Part 1 out of 7
The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1
Scanned and proofed by David Price
The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson - Volume 1
CHAPTER I - STUDENT DAYS AT EDINBURGH, TRAVELS AND EXCURSIONS,
Letter: 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'll 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.
Letter: 2 SULYARDE 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
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,
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
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 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
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
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,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
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, 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
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
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,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
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
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
What fun you three must be having! I hope the cold don't disagree
with you. - I remain, my dear mother, your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
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 R.'s. 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 Cummie
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 M- if he's disengaged, to the
R.'s 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 R., amusing, long-winded, in many points
like papa; mere R., nice, delicate, likes hymns, knew Aunt Margaret
('t'ould man knew Uncle Alan); fille R., nommee 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
R., 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.' CEST 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. S. 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. S.
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.
C D is the new pier.
A the schooner ashore. B the salmon house.
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.
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
'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 spales 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.,
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
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,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. CHURCHILL BABINGTON
[SWANSTON COTTAGE, LOTHIANBURN, SUMMER 1871.]
MY DEAR MAUD, - If you have forgotten the hand-writing - as is like
enough - you will find the name of a former correspondent (don't
know how to spell that word) at the end. I have begun to write to
you before now, but always stuck somehow, and left it to drown in a
drawerful of like fiascos. This time I am determined to carry
through, though I have nothing specially to say.
We look fairly like summer this morning; the trees are blackening
out of their spring greens; the warmer suns have melted the
hoarfrost of daisies of the paddock; and the blackbird, I fear,
already beginning to 'stint his pipe of mellower days' - which is
very apposite (I can't spell anything to-day - ONE p or TWO?) and
pretty. All the same, we have been having shocking weather - cold
winds and grey skies.
I have been reading heaps of nice books; but I can't go back so
far. I am reading Clarendon's HIST. REBELL. at present, with which
I am more pleased than I expected, which is saying a good deal. It
is a pet idea of mine that one gets more real truth out of one
avowed partisan than out of a dozen of your sham impartialists -
wolves in sheep's clothing - simpering honesty as they suppress
documents. After all, what one wants to know is not what people
did, but why they did it - or rather, why they THOUGHT they did it;
and to learn that, you should go to the men themselves. Their very
falsehood is often more than another man's truth.
I have possessed myself of Mrs. Hutchinson, which, of course, I
admire, etc. But is there not an irritating deliberation and
correctness about her and everybody connected with her? If she
would only write bad grammar, or forget to finish a sentence, or do
something or other that looks fallible, it would be a relief. I
sometimes wish the old Colonel had got drunk and beaten her, in the
bitterness of my spirit. I know I felt a weight taken off my heart
when I heard he was extravagant. It is quite possible to be too
good for this evil world; and unquestionably, Mrs. Hutchinson was.
The way in which she talks of herself makes one's blood run cold.
There - I am glad to have got that out - but don't say it to
anybody - seal of secrecy.
Please tell Mr. Babington that I have never forgotten one of his
drawings - a Rubens, I think - a woman holding up a model ship.
That woman had more life in her than ninety per cent. of the lame
humans that you see crippling about this earth.
By the way, that is a feature in art which seems to have come in
with the Italians. Your old Greek statues have scarce enough
vitality in them to keep their monstrous bodies fresh withal. A
shrewd country attorney, in a turned white neckcloth and rusty
blacks, would just take one of these Agamemnons and Ajaxes quietly
by his beautiful, strong arm, trot the unresisting statue down a
little gallery of legal shams, and turn the poor fellow out at the
other end, 'naked, as from the earth he came.' There is more
latent life, more of the coiled spring in the sleeping dog, about a
recumbent figure of Michael Angelo's than about the most excited of
Greek statues. The very marble seems to wrinkle with a wild energy
that we never feel except in dreams.
I think this letter has turned into a sermon, but I had nothing
interesting to talk about.
I do wish you and Mr. Babington would think better of it and come
north this summer. We should be so glad to see you both. DO
reconsider it. - Believe me, my dear Maud, ever your most
Letter: TO ALISON CUNNINGHAM
MY DEAR CUMMY, - I was greatly pleased by your letter in many ways.
Of course, I was glad to hear from you; you know, you and I have so
many old stories between us, that even if there was nothing else,
even if there was not a very sincere respect and affection, we
should always be glad to pass a nod. I say 'even if there was
not.' But you know right well there is. Do not suppose that I
shall ever forget those long, bitter nights, when I coughed and
coughed and was so unhappy, and you were so patient and loving with
a poor, sick child. Indeed, Cummy, I wish I might become a man
worth talking of, if it were only that you should not have thrown
away your pains.
Happily, it is not the result of our acts that makes them brave and
noble, but the acts themselves and the unselfish love that moved us
to do them. 'Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of
these.' My dear old nurse, and you know there is nothing a man can
say nearer his heart except his mother or his wife - my dear old
nurse, God will make good to you all the good that you have done,
and mercifully forgive you all the evil. And next time when the
spring comes round, and everything is beginning once again, if you
should happen to think that you might have had a child of your own,
and that it was hard you should have spent so many years taking
care of some one else's prodigal, just you think this - you have
been for a great deal in my life; you have made much that there is
in me, just as surely as if you had conceived me; and there are
sons who are more ungrateful to their own mothers than I am to you.
For I am not ungrateful, my dear Cummy, and it is with a very
sincere emotion that I write myself your little boy,
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
DUNBLANE, FRIDAY, 5TH MARCH 1872.
MY DEAR BAXTER, - By the date you may perhaps understand the
purport of my letter without any words wasted about the matter. I
cannot walk with you to-morrow, and you must not expect me. I came
yesterday afternoon to Bridge of Allan, and have been very happy
ever since, as every place is sanctified by the eighth sense,
Memory. I walked up here this morning (three miles, TU-DIEU! a
good stretch for me), and passed one of my favourite places in the
world, and one that I very much affect in spirit when the body is
tied down and brought immovably to anchor on a sickbed. It is a
meadow and bank on a corner on the river, and is connected in my
mind inseparably with Virgil's ECLOGUES. HIC CORULIS MISTOS INTER
CONSEDIMUS ULMOS, or something very like that, the passage begins
(only I know my short-winded Latinity must have come to grief over
even this much of quotation); and here, to a wish, is just such a
cavern as Menalcas might shelter himself withal from the bright
noon, and, with his lips curled backward, pipe himself blue in the
face, while MESSIEURS LES ARCADIENS would roll out those cloying
hexameters that sing themselves in one's mouth to such a curious
In such weather one has the bird's need to whistle; and I, who am
specially incompetent in this art, must content myself by
chattering away to you on this bit of paper. All the way along I
was thanking God that he had made me and the birds and everything
just as they are and not otherwise; for although there was no sun,
the air was so thrilled with robins and blackbirds that it made the
heart tremble with joy, and the leaves are far enough forward on
the underwood to give a fine promise for the future. Even myself,
as I say, I would not have had changed in one IOTA this forenoon,
in spite of all my idleness and Guthrie's lost paper, which is ever
present with me - a horrible phantom.
No one can be alone at home or in a quite new place. Memory and
you must go hand in hand with (at least) decent weather if you wish
to cook up a proper dish of solitude. It is in these little
flights of mine that I get more pleasure than in anything else.
Now, at present, I am supremely uneasy and restless - almost to the
extent of pain; but O! how I enjoy it, and how I SHALL enjoy it
afterwards (please God), if I get years enough allotted to me for
the thing to ripen in. When I am a very old and very respectable
citizen with white hair and bland manners and a gold watch, I shall
hear three crows cawing in my heart, as I heard them this morning:
I vote for old age and eighty years of retrospect. Yet, after all,
I dare say, a short shrift and a nice green grave are about as
Poor devil! how I am wearying you! Cheer up. Two pages more, and
my letter reaches its term, for I have no more paper. What
delightful things inns and waiters and bagmen are! If we didn't
travel now and then, we should forget what the feeling of life is.
The very cushion of a railway carriage - 'the things restorative to
the touch.' I can't write, confound it! That's because I am so
tired with my walk. Believe me, ever your affectionate friend,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
DUNBLANE, TUESDAY, 9TH APRIL 1872.
