“It looks like a mixture of an aztec idol, a lion, an Indian Rajah, and a woman”

RLS’s parents had been thinking of trying a winter at Bournemouth for the sake of being near their son, a plan which was eventually carried out. His health was now fast and painfully breaking.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1647.]

To his Parents [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 342-343]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth, July 7th, 1886

My dear people,

It is probably my fault, and not yours, that I did not understand. I think it would be well worth trying the winter in Bournemouth; but I would only take the house by the month – this after mature discussion. My leakage still pursues its course; if I were only well, I have a notion to go north and get in (if I could) at the inn at Kirkmichael, which has always smiled upon me much.

Kirkmichael village, Perth and Kinross [https://upload.wikimedia.org]




If I did well there, we might then meet and do what should most smile at the time.

Meanwhile, of course, I must not move, and am in a rancid box here, feeling the heat a great deal, and pretty tired of things.

Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth [www.awesomestories.com]

Alexander did a good thing of me at last;

John White Alexander (1856-1915), American painter, had been commissioned by the Century Magazine to make a portrait of RLS [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

it looks like a mixture of an aztec idol, a lion, an Indian Rajah, and a woman; and certainly represents a mighty comic figure.


Alexander’s drawing was reproduced in the issue for April 1888 of the Century Magazine, with Henry James’s essay on RLS.


F[anny] and Lloyd both think it is the best thing that has been done of me up to now.

[…] You should hear Lloyd on the penny whistle, and me on the piano!

Charles Spencelayh (1865-1958), The Tinwhistle Boy. The tin whistle, also called the penny whistle or English flageolet is a simple, six-holed woodwind instrument [www.newyorkirisharts.com]


RLS’s piano, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney [https://maas.museum]

Dear powers, what a concerto! I now live entirely for the piano, he for the whistle; the neighbours, in a radius of a furlong and a half, are packing up in quest of brighter climes. – Ever yours,


P.S. – Please say if you can afford to let us have money for this trip, and if so, how much. I can see the year through without help, I believe, and supposing my health to keep up; but can scarce make this change on my own metal. […]







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“It is a far finer thing to be in love, or to risk a danger, than to paint the finest picture or write the noblest book”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1642.]

To Harriet Monroe [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 335-338]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, 30 June 1886]

My dear Miss Monroe,

I am ill in bed and stupid, incoherently stupid; yet I have to answer your letter, and if the answer is incomprehensible you must forgive me. You say my letter caused you pleasure; I am sure, as it fell out, not near so much as yours has brought to me.


Harriet Monroe (1860-1936), American poet and editor, founder in 1912 and editor of ‘Poetry: A Magazine of Poetry’. She lived in Chicago [https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com]


Harriet Monroe, dressed in costume for the Streets of Paris performance at the Coliseum, c. 1906 [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]

harriet Monroe, 1920 [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]


The interest taken in an author is fragile: his next book, or your next year of culture, might see the interest frosted or outgrown; and himself, in spite of all, you might probably find the most distasteful person upon earth. My case is different. I have bad health, am often condemned to silence for days together – was so once for six weeks, so that my voice was awful to hear when I first used it, like the whisper of a shadow – have outlived all my chief pleasures, which were active and adventurous, and ran in the open air:

Frontispiece of RLS’s travel book ‘An Inland Voyage’, 1878.


Frontispiece of RLS’s travel book ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes’, 1879 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Portrait of RLS by Fanny, Fontainebleau, 1876 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


and being a person who prefers life to art, and who knows it is a far finer thing to be in love, or to risk a danger, than to paint the finest picture or write the noblest book, I begin to regard what remains to me of my life as very shadowy. From a variety of reasons, I am ashamed to confess I was much in this humour when your letter came. I had a good many troubles; was regretting a high average of sins; had been recently reminded that I had outlived some friends, and wondering if I had not outlived some friendships; and had just, while boasting of better health, been struck down again by my haunting enemy, an enemy who was exciting at first, but has now, by the iteration of his strokes, become merely annoying and inexpressibly irksome. Can you fancy that to a person drawing towards the elderly this sort of conjunction of circumstances brings a rather aching sense of the past and the future? Well, it was just then that your letter […] and your photograph […] were brought to me in bed;

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’ c.1887–93

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, ‘RLS’ c. 1887–93 [www.tate.org.uk]

and there came to me at once the most agreeable sense of triumph. My books were still young; my words had their good health and could go about the world and make themselves welcome; and even (in a shadowy and distant sense) make something in the nature of friends for the sheer hulk that stays at home and bites his pen over the manuscripts.

