inherited from her some of his constitutional weakness. Capable, cultivated, companionable, affectionate, she was a determined looker at the bright side of things, and hence better skilled, perhaps, to shut her eyes to troubles or differences among those she loved than understandingly to compose or heal them. Conventionally minded one might have thought her, but for the surprising readiness with which in later life she adapted herself to conditions of life and travel the most unconventional possible. The son and only child of these two, Robert Louis (baptized Robert Lewis Balfour[3]), was born on November 13, 1850, at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh. His health was infirm from the first, and he was with difficulty kept alive by the combined care of his mother and a most devoted nurse, Alison Cunningham; to whom his lifelong gratitude will be found touchingly expressed in the course of the following letters. In 1858 he was near dying of a gastric fever, and was at all times subject to acute catarrhal and bronchial affections and extreme nervous excitability.

In January 1853 Stevenson's parents moved to Inverleith Terrace, and in May 1857 to 17 Heriot Row, which continued to be their Edinburgh home until the death of Thomas Stevenson in 1887. Much of the boy's time was also spent in the manse of Colinton on the Water of Leith, the home of his maternal grandfather. Ill-health prevented him getting much regular or continuous schooling. He attended first (1858-61) a preparatory school kept by a Mr. Henderson in India Street; and next (at intervals for some time after the autumn of 1861) the Edinburgh Academy.

Schooling was interrupted in the end of 1862 and first half of 1863 by excursions with his parents to Germany, the Riviera, and Italy. The love of wandering, which was a rooted passion in Stevenson's nature, thus began early to find satisfaction. For a few months in the autumn of 1863, when his parents had been ordered for a second time to Mentone for the sake of his mother's health, he was sent to a boarding-school kept by a Mr. Wyatt at Spring Grove, near London. It is not my intention to treat the reader to the series of childish and boyish letters of these days which parental fondness has preserved. But here is one written from his English school when he was about thirteen, which is both amusing in itself and had a certain influence on his destiny, inasmuch as his appeal led to his being taken out to join his parents on the French Riviera; which from these days of his boyhood he never ceased to love, and for which the longing, amid the gloom of Edinburgh winters, often afterwards gripped him by the heart.

Spring Grove School, 12th November 1863.

MA CHERE MAMAN,—Jai recu votre lettre Aujourdhui et comme le jour prochaine est mon jour de naisance je vous ecrit ce lettre. Ma grande gatteaux est arrive il leve 12 livres et demi le prix etait 17 shillings. Sur la soiree de Monseigneur Faux il y etait quelques belles feux d'artifice. Mais les polissons entrent dans notre champ et nos feux d'artifice et handkerchiefs disappeared quickly, but we charged them out of the field. Je suis presque driven mad par une bruit terrible tous les garcons kik up comme grand un bruit qu'il est possible. I hope you will find your house at Mentone nice. I have been obliged to stop from writing by the want of a pen, but now I have one, so I will continue.

My dear papa, you told me to tell you whenever I was miserable. I do not feel well, and I wish to get home. Do take me with you.


This young French scholar has yet, it will be discerned, a good way to travel; in later days he acquired a complete reading and speaking, with a less complete writing, mastery of the language, and was as much at home with French ways of thought and life as with English.

For one more specimen of his boyish style, it may be not amiss to give the text of another appeal which dates from two and a half years later, and is also typical of much in his life's conditions both then and later:—

2 Sulgarde Terrace, Torquay, Thursday [April 1866].

RESPECTED PATERNAL RELATIVE,—I write to make a request of the most moderate nature. Every year I have cost you an enormous—nay, elephantine—sum of money for drugs and physician's fees, and the most expensive time of the twelve months was March.

But this year the biting Oriental blasts, the howling tempests, and the general ailments of the human race have been successfully braved by yours truly.

Does not this deserve remuneration?

I appeal to your charity, I appeal to your generosity, I appeal to your justice, I appeal to your accounts, I appeal, in fine, to your purse.

