“But I am an outsider, and I have a certain liking for a light unto my path”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2364.]

To Charles Baxter

[Baxter, Letters, pp. 288-90: http://www.hathitrust.org]

[Vailima, 9 or 10 November 1891]

3 encl. – by George there’s going to be 4!

Dear Charles,

I have just written one enclosure with an eye to Henley, another will go from my mother and me anent the Trust,

Chicken Rock lighthouse, built by David and Thomas Stevenson in 1879. The ‘Trust’ here mentioned is the family firm. Charles Baxter had written: The Trust accounts go by this mail. I see my cashier has not very happily expressed himself about the firm of D. & T.S. My idea is, that if we can come up to a total payment of £3000, we shan’t do very badly. I don’t think they’re very prosperous just now, and I’m rather afraid that, if we are to screw them up to the last farthing, we should have to sue them but of course I’ll do what you and your mother think I should; only I should like definite instructions about the matter’ (see Mehew 7, p. 191 n. 2) [www.enschrage.nl]

and now here’s between’s twa.

1. I don’t mean you to send me any money: it would only break my heart; I wanted your bookkeeper to send once a month a rough statement of my balance. However, there came, with this of yours, niether coin nor yet statement! so I’m still in the mud. I draw on you today for £200 in favour of Hayhurst, Gurr, and Co.

Classified ad, Samoa Times and South Sea Advertiser, 2 August 1890.

You should be able to meet it easy, I believe. Unless you really send the money away! I must have expressed myself ill indeed! However, there is no help for it now, and I hope it is a mere passing misapprehension, that will be already cleared up.

2. I wish you to take steps to have me released from the Fowke and de Mattos trusts.

Alan Stevenson (1807-65), the eldest son of Robert, and RLS’s uncle, was engineer in chief to the Northern Lighthouse Board from 1843 to 1853, when he retired prematurely on account of illness in 1853. He was responsible for twelve important lighthouses, of which the most famous is the superlative Skerryvore of 1844. He wrote an excellent account of this building and also on illumination, a subject of which he was a master. He made improvements in this field especially in the dioptric system; his apparatus, of this kind at Start Point (England) was the first to be used by Trinity House. Apart from scientific pursuits he had literary and classical tastes which are reflected in some of his designs. He had three daughters, Jean, Dorothea and the author and journalist Katharine Elizabeth De Mattos, and one son, art critic Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson. Dorothea married in 1876 William Richardson Fowke (1847-99) and lived in Ceylon. Fowke seems to have been an unsatisfactory character who became an alcoholic and was later convicted of bigamy (Mehew 7, p. 191 n. 4). Katharine married, against the wishes of her family, William Sydney de Mattos, whose constant infidelities led to their separation in 1881 [www.pharology.eu/]

Humphrey Jones, C.B. (with whom you had better communicate at 24 Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea) gives me to understand that my co-trustees are willing and eager to be shut of me.

Humphrey Stanley Herbert Jones, C.B. (1817-1902), Katharine Stevenson’s maternal uncle and member of the De Mattos Trust served throughout the world for 30 years with the Commissariat Department (responsible for supplying food and fodder to the army in field) and retired as Commissary-General in 1867 (Mehew 7, p. 148 n. 1) [https://natlib.govt.nz/]
Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk/Lawrence Street, Chelsea, were built in 1886. Named in honour of the sage, who had lived nearby, it has earned the tongue-in-cheek sobriquet “The Writers’ Block.” Henry James (no. 21), T.S. Eliot (no. 19) and other writers have lived in this six-storey apartment building close to the Chelsea Embankment. James, who called it “the haunt of the sage and the seagull”, died here in 1916.[https://lid.zoocdn.com]

So I suppose, under the circumstances, it will be a matter of form.

3. Haith! I believe that’s a’. By this time, I suppose you will have heard from McClure,

Samuel Sidney McClure (1857-1949). In 1884, he had established the McClure Syndicate, the first U.S. newspaper syndicate. He published in Sunday newspapers containing serials of books and reviews. He had got the serial rights to RLS’s letters from the South Seas, and had begun their serialisation in Black and White magazine. He finally appears as Jim Pinkerton in The Wrecker [https://alchetron.com]

and The Beach of Falesá will be decided for better for worse. The end of The Wrecker goes by this mail – an awfae relief. I am now free and can do what I please. What do I please? I kenna. I’ll bide a wee. There’s a child’s history in the wind; and there’s my grandfather’s life begun;

The work about his grandfather’s life remained unfinished at RLS’s death. The first 3 chapters were published by Colvin as Records of a Family of Engineers. Chapters 4-6 survive in MS in incomplete and unrevised form. They were privately printed in part by J. Christian Bay in 1929. The ‘child’s history’ was not executed.

and there’s a histy of Samoa in the last four or five years begun

‘A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa’ was to be published in 1892 [www.jonkers.co.uk]

– there’s a kind of sense to this book: it may help the Samoans, it may help me, for I’m bound on the altar here for anti-Germanism. Then there’s The Pearl Fisher about a quarter done;

The final title for The Pearl Fisher was to become The Ebb Tide, serialised in McClure’s Magazine from November 1894 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

and there’s various short stories in various degrees of incompleteness. Deil, there’s plenty grist, but the mill’s unco slaw! Tomorrow or next day, when the mail’s through, I’ll attack one or other, or maybe something else. All these schemes begin to laugh at me, for the day’s far through, and I believe the pen grows heavy. However, I believe The Wrecker is a good yarn of its poor sort, and it is certainly well nourished with facts; no realist can touch me there, for by this time I do begin to know something of life in the XIXth century, which no novelist either in France or England seems to know much of.

You must have great larks over Masonry.

The Lodge of Edinburgh meets at Mary’s Chapel No. 1, 19 Hill Street, Edinburgh, in a building erected in the 1820s [www.lesliehossack.ca]

You’re away up in the ranks now and (according to works that I have read) doubtless design assassinations and kiss – I believe it is the devil’s arse?

Osculum infame, 18th century [https://deathandmysticism.tumblr.com/]

But I am an outsider, and I have a certain liking for a light unto my path which would deter me from joining the rank and file of so vast and dim a confraternity. At your altitude it becomes (of course) amusing and – perhaps – useful. Yes, I remember the L.J.R., and the constitution, and my homily on Liberty, and yours on Reverence which was never written – so I never knew what Reverence was. I remember I wanted to write Justice also, but I forgot who had the billet.

In the winter of 1872-73 RLS began a religious quarrel with his father. Thomas Stevenson, a true Scottish Calvinist, discovered the constitution of the L.J.R. (Liberty, Justice, Reverence) League, a club founded by RLS and friends (like Charles Baxter) in a pub in Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh. The L.J.R.’s motto was “disregard everything our parents taught us”.

My dear papa was in a devil of a taking; and I had to go out to lunch – to meet the Wigans at Ferriers

Alfred Sydney Wigan (1814-1878) was an English actor-manager who took part in the first Royal Command Performance before Queen Victoria in 1848. RLS’s mother recorded seeing them with RLS at the theatre in 1871 and finding them ‘great fun’ (Mehew 7, p. 192 n. 7) [www.rct.uk]
Leonora Wigan born Leonora Pincott (1805-84), Alfred’s wife, was an actress, known at first as a stilts and rope dancer [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– in a strangely begrutten state, which was infra dig. for a homilist on Liberty. It was about four, I suppose, that we met in the Lothian Road

Lothian Road, Edinburgh, winter 1955 [https://scontent-mxp1-1.xx.fbcdn.net]

– had we the price of two bitters between us? Questionable!

All you say of Henley I feel; I cannot describe the sense of relief and sorrow with which I feel I am done with him. No better company in God’s earth, and in some ways a fine fellow, a very fine one.

W.E. Henley (1849-1903)[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

But there has been too much hole-and-cornering, and cliquing, and sweltering; too much of the fizz and cackle of the low actor lot; and of late days, with all sorts of pleasant and affecting returns of friendship when we met, too much and a too visibly growing jealousy of me. It made my life hard; now it leaves it a good bit empty. Et puis après? So they both died and went out of the story; and I daresay young fellows short of a magazine article in the twentieth century (if our civilisation endures) will expose the horrid R.L.S. and defend and at last do justice to the misused W.E.H. For he is of that big, round, human, faulty stamp of man that makes lovers after death. I bet he has drunk more, and smoked more, and talked more sense, and quarreled with more friends than any of God ‘s creatures; and he has written some A-1 verses – talking of that – man alive! –

4. Your bookseller – (I have lost his letter – I mean the bloody maid has, arranging my room – and so have to send by you ) – wrote me a letter about Old Bailey Papers.

