Part 7 out of 7
admiration; it is very witty, very adroit; it contains a great deal
that is excellently true (particularly the parts about my stories
and the description of me as an artist in life); but you will not
be surprised if I do not think it altogether just. It seems to me,
in particular, that you have wilfully read all my works in terms of
my earliest; my aim, even in style, has quite changed in the last
six or seven years; and this I should have thought you would have
noticed. Again, your first remark upon the affectation of the
italic names; a practice only followed in my two affected little
books of travel, where a typographical MINAUDERIE of the sort
appeared to me in character; and what you say of it, then, is quite
just. But why should you forget yourself and use these same
italics as an index to my theology some pages further on? This is
lightness of touch indeed; may I say, it is almost sharpness of
Excuse these remarks. I have been on the whole much interested,
and sometimes amused. Are you aware that the praiser of this
'brave gymnasium' has not seen a canoe nor taken a long walk since
'79? that he is rarely out of the house nowadays, and carries his
arm in a sling? Can you imagine that he is a backslidden
communist, and is sure he will go to hell (if there be such an
excellent institution) for the luxury in which he lives? And can
you believe that, though it is gaily expressed, the thought is hag
and skeleton in every moment of vacuity or depression? Can you
conceive how profoundly I am irritated by the opposite affectation
to my own, when I see strong men and rich men bleating about their
sorrows and the burthen of life, in a world full of 'cancerous
paupers,' and poor sick children, and the fatally bereaved, ay, and
down even to such happy creatures as myself, who has yet been
obliged to strip himself, one after another, of all the pleasures
that he had chosen except smoking (and the days of that I know in
my heart ought to be over), I forgot eating, which I still enjoy,
and who sees the circle of impotence closing very slowly but quite
steadily around him? In my view, one dank, dispirited word is
harmful, a crime of LESE- HUMANITE, a piece of acquired evil; every
gay, every bright word or picture, like every pleasant air of
music, is a piece of pleasure set afloat; the reader catches it,
and, if he be healthy, goes on his way rejoicing; and it is the
business of art so to send him, as often as possible.
For what you say, so kindly, so prettily, so precisely, of my
style, I must in particular thank you; though even here, I am vexed
you should not have remarked on my attempted change of manner:
seemingly this attempt is still quite unsuccessful! Well, we shall
fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
And now for my last word: Mrs. Stevenson is very anxious that you
should see me, and that she should see you, in the flesh. If you
at all share in these views, I am a fixture. Write or telegraph
(giving us time, however, to telegraph in reply, lest the day be
impossible), and come down here to a bed and a dinner. What do you
say, my dear critic? I shall be truly pleased to see you; and to
explain at greater length what I meant by saying narrative was the
most characteristic mood of literature, on which point I have great
hopes I shall persuade you. - Yours truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
P.S. - My opinion about Thoreau, and the passage in THE WEEK, is
perhaps a fad, but it is sincere and stable. I am still of the
same mind five years later; did you observe that I had said
'modern' authors? and will you observe again that this passage
touches the very joint of our division? It is one that appeals to
me, deals with that part of life that I think the most important,
and you, if I gather rightly, so much less so? You believe in the
extreme moment of the facts that humanity has acquired and is
acquiring; I think them of moment, but still or much less than
those inherent or inherited brute principles and laws that sit upon
us (in the character of conscience) as heavy as a shirt of mail,
and that (in the character of the affections and the airy spirit of
pleasure) make all the light of our lives. The house is, indeed, a
great thing, and should be rearranged on sanitary principles; but
my heart and all my interest are with the dweller, that ancient of
days and day-old infant man.
R. L. S.
An excellent touch is p. 584. 'By instinct or design he eschews
what demands constructive patience.' I believe it is both; my
theory is that literature must always be most at home in treating
movement and change; hence I look for them.
Letter: TO THOMAS STEVENSON
[SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH,] OCTOBER 28, 1885.