My sense of generosity forbids the receipt of more—my sense of justice forbids the receipt of less—than half-a-crown.—Greeting from, Sir, your most affectionate and needy son,


From 1864 to 1867 Stevenson's education was conducted chiefly at Mr. Thomson's private school in Frederick Street, Edinburgh, and by private tutors in various places to which he travelled for his own or his parents' health. These travels included frequent visits to such Scottish health resorts as Bridge of Allan, Dunoon, Rothesay, North Berwick, Lasswade, and Peebles, and occasional excursions with his father on his nearer professional rounds to the Scottish coasts and lighthouses. From 1867 the family life became more settled between Edinburgh and Swanston Cottage, Lothianburn, a country home in the Pentlands which Mr. Stevenson first rented in that year, and the scenery and associations of which sank deeply into the young man's spirit, and vitally affected his after thoughts and his art.

By this time Louis Stevenson seemed to show signs of outgrowing his early infirmities of health. He was a lover, to a degree even beyond his strength, of outdoor life and exercise (though not of sports), and it began to be hoped that as he grew up he would be fit to enter the family profession of civil engineer. He was accordingly entered as a student at Edinburgh University, and for several winters attended classes there with such regularity as his health and inclinations permitted. This was in truth but small. The mind on fire with its own imaginations, and eager to acquire its own experiences in its own way, does not take kindly to the routine of classes and repetitions, nor could the desultory mode of schooling enforced upon him by ill-health answer much purpose by way of discipline. According to his own account he was at college, as he had been at school, an inveterate idler and truant. But outside the field of school and college routine he showed an eager curiosity and activity of mind. "He was of a conversable temper," so he says of himself, "and insatiably curious in the aspects of life, and spent much of his time scraping acquaintance with all classes of men and womenkind." Of one class indeed, and that was his own, he had soon had enough, at least in so far as it was to be studied at the dinners, dances, and other polite entertainments of ordinary Edinburgh society. Of these he early wearied. At home he made himself pleasant to all comers, but for his own resort chose out a very few houses, mostly those of intimate college companions, into which he could go without constraint, and where his inexhaustible flow of poetic, imaginative, and laughing talk seems generally to have rather puzzled his hearers than impressed them. On the other hand, during his endless private rambles and excursions, whether among the streets and slums, the gardens and graveyards of the city, or farther afield among the Pentland hills or on the shores of Forth, he was never tired of studying character and seeking acquaintance among the classes more nearly exposed to the pinch and stress of life.

In the eyes of anxious elders, such vagrant ways naturally take on the colours of idleness and a love of low company. Stevenson was, however, in his own fashion an eager student of books as well as of man and nature. He read precociously and omnivorously in the belles-lettres, including a very wide range of English poetry, fiction, and essays, and a fairly wide range of French; and was a genuine student of Scottish history, especially from the time of the persecutions down, and to some extent of history in general. The art of literature was already his private passion, and something within him even already told him that it was to be his life's work. On all his truantries he went pencil and copybook in hand, trying to fit his impression of the scene to words, to compose original rhymes, tales, dialogues, and dramas, or to imitate the style and cadences of the author he at the moment preferred. For three or four years, nevertheless, he tried dutifully, if half-heartedly, to prepare himself for the family profession. In 1868, the year when the following correspondence opens, he went to watch the works of the firm in progress first at Anstruther on the coast of Fife, and afterwards at Wick. In 1869 he made the tour of the Orkneys and Shetlands on board the steam yacht of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, and in 1870 the tour of the Western Islands, preceded by a stay on the isle of Earraid, where the works of the Dhu Heartach lighthouse were then in progress. He was a favourite, although a very irregular, pupil of the professor of engineering, Fleeming Jenkin, whose friendship and that of Mrs. Jenkin were of great value to him, and whose life he afterwards wrote; and must have shown some aptitude for the family calling, inasmuch as in 1871 he received the silver medal of the Edinburgh Society of Arts for a paper on a suggested improvement in lighthouse apparatus. The outdoor and seafaring parts of an engineer's life were in fact wholly to his taste. But he looked instinctively at the powers and phenomena of waves and tide, of storm and current, reef, cliff, and rock, with the eye of the poet and artist, and not those of the practician and calculator. For desk work and office routine he had an unconquerable aversion; and his physical powers, had they remained at their best, must have proved quite unequal to the workshop training necessary to the practical engineer. Accordingly in 1871 it was agreed, not without natural reluctance on his father's part, that he should give up the hereditary vocation and read for the bar: literature, on which his heart was set, and in which his early attempts had been encouraged, being held to be by itself no profession, or at least one altogether too irregular and undefined. For the next several years, therefore, he attended law classes instead of engineering and science classes in the University, giving to the subject a certain amount of serious, although fitful, attention until he was called to the bar in 1875.