MY DEAR BAXTER, - I don't know what you mean. I know nothing about
the Standing Committee of the Spec., did not know that such a body
existed, and even if it doth exist, must sadly repudiate all
association with such 'goodly fellowship.' I am a 'Rural
Voluptuary' at present. THAT is what is the matter with me. The
Spec. may go whistle. As for 'C. Baxter, Esq.,' who is he? 'One
Baxter, or Bagster, a secretary,' I say to mine acquaintance, 'is
at present disquieting my leisure with certain illegal,
uncharitable, unchristian, and unconstitutional documents called
BUSINESS LETTERS: THE AFFAIR IS IN THE HANDS OF THE POLICE.' Do
you hear THAT, you evildoer? Sending business letters is surely a
far more hateful and slimy degree of wickedness than sending
threatening letters; the man who throws grenades and torpedoes is
less malicious; the Devil in red-hot hell rubs his hands with glee
as he reckons up the number that go forth spreading pain and
anxiety with each delivery of the post.
I have been walking to-day by a colonnade of beeches along the
brawling Allan. My character for sanity is quite gone, seeing that
I cheered my lonely way with the following, in a triumphant chaunt:
'Thank God for the grass, and the fir-trees, and the crows, and the
sheep, and the sunshine, and the shadows of the fir-trees.' I hold
that he is a poor mean devil who can walk alone, in such a place
and in such weather, and doesn't set up his lungs and cry back to
the birds and the river. Follow, follow, follow me. Come hither,
come hither, come hither - here shall you see - no enemy - except a
very slight remnant of winter and its rough weather. My bedroom,
when I awoke this morning, was full of bird-songs, which is the
greatest pleasure in life. Come hither, come hither, come hither,
and when you come bring the third part of the EARTHLY PARADISE; you
can get it for me in Elliot's for two and tenpence (2s. 10d.)
(BUSINESS HABITS). Also bring an ounce of honeydew from Wilson's.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
BRUSSELS, THURSDAY, 25TH JULY 1872.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - I am here at last, sitting in my room, without
coat or waistcoat, and with both window and door open, and yet
perspiring like a terra-cotta jug or a Gruyere cheese.
We had a very good passage, which we certainly deserved, in
compensation for having to sleep on cabin floor, and finding
absolutely nothing fit for human food in the whole filthy
embarkation. We made up for lost time by sleeping on deck a good
part of the forenoon. When I woke, Simpson was still sleeping the
sleep of the just, on a coil of ropes and (as appeared afterwards)
his own hat; so I got a bottle of Bass and a pipe and laid hold of
an old Frenchman of somewhat filthy aspect (FIAT EXPERIMENTUM IN
CORPORE VILI) to try my French upon. I made very heavy weather of
it. The Frenchman had a very pretty young wife; but my French
always deserted me entirely when I had to answer her, and so she
soon drew away and left me to her lord, who talked of French
politics, Africa, and domestic economy with great vivacity. From
Ostend a smoking-hot journey to Brussels. At Brussels we went off
after dinner to the Parc. If any person wants to be happy, I
should advise the Parc. You sit drinking iced drinks and smoking
penny cigars under great old trees. The band place, covered walks,
etc., are all lit up. And you can't fancy how beautiful was the
contrast of the great masses of lamplit foliage and the dark
sapphire night sky with just one blue star set overhead in the
middle of the largest patch. In the dark walks, too, there are
crowds of people whose faces you cannot see, and here and there a
colossal white statue at the corner of an alley that gives the
place a nice, ARTIFICIAL, eighteenth century sentiment. There was
a good deal of summer lightning blinking overhead, and the black
avenues and white statues leapt out every minute into short-lived
I get up to add one thing more. There is in the hotel a boy in
whom I take the deepest interest. I cannot tell you his age, but
the very first time I saw him (when I was at dinner yesterday) I
was very much struck with his appearance. There is something very
leonine in his face, with a dash of the negro especially, if I
remember aright, in the mouth. He has a great quantity of dark
hair, curling in great rolls, not in little corkscrews, and a pair
of large, dark, and very steady, bold, bright eyes. His manners
are those of a prince. I felt like an overgrown ploughboy beside
him. He speaks English perfectly, but with, I think, sufficient
foreign accent to stamp him as a Russian, especially when his
manners are taken into account. I don't think I ever saw any one
who looked like a hero before. After breakfast this morning I was
talking to him in the court, when he mentioned casually that he had
caught a snake in the Riesengebirge. 'I have it here,' he said;
'would you like to see it?' I said yes; and putting his hand into
his breast-pocket, he drew forth not a dried serpent skin, but the
head and neck of the reptile writhing and shooting out its horrible
tongue in my face. You may conceive what a fright I got. I send
off this single sheet just now in order to let you know I am safe
across; but you must not expect letters often.
R. L. STEVENSON.
P.S. - The snake was about a yard long, but harmless, and now, he
says, quite tame.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
HOTEL LANDSBERG, FRANKFURT, MONDAY, 29TH JULY 1872.
... LAST night I met with rather an amusing adventurette. Seeing a
church door open, I went in, and was led by most importunate
finger-bills up a long stair to the top of the tower. The father
smoking at the door, the mother and the three daughters received me
as if I was a friend of the family and had come in for an evening
visit. The youngest daughter (about thirteen, I suppose, and a
pretty little girl) had been learning English at the school, and
was anxious to play it off upon a real, veritable Englander; so we
had a long talk, and I was shown photographs, etc., Marie and I
talking, and the others looking on with evident delight at having
such a linguist in the family. As all my remarks were duly
translated and communicated to the rest, it was quite a good German
lesson. There was only one contretemps during the whole interview
- the arrival of another visitor, in the shape (surely) the last of
God's creatures, a wood-worm of the most unnatural and hideous
appearance, with one great striped horn sticking out of his nose
like a boltsprit. If there are many wood-worms in Germany, I shall
come home. The most courageous men in the world must be
entomologists. I had rather be a lion-tamer.
To-day I got rather a curiosity - LIEDER UND BALLADEN VON ROBERT
BURNS, translated by one Silbergleit, and not so ill done either.
Armed with which, I had a swim in the Main, and then bread and
cheese and Bavarian beer in a sort of cafe, or at least the German
substitute for a cafe; but what a falling off after the heavenly
forenoons in Brussels!
I have bought a meerschaum out of local sentiment, and am now very
low and nervous about the bargain, having paid dearer than I should
in England, and got a worse article, if I can form a judgment.
Do write some more, somebody. To-morrow I expect I shall go into
lodgings, as this hotel work makes the money disappear like butter
in a furnace. - Meanwhile believe me, ever your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
HOTEL LANDSBERG, THURSDAY, 1ST AUGUST 1872.
... YESTERDAY I walked to Eckenheim, a village a little way out of
Frankfurt, and turned into the alehouse. In the room, which was
just such as it would have been in Scotland, were the landlady, two
neighbours, and an old peasant eating raw sausage at the far end.
I soon got into conversation; and was astonished when the landlady,
having asked whether I were an Englishman, and received an answer
in the affirmative, proceeded to inquire further whether I were not
also a Scotchman. It turned out that a Scotch doctor - a professor
- a poet - who wrote books - GROSS WIE DAS - had come nearly every
day out of Frankfurt to the ECKENHEIMER WIRTHSCHAFT, and had left
behind him a most savoury memory in the hearts of all its
customers. One man ran out to find his name for me, and returned
with the news that it was COBIE (Scobie, I suspect); and during his
absence the rest were pouring into my ears the fame and
acquirements of my countryman. He was, in some undecipherable
manner, connected with the Queen of England and one of the
Princesses. He had been in Turkey, and had there married a wife of
immense wealth. They could find apparently no measure adequate to
express the size of his books. In one way or another, he had
amassed a princely fortune, and had apparently only one sorrow, his
daughter to wit, who had absconded into a KLOSTER, with a
considerable slice of the mother's GELD. I told them we had no
klosters in Scotland, with a certain feeling of superiority. No
more had they, I was told - 'HIER IST UNSER KLOSTER!' and the
speaker motioned with both arms round the taproom. Although the
first torrent was exhausted, yet the Doctor came up again in all
sorts of ways, and with or without occasion, throughout the whole
interview; as, for example, when one man, taking his pipe out of
his mouth and shaking his head, remarked APROPOS of nothing and
with almost defiant conviction, 'ER WAR EIN FEINER MANN, DER HERR
DOCTOR,' and was answered by another with 'YAW, YAW, UND TRANK
IMMER ROTHEN WEIN.'