MY DEAREST FATHER, - Get the November number of TIME, and you will
see a review of me by a very clever fellow, who is quite furious at
bottom because I am too orthodox, just as Purcell was savage
because I am not orthodox enough. I fall between two stools. It
is odd, too, to see how this man thinks me a full-blooded fox-
hunter, and tells me my philosophy would fail if I lost my health
or had to give up exercise!
An illustrated TREASURE ISLAND will be out next month. I have had
an early copy, and the French pictures are admirable. The artist
has got his types up in Hogarth; he is full of fire and spirit, can
draw and can compose, and has understood the book as I meant it,
all but one or two little accidents, such as making the HISPANIOLA
a brig. I would send you my copy, BUT I CANNOT; it is my new toy,
and I cannot divorce myself from this enjoyment.
I am keeping really better, and have been out about every second
day, though the weather is cold and very wild.
I was delighted to hear you were keeping better; you and Archer
would agree, more shame to you! (Archer is my pessimist critic.)
Good-bye to all of you, with my best love. We had a dreadful
overhauling of my conduct as a son the other night; and my wife
stripped me of my illusions and made me admit I had been a
detestable bad one. Of one thing in particular she convicted me in
my own eyes: I mean, a most unkind reticence, which hung on me
then, and I confess still hangs on me now, when I try to assure you
that I do love you. - Ever your bad son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO HENRY JAMES
SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH, OCTOBER 28, 1885.
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES, - At last, my wife being at a concert, and a
story being done, I am at some liberty to write and give you of my
views. And first, many thanks for the works that came to my
sickbed. And second, and more important, as to the PRINCESS.
Well, I think you are going to do it this time; I cannot, of
course, foresee, but these two first numbers seem to me picturesque
and sound and full of lineament, and very much a new departure. As
for your young lady, she is all there; yes, sir, you can do low
life, I believe. The prison was excellent; it was of that nature
of touch that I sometimes achingly miss from your former work; with
some of the grime, that is, and some of the emphasis of skeleton
there is in nature. I pray you to take grime in a good sense; it
need not be ignoble: dirt may have dignity; in nature it usually
has; and your prison was imposing.
And now to the main point: why do we not see you? Do not fail us.
Make an alarming sacrifice, and let us see 'Henry James's chair'
properly occupied. I never sit in it myself (though it was my
grandfather's); it has been consecrated to guests by your approval,
and now stands at my elbow gaping. We have a new room, too, to
introduce to you - our last baby, the drawing-room; it never cries,
and has cut its teeth. Likewise, there is a cat now. It promises
to be a monster of laziness and self-sufficiency.
Pray see, in the November TIME (a dread name for a magazine of
light reading), a very clever fellow, W. Archer, stating his views
of me; the rosy-gilled 'athletico-aesthete'; and warning me, in a
fatherly manner, that a rheumatic fever would try my philosophy (as
indeed it would), and that my gospel would not do for 'those who
are shut out from the exercise of any manly virtue save
renunciation.' To those who know that rickety and cloistered
spectre, the real R. L. S., the paper, besides being clever in
itself, presents rare elements of sport. The critical parts are in
particular very bright and neat, and often excellently true. Get
it by all manner of means.
I hear on all sides I am to be attacked as an immoral writer; this
is painful. Have I at last got, like you, to the pitch of being
attacked? 'Tis the consecration I lack - and could do without.
Not that Archer's paper is an attack, or what either he or I, I
believe, would call one; 'tis the attacks on my morality (which I
had thought a gem of the first water) I referred to.
Now, my dear James, come - come - come. The spirit (that is me)
says, Come; and the bride (and that is my wife) says, Come; and the
best thing you can do for us and yourself and your work is to get
up and do so right away, - Yours affectionately,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
Letter: TO WILLIAM ARCHER
[SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH,] OCTOBER 30, 1885.
DEAR MR. ARCHER. - It is possible my father may be soon down with
me; he is an old man and in bad health and spirits; and I could
neither leave him alone, nor could we talk freely before him. If
he should be here when you offer your visit, you will understand if
I have to say no, and put you off.
I quite understand your not caring to refer to things of private
knowledge. What still puzzles me is how you ('in the witness box'
- ha! I like the phrase) should have made your argument actually
hinge on a contention which the facts answered.