Old Bailey Session Papers. The online project (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org) involved the digitisation of all surviving pages and transcripts of trials from the Old Bailey Session Papers between 1674 and 1913. It contains data from an astounding 197,745 criminal trails [https://guildhalllibrarynewsletter.files.wordpress.com]

Gosh, I near swarfed; dam’d, man, I near hand dee’d o’t. It’s only yin or twa volumes I want: say 500 or 1,000 pp. of the stuff; and the worthy man (much doubting) proposed to bury me in volumes. Please allay his rage, and apologise that I have not written him direct: his note was civil and purposelike. And please send me a copy of Henley’s Book of Verses;

Henley’s book of verses had been first published in 1888.

mine has disappeared.


My mother is to give me an order for £100 (her bond), so that makes only £100 you ‘ll have to meet on my bill. The orchestra is better at a distance no doubt; and Lloyd some times quacks on the clarionet in a manner to bring blood; but it’s great fun.


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“Surely ten others could be found to join me in this, and it would give the babes a chance”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2363.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter, Letters, pp. 291-2: http://www.hathitrust.org]

[Vailima, 9 or 10 November 1891]

My dear Charles,

1st. As to Henley, I am quite willing to put myself entirely in his hands as to publication, non-publication, and whole or partial publication. Just what and how he likes. I have no intention of writing any of the plays; but of Hester Noble I wish to make a short story some of these days for a collection.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). In 1879, RLS had sketched with him the idea of the play Hester Noble. Nothing more came of it [https://s.yimg.com/]

The others I expect him to use or leave as he wishes. I request him to write for me a statement that I may use Hester Noble, as explicit as mine here. He has all the papers in a portfolio; if there ever was a sketch of Hester, I should be obliged if he would send it me.

2nd. About Runciman’s family, I am not surprised.

James Runciman (1852-91) is buried in Kingston Cemetery, London. A journalist and teacher, once associated with Henley in the days of London, he had died on 6 July 1891mes Runciman (1852-91). Henley had written to Charles Baxter: “We’re making a subscription for Runciman’s widow and children – left destitute, I am sorry to say. I hope that Stevenson will bear a hand” (Mehew 7, p. 190 n. 3) [https://victorianweb.org]

Whatever I can do, I wish to do. I am going to draw on you for £200, and to charge you with a Xmas hamper for Miss Boodle,

Miss Adelaide Ann Boodle (1858-1934) had been neighbour of RLS at Bournemouth. She had become devoted friend of the Stevensons: her book “RLS and his Sine Qua Non” (1926) will give an affectionate account of Bournemouth times [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

and I am going to ask Miss B. to get a goose for Mary Ann Watts.

The Stevensons settled in Bournemouth from July 1884 to August 1887. Mary Ann Watts had been RLS’s housekeeper there at Skerryvore Cottage, at that time it was rent out [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

If after that is through, you have £20 to my credit, let it go to Mrs. Runciman; if you have £50, let £30 go to her. Or if the thing is being more sensibly managed, and a fund could be administered, I would willingly subscribe £20 a year for five years. Surely ten others could be found to join me in this, and it would give the babes a chance.* If none of these schemes can be managed, I place myself in your hands as I have so often done before; be thou my almoner! But I have written what I should prefer.

[signature cut out]

* If this could be arranged I would advance my quota if needful to 25 or even 30; but £200 a year is certainly ample, and she should certainly be able to do with £150. I inclose a letter for Mrs. R.

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“The deed is done, didst thou not hear a noise?”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2361.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin, 1911, 3, pp. 352-3]

[Vailima, Early November 1891]

My dear Burlingame,

The time draws nigh, the mail is near due, and I snatch a moment of collapse so that you may have at least some sort of a scratch of note along with the




Wrecker. Hurray!

which I mean to go herewith. It has taken me a devil of a pull, but I think it’s going to be ready. If I did not know you were on the stretch waiting for it and trembling for your illustrations, I would keep it for another finish; but things being as they are, I will let it go the best way I can get it.

The last image of The Wrecker, by illustrator W.L. Metcalf, for the serial edition in Scribner’s Magazine, August 1891- July 1892 [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com]

I am now within two pages of the end of Chapter XXV, which is the last chapter, the end with its gathering up of loose threads, being the dedication to Low, and addressed to him; this is my last and best expedient for the knotting up of these loose cards.

Dadication of The Wrecker to Will H. Low, epilogue of the story, Scribner’s Magazine, July 1892.

‘Tis possible I may not get that finished in time, in which case you’ll receive only Chapters XXI to XXV by this mail, which is all that can be required for illustration.

I wish you would send me Memoirs of Baron Marbot (French);

Baron de Marbot’s Mémoires, 3 vols, 1892 relate his dashing adventures as a soldier of Napoleon. They provided the basis for Doyle’s The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (Mehew 7, p. 188 n. 4) [www.abebooks.com]

Introduction to the Study of the History of Language, Strong, Logeman & Wheeler;

Principles of Psychology, William James;

Morris & Magnusson’s Saga Library, any volumes that are out;


George Meredith’s One of our Conquerors;

Là Bas, by Huysmans (French);

O’Connor Morris’s Great Commanders of Modern Times;

Life’s Handicap, by Kipling;

of Taine’s Origines de la France Contemporaine, I have only as far as la Révolution, vol. III; if another volume is out, please add that.

There is for a book-box.

I hope you will like the end; I think it is rather strong meat. I have got into such a deliberate, dilatory, expansive turn, that the effort to compress this last yarn was unwelcome; but the longest yarn has to come to an end some time. Please look it over for carelessnesses, and tell me if it had any effect upon your jaded editorial mind. I’ll see if ever I have time to add more.

I add to my book-box list Adams’ Historical Essays;

the Plays of A.W. Pinero – all that have appeared, and send me the rest in course as they do appear;

Noughts and Crosses by Q.;

Robertson’s Scotland under her Early Kings.

Sunday [8 November]

The deed is done, didst thou not hear a noise? ‘The end’ has been written to this endless yarn, and I am once more a free man. What will he do with it?

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“Sick and well, I have had a splendid life of it, grudge nothing, regret very little”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2360.]

To H.B. Baildon [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 283-6]

Vailima, Upolu [? October or November 1891]

My dear Baildon,

This is a real disappointment. It was so long since we had met, I was anxious to see where time had carried and stranded us. Last time we saw each other – it must have been all ten years ago, as we were new to the thirties – it was only for a moment, and now we’re in the forties, and before very long we shall be in our graves.

The grave of Henry Bellyse Baildon (1849-1907), Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. Poet, essaist and editor, lecturer on English Language and Literature at Dundee and St. Andrews Universities, no portrait picture of him. His friendship with RLS had began as schollboys in 1864. Baildon and his sister Frances, who were ‘distant connections of Mrs Chalmers’, had visited Australia and then gone to New Guinea with James Chalmers and stayed with him and wife in late August 1891. Chalmers wrote to RLS  from Cooktown on 8 Aug and seems to have enclosed a letter from Baildon to RLS (see Mehew 7, p. 186 n. 1) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Henry Baildon (Letter 29 n. 1) and his sister Frances, who were ‘distant connections of Mrs Chalmers’, had visited Australia and then gone to New Guinea with James Chalmers and stayed with him and wife in late Aug 1891. Chalmers wrote to RLS  from Cooktown on 8 Aug and seems to have enclosed a vletter from Baildon to RLS…

Chalmers,’ of course, is the Rev. James Chalmers of Rarotonga and New Guinea already referred to above, the admirable missionary, explorer, and administrator, whom RLS sometimes expressed a desire to survive, for the sake only of writing his life.