Setting aside the Doctor, who had evidently turned the brains of
the entire village, they were intelligent people. One thing in
particular struck me, their honesty in admitting that here they
spoke bad German, and advising me to go to Coburg or Leipsic for
German. - 'SIE SPRECHEN DA REIN' (clean), said one; and they all
nodded their heads together like as many mandarins, and repeated
REIN, SO REIN in chorus.
Of course we got upon Scotland. The hostess said, 'DIE
SCHOTTLANDER TRINKEN GERN SCHNAPPS,' which may be freely
translated, 'Scotchmen are horrid fond of whisky.' It was
impossible, of course, to combat such a truism; and so I proceeded
to explain the construction of toddy, interrupted by a cry of
horror when I mentioned the HOT water; and thence, as I find is
always the case, to the most ghastly romancing about Scottish
scenery and manners, the Highland dress, and everything national or
local that I could lay my hands upon. Now that I have got my
German Burns, I lean a good deal upon him for opening a
conversation, and read a few translations to every yawning audience
that I can gather. I am grown most insufferably national, you see.
I fancy it is a punishment for my want of it at ordinary times.
Now, what do you think, there was a waiter in this very hotel, but,
alas! he is now gone, who sang (from morning to night, as my
informant said with a shrug at the recollection) what but 'S IST
LANGE HER, the German version of Auld Lang Syne; so you see,
madame, the finest lyric ever written will make its way out of
whatsoever corner of patois it found its birth in.
'MEITZ HERZ IST IM HOCHLAND, MEAN HERZ IST NICHT HIER,
MEIN HERZ IST IM HOCHLAND IM GRUNEN REVIER.
IM GRUNEN REVIERE ZU JAGEN DAS REH;
MEIN HERZ IST IM HOCHLAND, WO IMMER ICH GEH.'
I don't think I need translate that for you.
There is one thing that burthens me a good deal in my patriotic
garrulage, and that is the black ignorance in which I grope about
everything, as, for example, when I gave yesterday a full and, I
fancy, a startlingly incorrect account of Scotch education to a
very stolid German on a garden bench: he sat and perspired under
it, however with much composure. I am generally glad enough to
fall back again, after these political interludes, upon Burns,
toddy, and the Highlands.
I go every night to the theatre, except when there is no opera. I
cannot stand a play yet; but I am already very much improved, and
can understand a good deal of what goes on.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, 1872. - In the evening, at the theatre, I had a
great laugh. Lord Allcash in FRA DIAVOLO, with his white hat, red
guide-books, and bad German, was the PIECE-DE-RESISTANCE from a
humorous point of view; and I had the satisfaction of knowing that
in my own small way I could minister the same amusement whenever I
chose to open my mouth.
I am just going off to do some German with Simpson. - Your
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO THOMAS STEVENSON
FRANKFURT, ROSENGASSE 13, AUGUST 4, 1872.
MY DEAR FATHER, - You will perceive by the head of this page that
we have at last got into lodgings, and powerfully mean ones too.
If I were to call the street anything but SHADY, I should be
boasting. The people sit at their doors in shirt-sleeves, smoking
as they do in Seven Dials of a Sunday.
Last night we went to bed about ten, for the first time
HOUSEHOLDERS in Germany - real Teutons, with no deception, spring,
or false bottom. About half-past one there began such a
trumpeting, shouting, pealing of bells, and scurrying hither and
thither of feet as woke every person in Frankfurt out of their
first sleep with a vague sort of apprehension that the last day was
at hand. The whole street was alive, and we could hear people
talking in their rooms, or crying to passers-by from their windows,
all around us. At last I made out what a man was saying in the
next room. It was a fire in Sachsenhausen, he said (Sachsenhausen
is the suburb on the other side of the Main), and he wound up with
one of the most tremendous falsehoods on record, 'HIER ALLES RUHT -
here all is still.' If it can be said to be still in an engine
factory, or in the stomach of a volcano when it is meditating an
eruption, he might have been justified in what he said, but not
otherwise. The tumult continued unabated for near an hour; but as
one grew used to it, it gradually resolved itself into three bells,
answering each other at short intervals across the town, a man
shouting, at ever shorter intervals and with superhuman energy,
'FEUER, - IM SACHSENHAUSEN, and the almost continuous winding of
all manner of bugles and trumpets, sometimes in stirring
flourishes, and sometimes in mere tuneless wails. Occasionally
there was another rush of feet past the window, and once there was
a mighty drumming, down between us and the river, as though the
soldiery were turning out to keep the peace. This was all we had
of the fire, except a great cloud, all flushed red with the glare,
above the roofs on the other side of the Gasse; but it was quite
enough to put me entirely off my sleep and make me keenly alive to
three or four gentlemen who were strolling leisurely about my
person, and every here and there leaving me somewhat as a keepsake.
. . . However, everything has its compensation, and when day came
at last, and the sparrows awoke with trills and CAROL-ETS, the dawn
seemed to fall on me like a sleeping draught. I went to the window
and saw the sparrows about the eaves, and a great troop of doves go
strolling up the paven Gasse, seeking what they may devour. And so
to sleep, despite fleas and fire-alarms and clocks chiming the
hours out of neighbouring houses at all sorts of odd times and with
the most charming want of unanimity.
We have got settled down in Frankfurt, and like the place very
much. Simpson and I seem to get on very well together. We suit
each other capitally; and it is an awful joke to be living (two
would-be advocates, and one a baronet) in this supremely mean
The abode is, however, a great improvement on the hotel, and I
think we shall grow quite fond of it. - Ever your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
13 ROSENGASSE, FRANKFURT, TUESDAY MORNING, AUGUST 1872.
. . . Last night I was at the theatre and heard DIE JUDIN (LA
JUIVE), and was thereby terribly excited. At last, in the middle
of the fifth act, which was perfectly beastly, I had to slope. I
could stand even seeing the cauldron with the sham fire beneath,
and the two hateful executioners in red; but when at last the
girl's courage breaks down, and, grasping her father's arm, she
cries out - O so shudderfully! - I thought it high time to be out
of that GALERE, and so I do not know yet whether it ends well or
ill; but if I ever afterwards find that they do carry things to the
extremity, I shall think more meanly of my species. It was raining
and cold outside, so I went into a BIERHALLE, and sat and brooded
over a SCHNITT (half-glass) for nearly an hour. An opera is far
more REAL than real life to me. It seems as if stage illusion, and
particularly this hardest to swallow and most conventional illusion
of them all - an opera - would never stale upon me. I wish that
life was an opera. I should like to LIVE in one; but I don't know
in what quarter of the globe I shall find a society so constituted.
Besides, it would soon pall: imagine asking for three-kreuzer
cigars in recitative, or giving the washerwoman the inventory of
your dirty clothes in a sustained and FLOURISHOUS aria.
I am in a right good mood this morning to sit here and write to
you; but not to give you news. There is a great stir of life, in a
quiet, almost country fashion, all about us here. Some one is
hammering a beef-steak in the REZ-DE-CHAUSSEE: there is a great
clink of pitchers and noise of the pump-handle at the public well
in the little square-kin round the corner. The children, all
seemingly within a month, and certainly none above five, that
always go halting and stumbling up and down the roadway, are
ordinarily very quiet, and sit sedately puddling in the gutter,
trying, I suppose, poor little devils! to understand their
MUTTERSPRACHE; but they, too, make themselves heard from time to
time in little incomprehensible antiphonies, about the drift that
comes down to them by their rivers from the strange lands higher up
the Gasse. Above all, there is here such a twittering of canaries
(I can see twelve out of our window), and such continual visitation
of grey doves and big-nosed sparrows, as make our little bye-street
into a perfect aviary.
I look across the Gasse at our opposite neighbour, as he dandles
his baby about, and occasionally takes a spoonful or two of some
pale slimy nastiness that looks like DEAD PORRIDGE, if you can take
the conception. These two are his only occupations. All day long
you can hear him singing over the brat when he is not eating; or
see him eating when he is not keeping baby. Besides which, there
comes into his house a continual round of visitors that puts me in
mind of the luncheon hour at home. As he has thus no ostensible
avocation, we have named him 'the W.S.' to give a flavour of
respectability to the street.