Robert Louis Stevenson at his desk

RLS, Bournemouth, 1885 [www.open.edu]

It amused me very much to remember that I had been in Chicago, not so many years ago, in my proper person; where I had failed to awaken much remark, except from the ticket collector;

RLS arrived in Chicago by train on 19 August 1879. R. F. Zogbaum. “The Modern Ship of the Plains”, Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 13, 1886 [www.philaprintshop.com]

and to think how much more gallant and persuasive were the fellows that I now send instead of me, and how these are welcome in that quarter to the sitter of Herr Platz,

Alexander Salvini, Max Platz photographer, Chicago [http://kdl.kyvl.org]

while their author was not very welcome even in the villainous restaurant where he tried to eat a meal and rather failed.

And this leads me directly to a confession. The photograph which shall accompany this is not chosen as the most like, but the best-looking.

RLS, Bournemouth, Dec 1885.


Put yourself in my place, and you will call this pardonable. Even as it is, even putting forth a flattered presentment, I am a little pained; and very glad it is a photograph and not myself that has to go; for in this case, if it please you, you can tell yourself it is my image – and if it displease you, you can lay the blame on the photographer; but in that, there were no hope, and the poor author might belie his labours.

Kidnapped should soon appear;

First edition of ‘Kidnapped’, Cassell & Company Ltd., 1886 [www.the-saleroom.com]

I am afraid you may not like it, as it is very unlike Prince Otto in every way;


First American edition of ‘Prince Otto’, Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1886 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

but I am myself a great admirer of the two chief characters, Alan and David.

The statue of Alan Breck & David Balfour, the heroes of RLS’s novel “Kidnapped”, by the sculptor Sandy Stoddart, stands on the N side of Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, nearthe place ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ where they parted at the end of the novel [https://en.wikipedia.org]

Virginibus Puerisque has never been issued in the States. I do not think it is a book that has much charm for publishers in any land;

‘Virginibus Puerisque’, first edition, 1881 [http://deriv.nls.uk/]

but I am to bring out a new edition in England shortly, a copy of which I must try to remember to send you. I say try to remember, because I have some superficial acquaintance with myself: and I have determined, after a galling discipline, to promise nothing more until the day of my death: at least, in this way, I shall no more break my word, and I must now try being churlish instead of being false.

I do not believe you to be the least like Seraphina.


Harriet Monroe [https://media.poetryfoundation.org]

Your photograph has no trace of her, which somewhat relieves me, as I am a good deal afraid of Seraphinas – they do not always go into the woods and see the sunrise, and some are so well-mailed that even that experience would leave them unaffected and unsoftened. The ‘hair and eyes of several complexions’ was a trait taken from myself; and I do not bind myself to the opinions of Sir John.

In his description of Otto, Sir John Crabtree writes the Prince has ‘the hair and eyes of several complexions’.

In his description of prince Otto, Sir John Crabtree writes: ‘he has hair of a ruddy gold… and his eyes are dark, a combination which I always regard as the mark of some congenital deficiency, physical or moral.’

In this case, perhaps – but no, if the peculiarity is shared by two such pleasant persons as you and I (as you and me – the grammatical nut is hard), it must be a very good thing indeed, and Sir John must be an ass.

The Book Reader notice was a strange jumble of fact and fancy. I wish you could have seen my father’s old assistant and present partner when he heard my father described as an ‘inspector of lighthouses,’

Sir George Reid, Thomas Stevenson, 1818 - 1887. Lighthouse and harbour engineer

Thomas Stevenson, lighthouse and harbour engineee. His assistant was probably was James Dick, for many years head clerk and confidential assistant in the Stevenson firm [www.nationalgalleries.org]

for we are all very proud of the family achievements, and the name of my house here in Bournemouth is stolen from one of the sea-towers of the Hebrides which are our pyramids and monuments.

The Skerryvore lighthouse lies off the west coast of Scotland, 12 miles south-west of the island of Tiree. It was built with some difficulty between 1838 and 1844 by RLS’s uncle Alan [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The Skerryvore lighthouse,


I was never at Cambridge, again; but neglected a considerable succession of classes at Edinburgh. But to correct that friendly blunderer were to write an autobiography.