Sick and well, I have had a splendid life of it, grudge nothing, regret very little – and then only some little corners of misconduct for which I deserve hanging, and must infallibly be damned – and, take it all over, damnation and all, would hardly change with any man of my time, unless perhaps it were Gordon

Death of General Gordon at Khartoum, by J.L.G. Ferris, 1885. Gordon (1833-85) was sent to evacuate British citizens from a troubled region and to otherwise abandon Sudan. Once arrived, he decided it was best to crush the Muslim uprising for fear that it would eventually spread to Egypt as well. He began a defense of Khartoum, with 6,000 men. “Under pressure from the public” a relief expedition force was sent, but failed to arrive in time to save Gordon and his men [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

or our friend Chalmers: a man I admire for his virtues, love for his faults, and envy for the really A1 life he has, with everything heart – my heart, I mean – could wish.

James Chalmers (1841-1901), Scottish missionary and explorer. After working at Rarotonga 1867-76, he had gone to New Guinea in 1877 exploring and establishing new missionary posts in very hard and dangerous conditions among very savage tribes. His Raratongan name was Tamate. In April 1901, he was to be kiilled and eaten by savages at Dopima in the Gulf of Papua.

It is curious to think you will read this in the grey metropolis;

RLS is quoting Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Daisy’, 1855.

go the first grey, east-windy day into the Caledonian Station, if it looks at all as it did of yore: I met Satan there.

A view of the Caledonian Train Station in Edinburgh being demolished, 1969-70. Since 1848 early services operated from a temporary station – Lothian Road Station – just up from the Lothian Road extremes of what is now the Waldorf Astoria. A new Princes Street Station opened in 1870. RLS and his friends used to visit a bar there during their night strolls when they were students [www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com]

And then go and stand by the cross,

The Cross, Edinburgh, 18th century [https://twitter.com]

and remember the other one – him that went down – my brother, Robert Fergusson.

Robert Fergusson (1750-74) was the Edinburgh poet acknowledged by Burns as ‘my elder brother in Misfortune, by far my elder brother in the Muse’ whose life ended tragically in a madhouse. RLS always felt a strong sense of kinship with him [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

It is a pity you had not made me out, and seen me as patriarch and planter.

RLS’s family on Vailima verandah, 1892. From left: Mary Carter (Mrs M. Stevenson’s maid) in the background, Lloyd seated on steps, Margaret Isabella Stevenson (RLS’s mother, r. profile), Belle and Austin seated on steps, RLS and Fanny seated behind, Joe Strong with parrot.

I shall look forward to some record of your time with Chalmers: you can’t weary me of that fellow, he is as big as a house and far bigger than any church, where no man warms his hands. Do you know anything of Thomson?

Robert Thomson had been headmaster of the day school in Frederick Street, Edinburgh, which RLS and Baildon attended [https://53frederickstreet.com]

Of [Boyd],

Boyd may be Alexander Scheviz Boyd (1848-89), son of John Boyd, Edinburgh publisher, who was at the Academy 1860-1 (see Mehew 7, p. 187 n. 3). His grave is in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh [https://it.findagrave.com]

[Ferryman], [Williamson], [Kinloch], [John Young] at all?

John George Smyth Kinloch (1849-1910) was at the Academy 1858-61 and at Edinburgh University where he was a member of the Speculative Society; he succeeded his father as 2nd Baronet 1881 and was MP for East Perthshire 1889-1903. Augustus Hamilton Ferryman (1850-1909) was at the Academy 1865-6. G. Williamson was an American boy at the school (see Mehew 7, p. 187 n. 3) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

As I write [Williamson]’s name mustard rises in my nose; I have never forgiven that weak, amiable boy a little trick he played me when I could ill afford it: I mean that whenever I think of it, some of the old wrath kindles, not that I would hurt the poor soul, if I got the world with it. And Old [Nicholson]? Is he still afloat? Harmless bark! I gather you ain’t married yet, since your sister, to whom I ask to be remembered, goes with you. Did you see a silly tale, John Nicholson’s Predicament, or some such name, in which I made free with your home at Murrayfield?

Duncliffe, Murrayfield Road, Edinburgh, Baidon’s home, is the scene of the murder in RLS’s The Misadventures of John Nicholson, A Christmas Story’, published in Yule Tide, Cassell’s Christmas Annual for December 1887 [https://canmore.org.uk]

There is precious little sense in it, but it might amuse. Cassel’s published it in a thing called Yule-Tide years ago, and nobody that ever I heard of read or has ever seen Yule-Tide. It is addressed to a class we never met – readers of Cassel’s series and that class of conscientious chaff, and my tale was dull, though I don’t recall that it was conscientious. Only, there’s the house at Murrayfield and a dead body in it. Glad the Ballads amused you. They failed to entertain a coy public, at which I wondered; not that I set much account by my verses, which are the verses of Prosator; but I do know how to tell a yarn, and two of the yarns are great. Rahero is for its length a perfect folk-tale: savage and yet fine, full of tailforemost morality, ancient as the granite rocks; if the historian, not to say the politician, could get that yarn into his head, he would have learned some of his ABC. But the average man at home cannot understand antiquity; he is sunk over the ears in Roman civilisation; and a tale like that of Rahero falls on his ears inarticulate. The Spectator said there was no psychology in it; that interested me much: my grandmother (as I used to call that able paper, and an able paper it is, and a fair one) cannot so much as observe the existence of savage psychology when it is put before it. I am at bottom a psychologist and ashamed of it; the tale seized me one-third because of its picturesque features, two-thirds because of its astonishing psychology, and the Spectator says there’s none.

I am going on with a lot of island work, exulting in the knowledge of a new world, ‘a new created world’

RLS is quoting Milton’s Paradise Lost, VII.89.

and new men; and I am sure my income will DECLINE and FALL off; for the effort of comprehension is death to the intelligent public, and sickness to the dull.

I do not know why I pester you with all this trash, above all as you deserve nothing. I give you my warm talofa (‘my love to you’, Samoan salutation). Write me again when the spirit moves you. And some day, if I still live, make out the trip again and let us hob-a-nob with our grey pows on my verandah. – Yours sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“The greater world… the world where men still live a man’s life”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2357.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 353-60]

[Vailima] Monday, October 24th [actually 26th, 1891]

My dear  Carthew,

Illustration for The Wrecker, 1892, by W.L. Metcalf. The character on whom the mystery in that story hinges, Norris Carthew, was based on Sydney Colvin’s figure [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com/]

See what I have written, but it’s Colvin I’m after – I have written two chapters, about thirty pages of Wrecker since the mail left, which must be my excuse, and the bother I’ve had with it is not to be imagined; you might have seen me the day before yesterday weighing British sov.’s and Chili dollars to arrange my treasure chest. And there was such a calculation, not for that only, but for the ship’s position and distances when – but I am not going to tell you the yarn – and then, as my arithmetic is particularly lax, Lloyd had to go over all my calculations; and then, as I had changed the amount of money, he had to go over all his as to the amount of the lay; and altogether, a bank could be run with less effusion of figures than it took to shore up a single chapter of a measly yarn.

llustration for The Wrecker, 1892, by W.L. Metcalf [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com/]

However, it’s done, and I have but one more, or at the outside two, to do, and I am Free! and can do any damn thing I like.

Before falling on politics, I shall give you my day: Awoke somewhere about the first peep of day,


came gradually to, and had a turn on the verandah before 5.55, when ‘the child’ (an enormous Wallis Islander) brings me an orange;

Lafaele (Raphael) probably aka ‘the child. Lloyd Osbourne says that he was a middle-aged Futuna islander who had spent many years of his life on a whale ship, the captain of which had kidnapped him when a boy. He called RLS ‘papa’ in wheedling tones and was afraid of ghost.

at 6, breakfast; 6.10, to work; which lasts till, at 10.30, Austin comes for his history lecture;

RLS’s family on Vailima veranda, 1892. From left: Mary Carter (Mrs M. Stevenson’s maid) in the background, Lloyd seated on steps, Margaret Isabella Stevenson (RLS’s mother, r. profile), Belle and Austin seated on steps, RLS and Fanny seated behind, Joe Strong with parrot.

this is rather dispiriting, but education must be gone about in faith and charity, both of which pretty nigh failed me to-day about (of all things) Carthage;

Edward Poynter, The Catapult, 1868: Roman soldiers manning a siege engine for an attack on the walls of Carthage, during th siege which ended in the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. The famous command of Cato the Elder, “Delenda est Carthago” is carved in the wood of the huge catapult.