Enough of the Gasse. The weather is here much colder. It rained a
good deal yesterday; and though it is fair and sunshiny again to-
day, and we can still sit, of course, with our windows open, yet
there is no more excuse for the siesta; and the bathe in the river,
except for cleanliness, is no longer a necessity of life. The Main
is very swift. In one part of the baths it is next door to
impossible to swim against it, and I suspect that, out in the open,
it would be quite impossible. - Adieu, my dear mother, and believe
me, ever your affectionate son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1873.
MY DEAR BAXTER, - The thunderbolt has fallen with a vengeance now.
On Friday night after leaving you, in the course of conversation,
my father put me one or two questions as to beliefs, which I
candidly answered. I really hate all lying so much now - a new
found honesty that has somehow come out of my late illness - that I
could not so much as hesitate at the time; but if I had foreseen
the real hell of everything since, I think I should have lied, as I
have done so often before. I so far thought of my father, but I
had forgotten my mother. And now! they are both ill, both silent,
both as down in the mouth as if - I can find no simile. You may
fancy how happy it is for me. If it were not too late, I think I
could almost find it in my heart to retract, but it is too late;
and again, am I to live my whole life as one falsehood? Of course,
it is rougher than hell upon my father, but can I help it? They
don't see either that my game is not the light-hearted scoffer;
that I am not (as they call me) a careless infidel. I believe as
much as they do, only generally in the inverse ratio: I am, I
think, as honest as they can be in what I hold. I have not come
hastily to my views. I reserve (as I told them) many points until
I acquire fuller information, and do not think I am thus justly to
be called 'horrible atheist.'
Now, what is to take place? What a curse I am to my parents! O
Lord, what a pleasant thing it is to have just DAMNED the happiness
of (probably) the only two people who care a damn about you in the
What is my life to be at this rate? What, you rascal? Answer - I
have a pistol at your throat. If all that I hold true and most
desire to spread is to be such death, and a worse than death, in
the eyes of my father and mother, what the DEVIL am I to do?
Here is a good heavy cross with a vengeance, and all rough with
rusty nails that tear your fingers, only it is not I that have to
carry it alone; I hold the light end, but the heavy burden falls on
Don't - I don't know what I was going to say. I am an abject
idiot, which, all things considered, is not remarkable. - Ever your
affectionate and horrible atheist,
R. L. STEVENSON.
CHAPTER II - STUDENT DAYS - ORDERED SOUTH, SEPTEMBER 1873-JULY 1875
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
COCKFIELD RECTORY, SUDBURY, SUFFOLK, TUESDAY, JULY 28, 1873.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - I am too happy to be much of a correspondent.
Yesterday we were away to Melford and Lavenham, both exceptionally
placid, beautiful old English towns. Melford scattered all round a
big green, with an Elizabethan Hall and Park, great screens of
trees that seem twice as high as trees should seem, and everything
else like what ought to be in a novel, and what one never expects
to see in reality, made me cry out how good we were to live in
Scotland, for the many hundredth time. I cannot get over my
astonishment - indeed, it increases every day - at the hopeless
gulf that there is between England and Scotland, and English and
Scotch. Nothing is the same; and I feel as strange and outlandish
here as I do in France or Germany. Everything by the wayside, in
the houses, or about the people, strikes me with an unexpected
unfamiliarity: I walk among surprises, for just where you think
you have them, something wrong turns up.
I got a little Law read yesterday, and some German this morning,
but on the whole there are too many amusements going for much work;
as for correspondence, I have neither heart nor time for it to-day.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH, SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 1873.
I HAVE been to-day a very long walk with my father through some of
the most beautiful ways hereabouts; the day was cold with an iron,
windy sky, and only glorified now and then with autumn sunlight.
For it is fully autumn with us, with a blight already over the
greens, and a keen wind in the morning that makes one rather timid
of one's tub when it finds its way indoors.
I was out this evening to call on a friend, and, coming back
through the wet, crowded, lamp-lit streets, was singing after my
own fashion, DU HAST DIAMANTEN UND PERLEN, when I heard a poor
cripple man in the gutter wailing over a pitiful Scotch air, his
club-foot supported on the other knee, and his whole woebegone body
propped sideways against a crutch. The nearest lamp threw a strong
light on his worn, sordid face and the three boxes of lucifer
matches that he held for sale. My own false notes stuck in my
chest. How well off I am! is the burthen of my songs all day long
- DRUM IST SO WOHL MIR IN DER WELT! and the ugly reality of the
cripple man was an intrusion on the beautiful world in which I was
walking. He could no more sing than I could; and his voice was
cracked and rusty, and altogether perished. To think that that
wreck may have walked the streets some night years ago, as glad at
heart as I was, and promising himself a future as golden and
SUNDAY, 11.20 A.M. - I wonder what you are doing now? - in church
likely, at the TE DEUM. Everything here is utterly silent. I can
hear men's footfalls streets away; the whole life of Edinburgh has
been sucked into sundry pious edifices; the gardens below my
windows are steeped in a diffused sunlight, and every tree seems
standing on tiptoes, strained and silent, as though to get its head
above its neighbour's and LISTEN. You know what I mean, don't you?
How trees do seem silently to assert themselves on an occasion! I
have been trying to write ROADS until I feel as if I were standing
on my head; but I mean ROADS, and shall do something to them.
I wish I could make you feel the hush that is over everything, only
made the more perfect by rare interruptions; and the rich, placid
light, and the still, autumnal foliage. Houses, you know, stand
all about our gardens: solid, steady blocks of houses; all look
empty and asleep.
MONDAY NIGHT. - The drums and fifes up in the Castle are sounding
the guard-call through the dark, and there is a great rattle of
carriages without. I have had (I must tell you) my bed taken out
of this room, so that I am alone in it with my books and two
tables, and two chairs, and a coal-skuttle (or SCUTTLE) (?) and a
DEBRIS of broken pipes in a corner, and my old school play-box, so
full of papers and books that the lid will not shut down, standing
reproachfully in the midst. There is something in it that is still
a little gaunt and vacant; it needs a little populous disorder over
it to give it the feel of homeliness, and perhaps a bit more
furniture, just to take the edge off the sense of illimitable
space, eternity, and a future state, and the like, that is brought
home to one, even in this small attic, by the wide, empty floor.
You would require to know, what only I can ever know, many grim and
many maudlin passages out of my past life to feel how great a
change has been made for me by this past summer. Let me be ever so
poor and thread-paper a soul, I am going to try for the best.
These good booksellers of mine have at last got a WERTHER without
illustrations. I want you to like Charlotte. Werther himself has
every feebleness and vice that could tend to make his suicide a
most virtuous and commendable action; and yet I like Werther too -
I don't know why, except that he has written the most delightful
letters in the world. Note, by the way, the passage under date
June 21st not far from the beginning; it finds a voice for a great
deal of dumb, uneasy, pleasurable longing that we have all had,
times without number. I looked that up the other day for ROADS, so
I know the reference; but you will find it a garden of flowers from
beginning to end. All through the passion keeps steadily rising,
from the thunderstorm at the country-house - there was thunder in
that story too - up to the last wild delirious interview; either
Lotte was no good at all, or else Werther should have remained
alive after that; either he knew his woman too well, or else he was
precipitate. But an idiot like that is hopeless; and yet, he
wasn't an idiot - I make reparation, and will offer eighteen pounds
of best wax at his tomb. Poor devil! he was only the weakest - or,
at least, a very weak strong man.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 1873.
. . . I WAS over last night, contrary to my own wish, in Leven,
Fife; and this morning I had a conversation of which, I think, some
account might interest you. I was up with a cousin who was fishing
in a mill-lade, and a shower of rain drove me for shelter into a
tumbledown steading attached to the mill. There I found a labourer
cleaning a byre, with whom I fell into talk. The man was to all
appearance as heavy, as HEBETE, as any English clodhopper; but I
knew I was in Scotland, and launched out forthright into Education
and Politics and the aims of one's life. I told him how I had
found the peasantry in Suffolk, and added that their state had made
me feel quite pained and down-hearted. 'It but to do that,' he
said, 'to onybody that thinks at a'!' Then, again, he said that he
could not conceive how anything could daunt or cast down a man who
had an aim in life. 'They that have had a guid schoolin' and do
nae mair, whatever they do, they have done; but him that has aye
something ayont need never be weary.' I have had to mutilate the
dialect much, so that it might be comprehensible to you; but I
think the sentiment will keep, even through a change of words,
something of the heartsome ring of encouragement that it had for
me: and that from a man cleaning a byre! You see what John Knox
and his schools have done.