So much for the course of Stevenson's outward life during these days at Edinburgh. To tell the story of his inner life would be a far more complicated task, and cannot here be attempted even briefly. The ferment of youth was more acute and more prolonged in him than in most men even of genius. In the Introduction I have tried to give some notion of the many various strains and elements which met in him, and which were in these days pulling one against another in his half-formed being, at a great expense of spirit and body. Add the storms, which from time to time attacked him, of shivering repulsion from the climate and conditions of life in the city which he yet deeply and imaginatively loved; the moods of spiritual revolt against the harsh doctrines of the creed in which he had been brought up, and to which his parents were deeply, his father even passionately, attached; the seasons of temptation, to which he was exposed alike by temperament and circumstance, to seek solace among the crude allurements of the city streets.

In the later and maturer correspondence which will appear in these volumes, the agitations of the writer's early days are often enough referred to in retrospect. In the boyish letters to his parents, which make up the chief part of this first section, they naturally find no expression at all; nor will these letters be found to differ much in any way from those of any other lively and observant lad who is also something of a reader and has some natural gift of writing. At the end of the section I have indeed printed one cry of the heart, written not to his parents, but about them, and telling of the strain which matters of religious difference for a while brought into his home relations. The attachment between the father and son from childhood was exceptionally strong. But the father was staunchly wedded to the hereditary creeds and dogmas of Scottish Calvinistic Christianity; while the course of the young man's reading, with the spirit of the generation in which he grew up, had loosed him from the bonds of that theology, and even of dogmatic Christianity in general, and had taught him to respect all creeds alike as expressions of the cravings and conjectures of the human spirit in face of the unsolved mystery of things, rather than to cling to any one of them as a revelation of ultimate truth. The shock to the father was great when his son's opinions came to his knowledge; and there ensued a time of extremely painful discussion and private tension between them. In due time this cloud upon a family life otherwise very harmonious and affectionate passed quite away. But the greater the love, the greater the pain; when I first knew Stevenson this trouble gave him no peace, and it has left a strong trace upon his mind and work. See particularly the parable called "The House of Eld," in his collection of Fables, and the many studies of difficult paternal and filial relations which are to be found in The Story of a Lie, The Misadventures of John Nicholson, The Wrecker, and Weir of Hermiston.


In July 1868 R. L. S. went to watch the harbour works at Anstruther and afterwards those at Wick. Of his private moods and occupations in the Anstruther days he has told in retrospect in the essay Random Memories: the Coast of Fife. Here are some passages from letters written at the time to his parents. "Travellers" and "jennies" are, of course, terms of engineering.

'Kenzie House or whatever it is called, Anstruther. [July 1868.]

First sheet: Thursday. Second sheet: Friday.

MY DEAR FATHER,—My lodgings are very nice, and I don't think there are any children. There is a box of mignonette in the window and a factory of dried rose-leaves, which make the atmosphere a trifle heavy, but very pleasant.

When you come, bring also my paint-box—I forgot it. I am going to try the travellers and jennies, and have made a sketch of them and begun the drawing. After that I'll do the staging.

Mrs. Brown "has suffered herself from her stommick, and that makes her kind of think for other people." She is a motherly lot. Her mothering and thought for others displays itself in advice against hard-boiled eggs, well-done meat, and late dinners, these being my only requests. Fancy—I am the only person in Anstruther who dines in the afternoon.

If you could bring me some wine when you come, 'twould be a good move: I fear vin d'Anstruther; and having procured myself a severe attack of gripes by two days' total abstinence on chilly table beer I have been forced to purchase Green Ginger ("Somebody or other's 'celebrated'"), for the benefit of my stomach, like St. Paul.