11, luncheon; after luncheon in my mother’s room,

‘Aunt Maggie Room’, drawing by Belle Strong. Margaret Stevenson’s room at Vailima, as described in letter #2304A: https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2021/02/28/the-outside-is-painted-a-sort-of-peacock-blue/ [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]
Margaret Stevenson’s bedroom, Vailima [https://images.world-of-waterfalls.com]

I read Chapter XXIII of The Wrecker,

Please find Chapter XXIII of The Wrecker at 4:44:38.

then Belle, […], Lloyd, and I go up and make music furiously till about 2 (I suppose),

Musical evening at Manuia Lanai, Waikiki, Honolulu: RLS (seated, playing flageolet), Prof. M.M. Scott (flute), Fanny, Belle, Lloyd and Captain Otis (violins), Margaret Stevenson, Henry Poor (flute) [www.scran.ac.uk]

when I turn into work again till 4; fool from 4 to half-past, tired out and waiting for the bath hour; 4.30, bath; 4.40, eat two heavenly mangoes on the verandah,


and see the boys arrive with the pack-horses;

Arrival of the pack-horses at Vailima, 1892: Lloyd (holding horse), RLS, Joe Strong with parrot, Auvea and Lafaele.

5, dinner; smoke, chat on verandah, then hand of cards,

RLS and family around a table in the evening playing cards, Honolulu 1889: the players are Belle, RLS and Fanny; to the left, Henry Poor; Lloyd standing between RLS and Fanny.

and at last at 8 come up to my room with a pint of beer and a hard biscuit,


which I am now consuming, and as soon as they are consumed I shall turn in. Such are the innocent days of this ancient and outworn sportsman; to-day there was no weeding, usually there is however, edged in somewhere. My books for the moment are a crib to Phaedo, and the second book of Montaigne;

and a little while back I was reading Frederic Harrison, Choice of Books, etc. –

very good indeed, a great deal of sense and knowledge in the volume, and some very true stuff, contra Carlyle, about the eighteenth century. A hideous idea came over me that perhaps Harrison is now getting old.

Frederic Harrison (1831–1923), British jurist and historian [https://commons.wikimedia.org]

Perhaps you are.

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), RLS’s friend, was keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Perhaps I am.

RLS, 1890.

Oh, this infidelity must be stared firmly down. I am about twenty-three – say twenty-eight; you about thirty, or by’r lady, thirty-four; and as Harrison belongs to the same generation, there is no good bothering about him.

Here has just been a fine alert; I gave my wife a dose of chlorodyne.

Chlorodyne was one of the best known patent medicines sold in the British Isles. It was invented in the 19th century by a Dr. John Collis Browne, a doctor in the British Indian Army; its original purpose was in the treatment of cholera. Browne sold his formula to the pharmacist John Thistlewood Davenport, who advertised it widely, as a treatment for cholera, diarrhea, insomnia, neuralgia, migraines etc. Its principal ingredients were a mixture of laudanum (an alcoholic solution of opium), tincture of cannabis, and chloroform [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

‘Something wrong,’ says she. ‘Nonsense,’ said I. ‘Embrocation,’ said she. I smelt it, and it smelt very funny. ‘I think it’s just gone bad, and to-morrow will tell.’ Proved to be so.

Wednesday [28 October]. – History of Tuesday. Woke at usual time, very little work, for I was tired, and had a job for the evening – to write parts for a new instrument, a violin. Lunch, chat, and up to my place to practise; but there was no practising for me – my flageolet was gone wrong, and I had to take it all to pieces, clean it, and put it up again. As this is a most intricate job – the thing dissolves into seventeen separate members, most of these have to be fitted on their individual springs as fine as needles, and sometimes two at once with the springs shoving different ways – it took me till two.

A Boehm system flageolet, similar to the one played by RLS [www.flageolet.fr]

Then Lloyd and I rode forth on our errands; first to Motootua, where we had a really instructive conversation on weeds and grasses.

[…] Thence down to Apia, where we bought a fresh bottle of chlorodyne and conversed on politics. My visit to the King, which I thought at the time a particularly nugatory and even schoolboy step, and only consented to because I had held the reins so tight over my little band before, has raised a deuce of a row – new proclamation, no one is to interview the sacred puppet without consuls’ permission, two days’ notice, and an approved interpreter – read (I suppose) spy. Then back; I should have said I was trying the new horse; a tallish piebald, bought from the circus; he proved steady and safe, but in very bad condition, and not so much the wild Arab steed of the desert as had been supposed. The height of his back, after commodious Jack, astonished me,

RLS on his horse Jack, Vailima 1892.

and I had a great consciousness of exercise and florid action, as I posted to his long, emphatic trot. We had to ride back easy; even so he was hot and blown; and when we set a boy to lead him to and fro, our last character for sanity perished. We returned just neat for dinner; and in the evening our violinist arrived, a young lady, no great virtuoso truly, but plucky, industrious, and a good reader; and we played five pieces with huge amusement, and broke up at nine.

This morning I have read a splendid piece of Montaigne, written this page of letter, and now turn to the Wrecker.

Wednesday – November 10th or 11th [actually 11th]– and I am ashamed to say mail day. The Wrecker is finished, that is the best of my news; it goes by this mail to Scribner’s; and I honestly think it a good yarn on the whole and of its measly kind. The part that is genuinely good is Nares, the American sailor;

lustration for The Wrecker, 1892, by W.L. Metcalf.

that is a genuine figure; had there been more Nares it would have been a better book; but of course it didn’t set up to be a book, only a long tough yarn with some pictures of the manners of to-day in the greater world – not the shoddy sham world of cities, clubs, and colleges, but the world where men still live a man’s life. The worst of my news is the influenza; Apia is devastate; the shops closed, a ball put off, etc. As yet we have not had it at Vailima, and, who knows? we may escape. None of us go down, but of course the boys come and go.

Your letter had the most wonderful ‘I told you so’ I ever heard in the course of my life. Why, you madman, I wouldn’t change my present installation for any post, dignity, honour, or advantage conceivable to me. It fills the bill; I have the loveliest time. And as for wars and rumours of wars, you surely know enough of me to be aware that I like that also a thousand times better than decrepit peace in Middlesex? I do not quite like politics; I am too aristocratic, I fear, for that. God knows I don’t care who I chum with; perhaps like sailors best; but to go round and sue and sneak to keep a crowd together – never. My imagination, which is not the least damped by the idea of having my head cut off in the bush, recoils aghast from the idea of a life like Gladstone’s, and the shadow of the newspaper chills me to the bone. Hence my late eruption was interesting, but not what I like. All else suits me in this (killed a mosquito) A1 abode.

About politics. A determination was come to by the President that he had been a […] idiot;

Arnold Freiherr Senfft von Pilsach (1859-1919) was the President of the Apia Municipal Council.

emissaries came to Gurr and me to kiss and be friends.

Edwin William Gurr (1863-1933) was born in Tasmania and educated in New Zealand. He had qualified as a barrister in Samoa. In 1892 he became Natives’ Advocate on the Land Commission. His marriage with Fanua, the adopted daughter of Samoan Chief Seumanutafa, took place at the British Consulate and RLS made a speech at the wedding breakfast (cf. Mehew 7, p. 76 n. 1) [https://tree-portraits-pgp.familysearchcdn.org]

My man proposed I should have a personal interview; I said it was quite useless, I had nothing to say; I had offered him the chance to inform me, had pressed it on him, and had been very unpleasantly received, and now ‘Time was.’ […] Then it was decided that I was to be made a culprit against Germany; the German Captain – a delightful fellow and our constant visitor – wrote to say that as ‘a German officer’ he could not come even to say farewell.

Max Foss was the captain of the SMS Sperber, an unprotected cruiser built for the German Imperial Navy [https://i1.wp.com]

We all wrote back in the most friendly spirit, telling him (politely) that some of these days he would be sorry, and we should be delighted to see our friend again. Since then I have seen no German shadow. […]

Mataafa has been proclaimed a rebel;

Mata’afa Iosefo (1832-1912) had first come into prominence in September 1888 when under his command, his followers had rebelled against the German-backed Tamasese who was proclaimed King of Samoa. On Sunday 31 May 1891, he was taken by his followers to the village of Malie for the purpose of making him King in opposition to Malietoa Laupepa. There were fears that fighting would begin and a flurry of activity by the white officials. Mataafa remained at Malie living in regal state, but not provoking conflict nor disobeying the laws [https://en.wikipedia.org]

the President did this act, and then resigned. By singular good fortune, Mataafa has not yet moved; no thanks to our idiot governors. They have shot their bolt; they have made a rebel of the only man (to their own knowledge, on the report of their own spy) who held the rebel party in check; and having thus called on war to fall, they can do no more, sit equally ‘expertes’ of vis and counsel, regarding their handiwork. It is always a cry with these folks that he (Mataafa) had no ammunition. I always said it would be found; and we know of five boat-loads that have found their way to Malie already. Where there are traders, there will be ammunition; aphorism by R.L.S.