SATURDAY. - This has been a charming day for me from morning to now
(5 P.M.). First, I found your letter, and went down and read it on
a seat in those Public Gardens of which you have heard already.
After lunch, my father and I went down to the coast and walked a
little way along the shore between Granton and Cramond. This has
always been with me a very favourite walk. The Firth closes
gradually together before you, the coast runs in a series of the
most beautifully moulded bays, hill after hill, wooded and softly
outlined, trends away in front till the two shores join together.
When the tide is out there are great, gleaming flats of wet sand,
over which the gulls go flying and crying; and every cape runs down
into them with its little spit of wall and trees. We lay together
a long time on the beach; the sea just babbled among the stones;
and at one time we heard the hollow, sturdy beat of the paddles of
an unseen steamer somewhere round the cape. I am glad to say that
the peace of the day and scenery was not marred by any
unpleasantness between us two.
I am, unhappily, off my style, and can do nothing well; indeed, I
fear I have marred ROADS finally by patching at it when I was out
of the humour. Only, I am beginning to see something great about
John Knox and Queen Mary: I like them both so much, that I feel as
if I could write the history fairly.
I have finished ROADS to-day, and send it off to you to see. The
Lord knows whether it is worth anything! - some of it pleases me a
good deal, but I fear it is quite unfit for any possible magazine.
However, I wish you to see it, as you know the humour in which it
was conceived, walking alone and very happily about the Suffolk
highways and byeways on several splendid sunny afternoons. -
Believe me, ever your faithful friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
MONDAY. - I have looked over ROADS again, and I am aghast at its
feebleness. It is the trial of a very ''prentice hand' indeed.
Shall I ever learn to do anything well? However, it shall go to
you, for the reasons given above.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
EDINBURGH, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 1873.
. . . I MUST be very strong to have all this vexation and still to
be well. I was weighed the other day, and the gross weight of my
large person was eight stone six! Does it not seem surprising that
I can keep the lamp alight, through all this gusty weather, in so
frail a lantern? And yet it burns cheerily.
My mother is leaving for the country this morning, and my father
and I will be alone for the best part of the week in this house.
Then on Friday I go south to Dumfries till Monday. I must write
small, or I shall have a tremendous budget by then.
7.20 P.M. - I must tell you a thing I saw to-day. I was going down
to Portobello in the train, when there came into the next
compartment (third class) an artisan, strongly marked with
smallpox, and with sunken, heavy eyes - a face hard and unkind, and
without anything lovely. There was a woman on the platform seeing
him off. At first sight, with her one eye blind and the whole cast
of her features strongly plebeian, and even vicious, she seemed as
unpleasant as the man; but there was something beautifully soft, a
sort of light of tenderness, as on some Dutch Madonna, that came
over her face when she looked at the man. They talked for a while
together through the window; the man seemed to have been asking
money. 'Ye ken the last time,' she said, 'I gave ye two shillin's
for your ludgin', and ye said - ' it died off into whisper.
Plainly Falstaff and Dame Quickly over again. The man laughed
unpleasantly, even cruelly, and said something; and the woman
turned her back on the carriage and stood a long while so, and, do
what I might, I could catch no glimpse of her expression, although
I thought I saw the heave of a sob in her shoulders. At last,
after the train was already in motion, she turned round and put two
shillings into his hand. I saw her stand and look after us with a
perfect heaven of love on her face - this poor one-eyed Madonna -
until the train was out of sight; but the man, sordidly happy with
his gains, did not put himself to the inconvenience of one glance
to thank her for her ill-deserved kindness.
I have been up at the Spec. and looked out a reference I wanted.
The whole town is drowned in white, wet vapour off the sea.
Everything drips and soaks. The very statues seem wet to the skin.
I cannot pretend to be very cheerful; I did not see one contented
face in the streets; and the poor did look so helplessly chill and
dripping, without a stitch to change, or so much as a fire to dry
themselves at, or perhaps money to buy a meal, or perhaps even a
bed. My heart shivers for them.
DUMFRIES, FRIDAY. - All my thirst for a little warmth, a little
sun, a little corner of blue sky avails nothing. Without, the rain
falls with a long drawn SWISH, and the night is as dark as a vault.
There is no wind indeed, and that is a blessed change after the
unruly, bedlamite gusts that have been charging against one round
street corners and utterly abolishing and destroying all that is
peaceful in life. Nothing sours my temper like these coarse
termagant winds. I hate practical joking; and your vulgarest
practical joker is your flaw of wind.
I have tried to write some verses; but I find I have nothing to say
that has not been already perfectly said and perfectly sung in
ADELAIDE. I have so perfect an idea out of that song! The great
Alps, a wonder in the starlight - the river, strong from the hills,
and turbulent, and loudly audible at night - the country, a scented
FRUHLINGSGARTEN of orchards and deep wood where the nightingales
harbour - a sort of German flavour over all - and this love-drunken
man, wandering on by sleeping village and silent town, pours out of
his full heart, EINST, O WUNDER, EINST, etc. I wonder if I am
wrong about this being the most beautiful and perfect thing in the
world - the only marriage of really accordant words and music -
both drunk with the same poignant, unutterable sentiment.
To-day in Glasgow my father went off on some business, and my
mother and I wandered about for two hours. We had lunch together,
and were very merry over what the people at the restaurant would
think of us - mother and son they could not suppose us to be.
SATURDAY. - And to-day it came - warmth, sunlight, and a strong,
hearty living wind among the trees. I found myself a new being.
My father and I went off a long walk, through a country most
beautifully wooded and various, under a range of hills. You should
have seen one place where the wood suddenly fell away in front of
us down a long, steep hill between a double row of trees, with one
small fair-haired child framed in shadow in the foreground; and
when we got to the foot there was the little kirk and kirkyard of
Irongray, among broken fields and woods by the side of the bright,
rapid river. In the kirkyard there was a wonderful congregation of
tombstones, upright and recumbent on four legs (after our Scotch
fashion), and of flat-armed fir-trees. One gravestone was erected
by Scott (at a cost, I learn, of 70 pounds) to the poor woman who
served him as heroine in the HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN, and the
inscription in its stiff, Jedediah Cleishbotham fashion is not
without something touching. We went up the stream a little further
to where two Covenanters lie buried in an oakwood; the tombstone
(as the custom is) containing the details of their grim little
tragedy in funnily bad rhyme, one verse of which sticks in my
'We died, their furious rage to stay,
Near to the kirk of Iron-gray.'
We then fetched a long compass round about through Holywood Kirk
and Lincluden ruins to Dumfries. But the walk came sadly to grief
as a pleasure excursion before our return . . .
SUNDAY. - Another beautiful day. My father and I walked into
Dumfries to church. When the service was done I noted the two
halberts laid against the pillar of the churchyard gate; and as I
had not seen the little weekly pomp of civic dignitaries in our
Scotch country towns for some years, I made my father wait. You
should have seen the provost and three bailies going stately away
down the sunlit street, and the two town servants strutting in
front of them, in red coats and cocked hats, and with the halberts
most conspicuously shouldered. We saw Burns's house - a place that
made me deeply sad - and spent the afternoon down the banks of the
Nith. I had not spent a day by a river since we lunched in the
meadows near Sudbury. The air was as pure and clear and sparkling
as spring water; beautiful, graceful outlines of hill and wood shut
us in on every side; and the swift, brown river fled smoothly away
from before our eyes, rippled over with oily eddies and dimples.
White gulls had come up from the sea to fish, and hovered and flew
hither and thither among the loops of the stream. By good fortune,
too, it was a dead calm between my father and me.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
[EDINBURGH], SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4, 1873.
IT is a little sharp to-day; but bright and sunny with a sparkle in
the air, which is delightful after four days of unintermitting
rain. In the streets I saw two men meet after a long separation,
it was plain. They came forward with a little run and LEAPED at
each other's hands. You never saw such bright eyes as they both
had. It put one in a good humour to see it.
8 P.M. - I made a little more out of my work than I have made for a
long while back; though even now I cannot make things fall into
sentences - they only sprawl over the paper in bald orphan clauses.