There is little or nothing doing here to be seen. By heightening the corner in a hurry to support the staging they have let the masons get ahead of the divers and wait till they can overtake them. I wish you would write and put me up to the sort of things to ask and find out. I received your registered letter with the L5; it will last for ever. To-morrow I will watch the masons at the pier-foot and see how long they take to work that Fifeness stone you ask about; they get sixpence an hour; so that is the only datum required.

It is awful how slowly I draw, and how ill: I am not nearly done with the travellers, and have not thought of the jennies yet. When I'm drawing I find out something I have not measured, or, having measured, have not noted, or, having noted, cannot find; and so I have to trudge to the pier again ere I can go farther with my noble design.

Love to all.—Your affectionate son,



'Kenzie House, Anstruther [later in July, 1868].

MY DEAR MOTHER,—To-night I went with the youngest M. to see a strolling band of players in the townhall. A large table placed below the gallery with a print curtain on either side of the most limited dimensions was at once the scenery and the proscenium. The manager told us that his scenes were sixteen by sixty-four, and so could not be got in. Though I knew, or at least felt sure, that there were no such scenes in the poor man's possession, I could not laugh, as did the major part of the audience, at this shift to escape criticism. We saw a wretched farce, and some comic songs were sung. The manager sang one, but it came grimly from his throat. The whole receipt of the evening was 5s. and 3d., out of which had to come room, gas, and town drummer. We left soon; and I must say came out as sad as I have been for ever so long: I think that manager had a soul above comic songs. I said this to young M., who is a "Phillistine" (Matthew Arnold's Philistine you understand), and he replied, "How much happier would he be as a common working-man!" I told him I thought he would be less happy earning a comfortable living as a shoemaker than he was starving as an actor, with such artistic work as he had to do. But the Phillistine wouldn't see it. You observe that I spell Philistine time about with one and two l's.

As we went home we heard singing, and went into the porch of the schoolhouse to listen. A fisherman entered and told us to go in. It was a psalmody class. One of the girls had a glorious voice. We stayed for half an hour.

Tuesday.—I am utterly sick of this grey, grim, sea-beaten hole. I have a little cold in my head, which makes my eyes sore; and you can't tell how utterly sick I am, and how anxious to get back among trees and flowers and something less meaningless than this bleak fertility.

Papa need not imagine that I have a bad cold or am stone-blind from this description, which is the whole truth.

Last night Mr. and Mrs. Fortune called in a dog-cart, Fortune's beard and Mrs. F.'s brow glittering with mist-drops, to ask me to come next Saturday. Conditionally, I accepted. Do you think I can cut it? I am only anxious to go slick home on the Saturday. Write by return of post and tell me what to do. If possible, I should like to cut the business and come right slick out to Swanston.—I remain, your affectionate son,



An early Portfolio paper On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places, as well as the second part of the Random Memories essay, written twenty years later, refer to the same experiences as the following letters. Stevenson lodged during his stay at Wick in a private hotel on the Harbour Brae, kept by a Mr. Sutherland.[4]

Wick, Friday, September 11, 1868.

MY DEAR MOTHER,— ... Wick lies at the end or elbow of an open triangular bay, hemmed on either side by shores, either cliff or steep earth-bank, of no great height. The grey houses of Pulteney extend along the southerly shore almost to the cape; and it is about half-way down this shore—no, six-sevenths way down—that the new breakwater extends athwart the bay.

Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the S.Y.S. (Stornoway boats) have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was "a black wind"; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, black southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it.

In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual "Fine day" or "Good morning." Both come shaking their heads, and both say, "Breezy, breezy!" And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact.

The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall—all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.

To the south, however, is as fine a piece of coast scenery as I ever saw. Great black chasms, huge black cliffs, rugged and over-hung gullies, natural arches, and deep green pools below them, almost too deep to let you see the gleam of sand among the darker weed: there are deep caves too. In one of these lives a tribe of gipsies. The men are always drunk, simply and truthfully always. From morning to evening the great villainous-looking fellows are either sleeping off the last debauch, or hulking about the cove "in the horrors." The cave is deep, high, and airy, and might be made comfortable enough. But they just live among heaped boulders, damp with continual droppings from above, with no more furniture than two or three tin pans, a truss of rotten straw, and a few ragged cloaks. In winter the surf bursts into the mouth and often forces them to abandon it.