Now what am I to do next?

Lives of the Stevensons? Historia Samoae? A History for Children? Fiction? I have had two hard months at fiction; I want a change. Stevensons? I am expecting some more material; perhaps better wait. Samoa? rather tempting; might be useful to the islands – and to me; for it will be written in admirable temper; I have never agreed with any party, and see merits and excuses in all; should do it (if I did) very slackly and easily, as if half in conversation. History for Children? This flows from my lessons to Austin; no book is any good. The best I have seen is Freeman’s Old English History;

but this style is so rasping, and a child can learn more, if he’s clever. I found my sketch of general Aryan history, given in conversation, to have been practically correct – at least what I mean is, Freeman had very much the same stuff in his early chapters, only not so much, and I thought not so well placed; and the child remembered some of it. Now the difficulty is to give this general idea of main place, growth, and movement; it is needful to tack it on a yarn. Now Scotch is the only history I know; it is the only history reasonably represented in my library; it is a very good one for my purpose, owing to two civilisations having been face to face throughout – or rather Roman civilisation face to face with our ancient barbaric life and government, down to yesterday, to 1750 anyway. But the Tales of a Grandfather stand in my way;

I am teaching them to Austin now, and they have all Scott’s defects and all Scott’s hopeless merit. I cannot compete with that; and yet, so far as regards teaching History, how he has missed his chances! I think I’ll try; I really have some historic sense, I feel that in my bones. Then there’s another thing. Scott never knew the Highlands; he was always a Borderer. He has missed that whole, long, strange, pathetic story of our savages, and, besides, his style is not very perspicuous to childhood. God, I think I’ll have a flutter. Buridan’s Ass!

The famous problem, traditionally ascribed to the Medieval French philosopher Buridan, about the ass placed between two bundle of hay that dies of hunger because he cannot choose between them [https://2.bp.blogspot.com]

Whether to go, what to attack. Must go to other letters; shall add to this, if I have time.


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“I send you herewith a story: The Beach of Falesá”

[For critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2359.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, pp. 286-7; www.hathitrust.org]

[Vailima, ? 13 October 1891]

My dear Charles,

This is painful-doery with a warrant. I send you herewith a story: The Beach of Falesá.

Frontespice of “The Beach of Falesá”, published as the first story in Island Nights’ Entertainments, Cassell & Co., 1893. The story was first published as a separate volume by Cassell ca. July 1892, and also serialized in Illustrated London News, 2 July-6 August 1892 under the titleUma” [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com]

I have asked McClure to make you an offer for serial rights.

Samuel Sidney McClure (1857-1949). In 1884, he had established theMcClure Syndicate, the first U.S. newspaper syndicate. He published in Sunday newspapers containing serials of books and reviews. He had got the serial rights to RLS’s letters from the South Seas, and had begun their serialisation in Black and White magazine. He finally appears as Jim Pinkerton in The Wrecker [https://alchetron.com]

If he offer less than £500, I am disinclined to accept; if less than £400, I refuse point blank. You should hear from him almost at once, and if he does not come to the scratch, it will be a fine problem what to do next. I believe it will be best to have it out as a small volume through Cassell’s and Scribner’s; I refuse shilling touch, and incline to half-a-crown, but will accept two shillings if the Cassells force it: terms as usual, and better take some money down if I am behindhand, as I fear I must be. The Scribners must just please themselves as to price etc.; these conditions are for England. I fear we shall miss Christmass with it, or it will be a near thing if we catch it. I don’t know though, you should get it early in November; it might still be doable.

But then of course the volume is a gamble; and it might be worth while to find out what Lippincott would offer,

Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915, when it relocated to New York to become McBride’s Magazine. It merged with Scribner’sd Magazine in 1916.
Lippincott’s published original works, general articles, and literary criticism [https://it.m.wikipedia.org/]

or even Arrowsmith.

J.W. Arrowsmith, the Bristol publishers, were famous for their cheap popular series of novels.

I will of course sell nothing but serial rights; and these emphatically not for less than £400. I prefer the naked gamble to that.

Even before you hear from McClure, you might make inquiries. But remember if McC. offers £500, it is his, even if you have found better, as I have offered it to him for that. Awfully sorry to bother you with this; but McC. is so little of a businessman and so much of a splasher, that I do not care to send him the copy direct. My hope is, he will give the sum asked, and there will be no more bother.

I am rather involved in politics to my regret, but we have had larks here that I could not hold the candle to. I expect I shall figure in The Times [https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2021/06/06/such-is-the-rough-outline-of-the-events/]

You may hear of [sentence breaks off]

14 October

Glad to hear you are to have a holiday. Nothing like the sea. Hope you will come back like a young lion.


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“Such is the rough outline of the events”

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2355.]

To the Editor of The Times [Thistle Edition, Vol XXII, 1898, pp. 454-8]

Vailima, Upolu, Samoa, October 12, 1891.


I beg leave to lay before your readers a copy of a correspondence, or (should that have reached you by another channel) to offer a few words of narrative and comment.

Charles Frederic Moberly Bell (1847 – 1911), Managing Director of the Times, circa 1900 [www.npg.org.uk]

On Saturday, September 5, Mr. Cedercrantz, the Chief Justice of Samoa, sailed on a visit to Fiji,

Otto Conrad Valdemar Cedercrantz (1854-1932), Chief Justice of Samoa [www.wikidata.org]

leaving behind him certain prisoners in jail, and Baron Senfft von Pilsach, President of the Municipal Council, master of the field.

Arnold Freiherr Senfft von Pilsach (1859-1919), aged 31, had just arrived at Apia to take over the office of President of the Apia Municipal Council.

The prisoners were five chiefs of Manono who had surrendered of their own accord,

Manono is a small island between Savai’i and Upolu.
Manono Island, Samoa.

or at the desire of Mataafa,

Mata’afa Iosefo (1832-1912) had first come into prominence in September 1888 when under his command, his followers had rebelled against the German-backed Tamasese who was proclaimed King of Samoa. On Sunday 31 May 1891, he was taken by his followers to the village of Malie for the purpose of making him King in opposition to Malietoa Laupepa. There were fears that fighting would begin and a flurry of activity by the white officials. Mataafa remained at Malie living in regal state, but not provoking conflict nor disobeying the laws [https://en.wikipedia.org]
Mataafa and 18 chiefs [https://co3-api-mediastorage.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com]

had been tried by a native magistrate, and received sentence of six months’ confinement under “gentlemanly” (sic) conditions. As they were marched to prison, certain of their country-folk of Manono ran beside and offered an immediate rescue; but Lieutenant Ulfsparre ordered the men of the escort to load, and the disturbance blew by.

Jail in Apia, Samoa
Jail in Apia, Samoa, circa 1910 [https://natlib.govt.nz/]

How little weight was attached to this incident by the Chief Justice is sufficiently indicated by the fact of his departure. It was unhappily otherwise with those whom he left behind. Panic seems to have marked them for her own; they despaired at once of all lawful defence; and on Sunday, the day after the Chief Justice’s departure, Apia was in consequence startled with strange news. Dynamite brought from the wrecker ship, an electrical machine and a mechanic hired, the prison mined, and a letter despatched to the people of Manono advising them of the fact, and announcing that if any rescue were attempted prison and prisoners should be blown up –

Wrecked ships in Apia Harbor, soon after the 1889 hurricane. The view looks northwestward, with the shattered bow of the German gunboat Eber on the beach in the foreground. The stern of USS Trenton is at right, with the sunken USS Vandalia alongside. The German gunboat Adler is on her side in the center distance. USS Trenton‘s starboard quarter gallery has been largely ripped away [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

such were the voices of rumour; and the design appearing equally feeble, reckless, and wicked, considerable agitation was aroused. Perhaps it had some effect. Our Government at least, which had rushed so hastily to one extreme, now dashed with the same speed into another. Sunday was the day of dynamite, Tuesday dawned the day of deportation. A cutter was hurriedly prepared for sea, and the prisoners, whom the Chief Justice had left three days before under a sentence of “gentlemanly” detention, found themselves under way to exile in the Tokelaus.