I am pleased to hear of the correctness of my guess. It is then as
I supposed; you are of the school of the generous and not the
sullen pessimists; and I can feel with you. I used myself to rage
when I saw sick folk going by in their Bath-chairs; since I have
been sick myself (and always when I was sick myself), I found life,
even in its rough places, to have a property of easiness. That
which we suffer ourselves has no longer the same air of monstrous
injustice and wanton cruelty that suffering wears when we see it in
the case of others. So we begin gradually to see that things are
not black, but have their strange compensations; and when they draw
towards their worst, the idea of death is like a bed to lie on. I
should bear false witness if I did not declare life happy. And
your wonderful statement that happiness tends to die out and misery
to continue, which was what put me on the track of your frame of
mind, is diagnostic of the happy man raging over the misery of
others; it could never be written by the man who had tried what
unhappiness was like. And at any rate, it was a slip of the pen:
the ugliest word that science has to declare is a reserved
indifference to happiness and misery in the individual; it declares
no leaning toward the black, no iniquity on the large scale in
fate's doings, rather a marble equality, dread not cruel, giving
and taking away and reconciling.
Why have I not written my TIMON? Well, here is my worst quarrel
with you. You take my young books as my last word. The tendency
to try to say more has passed unperceived (my fault, that). And
you make no allowance for the slowness with which a man finds and
tries to learn his tools. I began with a neat brisk little style,
and a sharp little knack of partial observation; I have tried to
expand my means, but still I can only utter a part of what I wish
to say, and am bound to feel; and much of it will die unspoken.
But if I had the pen of Shakespeare, I have no TIMON to give forth.
I feel kindly to the powers that be; I marvel they should use me so
well; and when I think of the case of others, I wonder too, but in
another vein, whether they may not, whether they must not, be like
me, still with some compensation, some delight. To have suffered,
nay, to suffer, sets a keen edge on what remains of the agreeable.
This is a great truth, and has to be learned in the fire. - Yours
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
We expect you, remember that.
Letter: TO WILLIAM ARCHER
SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH, NOVEMBER 1, 1885.
DEAR MR. ARCHER, - You will see that I had already had a sight of
your article and what were my thoughts.
One thing in your letter puzzles me. Are you, too, not in the
witness-box? And if you are, why take a wilfully false hypothesis?
If you knew I was a chronic invalid, why say that my philosophy was
unsuitable to such a case? My call for facts is not so general as
yours, but an essential fact should not be put the other way about.
The fact is, consciously or not, you doubt my honesty; you think I
am making faces, and at heart disbelieve my utterances. And this I
am disposed to think must spring from your not having had enough of
pain, sorrow, and trouble in your existence. It is easy to have
too much; easy also or possible to have too little; enough is
required that a man may appreciate what elements of consolation and
joy there are in everything but absolutely over-powering physical
pain or disgrace, and how in almost all circumstances the human
soul can play a fair part. You fear life, I fancy, on the
principle of the hand of little employment. But perhaps my
hypothesis is as unlike the truth as the one you chose. Well, if
it be so, if you have had trials, sickness, the approach of death,
the alienation of friends, poverty at the heels, and have not felt
your soul turn round upon these things and spurn them under - you
must be very differently made from me, and I earnestly believe from
the majority of men. But at least you are in the right to wonder
To 'say all'? Stay here. All at once? That would require a word
from the pen of Gargantua. We say each particular thing as it
comes up, and 'with that sort of emphasis that for the time there
seems to be no other.' Words will not otherwise serve us; no, nor
even Shakespeare, who could not have put AS YOU LIKE IT and TIMON
into one without ruinous loss both of emphasis and substance. Is
it quite fair then to keep your face so steadily on my most light-
hearted works, and then say I recognise no evil? Yet in the paper
on Burns, for instance, I show myself alive to some sorts of evil.
But then, perhaps, they are not your sorts.
And again: 'to say all'? All: yes. Everything: no. The task
were endless, the effect nil. But my all, in such a vast field as
this of life, is what interests me, what stands out, what takes on
itself a presence for my imagination or makes a figure in that
little tricky abbreviation which is the best that my reason can
conceive. That I must treat, or I shall be fooling with my
readers. That, and not the all of some one else.