An emeute of disappointed fishers was feared, and two ships of war are in the bay to render assistance to the municipal authorities. This is the ides; and, to all intents and purposes, said ides are passed. Still there is a good deal of disturbance, many drunk men, and a double supply of police. I saw them sent for by some people and enter an inn, in a pretty good hurry: what it was for I do not know.

You would see by papa's letter about the carpenter who fell off the staging: I don't think I was ever so much excited in my life. The man was back at his work, and I asked him how he was; but he was a Highlander, and—need I add it?—dickens a word could I understand of his answer. What is still worse, I find the people here-about—that is to say, the Highlanders, not the northmen—don't understand me.

I have lost a shilling's worth of postage stamps, which has damped my ardour for buying big lots of 'em: I'll buy them one at a time as I want 'em for the future.

The Free Church minister and I got quite thick. He left last night about two in the morning, when I went to turn in. He gave me the enclosed.—I remain your affectionate son,



Wick, September 5, 1868. Monday.

MY DEAR MAMMA,—This morning I got a delightful haul: your letter of the fourth (surely mis-dated); papa's of same day; Virgil's Bucolics, very thankfully received; and Aikman's Annals,[5] a precious and most acceptable donation, for which I tender my most ebullient thanksgivings. I almost forgot to drink my tea and eat mine egg.

It contains more detailed accounts than anything I ever saw, except Wodrow, without being so portentously tiresome and so desperately overborne with footnotes, proclamations, acts of Parliament, and citations as that last history.

I have been reading a good deal of Herbert. He's a clever and a devout cove; but in places awfully twaddley (if I may use the word). Oughtn't this to rejoice papa's heart—

"Carve or discourse; do not a famine fear. Who carves is kind to two, who talks to all."

You understand? The "fearing a famine" is applied to people gulping down solid vivers without a word, as if the ten lean kine began to-morrow.

Do you remember condemning something of mine for being too obtrusively didactic. Listen to Herbert—

"Is it not verse except enchanted groves And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines? Must purling streams refresh a lover's loves? Must all be veiled, while he that reads divines Catching the sense at two removes?"

You see, "except" was used for "unless" before 1630.

Tuesday.—The riots were a hum. No more has been heard; and one of the war-steamers has deserted in disgust.

The Moonstone is frightfully interesting: isn't the detective prime? Don't say anything about the plot; for I have only read on to the end of Betteredge's narrative, so don't know anything about it yet.

I thought to have gone on to Thurso to-night, but the coach was full; so I go to-morrow instead.

To-day I had a grouse: great glorification.

There is a drunken brute in the house who disturbed my rest last night. He's a very respectable man in general, but when on the "spree" a most consummate fool. When he came in he stood on the top of the stairs and preached in the dark with great solemnity and no audience from 12 P.M. to half-past one. At last I opened my door. "Are we to have no sleep at all for that drunken brute?" I said. As I hoped, it had the desired effect. "Drunken brute!" he howled, in much indignation; then after a pause, in a voice of some contrition, "Well, if I am a drunken brute, it's only once in the twelvemonth!" And that was the end of him; the insult rankled in his mind; and he retired to rest. He is a fish-curer, a man over fifty, and pretty rich too. He's as bad again to-day; but I'll be shot if he keeps me awake, I'll douse him with water if he makes a row.—Ever your affectionate son,



The Macdonald father and son here mentioned were engineers attached to the Stevenson firm and in charge of the harbour works.

Wick, September 1868. Saturday, 10 A.M.