Tokelau Islands is now a dependent territory of New Zealand in the southern Pacific Ocean. It consists of three tropical coral atolls: Afatu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo [https://en.wikipedia.org]

A Government of this agility escapes cricism: by multiplying surprises it obliterates the very memory of past mistakes. Some, perhaps, forgot the dynamite; some, hearing no more of it, set it down to be a trick ot rumour such as we are all well used to in he islands. But others were not so sure. Others considered that the rumour (even if unfounded) was of an ill example, might bear deplorable fruit, and, from all points of view of morality and policy, required a public contradiction. Eleven of these last entered accordingly into the annexed correspondence with the President. It will be seen in the crevice of what quibble that gentleman sought refuge and sits inexpugnable. In a question affecting his humanity, his honour, and the well-being of the kingdom which he serves, he has preferred to maintain what I can only call a voluble silence. The public must judge of the result; but there is one point to which I may be allowed to draw attention – that passage in the fourth of the appended documents in which he confesses that he was already acquainted with the rumours in question, and that he has been present (and apparently not protesting) when the scandal was discussed and the proposed enormity commended.

The correspondence was still passing when the President surprised Apia with a fresh gambado. He has been a long while in trouble as to his disposition of the funds. His intention to build a house for himself – to all appearances with native money – his sending the taxes out of the islands and locking them up in deposits, and his noisy squabbles with the King and native Parliament as to the currency, had all aroused unfavourable comment. On Saturday, the 3rd of October, a correspondence on the last point appeared in the local paper. By this it appeared that our not too resolute King and Parliament had at last and in one particular defied his advice and maintained their own opinion.

Susuga Malietoa Laupepa (1841-1898), King of Samoa 1875–1887 and 1889–1898 [https://en.wikipedia.org]

If vengeance were to be the order of the day, it might have been expected to fall on the King and Parliament; but this would have been too direct a course, and the blow was turned instead against an innocent municipal council. On the 7th the President appeared before that body, informed them that his authority was lessened by the publication, that he had applied to the King for a month’s leave of (theatrical) absence, and must now refuse to fulfil his duties. With this he retired to his own house, which is under the same roof, leaving the councillors and the municipality to do what they pleased and drift where they could without him. It is reported he has since declared his life to be in danger, and even applied to his Consul for protection.

The American, British and German consuls of Samoa, 1890-1898. The three consuls had written a formal joint letter to the Chief Justice Cedercrantz on 1 September 1891 asking him not to leave during the political crisis and pointing out that under the Treaty it was not possible to delegate his responsabilities. In spite of this, Cedercrantz left for Fiji and went on to Australia. He later sought to justify his two months’ absence by stating that he was studying the system of administration in Fiji and the system of registration of land titles in Melbourne (cf. Mehew 7, p. 155 n. 11) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

This seems to pass the bounds of credibility; but the movements of Baron Senfft von Pilsach have been throughout so agitated and so unexpected that we know not what to look for; and the signatories of the annexed addresses, if they were accused to-morrow of a design on the man’s days, would scarce have spirit left to be surprised.

It must be clearly pointed out that this is no quarrel of German and anti-German. The German officials, consular and naval, have behaved with perfect loyalty. A German wrote the letter to the paper which unchained this thunderbolt; and it was a German who took the chair which the President had just vacated at the table of the municipal board. And though the Baron is himself of German race, his conduct presents no appearance of design, how much less of conspiracy! Doubtless certain journals will so attempt to twist it, but to the candid it will seem no more than the distracted evolutions of a weak man in a series of panics.

Such is the rough outline of the events to which I would fain direct the attention of the public at home, in the States, and still more in Germany. It has for me but one essential point. Budgets have been called in question, and officials publicly taken the pet before now. But the dynamite scandal is unique.

If it be unfounded, our complaint is already grave. It was the President’s duty, as a man and as a responsible official, to have given it instant and direct denial: and since he neither did so of his own motion, nor consented to do so on our repeated instances, he has shown that he neither understands nor yet is willing to be taught the condition of this country. From what I have been able to collect, Samoans are indignant because the thing was decided between the King and President without consultation with the native Parliament. The thing itself, it does not enter in their thoughts to call in question; they receive gratefully a fresh lesson in civilised methods and civilised justice; a day may come when they shall put that lesson in practice for themselves; and if they are then decried for their barbarity – as they will surely be – and punished for it, as is highly probable, I will ask candid people what they are to think? “How?” they will say. “Your own white people intended to do this, and you said nothing. We do it, and you call us treacherous savages!”

This is to suppose the story false. Suppose it true, however; still more, suppose the plan had been carried out. Suppose these chiefs to have surrendered to the white man’s justice, administered or not by a brown judge; suppose them tried, condemned, confined in that snare of a jail, and some fine night their mangled limbs cast in the faces of their countrymen: I leave others to predict the consequences of such an object-lesson in the arts of peace and the administration of the law. The Samoans are a mild race, but their patience is in some points limited. Under Captain Brandeis a single skirmish and the death of a few youths sufficed to kindle an enduring war and bring on the ruin of the Government.

Eugen Brandeis (1846-1930) was a German engineer in Central America and an administrative officer in the 
German Colonies in the Pacific. RLS relates in A Footnote to History how Eugen Brandeis, a former ‘Bavarian captain of artillery’, was brought to Samoa by the Germans in the guise of a clerk in the German Trade and Plantation Society (D.H.P.G.) to become the military adviser and in due course premier of the puppet-King Tamasese. Following the German coup d’état in August 1887, the Tamasese-Brandeis regime was installed in power. What RLS called their ‘brief and luckless reign’ was brought to an end by Mataafa’s rebellion and the subsequent disorders. RLS had met Brandeis at Jaluit in the Marshall Islands in June 1890 during the cruise of the Janet Nicoll (see Mehew 7, p. 171 n. 1) [https://de.wikipedia.org]

The residents have no desire for war, and they deprecate altogether a war embittered from the beginning by atrocities. Nor can they think the stakes at all equal between themselves and Baron Senfft. He has nothing to lose but a situation; he is here in what he stands in; he can swarm to-morrow on board a war-ship and be off. But the residents have some of them sunk capital on these shores; some of them are involved in extended affairs; they are tied to the stake, and they protest against being plunged into war by the violence, and having that war rendered more implacable by the preliminary cruelties, of a white official.

I leave entirely upon one side all questions of morality; but there is still one point of expediency on which I must touch. The old native Government (which was at least cheap) failed to enforce the law, and fell, in consequence, into the manifold troubles which have made the name of Samoa famous. The enforcement of the law – that was what was required, that was the salvation looked for. And here we have a Government at a high figure, and it cannot defend its own jail, and can find no better remedy than to assassinate its prisoners. What we have bought at this enormous increase of expenditure is the change from King Log to King Stork

RLS is quoting Aesop’s fable: the frogs appealed to Jupiter for a king. The god threw down a log of wood, but the frogs grumbled at so spiritless a king. He then sent them a stork which proceeded to devour them. Reproduction of an illustration by Walter Crane, c. 1887 [https://fineartamerica.com]

– from the man who failed to punish petty theft to the man who plots the destruction of his own jail and the death of his own prisoners.

On the return of the Chief Justice, the matter will be brought to his attention; but the cure of our troubles must come from home; it is from the Great Powers that we look for deliverance. They sent us the President. Let them either remove the man, or see that he is stringently instructed – instructed to respect public decency, so we be no longer menaced with doings worthy of a revolutionary committee; and instructed to respect the administration of the law, so if I be fined a dollar to-morrow for fast riding in Apia street, I may not awake next morning to find my sentence increased to one of banishment or death by dynamite. – I am. Sir, your obedient servant,

Robert Louis Stevenson.

P. S. – October 14. – I little expected fresh developments before the mail left. But the unresting President still mars the quiet of his neighbours. Even while I was writing the above lines, Apia was looking on in mere amazement on the continuation of his gambols. A white man had written to the King, and the King had answered the letter – crimes against Baron Senfft von Pilsach and (his private reading of) the Berlin Treaty.