[…] And so now, with many thanks, believe me yours sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

[Fanny continues]

















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“How am I to vote?”

Written after his return from a visit to London, and after the decision of PM Gladstone to dissolve Parliament on the defeat of the Home Rule Bill (June 8, 1886).

As to the tale entitled The Travelling Companion, it was thought two years before at Hyères (the scene laid in North Italy but, according to a publisher to whom it was shown, indecent), but was abandoned.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1641.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, p. 205-206]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, ? 28 June, 1886]

My dear Colvin,

I am in bed again – bloodie jackery and be damned to it. Lloyd is better, I think; and money matters better; only my rascal carcase, and the muddy and oily lees of what was once my immortal soul, are in a poor and pitiful condition.

RLS in bed, 1887 [http://freeread.com.au]




Damn the political situation

Damn you

Damn me



Damn Gladstone.

Gladstone debating on Irish Home Rule, April 8, 1886. The Liberal Government was defeated on the Irish Home Rule Bill, Parliament was dissolved, a General Election followed, and the Conservatives, under Lord Salisbury, took office [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Pro-Home Rule postcard [https://stairnaheireann.files.wordpress.com]


I am a kind of a dam home ruler, worse luck to it. I would support almost anything but that bill. How am I to vote? Great Caesar’s Ghost!

“Great Caesar’s Ghost!” was the oath used by Tom Sawyer entering the haunted room in ch. 29 of M. Twain’s novel, 1876 [http://catalog.lambertvillelibrary.org]

– Ever yours,


O! The Travelling Companion won’t do; I am back on it entirely: it is a foul, gross, bitter, ugly daub, with lots of stuff in it, and no urbanity and no glee and no true tragedy – to the crows with it, a carrion tale! I will do no more carrion, I have done too much in this carrion epoch; I will now be clean; and by clean, I don’t mean any folly about purity, but such things as a healthy man shall find fit to see and speak about without a pang of nausea. – I am, yours,

A Repentant Dankist.

The lakeists, the drainists, the brookists, and the riverites; let me be a brookist, faute de mieux,

I did enjoy myself in town, and was a thousandfold the better of it.



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“As to whether the long-eared British public may take to it, all think it more than doubt”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1612.]

To his Father [Colvin 1911, 2, p. 333]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, May 1886]

My dear Father,

The David problem has today been decided.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, First Edition, Cassell, 1886 - Title Page

‘Kidnapped’, First Edition, Cassell, 1886. Want of health preventing RLS at this time from carrying the adventures of David Balfour through to their issue as originally designed, it was resolved to wind them up for the present with the discomfiture of the wicked uncle [www.somerbooks.com]

I am to leave the door open for a sequel if the public take to it, and this will save me from butchering a lot of good material to no purpose.

RLS was then leaving open the possibility of a sequel of ‘Kidnapped’: that was supplied six years later in “Catriona”.



Your letter from Carlisle was pretty like yorself, sir, as I was pleased to see; the hand of Jekyll not the hand of Hyde.

RLS’s parents stayed at Carlisle on their way back home from Matlock Bank Hydropathic (Smedley’s), where RLS had taken care of his father for a week in April [www.andrewsgen.com]

I am for action quite unfit, and even a letter is beyond me; so pray take these scraps at a vast deal more than their intrinsic worth. I am in great spirits about David,

David Balfour in ‘Kidnapped’ 1925 edition, ill. F. Godwin [http://img-fotki.yandex.ru]

Colvin agreeing

Sidney Colvin, c. 1890 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

with Henley,

William Ernest Henley, c. 1890 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

Fanny Stevenson, 1885 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and myself


RLS, 1886 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

in thinking it far the most human of my labours hitherto. As to whether the long-eared British public may take to it, all think it more than doubtful;

Webster Free Circulating Library, NY, c. late 19th century [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I wish they would, for I could do a second volume with ease and pleasure, and Colvin thinks it sin and folly to throw away David and Alan Breck upon so small a field as this one.

Statue of Alan Stewart (left) and the fictional David Balfour (right), from RLS’s ‘Kidnapped, on the N side of Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, near ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ where they parted at the end of the novel [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– Ever your affectionate son,








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“If only I knew any Latin!”

Written just before a visit to London.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1584.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, pp. 213-214]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, 17 March 1886]

My dear Colvin,


I have been reading the Vth and VIth Aeneid – the latter for the first time – and am overpowered.

