[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2180.]
To James Payn[Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 154-6]
Honolulu, H.I., June 13th, 1889
My dear James Payn,
I get sad news of you here at my offsetting for further voyages: I wish I could say what I feel. Sure there was never any man less deserved this calamity; for I have heard you speak time and again, and I remember nothing that was unkind, nothing that was untrue, nothing that was not helpful, from your lips. It is the ill-talkers that should hear no more. God knows, I know no word of consolation; but I do feel your trouble. You are the more open to letters now; let me talk to you for two pages. I have nothing but happiness to tell; and you may bless God you are a man so sound-hearted that (even in the freshness of your calamity) I can come to you with my own good fortune unashamed and secure of sympathy. It is a good thing to be a good man, whether deaf or whether dumb; and of all our fellow-craftsmen (whom yet they count a jealous race), I never knew one but gave you the name of honesty and kindness: come to think of it gravely, this is better than the finest hearing.
We are all on the march to deafness, blindness, and all conceivable and fatal disabilities; we shall not all get there with a report so good. My good news is a health astonishingly reinstated. This climate;
these landfalls at dawn;
new islands peaking from the morning bank;
new forested harbours;
new passing alarms of squalls and surf;
new interests of gentle natives,
– the whole tale of my life is better to me than any poem.
I am fresh just now from the […] leper settlement of Molokai,
playing croquet with seven leper girls,
sitting and yarning with old, blind, leper beachcombers in the hospital, sickened with the spectacle of abhorrent suffering and deformation amongst the patients, touched to the heart by the sight of lovely and effective virtues in their helpers: no stranger time have I ever had, nor any so moving. I do not think it a little thing to be deaf, God knows, and God defend me from the same! – but to be a leper, or one of the self-condemned, how much more awful! and yet there’s a way there also. ‘There are Molokais everywhere,’ said Mr. Dutton, Father Damien’s dresser;
you are but new landed in yours; and my dear and kind adviser, I wish you, with all my soul, that patience and courage which you will require. Think of me meanwhile on a trading schooner, bound for the Gilbert Islands, thereafter for the Marshalls, with a diet of fish and cocoanut before me;
[…] – bound on a cruise of – well, of investigation to what islands we can reach, and to get (some day or other) to Sydney, where a letter addressed to the care of R. Towns & Co. will find me sooner or later; and if it contain any good news, whether of your welfare or the courage with which you bear the contrary, will do me good. – Yours affectionately (although so near a stranger),
The last mail we are likely to receive has come in, and I fear I am to go away with your last (pardon me) a little shirty letter for farewell. Well, it can’t be cured, but I would fain hope your pain ful feelings will blow over, and indeed I think you will come to see I was right (as to the matter; in the manner I daresay I was very far amiss), that I have a perfect right to object to the publication of private letters, and that whether the public wants to read them or not is nothing to the purpose.
To the public I may be an object of unwholesome curiosity; to my private friends I would like to remain a private friend like any other, and to enjoy the priviledge of writing in confidence. It may seem hard to conceive, but I like my doings being published just as little as you would. – Ah, you say, and you are going to write a book about them! – Even so, Charles; but then I shall choose for myself.
I have at last definite news of Colvin, which alarms and distresses me. If I had had it in time, I would have given up this cruise and come home. Pray remember, if ever he should be in want of help, you are to strain my credit to bursting, and mortgage all I possess or can expect, to help him. I hope this is strong enough; if I return to find myself deep in debt, I shall be only pleased if it was done for Colvin.
All other directions as before.
I shall draw a new will in case we all go down, and file it here in the Consulate.
The address till further notice is to be care of R. Towns and Co., Sydney,
where I wish you would send me a flageolet of the best description with all needful appliances. The one I have is very inferior: it is a D, as I should rather like the new one to be. I hope it will last the cruise, but it is already split, is very hard to clean, and the keys do not unscrew, so that a small accident may put out my pipe.
The voice, flageolet, guitar, and taropatch make up our band;
a magic lantern with Scripture pictures is the attraction for the eye.
We shall give them several Hawaiian songs, Freut euch des Lebens,
Il segretto, ‘Carnival of Venice’,
‘Nights of Seville’, etc.; and if the natives are not pleased, you bet the performers will enjoy themselves.