ThThe Treaty of Berlin (1889) was the concluding document of the conference on Samoa. The conference was proposed by German foreign minister Count Herbert von Bismarck to reconvene the adjourned Washington conference on Samoa of 1887. The treaty launched the condominius in Samoa between the United States, Germany and Great Britain. It was designed to guarantee the preservation of rights of the three powers as secured in separate treaties with the Samoan régime in 1878 and 1879. Further, the independence and neutrality of the Samoan government was ensured, public finance was reorganized and the Samoan king elected in 1881 was restored. In an effort to strengthen the judiciary an American/European chief justice position was created, and the municipality of Apia was reestablished, chaired by a council president. Ratifications were exchanged on 12 April 1890 and assented to by the Samoan government on 19 April 1890, in effect four governments were party to the Berlin Act. The condominium was to end in political shambles after ten years with the ratification of the Tripartite Conventions of 1899 and the resulting partition of the Samoan archipelago [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

He offered to resign – I was about to say “accordingly,” for the unexpected is here the normal – from the presidency of the municipal board, and to retain his position as the King’s adviser. He was instructed that he must resign both, or neither; resigned both; fell out with the Consuls on details; and is now, as we are advised, seeking to resile from his resignations. Such an official I never remember to have read of, though I have seen the like, from across the footlights and the orchestra, evolving in similar figures to the strains of Offenbach.


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“Do you wish to illustrate My Grandfather?”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2354.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 350-1]

[Vailima,] October 8th, 1891

My dear Burlingame,

All right, you shall have the Tales of my Grandfather soon, but I guess we’ll try and finish off The Wrecker first. À propos of whom, please send some advanced sheets to Cassell’s – away ahead of you – so that they may get a dummy out.

Do you wish to illustrate My Grandfather? He mentions as excellent a portrait of Scott by Basil Hall’s brother.

James W. Hall, Sir Walter Scott, 1838, National Galleries of Scotland. Robert Stevenson had praised this portrait [www.artuk.org]
Captain Basil Hall (1788-1844), brother of the well-known amateur painter Joseph Hall, was a family friend at the Stevensons’ [https://en.wikipedia.org]

I don’t think I ever saw this engraved; would it not, if you could get track of it, prove a taking embellishment? I suggest this for your consideration and inquiry. A new portrait of Scott strikes me as good. There is a hard, tough, constipated old portrait of my grandfather hanging in my aunt’s house, Mrs. Alan Stevenson, 16 St. Leonard’s Terrace, Chelsea, which has never been engraved

The picture reproduced in Scribner’s Magazine in October 1893 was a portrait of Robert Stevenson ‘in the possession of Mrs Alan Stevenson’.

– the better portrait, Joseph’s bust, has been reproduced, I believe, twice – and which, I am sure, my aunt would let you have a copy of.

Samuel Joseph, Bust of Robert Stevenson, 1820s, Northern Lighthouse Board. It was formerly on display in the library of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which RLS’s grandfather was responsible for building. It was removed from the lighthouse when it was modernised in 1963. [www.artuk.org]

The plate could be of use for the book when we get so far, and thus to place it in the Magazine might be an actual saving.

Robert Stevenson’s bust by Samuel Joseph was reproduced in RLS’s Records of a family of engineers in vol. XVIII of the posthumous Edinburgh Edition, 1896 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]


I am swallowed up in politics for the first, I hope for the last, time in my sublunary career. It is a painful, thankless trade; but one thing that came up I could not pass in silence. Much drafting, addressing, deputationising has eaten up all my time, and again (to my contrition) I leave you Wreckerless. As soon as the mail leaves I tackle it straight. – Yours very sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“You will know more about the South Seas after you have read my little tale than if you had read a library”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2351.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp.342-8]

[Vailima], Sept. 28, 1891

My dear Colvin,

Since I last laid down my pen, I have written and rewritten The Beach of Falesá; something like sixty thousand words of sterling domestic fiction (the story, you will understand, is only half that length); and now I don’t want to write any more again for ever, or feel so; and I’ve got to overhaul it once again to my sorrow. I was all yesterday revising, and found a lot of slacknesses and (what is worse in this kind of thing) some literaryisms. One of the puzzles is this: It is a first person story – a trader telling his own adventure in an island. When I began I allowed myself a few liberties, because I was afraid of the end; now the end proved quite easy, and could be done in the pace; so the beginning remains about a quarter tone out (in places); but I have rather decided to let it stay so. The problem is always delicate; it is the only thing that worries me in first person tales, which otherwise (quo’ Alan) ‘set better wi’ my genius.’

The Beach of Falesá was to br published in the book “Island Nights’ Entertainments”, 1893.
Statue of Alan Breck and David Balfour, the heroes in RLS’s novel, “Kidnapped” by the sculptor Sandy Stoddart, on the North side of Corstorphine Road near ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ where they parted at the end of the novel. RLS is quoting Alan Breck from chapter 9 of “Kidnapped” (‘It doesn’t set my genius’) [https://commons.wikimedia.org]

There is a vast deal of fact in the story, and some pretty good comedy. It is the first realistic South Sea story; I mean with real South Sea character and details of life. Everybody else who has tried, that I have seen, got carried away by the romance, and ended in a kind of sugar candy sham epic, and the whole effect was lost – there was no etching, no human grin, consequently no conviction. Now I have got the smell and look of the thing a good deal. You will know more about the South Seas after you have read my little tale than if you had read a library. As to whether any one else will read it, I have no guess. I am in an off time, but there is just the possibility it might make a hit; for the yarn is good and melodramatic, and there is quite a love affair – for me; and Mr. Wiltshire (the narrator) is a huge lark, though I say it.

Illustration by Gordon Browne for “The Beach of Falesá”, 1893 [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com]

But there is always the exotic question, and everything, the life, the place, the dialects – trader’s talk, which is a strange conglomerate of literary expressions and English and American slang, and Beach de Mar, or native English, – the very trades and hopes and fears of the characters, are all novel, and may be found unwelcome to that great, hulking, bullering whale, the public.

Since I wrote, I have been likewise drawing up a document to send in to the President;

Arnold Freiherr Senfft von Pilsach (1859-1919), aged 31, has just arrived at Apia to take over the office of President of the Apia Municipal Council.

it has been dreadfully delayed, not by me, but to-day they swear it will be sent in. A list of questions about the dynamite report are herein laid before him, and considerations suggested why he should answer.

October 5th [6th] – Ever since my last snatch I have been much chivvied about over the President business; his answer has come, and is an evasion accompanied with schoolboy insolence, and we are going to try to answer it. I drew my answer and took it down yesterday; but one of the signatories wants another paragraph added, which I have not yet been able to draw, and as to the wisdom of which I am not yet convinced. […]

Next day, Oct. 7th the right day. – […]

We are all in rather a muddled state with our President affair. I do loathe politics, but at the same time, I cannot stand by and have the natives blown in the air treacherously with dynamite. They are still quiet; how long this may continue I do not know, though of course by mere prescription the Government is strengthened, and is probably insured till the next taxes fall due. But the unpopularity of the whites is growing. My native overseer, the great Henry Simelé, announced to-day that he was ‘weary of whites upon the beach. All too proud,’ said this veracious witness. One of the proud ones had threatened yesterday to cut off his head with a bush knife! These are ‘native outrages,’ honour bright, and setting theft aside, in which the natives are active, this is the main stream of irritation. The natives are generally courtly, far from always civil, but really gentle, and with a strong sense of honour of their own, and certainly quite as much civilised as our dynamiting President.

We shall be delighted to see Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was in Australia and New Zealand in 1891, and had announced before leaving England that he intended to visit RLS in Samoa. The plan was unfortunately not carried out, and he and RLS never met [https://it.wikipedia.org]

I go to bed usually about half-past eight, and my lamp is out before ten;

RLS’s bed and writing stand, Vailima [https://imgc.artprintimages.com]

I breakfast at six. We may say roughly we have no soda water on the island, and just now truthfully no whisky. I have heard the chimes at midnight; now no more, I guess. But – Fanny and I, as soon as we can get coins for it, are coming to Europe, not to England: I am thinking of Royat.

Bar wars. If not, perhaps the Apennines might give us a mountain refuge for two months or three in summer.