Aeneas’s voyage to Sicily (Aeneid, V). Flemish tapestry, Palermo [https://bombacarta.com]

Master of the Aeneid, Aeneas sacrifices to the Gods before the tomb of his father, Anchises, in Sicily (Aeneid, book V) [http://images.metmuseum.org]

Dosso Dossi, The Sicilian Games in honor of Anchises (Aeneid, Book V) [www.webexhibits.org]

The Trojan women burn their own ships (Aeneid, Book V) [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]

W. Turner, Lake Avernus with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl, 1798 (Aeneid, Book VI) [https://blogcamminarenellastoria.files.wordpress.com]

G.M. Crespi, Aeneas, the Sibyl, and Charon, 1695-1705 (Aeneid, Book VI) [http://1.bp.blogspot.com]

John Martin, Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld, 1820 (Aeneid, Book VI) [www.operedarte.nikla.net]

Nicolò dell’Abate, Aeneas descends into the underworld, 1543 (Aeneid, Book VI) [https://blogcamminarenellastoria.files.wordpress.com]


That is one of the most astonishing pieces of literature, or rather it contains the best, I ever met with. We are all damned small fry, and Virgil is one of the tops of human achievement;

A 3rd-century Tunisian mosaic of Virgil seated between Clio and Melpomene [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I never appreciated this; you should have a certain age to feel this; it is no book for boys, who grind under the lack of enterprise and dash, and pass ignorantly over miracles of performance that leave an old hoary-headed practitioner like me stricken down with admiration. Even as a boy, the Sibyl would have bust me;

Michelangelo, The Cumaean Sibyl [www.icsrizzoli.it]

but I never read the VIth till I began it two days ago; it is all fresh and wonderful; do you envy me? If only I knew any Latin! if you had a decent edition with notes – many notes – I should like well to have it; mine is a damned Didot with not the ghost of a note, type that puts my eyes out, and (I suspect) no very splendid text – but there, the carnal feelings of the man who can’t construe are probably parents to the suspicion.

Two-page spread from ‘Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis’, a book containing three works by Virgil, printed by Pierre Didot the Elder, 1798 [https://media1.britannica.com]

My dear fellow, I would tenfold rather come to the Monument;

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), art and literary scholar and museum administrator, had been director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge from 1876 to 1884, and was then keeper of the department of prints and drawings in the British Museum (1884-1912) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Sidney Colvin lived on the grounds of the British Museum (the ‘Monument’) [http://blog.britishmuseum.org]

The Round Reading Room at the British Museum, home of the British Library from 1854 to 1997 [https://ka-perseus-images.s3.amazonaws.com]


but my father is an old man, and if I go to town, it shall be (this time) for his pleasure.

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)[www.nationalgalleries.org]

In a next visit to London, RLS was not Colvin’s guest at the British Museum, but stayed with his father at a hotel, 5 Fitzroy Square.


He has many marks of age, some of childhood; I wish this knighthood business could come off, though even the talk of it has been already something, but the change (to my eyes) is thoroughly begun; and a very beautiful, simple, honourable, high-spirited and childlike (and childish) man is now in process of deserting us piecemeal. Si quis piorum – 

The Quoting is from Tacitus, Agricola, ch. 46: the opening words of his valediction to his father-in-law(The Agricola and Germania of Cornelius Tacitus : with explanatory notes and maps, 1885).


– God knows, not that he was pious, but he did his hand’s darg or tried to do it; and if not, well, it is a melancholy business. – Yours ever.










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“If Mr Shaw is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1575.]

To William Archer [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 48-50]

[Skerryvore, c. 9 March 1886]

My dear Archer,

What am I to say? I have read your friend’s book with singular relish.

George Bernard Shaw’s novel, ‘Cashel Byron’s Profession’ had been sent RLS to read by their common friend Archer [www.williamreesecompany.com]

If he has written any other, I beg you will let me see it; and if he has not, I beg him to lose no time in supplying the deficiency. It is full of promise; but I should like to know his age. There are things in it that are very clever, to which I attach small importance; it is the shape of the age.

George Bernard Shaw was 30 at that time [http://i.telegraph.co.uk]

Archer and Shaw in 1914 on the outdoor set of a test film by J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame). It was western called ‘How Men Love’ [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]


And there are passages, particularly the rally in presence of the Zulu king, that show genuine and remarkable narrative talent – a talent that few will have the wit to understand, a talent of strength, spirit, capacity, sufficient vision, and sufficient self-sacrifice, which last is the chief point in a narrator.