Then I was about in the afternoon with Baxter; and we had a good
deal of fun, first rhyming on the names of all the shops we passed,
and afterwards buying needles and quack drugs from open-air
vendors, and taking much pleasure in their inexhaustible eloquence.
Every now and then as we went, Arthur's Seat showed its head at the
end of a street. Now, to-day the blue sky and the sunshine were
both entirely wintry; and there was about the hill, in these
glimpses, a sort of thin, unreal, crystalline distinctness that I
have not often seen excelled. As the sun began to go down over the
valley between the new town and the old, the evening grew
resplendent; all the gardens and low-lying buildings sank back and
became almost invisible in a mist of wonderful sun, and the Castle
stood up against the sky, as thin and sharp in outline as a castle
cut out of paper. Baxter made a good remark about Princes Street,
that it was the most elastic street for length that he knew;
sometimes it looks, as it looked to-night, interminable, a way
leading right into the heart of the red sundown; sometimes, again,
it shrinks together, as if for warmth, on one of the withering,
clear east-windy days, until it seems to lie underneath your feet.
I want to let you see these verses from an ODE TO THE CUCKOO,
written by one of the ministers of Leith in the middle of last
century - the palmy days of Edinburgh - who was a friend of Hume
and Adam Smith and the whole constellation. The authorship of
these beautiful verses has been most truculently fought about; but
whoever wrote them (and it seems as if this Logan had) they are
'What time the pea puts on the bloom,
Thou fliest the vocal vale,
An annual guest, in other lands
Another spring to hail.
Sweet bird! thy bower is ever green,
Thy sky is ever clear;
Thou hast no sorrow in thy song,
No winter in thy year.
O could I fly, I'd fly with thee!
We'd make on joyful wing
Our annual visit o'er the globe,
Companions of the spring.'
SUNDAY. - I have been at church with my mother, where we heard
'Arise, shine,' sung excellently well, and my mother was so much
upset with it that she nearly had to leave church. This was the
antidote, however, to fifty minutes of solid sermon, varra heavy.
I have been sticking in to Walt Whitman; nor do I think I have ever
laboured so hard to attain so small a success. Still, the thing is
taking shape, I think; I know a little better what I want to say
all through; and in process of time, possibly I shall manage to say
it. I must say I am a very bad workman, MAIS J'AI DU COURAGE; I am
indefatigable at rewriting and bettering, and surely that humble
quality should get me on a little.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 6. - It is a magnificent glimmering moonlight
night, with a wild, great west wind abroad, flapping above one like
an immense banner, and every now and again swooping furiously
against my windows. The wind is too strong perhaps, and the trees
are certainly too leafless for much of that wide rustle that we
both remember; there is only a sharp, angry, sibilant hiss, like
breath drawn with the strength of the elements through shut teeth,
that one hears between the gusts only. I am in excellent humour
with myself, for I have worked hard and not altogether fruitlessly;
and I wished before I turned in just to tell you that things were
so. My dear friend, I feel so happy when I think that you remember
me kindly. I have been up to-night lecturing to a friend on life
and duties and what a man could do; a coal off the altar had been
laid on my lips, and I talked quite above my average, and hope I
spread, what you would wish to see spread, into one person's heart;
and with a new light upon it.
I shall tell you a story. Last Friday I went down to Portobello,
in the heavy rain, with an uneasy wind blowing PAR RAFALES off the
sea (or 'EN RAFALES' should it be? or what?). As I got down near
the beach a poor woman, oldish, and seemingly, lately at least,
respectable, followed me and made signs. She was drenched to the
skin, and looked wretched below wretchedness. You know, I did not
like to look back at her; it seemed as if she might misunderstand
and be terribly hurt and slighted; so I stood at the end of the
street - there was no one else within sight in the wet - and lifted
up my hand very high with some money in it. I heard her steps draw
heavily near behind me, and, when she was near enough to see, I let
the money fall in the mud and went off at my best walk without ever
turning round. There is nothing in the story; and yet you will
understand how much there is, if one chose to set it forth. You
see, she was so ugly; and you know there is something terribly,
miserably pathetic in a certain smile, a certain sodden aspect of
invitation on such faces. It is so terrible, that it is in a way
sacred; it means the outside of degradation and (what is worst of
all in life) false position. I hope you understand me rightly. -
Ever your faithful friend,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
[EDINBURGH], TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 1873.
MY father has returned in better health, and I am more delighted
than I can well tell you. The one trouble that I can see no way
through is that his health, or my mother's, should give way. To-
night, as I was walking along Princes Street, I heard the bugles
sound the recall. I do not think I had ever remarked it before;
there is something of unspeakable appeal in the cadence. I felt as
if something yearningly cried to me out of the darkness overhead to
come thither and find rest; one felt as if there must be warm
hearts and bright fires waiting for one up there, where the buglers
stood on the damp pavement and sounded their friendly invitation
forth into the night.
WEDNESDAY. - I may as well tell you exactly about my health. I am
not at all ill; have quite recovered; only I am what MM. LES
MEDECINS call below par; which, in plain English, is that I am
weak. With tonics, decent weather, and a little cheerfulness, that
will go away in its turn, and I shall be all right again.
I am glad to hear what you say about the Exam.; until quite lately
I have treated that pretty cavalierly, for I say honestly that I do
not mind being plucked; I shall just have to go up again. We
travelled with the Lord Advocate the other day, and he strongly
advised me in my father's hearing to go to the English Bar; and the
Lord Advocate's advice goes a long way in Scotland. It is a sort
of special legal revelation. Don't misunderstand me. I don't, of
course, want to be plucked; but so far as my style of knowledge
suits them, I cannot make much betterment on it in a month. If
they wish scholarship more exact, I must take a new lease
THURSDAY. - My head and eyes both gave in this morning, and I had
to take a day of complete idleness. I was in the open air all day,
and did no thought that I could avoid, and I think I have got my
head between my shoulders again; however, I am not going to do
much. I don't want you to run away with any fancy about my being
ill. Given a person weak and in some trouble, and working longer
hours than he is used to, and you have the matter in a nutshell.
You should have seen the sunshine on the hill to-day; it has lost
now that crystalline clearness, as if the medium were spring-water
(you see, I am stupid!); but it retains that wonderful thinness of
outline that makes the delicate shape and hue savour better in
one's mouth, like fine wine out of a finely-blown glass. The birds
are all silent now but the crows. I sat a long time on the stairs
that lead down to Duddingston Loch - a place as busy as a great
town during frost, but now solitary and silent; and when I shut my
eyes I heard nothing but the wind in the trees; and you know all
that went through me, I dare say, without my saying it.
II. - I am now all right. I do not expect any tic to-night, and
shall be at work again to-morrow. I have had a day of open air,
only a little modified by LE CAPITAINE FRACASSE before the dining-
room fire. I must write no more, for I am sleepy after two nights,
and to quote my book, 'SINON BLANCHES, DU MOINS GRISES'; and so I
must go to bed and faithfully, hoggishly slumber. - Your faithful
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
MENTONE, NOVEMBER 13, 1873.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - The PLACE is not where I thought; it is about
where the old Post Office was. The Hotel de Londres is no more an
hotel. I have found a charming room in the Hotel du Pavillon, just
across the road from the Prince's Villa; it has one window to the
south and one to the east, with a superb view of Mentone and the
hills, to which I move this afternoon. In the old great PLACE
there is a kiosque for the sale of newspapers; a string of
omnibuses (perhaps thirty) go up and down under the plane-trees of
the Turin Road on the occasion of each train; the Promenade has
crossed both streams, and bids fair to reach the Cap St. Martin.
The old chapel near Freeman's house at the entrance to the Gorbio
valley is now entirely submerged under a shining new villa, with
Pavilion annexed; over which, in all the pride of oak and chestnut
and divers coloured marbles, I was shown this morning by the
obliging proprietor. The Prince's Palace itself is rehabilitated,
and shines afar with white window-curtains from the midst of a
garden, all trim borders and greenhouses and carefully kept walks.
On the other side, the villas are more thronged together, and they
have arranged themselves, shelf after shelf, behind each other. I
see the glimmer of new buildings, too, as far eastward as Grimaldi;
and a viaduct carries (I suppose) the railway past the mouth of the
bone caves. F. Bacon (Lord Chancellor) made the remark that 'Time
was the greatest innovator'; it is perhaps as meaningless a remark
as was ever made; but as Bacon made it, I suppose it is better than
any that I could make. Does it not seem as if things were fluid?