The Northern Appennines [www.worldatlas.com]

How is that for high? But the money must be all in hand first.

October 13th. – How am I to describe my life these last few days? I have been wholly swallowed up in politics, a wretched business, with fine elements of farce in it too, which repay a man in passing, involving many dark and many moonlight rides, secret counsels which are at once divulged, sealed letters which are read aloud in confidence to the neighbours, and a mass of fudge and fun, which would have driven me crazy ten years ago, and now makes me smile.

On Friday, Henry came and told us he must leave and go to ‘my poor old family in Savaii’; why? I do not quite know – but, I suspect, to be tattooed –

A Samoan tattooist and assistant (right), carrying out a traditional tatau, phot. Thomas Andrew, c. 1895 [https://commons.wikimedia.org]

if so, then probably to be married, and we shall see him no more. I told him he must do what he thought his duty; we had him to lunch, drank his health, and he and I rode down about twelve. When I got down, I sent my horse back to help bring down the family later. My own afternoon was cut out for me; my last draft for the President had been objected to by some of the signatories […] I stood out, and one of our small number accordingly refused to sign. Him I had to go and persuade, which went off very well after the first hottish moments; you have no idea how stolid my temper is now. By about five the thing was done; and we sat down to dinner at the Chinaman’s

“A Matter of Taste”, Cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1879 (seen at right): John Confucius expresses disapproval of Senator James G. Blaine for his support of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Blaine is shown dining in “Kearney’s Senatorial Restaurant” – a reference to Denis Kearney, the leader of a violent anti-Chinese movement in California. John Confucius asks, “How can Christians stomach such diet?”[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– the Verrey

The Cafe Verrey, a famous French restaurant in Regent Street, London, circa 1935.

or Doyen

Lunch at Cafe Ledoyen, by Hugo Birger, 1886. The Pavillon Ledoyen is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris, in the square gardens in the eastern part of the Champs-Elisées [https://en.wikipedia.org]

of Apia – Gurr and I at each end as hosts;

Edwin William Gurr (1863-1933) was born in Tasmania and educated in New Zealand. He had qualified as a barrister in Samoa. The marriage with Fanua, the adopted daughter of Samoan Chief Seumanutafa, took place at the British Consulate and RLS made a speech at the wedding breakfast (cf. Mehew 7, p. 76 n. 1) [https://tree-portraits-pgp.familysearchcdn.org]

Gurr’s wife – Fanua, late maid of the village;

Fanuaea Eleitino Katopau (1872-1917) had been elected Taupo of Apia (the virgin of rank in the village who spat the kava into a wooden bowl, poured water over it and then left it ferment). She became a close friend of Belle’s and was a great favourite at Vailima where she and her husband were frequent visitors (Cf. mehew 7, p. 76 n. 1) [https://tree-portraits-pgp.familysearchcdn.org]

her (adopted) father and mother, Seumanu and Faatulia,

Seumanutafa Pogai, Chief of Apia, with his wife Fatalia, 12 June 1890 [https://i.pinimg.com]

Fanny, Belle, Lloyd, […] Austin, and Henry Simelé, his last appearance. Henry was in a kilt of grey shawl, with a blue jacket, white shirt, and black necktie, and looked like a dark genteel guest in a Highland shooting-box. Seumanu (opposite Fanny, next G[urr]) is chief of Apia, a rather big gun in this place, looking like a large, fatted, military Englishman, bar the colour. Faatulia, next me, is a bigger chief than her husband. Henry is a chief too – his chief name, Iiga (Ee-eeng-a), he has not yet ‘taken’ because of his youth. We were in fine society, and had a pleasant meal-time, with lots of fun. Then to the Opera – I beg your pardon, I mean the Circus. We occupied the first row in the reserved seats, and there in the row behind were all our friends – Captain Foss and his Captain-Lieutenant,

Max Foss was the captain of the SMS Sperber, an unprotected cruiser built for the German Imperial Navy [https://i1.wp.com]

three of the American officers, very nice fellows, the Dr., etc., so we made a fine show of what an embittered correspondent of the local paper called ‘the shoddy aristocracy of Apia’; and you should have seen how we carried on, and how I clapped, and Captain Foss hollered ‘wunderschön!’ and threw himself forward in his seat, and how we all in fact enjoyed ourselves like school-children, Austin not a shade more than his neighbours.

RLS’s family on Vailima verandah, 1892. From left: Mary Carter (Mrs M. Stevenson’s maid) in the background, Lloyd seated on steps, Margaret Stevenson (RLS’s mother, r. profile), Belle and Austin seated on steps, RLS and Fanny seated behind, Joe Strong with parrot.

Then the Circus broke up, and the party went home, but I stayed down, having business on the morrow.


Yesterday, October 12th, great news reaches me, and Lloyd and I, with the mail just coming in, must leave all, saddle, and ride down. True enough, the President had resigned! Sought to resign his presidency of the council, and keep his advisership to the King; given way to the consuls’ objections and resigned all – then fell out with them about the disposition of the funds, and was now trying to resign from his resignation! Sad little President, so trim to look at, and I believe so kind to his little wife! Not only so, but I meet Dunnet on the beach […]. Dunnet calls me in consultation, and we make with infinite difficulty a draft of a petition  to the King […]. Then to dinner at Moors’s,

Harry Jay Moors (1854-1926), South Seas trader, settled in Apia from 1883. George Dunnet was a member of the Municipal Council and often visited Vailima [https://covers.openlibrary.org]

a very merry meal, interrupted before it was over by the arrival of the committee. […] Slight sketch of procedure agreed upon, self appointed spokesman, and the deputation sets off. […] Walk all through Matafele, all along Mulinuu

Mulinnu was the traditional seat of the Samoan Government.
Oval Samoan fale, Mulinu’u, Samoa, late 19th – early 20th century [www.wikiwand.com]

come to the King’s house;

Susuga Malietoa Laupepa (1841-1898), King of Samoa 1875–1887 and 1889–1898 [https://en.wikipedia.org]

he has verbally refused to see us in answer to our letter, […] swearing he is gase-gase (chief sickness, not common man’s), and indeed we see him inside in bed. It is a miserable low house, better houses by the dozen in the little hamlet (Tanugamanono) of bushmen on our way to Vailima;

and the President’s house in process of erection just opposite! We are told to return tomorrow; I refuse; and at last we are very sourly received, sit on the mats, and I open out, through a very poor interpreter, and sometimes hampered by unacceptable counsels from my backers. I can speak fairly well in a plain way now. C[usack] asked me to write out my harangue for him this morning; I have done so, and couldn’t get it near as good. I suppose (talking and interpreting) I was twenty minutes or half an hour on the deck; then his majesty replied in the dying whisper of a big chief; a few words of rejoinder (approving), and the deputation withdrew, rather well satisfied. A few days ago this intervention would have been a deportable offence; not now, I bet; I would like them to try. A little way back along Mulinuu, Mrs. Gurr met us with her husband’s horse; and he and she and Lloyd and I rode back in a heavenly moonlight. Here ends a chapter in the life of an island politician! Catch me at it again; ’tis easy to go in, but it is not a pleasant trade. I have had a good team, as good as I could get on the beach; but what trouble even so, and what fresh troubles shaping […]. […] But I have on the whole carried all my points; I believe all but one, and on that (which did not concern me) I had no right to interfere. I am sure you would be amazed if you knew what a good hand I am at keeping my temper, talking people over, and giving reasons which are not my reasons, but calculated for the meridian of the particular objection; so soon does falsehood await the politician in his whirling path.

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“I only write to make this confession”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2348.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, pp. 234-5; www.hathitrust.org]

[Vailima] 15 September [1891]

My dear Charles,

I drew another bill on you yesterday for £250. Had the mail come in with the news of your credit having reached Sydney, I need not have done so; but I had to. ‘Tis in favour of Hayhurst, Gurr, and Co.,

Classified ad, Samoa Times and South Sea Advertiser, 2 August 1890 [https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz]

and I hope to the Lord you can meet it; I should think money would be coming in. Next month I shall have a story ready which should bring in some cash.

The Beach of Falesá (at the time of this letter titled The High Woods of Ulufanua) was to be published in the book “Island Nights’ Entertainments”, 1893.

I only write to make this confession, and to remain

Yours ever afftly,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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