As a whole, it is (of course) a fever dream of the most feverish. Over Bashville the footman I owled with derision and delight; I dote on Bashville – I could read of him for ever; de Bashville je suis le fervent – there is only one Bashville, and I am his devoted slave; Bashville est magnifique, mais il n’est guère possible. He is the note of the book. It is all mad, mad and deliriously delightful;

The Admirable Bashville (1901), a short play By G.B. Shaw based loosely on this novel, was written to protect American copyrights after the novel became unexpectedly successful in the US [http://archiveexhibits.library.tamu.edu]

the author has a taste in chivalry like Walter Scott’s or Dumas’, and then he daubs in little bits of socialism;

Shaw as a socialist stump speaker, 1910 [http://blog.mindlogr.com]



he soars away on the wings of the romantic griffon – even the griffon, as he cleaves air, shouting with laughter at the nature of the quest –


and I believe in his heart he thinks he is labouring in a quarry of solid granite realism.

Men quarrying granite, 19th century [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

It is this that makes me – the most hardened adviser now extant – stand back and hold my peace. If Mr. Shaw is below five-and-twenty, let him go his path; if he is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open; – or perhaps, he knows it;-  God knows! my brain is softened.

It is HORRID FUN. All I ask is more of it. Thank you for the pleasure you gave us, and tell me more of the inimitable author.

(I say, Archer, my God, what women!) – Yours

Robert Louis Stevenson

1 part Charles Reade;

Charles Reade (1814-1884), English novelist and dramatist, best known for his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ [www.amreading.com]


1 part Henry James or some kindred author badly assimilated;

Henry James (1843-1916) [http://static.guim.co.uk]

½ part Disraeli (perhaps unconscious);

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British politician and writer who twice served as Prime Minister of the UK [www.britishempire.co.uk]

1 ½ parts struggling, over-laid original talent; 1 part blooming, gaseous folly. That is the equation as it stands. What it may be, I don’t know, nor any other man. Vixere fortes – O, let him remember that –

Quote from Horace, ‘Odes’, IV, IX, 25 (1811 ed.): “Vixere fortes ante Agamemnon multi” (Many brave men lived before Agamemnon”.


– let him beware of his damned century; his gifts of insane chivalry and animated narration are just those that might be slain and thrown out like an untimely birth by the Daemon of the epoch. And if he only knew how I have adored the chivalry! Bashville! – O Bashville! j’en chortle (which is fairly polyglot).







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“Happiness is a question of morality – or of immorality, there is no difference – and conviction”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1571.]

To John Addington Symonds [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 322-325]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth [Early March 1886]

My dear Symonds,

If we have lost touch, it is (I think) only in a material sense; a question of letters, not hearts.

RLS’s friend, John Addington Symonds (1840-93), English poet and literary critic, was at that time living at Davos, Switzerland. He had wtitten to RLS after reading ‘Jekyll & Hyde’: ‘It makes me wonder whether a man has the right so to scrutinise “the abysmal deeps of personality”. It is indeed a dreadful book, most dreadful because of a certain moral callousness, a want of sympathy, a shutting out of hope… As a piece of literary work, this seems to me the finest you have done’ [http://rictornorton.co.uk]

You will find a warm welcome at Skerryvore from both the lightkeepers;

The name Skerryvore, given to RLS’s house in Bournemouth, came from the lighthouse built by RLS’s uncle Alan: its scale reproduction was erected in RLS’s garden at Bournemouth [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]

The outline of Skerryvore in a public garden is all that remains in Bournemouth [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]


The true lighthouse of Skerryvore, built by RLS’s uncle Alan in 1844: situated 40 km West of Mull, South of the island of Tiree and the sea of Hebrides [www.jean-guichard.com]


and, indeed, we never tell ourselves one of our financial fairy tales, but a run to Davos is a prime feature.

Sketch of Am Hof, Symonds’s house in Davos, by Catherine Symonds. [http://padraigrooney.com]

I am not changeable in friendship; and I think I can promise you you have a pair of trusty well-wishers and friends in Bournemouth: whether they write or not is but a small thing; the flag may not be waved, but it is there.