They are displaced and altered in ten years so that one has
difficulty, even with a memory so very vivid and retentive for that
sort of thing as mine, in identifying places where one lived a long
while in the past, and which one has kept piously in mind during
all the interval. Nevertheless, the hills, I am glad to say, are
unaltered; though I dare say the torrents have given them many a
shrewd scar, and the rains and thaws dislodged many a boulder from
their heights, if one were only keen enough to perceive it. The
sea makes the same noise in the shingle; and the lemon and orange
gardens still discharge in the still air their fresh perfume; and
the people have still brown comely faces; and the Pharmacie Gros
still dispenses English medicines; and the invalids (eheu!) still
sit on the promenade and trifle with their fingers in the fringes
of shawls and wrappers; and the shop of Pascal Amarante still, in
its present bright consummate flower of aggrandisement and new
paint, offers everything that it has entered into people's hearts
to wish for in the idleness of a sanatorium; and the 'Chateau des
Morts' is still at the top of the town; and the fort and the jetty
are still at the foot, only there are now two jetties; and - I am
out of breath. (To be continued in our next.)
For myself, I have come famously through the journey; and as I have
written this letter (for the first time for ever so long) with ease
and even pleasure, I think my head must be better. I am still no
good at coming down hills or stairs; and my feet are more
consistently cold than is quite comfortable. But, these apart, I
feel well; and in good spirits all round.
I have written to Nice for letters, and hope to get them to-night.
Continue to address Poste Restante. Take care of yourselves.
This is my birthday, by the way - O, I said that before. Adieu. -
Ever your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
MENTONE, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1873.
MY DEAR FRIEND, - I sat a long while up among the olive yards to-
day at a favourite corner, where one has a fair view down the
valley and on to the blue floor of the sea. I had a Horace with
me, and read a little; but Horace, when you try to read him fairly
under the open heaven, sounds urban, and you find something of the
escaped townsman in his descriptions of the country, just as
somebody said that Morris's sea-pieces were all taken from the
coast. I tried for long to hit upon some language that might catch
ever so faintly the indefinable shifting colour of olive leaves;
and, above all, the changes and little silverings that pass over
them, like blushes over a face, when the wind tosses great branches
to and fro; but the Muse was not favourable. A few birds scattered
here and there at wide intervals on either side of the valley sang
the little broken songs of late autumn and there was a great stir
of insect life in the grass at my feet. The path up to this coign
of vantage, where I think I shall make it a habit to ensconce
myself a while of a morning, is for a little while common to the
peasant and a little clear brooklet. It is pleasant, in the
tempered grey daylight of the olive shadows, to see the people
picking their way among the stones and the water and the brambles;
the women especially, with the weights poised on their heads and
walking all from the hips with a certain graceful deliberation.
TUESDAY. - I have been to Nice to-day to see Dr. Bennet; he agrees
with Clark that there is no disease; but I finished up my day with
a lamentable exhibition of weakness. I could not remember French,
or at least I was afraid to go into any place lest I should not be
able to remember it, and so could not tell when the train went. At
last I crawled up to the station and sat down on the steps, and
just steeped myself there in the sunshine until the evening began
to fall and the air to grow chilly. This long rest put me all
right; and I came home here triumphantly and ate dinner well.
There is the full, true, and particular account of the worst day I
have had since I left London. I shall not go to Nice again for
some time to come.
THURSDAY. - I am to-day quite recovered, and got into Mentone to-
day for a book, which is quite a creditable walk. As an
intellectual being I have not yet begun to re-exist; my immortal
soul is still very nearly extinct; but we must hope the best. Now,
do take warning by me. I am set up by a beneficent providence at
the corner of the road, to warn you to flee from the hebetude that
is to follow. Being sent to the South is not much good unless you
take your soul with you, you see; and my soul is rarely with me
here. I don't see much beauty. I have lost the key; I can only be
placid and inert, and see the bright days go past uselessly one
after another; therefore don't talk foolishly with your mouth any
more about getting liberty by being ill and going south VIA the
sickbed. It is not the old free-born bird that gets thus to
freedom; but I know not what manacled and hide-bound spirit,
incapable of pleasure, the clay of a man. Go south! Why, I saw
more beauty with my eyes healthfully alert to see in two wet windy
February afternoons in Scotland than I can see in my beautiful
olive gardens and grey hills in a whole week in my low and lost
estate, as the Shorter Catechism puts it somewhere. It is a
pitiable blindness, this blindness of the soul; I hope it may not
be long with me. So remember to keep well; and remember rather
anything than not to keep well; and again I say, ANYTHING rather
than not to keep well.
Not that I am unhappy, mind you. I have found the words already -
placid and inert, that is what I am. I sit in the sun and enjoy
the tingle all over me, and I am cheerfully ready to concur with
any one who says that this is a beautiful place, and I have a
sneaking partiality for the newspapers, which would be all very
well, if one had not fallen from heaven and were not troubled with
some reminiscence of the INEFFABLE AURORE.
To sit by the sea and to be conscious of nothing but the sound of
the waves, and the sunshine over all your body, is not unpleasant;
but I was an Archangel once.
FRIDAY. - If you knew how old I felt! I am sure this is what age
brings with it - this carelessness, this disenchantment, this
continual bodily weariness. I am a man of seventy: O Medea, kill
me, or make me young again!
To-day has been cloudy and mild; and I have lain a great while on a
bench outside the garden wall (my usual place now) and looked at
the dove-coloured sea and the broken roof of cloud, but there was
no seeing in my eye. Let us hope to-morrow will be more
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
HOTEL MIRABEAU, MENTONE, SUNDAY, JANUARY 4, 1874.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - We have here fallen on the very pink of hotels.
I do not say that it is more pleasantly conducted than the
Pavillon, for that were impossible; but the rooms are so cheery and
bright and new, and then the food! I never, I think, so fully
appreciated the phrase 'the fat of the land' as I have done since I
have been here installed. There was a dish of eggs at DEJEUNER the
other day, over the memory of which I lick my lips in the silent
Now that the cold has gone again, I continue to keep well in body,
and already I begin to walk a little more. My head is still a very
feeble implement, and easily set a-spinning; and I can do nothing
in the way of work beyond reading books that may, I hope, be of
some use to me afterwards.
I was very glad to see that M'Laren was sat upon, and principally
for the reason why. Deploring as I do much of the action of the
Trades Unions, these conspiracy clauses and the whole partiality of
the Master and Servant Act are a disgrace to our equal laws. Equal
laws become a byeword when what is legal for one class becomes a
criminal offence for another. It did my heart good to hear that
man tell M'Laren how, as he had talked much of getting the
franchise for working men, he must now be content to see them use
it now they had got it. This is a smooth stone well planted in the
foreheads of certain dilettanti radicals, after M'Laren's fashion,
who are willing to give the working men words and wind, and votes
and the like, and yet think to keep all the advantages, just or
unjust, of the wealthier classes without abatement. I do hope wise
men will not attempt to fight the working men on the head of this
notorious injustice. Any such step will only precipitate the
action of the newly enfranchised classes, and irritate them into
acting hastily; when what we ought to desire should be that they
should act warily and little for many years to come, until
education and habit may make them the more fit.
All this (intended for my father) is much after the fashion of his
own correspondence. I confess it has left my own head exhausted; I
hope it may not produce the same effect on yours. But I want him
to look really into this question (both sides of it, and not the
representations of rabid middle-class newspapers, sworn to support
all the little tyrannies of wealth), and I know he will be
convinced that this is a case of unjust law; and that, however
desirable the end may seem to him, he will not be Jesuit enough to
think that any end will justify an unjust law.
Here ends the political sermon of your affectionate (and somewhat
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
MENTONE, JANUARY 7, 1874.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - I received yesterday two most charming letters -
the nicest I have had since I left - December 26th and January 1st:
this morning I got January 3rd.