MY DEAR MOTHER,—The last two days have been dreadfully hard, and I was so tired in the evenings that I could not write. In fact, last night I went to sleep immediately after dinner, or very nearly so. My hours have been 10-2 and 3-7 out in the lighter or the small boat, in a long, heavy roll from the nor'-east. When the dog was taken out, he got awfully ill; one of the men, Geordie Grant by name and surname, followed shoot with considerable eclat; but, wonderful to relate! I kept well. My hands are all skinned, blistered, discoloured, and engrained with tar, some of which latter has established itself under my nails in a position of such natural strength that it defies all my efforts to dislodge it. The worst work I had was when David (Macdonald's eldest) and I took the charge ourselves. He remained in the lighter to tighten or slacken the guys as we raised the pole towards the perpendicular, with two men. I was with four men in the boat. We dropped an anchor out a good bit, then tied a cord to the pole, took a turn round the sternmost thwart with it, and pulled on the anchor line. As the great, big, wet hawser came in it soaked you to the skin: I was the sternest (used, by way of variety, for sternmost) of the lot, and had to coil it—a work which involved, from its being so stiff and your being busy pulling with all your might, no little trouble and an extra ducking. We got it up; and, just as we were going to sing "Victory!" one of the guys slipped in, the pole tottered—went over on its side again like a shot, and behold the end of our labour.

You see, I have been roughing it; and though some parts of the letter may be neither very comprehensible nor very interesting to you, I think that perhaps it might amuse Willie Traquair, who delights in all such dirty jobs.

The first day, I forgot to mention, was like mid-winter for cold, and rained incessantly so hard that the livid white of our cold-pinched faces wore a sort of inflamed rash on the windward side.

I am not a bit the worse of it, except fore-mentioned state of hands, a slight crick in my neck from the rain running down, and general stiffness from pulling, hauling, and tugging for dear life.

We have got double weights at the guys, and hope to get it up like a shot.

What fun you three must be having! I hope the cold don't disagree with you.—I remain, my dear mother, your affectionate son,



The following will help the reader to understand the passage referring to this undertaking in Stevenson's biographical essay on his father where he has told how in the end "the sea proved too strong for men's arts, and after expedients hitherto unthought of, and on a scale hyper-Cyclopean, the work must be deserted, and now stands a ruin in that bleak, God-forsaken bay." The Russels herein mentioned are the family of Sheriff Russel. The tombstone of Miss Sara Russel is to be seen in Wick cemetery.

Pulteney, Wick, Sunday, September 1868.

MY DEAR MOTHER,—Another storm: wind higher, rain thicker: the wind still rising as the night closes in and the sea slowly rising along with it; it looks like a three days' gale.

Last week has been a blank one: always too much sea.

I enjoyed myself very much last night at the Russels'. There was a little dancing, much singing and supper.

Are you not well that you do not write? I haven't heard from you for more than a fortnight.

The wind fell yesterday and rose again to-day; it is a dreadful evening; but the wind is keeping the sea down as yet. Of course, nothing more has been done to the poles; and I can't tell when I shall be able to leave, not for a fortnight yet, I fear, at the earliest, for the winds are persistent. Where's Murra? Is Cummy struck dumb about the boots? I wish you would get somebody to write an interesting letter and say how you are, for you're on the broad of your back I see. There hath arrived an inroad of farmers to-night; and I go to avoid them to Macdonald if he's disengaged, to the Russels if not.

Sunday (later).—Storm without: wind and rain: a confused mass of wind-driven rain-squalls, wind-ragged mist, foam, spray, and great, grey waves. Of this hereafter; in the meantime let us follow the due course of historic narrative.

Seven P.M. found me at Breadalbane Terrace, clad in spotless blacks, white tie, shirt, et caetera, and finished off below with a pair of navvies' boots. How true that the devil is betrayed by his feet! A message to Cummy at last. Why, O treacherous woman! were my dress boots withheld?

Dramatis personae: pere Russel, amusing, long-winded, in many points like papa; mere Russel, nice, delicate, likes hymns, knew Aunt Margaret ('t'ould man knew Uncle Alan); fille Russel, nominee Sara (no h), rather nice, lights up well, good voice, interested face; Miss L., nice also, washed out a little, and, I think, a trifle sentimental; fils Russel, in a Leith office, smart, full of happy epithet, amusing. They are very nice and very kind, asked me to come back—"any night you feel dull: and any night doesn't mean no night: we'll be so glad to see you." C'est la mere qui parle.