Jekyll is a dreadful thing, I own; but the only thing I feel dreadful about is that damned old business of the war in the members.

Jekyll characterizes his inner conflict as one informed by the “perennial war among my members”.


This time it came out; I hope it will stay in, in future.

Raskolnikoff is easily the greatest book I have read in ten years; I am glad you took to it.

Symonds had twice written asking if RLS had read Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’. RLS got the French translation of the novel in 1885.


Many find it dull: Henry James could not finish it:

Henry James (1843-1916), in 1889 [http://thevillager.com]

all I can say is, it nearly finished me. It was like having an illness. James did not care for it because the character of Raskolnikoff was not objective;

Raskolnikov und Marmeladov, illustration for the novel ‘Crime and Punishment’ by F. Dostoevsky, 1874.


and at that I divined a great gulf between us, and, on further reflection, the existence of a certain impotence in many minds of today, which prevents them from living in a book or a character, and keeps them standing afar off, spectators of a puppet show.


To such I suppose the book may seem empty in the centre; to the others it is a room, a house of life, into which they themselves enter, and are tortured and purified. The Juge d’Instruction I thought a wonderful, weird, touching, ingenious creation: the drunken father, and Sonia, and the student friend, and the uncircumscribed, protoplasmic humanity of Raskolnikoff, all upon a level that filled me with wonder: the execution also, superb in places. Another has been translated – Humiliés et Offensés.

It is even more incoherent than Le Crime et le Châtiment, but breathes much of the same lovely goodness, and has passages of power. Dostoieffsky is a devil of a swell, to be sure. Have you heard that he became a stout, imperialist conservative? It is interesting to know.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) [www.artspecialday.com]

To something of that side, the balance leans with me also in view of the incoherency and incapacity of all. The old boyish idea of the march on Paradise being now out of season, and all plans and ideas that I hear debated being built on a superb indifference to the first principles of human character, a helpless desire to acquiesce in anything of which I know the worst assails me. Fundamental errors in human nature of two sorts stand on the skyline of all this modern world of aspirations. First, that it is happiness that men want; and second, that happiness consists of anything but an internal harmony. Men do not want, and I do not think they would accept, happiness; what they live for is rivalry, effort, success – the elements our friends wish to eliminate. And, on the other hand, happiness is a question of morality – or of immorality, there is no difference – and conviction. Gordon was happy in Khartoum, in his worst hours of danger and fatigue;

G.W. Joy, Gordon’s death at the fall of Khartum in 1885, the conquest of Egyptian held Khartoum by the Mahdist forces led by Muhammad Ahmad. There was a great public outcry and much bitter criticism of Gladstone and his government. Votes of censure were moved in both Houses of Parliament. For hours the best part of the town was the scene of a merciless massacre. Even the women and children were not spared. After a ten-month siege, when the Mahdists finally broke into the city, the entire garrison of Egyptian soldiers was killed along with 4,000 Sudanese civilians [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Marat was happy, I suppose, in his ugliest frenzy;

Luc Etienne Melingue, Marat, 1879 [www.storiain.net]


Marcus Aurelius was happy in the detested camp;


Pepys was pretty happy,

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) [www.magd.cam.ac.uk]

and I am pretty happy on the whole,

Charcoal portrait of RLS by John Singer Sargent, 1885. Beinecke Collection, Yale University [http://rogers99.users.sonic.net]

because we both somewhat crowingly accepted a via media, both liked to attend to our affairs, and both had some success in managing the same. It is quite an open question whether Pepys and I ought to be happy; on the other hand, there is no doubt that Marat had better be unhappy. He was right (if he said it) that he was la misère humaine, cureless misery – unless perhaps by the gallows. Death is a great and gentle solvent; it has never had justice done it, no, not by Whitman.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), in 1887 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

As for those crockery chimney-piece ornaments, the bourgeois (quorum pars), and their cowardly dislike of dying and killing, it is merely one symptom of a thousand how utterly they have got out of touch of life. Their dislike of capital punishment and their treatment of their domestic servants are for me the two flaunting emblems of their hollowness.

God knows where I am driving to. But here comes my lunch.

Which interruption, happily for you, seems to have stayed the issue. I have now nothing to say, that had formerly such a pressure of twaddle. Pray don’t fail to come this summer. It will be a great disappointment, now it has been spoken of, if you do. Yours ever,

Robert Louis Stevenson











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