Into the bargain with Marie, the American girl, who is grace
itself, and comes leaping and dancing simply like a wave - like
nothing else, and who yesterday was Queen out of the Epiphany cake
and chose Robinet (the French Painter) as her FAVORI with the most
pretty confusion possible - into the bargain with Marie, we have
two little Russian girls, with the youngest of whom, a little
polyglot button of a three-year old, I had the most laughable
little scene at lunch to-day. I was watching her being fed with
great amusement, her face being as broad as it is long, and her
mouth capable of unlimited extension; when suddenly, her eye
catching mine, the fashion of her countenance was changed, and
regarding me with a really admirable appearance of offended
dignity, she said something in Italian which made everybody laugh
much. It was explained to me that she had said I was very POLISSON
to stare at her. After this she was somewhat taken up with me, and
after some examination she announced emphatically to the whole
table, in German, that I was a MADCHEN; which word she repeated
with shrill emphasis, as though fearing that her proposition would
be called in question - MADCHEN, MADCHEN, MADCHEN, MADCHEN. This
hasty conclusion as to my sex she was led afterwards to revise, I
am informed; but her new opinion (which seems to have been
something nearer the truth) was announced in a third language quite
unknown to me, and probably Russian. To complete the scroll of her
accomplishments, she was brought round the table after the meal was
over, and said good-bye to me in very commendable English.
The weather I shall say nothing about, as I am incapable of
explaining my sentiments upon that subject before a lady. But my
health is really greatly improved: I begin to recognise myself
occasionally now and again, not without satisfaction.
Please remember me very kindly to Professor Swan; I wish I had a
story to send him; but story, Lord bless you, I have none to tell,
sir, unless it is the foregoing adventure with the little polyglot.
The best of that depends on the significance of POLISSON, which is
beautifully out of place.
SATURDAY, 10TH JANUARY. - The little Russian kid is only two and a
half: she speaks six languages. She and her sister (aet. 8) and
May Johnstone (aet. 8) are the delight of my life. Last night I
saw them all dancing - O it was jolly; kids are what is the matter
with me. After the dancing, we all - that is the two Russian
ladies, Robinet the French painter, Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone, two
governesses, and fitful kids joining us at intervals - played a
game of the stool of repentance in the Gallic idiom.
O - I have not told you that Colvin is gone; however, he is coming
back again; he has left clothes in pawn to me. - Ever your
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
MENTONE, TUESDAY, 13TH JANUARY 1874.
. . . I LOST a Philipine to little Mary Johnstone last night; so
to-day I sent her a rubbishing doll's toilet, and a little note
with it, with some verses telling how happy children made every one
near them happy also, and advising her to keep the lines, and some
day, when she was 'grown a stately demoiselle,' it would make her
'glad to know she gave pleasure long ago,' all in a very lame
fashion, with just a note of prose at the end, telling her to mind
her doll and the dog, and not trouble her little head just now to
understand the bad verses; for some time when she was ill, as I am
now, they would be plain to her and make her happy. She has just
been here to thank me, and has left me very happy. Children are
certainly too good to be true.
Yesterday I walked too far, and spent all the afternoon on the
outside of my bed; went finally to rest at nine, and slept nearly
twelve hours on the stretch. Bennet (the doctor), when told of it
this morning, augured well for my recovery; he said youth must be
putting in strong; of course I ought not to have slept at all. As
it was, I dreamed HORRIDLY; but not my usual dreams of social
miseries and misunderstandings and all sorts of crucifixions of the
spirit; but of good, cheery, physical things - of long successions
of vaulted, dimly lit cellars full of black water, in which I went
swimming among toads and unutterable, cold, blind fishes. Now and
then these cellars opened up into sort of domed music-hall places,
where one could land for a little on the slope of the orchestra,
but a sort of horror prevented one from staying long, and made one
plunge back again into the dead waters. Then my dream changed, and
I was a sort of Siamese pirate, on a very high deck with several
others. The ship was almost captured, and we were fighting
desperately. The hideous engines we used and the perfectly
incredible carnage that we effected by means of them kept me
cheery, as you may imagine; especially as I felt all the time my
sympathy with the boarders, and knew that I was only a prisoner
with these horrid Malays. Then I saw a signal being given, and
knew they were going to blow up the ship. I leaped right off, and
heard my captors splash in the water after me as thick as pebbles
when a bit of river bank has given way beneath the foot. I never
heard the ship blow up; but I spent the rest of the night swimming
about some piles with the whole sea full of Malays, searching for
me with knives in their mouths. They could swim any distance under
water, and every now and again, just as I was beginning to reckon
myself safe, a cold hand would be laid on my ankle - ugh!
However, my long sleep, troubled as it was, put me all right again,
and I was able to work acceptably this morning and be very jolly
all day. This evening I have had a great deal of talk with both
the Russian ladies; they talked very nicely, and are bright,
likable women both. They come from Georgia.
WEDNESDAY, 10.30. - We have all been to tea to-night at the
Russians' villa. Tea was made out of a samovar, which is something
like a small steam engine, and whose principal advantage is that it
burns the fingers of all who lay their profane touch upon it.
After tea Madame Z. played Russian airs, very plaintive and pretty;
so the evening was Muscovite from beginning to end. Madame G.'s
daughter danced a tarantella, which was very pretty.
Whenever Nelitchka cries - and she never cries except from pain -
all that one has to do is to start 'Malbrook s'en va-t-en guerre.'
She cannot resist the attraction; she is drawn through her sobs
into the air; and in a moment there is Nelly singing, with the glad
look that comes into her face always when she sings, and all the
tears and pain forgotten.
It is wonderful, before I shut this up, how that child remains ever
interesting to me. Nothing can stale her infinite variety; and yet
it is not very various. You see her thinking what she is to do or
to say next, with a funny grave air of reserve, and then the face
breaks up into a smile, and it is probably 'Berecchino!' said with
that sudden little jump of the voice that one knows in children, as
the escape of a jack-in-the-box, and, somehow, I am quite happy
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. SITWELL
[MENTONE, JANUARY 1874.]
. . . LAST night I had a quarrel with the American on politics. It
is odd how it irritates you to hear certain political statements
made. He was excited, and he began suddenly to abuse our conduct
to America. I, of course, admitted right and left that we had
behaved disgracefully (as we had); until somehow I got tired of
turning alternate cheeks and getting duly buffeted; and when he
said that the Alabama money had not wiped out the injury, I
suggested, in language (I remember) of admirable directness and
force, that it was a pity they had taken the money in that case.
He lost his temper at once, and cried out that his dearest wish was
a war with England; whereupon I also lost my temper, and,
thundering at the pitch of my voice, I left him and went away by
myself to another part of the garden. A very tender reconciliation
took place, and I think there will come no more harm out of it. We
are both of us nervous people, and he had had a very long walk and
a good deal of beer at dinner: that explains the scene a little.
But I regret having employed so much of the voice with which I have
been endowed, as I fear every person in the hotel was taken into
confidence as to my sentiments, just at the very juncture when
neither the sentiments nor (perhaps) the language had been
FRIDAY. - You have not yet heard of my book? - FOUR GREAT SCOTSMEN
- John Knox, David Hume, Robert Burns, Walter Scott. These, their
lives, their work, the social media in which they lived and worked,
with, if I can so make it, the strong current of the race making
itself felt underneath and throughout - this is my idea. You must
tell me what you think of it. The Knox will really be new matter,
as his life hitherto has been disgracefully written, and the events
are romantic and rapid; the character very strong, salient, and
worthy; much interest as to the future of Scotland, and as to that
part of him which was truly modern under his Hebrew disguise.
Hume, of course, the urbane, cheerful, gentlemanly, letter-writing
eighteenth century, full of attraction, and much that I don't yet
know as to his work. Burns, the sentimental side that there is in
most Scotsmen, his poor troubled existence, how far his poems were
his personally, and how far national, the question of the framework
of society in Scotland, and its fatal effect upon the finest
natures. Scott again, the ever delightful man, sane, courageous,
admirable; the birth of Romance, in a dawn that was a sunset;
snobbery, conservatism, the wrong thread in History, and notably in
that of his own land. VOILA, MADAME, LE MENU. COMMENT LE TROUVEZ-
VOUS? IL Y A DE LA BONNE VIANDO, SI ON PARVIENT A LA CUIRE
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
[MENTONE, MARCH 28, 1874.]
MY DEAR MOTHER, - Beautiful weather, perfect weather; sun, pleasant
cooling winds; health very good; only incapacity to write.
The only new cloud on my horizon (I mean this in no menacing sense)
is the Prince. I have philosophical and artistic discussions with
the Prince. He is capable of talking for two hours upon end,
developing his theory of everything under Heaven from his first
position, which is that there is no straight line. Doesn't that