I was back there again to-night. There was hymn-singing, and general religious controversy till eight, after which talk was secular. Mrs. Sutherland was deeply distressed about the boot business. She consoled me by saying that many would be glad to have such feet whatever shoes they had on. Unfortunately, fishers and seafaring men are too facile to be compared with! This looks like enjoyment! better speck than Anster.

I have done with frivolity. This morning I was awakened by Mrs. Sutherland at the door. "There's a ship ashore at Shaltigoe!" As my senses slowly flooded, I heard the whistling and the roaring of wind, and the lashing of gust-blown and uncertain flaws of rain. I got up, dressed, and went out. The mizzled sky and rain blinded you.

She was a Norwegian: coming in she saw our first gauge-pole, standing at point E. Norse skipper thought it was a sunk smack, and dropped his anchor in full drift of sea: chain broke: schooner came ashore. Insured: laden with wood: skipper owner of vessel and cargo: bottom out.

I was in a great fright at first lest we should be liable; but it seems that's all right.

C D is the new pier.

A the schooner ashore. B the salmon house.

Some of the waves were twenty feet high. The spray rose eighty feet at the new pier. Some wood has come ashore, and the roadway seems carried away. There is something fishy at the far end where the cross wall is building; but till we are able to get along, all speculation is vain.

I am so sleepy I am writing nonsense.

I stood a long while on the cope watching the sea below me; I hear its dull, monotonous roar at this moment below the shrieking of the wind; and there came ever recurring to my mind the verse I am so fond of:—

"But yet the Lord that is on high Is more of might by far Than noise of many waters is Or great sea-billows are."

The thunder at the wall when it first struck—the rush along ever growing higher—the great jet of snow-white spray some forty feet above you—and the "noise of many waters," the roar, the hiss, the "shrieking" among the shingle as it fell head over heels at your feet. I watched if it threw the big stones at the wall; but it never moved them.

Monday.—The end of the work displays gaps, cairns of ten ton blocks, stones torn from their places and turned right round. The damage above water is comparatively little: what there may be below, on ne sait pas encore. The roadway is torn away, cross-heads, broken planks tossed here and there, planks gnawn and mumbled as if a starved bear had been trying to eat them, planks with spates lifted from them as if they had been dressed with a rugged plane, one pile swaying to and fro clear of the bottom, the rails in one place sunk a foot at least. This was not a great storm, the waves were light and short. Yet when we are standing at the office, I felt the ground beneath me quail as a huge roller thundered on the work at the last year's cross wall.

How could noster amicus Q. maximus appreciate a storm at Wick? It requires a little of the artistic temperament, of which Mr. T. S.,[6] C.E., possesses some, whatever he may say. I can't look at it practically however: that will come, I suppose, like grey hair or coffin nails.

Our pole is snapped: a fortnight's work and the loss of the Norse schooner all for nothing!—except experience and dirty clothes.—Your affectionate son,



I omit the letters of 1869, which describe at great length, and not very interestingly, a summer trip on board the lighthouse steamer to the Orkneys, Shetlands, and the Fair Isle. The following of 1870 I give (by consent of the lady who figures as a youthful character in the narrative) both for the sake of its lively social sketches—including that of the able painter and singular personage, the late Sam Bough,—and because it is dated from the Isle of Earraid, celebrated alike in Kidnapped and in the essay Memoirs of an Islet.

Earraid, Thursday, August 5th, 1870.

MY DEAR MOTHER,—I have so much to say, that needs must I take a large sheet; for the notepaper brings with it a chilling brevity of style. Indeed, I think pleasant writing is proportional to the size of the material you write withal.

From Edinburgh to Greenock, I had the ex-secretary of the E.U. Conservative Club, Murdoch. At Greenock I spent a dismal evening, though I found a pretty walk. Next day on board the Iona, I had Maggie Thomson to Tarbet; Craig, a well-read, pleasant medical, to Ardrishaig; and Professor, Mrs., and all the little Fleeming Jenkinseses to Oban.