And here we come to the division: not only do I believe that
literature should give joy, but I see a universe, I suppose,
eternally different from yours; a solemn, a terrible, but a very
joyous and noble universe, where suffering is not at least wantonly
inflicted, though it falls with dispassionate partiality, but where
it may be and generally is nobly borne; where, above all (this I
believe; probably you don't: I think he may, with cancer), ANY
BRAVE MAN MAY MAKE out a life which shall be happy for himself,
and, by so being, beneficent to those about him. And if he fails,
why should I hear him weeping? I mean if I fail, why should I
weep? Why should YOU hear ME? Then to me morals, the conscience,
the affections, and the passions are, I will own frankly and
sweepingly, so infinitely more important than the other parts of
life, that I conceive men rather triflers who become immersed in
the latter; and I will always think the man who keeps his lip
stiff, and makes 'a happy fireside clime,' and carries a pleasant
face about to friends and neighbours, infinitely greater (in the
abstract) than an atrabilious Shakespeare or a backbiting Kant or
Darwin. No offence to any of these gentlemen, two of whom probably
(one for certain) came up to my standard.
And now enough said; it were hard if a poor man could not criticise
another without having so much ink shed against him. But I shall
still regret you should have written on an hypothesis you knew to
be untenable, and that you should thus have made your paper, for
those who do not know me, essentially unfair. The rich, fox-
hunting squire speaks with one voice; the sick man of letters with
another. - Yours very truly,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
(PROMETHEUS-HEINE IN MINIMIS).
P.S. - Here I go again. To me, the medicine bottles on my chimney
and the blood on my handkerchief are accidents; they do not colour
my view of life, as you would know, I think, if you had experience
of sickness; they do not exist in my prospect; I would as soon drag
them under the eyes of my readers as I would mention a pimple I
might chance to have (saving your presence) on my posteriors. What
does it prove? what does it change? it has not hurt, it has not
changed me in any essential part; and I should think myself a
trifler and in bad taste if I introduced the world to these
But, again, there is this mountain-range between us - THAT YOU DO
NOT BELIEVE ME. It is not flattering, but the fault is probably in
my literary art.
Letter: TO W. H. LOW
SKERRYVORE, BOURNEMOUTH, DECEMBER 26, 1885.
MY DEAR LOW, - LAMIA has not yet turned up, but your letter came to
me this evening with a scent of the Boulevard Montparnasse that was
irresistible. The sand of Lavenue's crumbled under my heel; and
the bouquet of the old Fleury came back to me, and I remembered the
day when I found a twenty franc piece under my fetish. Have you
that fetish still? and has it brought you luck? I remembered, too,
my first sight of you in a frock coat and a smoking-cap, when we
passed the evening at the Cafe de Medicis; and my last when we sat
and talked in the Parc Monceau; and all these things made me feel a
little young again, which, to one who has been mostly in bed for a
month, was a vivifying change.
Yes, you are lucky to have a bag that holds you comfortably. Mine
is a strange contrivance; I don't die, damme, and I can't get along
on both feet to save my soul; I am a chronic sickist; and my work
cripples along between bed and the parlour, between the medicine
bottle and the cupping glass. Well, I like my life all the same;
and should like it none the worse if I could have another talk with
you, though even my talks now are measured out to me by the minute
hand like poisons in a minim glass.
A photograph will be taken of my ugly mug and sent to you for
ulterior purposes: I have another thing coming out, which I did
not put in the way of the Scribners, I can scarce tell how; but I
was sick and penniless and rather back on the world, and mismanaged
it. I trust they will forgive me.
I am sorry to hear of Mrs. Low's illness, and glad to hear of her
recovery. I will announce the coming LAMIA to Bob: he steams away
at literature like smoke. I have a beautiful Bob on my walls, and
a good Sargent, and a delightful Lemon; and your etching now hangs
framed in the dining-room. So the arts surround me. - Yours,
R. L. S.