At Oban, that night, it was delicious. Mr. Stephenson's yacht lay in the bay, and a splendid band on board played delightfully. The waters of the bay were as smooth as a mill-pond; and, in the dusk, the black shadows of the hills stretched across to our very feet and the lights were reflected in long lines. At intervals, blue lights were burned on the water; and rockets were sent up. Sometimes great stars of clear fire fell from them, until the bay received and quenched them. I hired a boat and skulled round the yacht in the dark. When I came in, a very pleasant Englishman on the steps fell into talk with me, till it was time to go to bed.

Next morning I slept on or I should have gone to Glencoe. As it was, it was blazing hot; so I hired a boat, pulled all forenoon along the coast and had a delicious bathe on a beautiful white beach. Coming home, I cotogai'd my Englishman, lunched alongside of him and his sister, and took a walk with him in the afternoon, during which I find that he was travelling with a servant, kept horses, et cetera. At dinner he wished me to sit beside him and his sister; but there was no room. When he came out he told me why he was so empresse on this point. He had found out my name, and that I was connected with lighthouses, and his sister wished to know if I were any relative of the Stevenson in Ballantyne's Lighthouse. All evening, he, his sister, I, and Mr. Hargrove, of Hargrove and Fowler, sate in front of the hotel. I asked Mr. H. if he knew who my friend was. "Yes," he said; "I never met him before: but my partner knows him. He is a man of old family; and the solicitor of highest standing about Sheffield." At night he said, "Now if you're down in my neighbourhood, you must pay me a visit. I am very fond of young men about me; and I should like a visit from you very much. I can take you through any factory in Sheffield and I'll drive you all about the Dookeries." He then wrote me down his address; and we parted huge friends, he still keeping me up to visiting him.

Hitherto, I had enjoyed myself amazingly; but to-day has been the crown. In the morning I met Bough on board, with whom I am both surprised and delighted. He and I have read the same books, and discuss Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Fletcher, Webster, and all the old authors. He can quote verses by the page, and has really a very pretty literary taste. Altogether, with all his roughness and buffoonery, a more pleasant, clever fellow you may seldom see. I was very much surprised with him; and he with me. "Where the devil did you read all these books?" says he; and in my heart, I echo the question. One amusing thing I must say. We were both talking about travelling; and I said I was so fond of travelling alone, from the people one met and grew friendly with. "Ah," says he, "but you've such a pleasant manner, you know—quite captivated my old woman, you did—she couldn't talk of anything else." Here was a compliment, even in Sam Bough's sneering tones, that rather tickled my vanity; and really, my social successes of the last few days, the best of which is yet to come, are enough to turn anybody's head. To continue, after a little go in with Samuel, he going up on the bridge, I looked about me to see who there was; and mine eye lighted on two girls, one of whom was sweet and pretty, talking to an old gentleman. "Eh bien," says I to myself, "that seems the best investment on board." So I sidled up to the old gentleman, got into conversation with him and so with the damsel; and thereupon, having used the patriarch as a ladder, I kicked him down behind me. Who should my damsel prove, but Amy Sinclair, daughter of Sir Tollemache. She certainly was the simplest, most naive specimen of girlhood ever I saw. By getting brandy and biscuit and generally coaching up her cousin, who was sick, I ingratiated myself; and so kept her the whole way to Iona, taking her into the cave at Staffa and generally making myself as gallant as possible. I was never so much pleased with anything in my life, as her amusing absence of mauvaise honte: she was so sorry I wasn't going on to Oban again: didn't know how she could have enjoyed herself if I hadn't been there; and was so sorry we hadn't met on the Crinan. When we came back from Staffa, she and her aunt went down to have lunch; and a minute after up comes Miss Amy to ask me if I wouldn't think better of it, and take some lunch with them. I couldn't resist that, of course; so down I went; and there she displayed the full extent of her innocence. I must be sure to come to Thurso Castle the next time I was in Caithness, and Upper Norwood (whence she would take me all over the Crystal Palace) when I was near London; and (most complete of all) she offered to call on us in Edinburgh! Wasn't it delicious?—she is a girl of sixteen or seventeen, too, and the latter I think. I never yet saw a girl so innocent and fresh, so perfectly modest without the least trace of prudery.

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