[RLS’s deletion: “Now you see what a thing it is: you don’t suppose I want all that published.”] Another thing we shall want out at Sydney is full advertisements and price lists of really fine magic lanterns. The idea is to begin the panorama there, and when it is ready, carry it to some of the islands in style, and get more stuff for it, thus making it feed itself.
Can you send us these two, then: (1) A.1. flageolet (2) price lists of A.1. magic lanterns for public performances, full rigged for cities and metropolises; and receive the benediction of the Island Nights [written above the deleted ‘Teriitera Variety’] Entertainment Troup.
Walk up, ladies and gentlemen! Wish we had Henley here: bet he could learn to sing second; besides we could put him in a glass case, as a specimen Beritani.
The object of the present show is to take the place of the yacht as something to interest and amuse the natives.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2176.]
Colvin[Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 151-4]
Honolulu, [early] June
I am just home after twelve days’ journey to Molokai, seven of them at the leper settlement,
where I can only say that the sight of so much courage, cheerfulness, and devotion strung me too high to mind the infinite pity and horror of the sights.
I used to ride over from Kalawao to Kalaupapa (about three miles across the promontory, the cliff-wall, ivied with forest and yet inaccessible from steepness, on my left),
go to the Sisters’ home,
which is a miracle of neatness, play a game of croquet with seven leper girls (90° in the shade), got a little old-maid meal served me by the Sisters, and ride home again, tired enough, but not too tired.
The girls have all dolls, and love dressing them. You who know so many ladies delicately clad, and they who know so many dressmakers, please make it known it would be an acceptable gift to send scraps for doll dressmaking to the Reverend Sister Maryanne, Bishop Home, Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaiian Islands.
I have seen sights that cannot be told, and heard stories that cannot be repeated: yet I never admired my poor race so much, nor (strange as it may seem) loved life more than in the settlement. A horror of moral beauty broods over the place: that’s like bad Victor Hugo, but it is the only way I can express the sense that lived with me all these days. And this even though it was in great part Catholic, and my sympathies flew never with so much difficulty as towards Catholic virtues. The passbook kept with heaven stirs me to anger and laughter. One of the sisters calls the place ‘the ticket office to heaven.’ Well, what is the odds? They do their darg, and do it with kindness and efficiency incredible; and we must take folks’ virtues as we find them, and love the better part. Of old Damien, whose weaknesses and worse perhaps I heard fully, I think only the more.
It was a European peasant: dirty, bigoted, untruthful, unwise, tricky, but superb with generosity, residual candour and fundamental good-humour: convince him he had done wrong (it might take hours of insult) and he would undo what he had done and like his corrector better.
A man, with all the grime and paltriness of mankind, but a saint and hero all the more for that. The place as regards scenery is grand, gloomy, and bleak.
Mighty mountain walls descending sheer along the whole face of the island into a sea unusually deep;
the front of the mountain ivied and furred with clinging forest, one viridescent cliff: about half-way from east to west, the low, bare, stony promontory edged in between the cliff and the ocean; the two little towns (Kalawao and Kalaupapa) seated on either side of it,
as bare almost as bathing machines upon a beach;
and the population – gorgons and chimaeras dire.
All this tear of the nerves I bore admirably; and the day after I got away, rode twenty miles along the opposite coast and up into the mountains: they call it twenty, I am doubtful of the figures: I should guess it nearer twelve; but let me take credit for what residents allege; and I was riding again the day after, so I need say no more about health.
Honolulu does not agree with me at all: I am always out of sorts there, with slight headache, blood to the head, etc. I had a good deal of work to do and did it with miserable difficulty; and yet all the time I have been gaining strength, as you see, which is highly encouraging. By the time I am done with this cruise I shall have the material for a very singular book of travels: names of strange stories and characters, cannibals, pirates, ancient legends, old Polynesian poetry, – never was so generous a farrago.
I am going down now to get the story of a shipwrecked family, who were fifteen months on an island with a murderer: there is a specimen.
The Pacific is a strange place; the nineteenth century only exists there in spots: all round, it is a no man’s land of the ages, a stir-about of epochs and races, barbarisms and civilisations, virtues and crimes.
It is good of you to let me stay longer, but if I had known how ill you were, I should be now on my way home. I had chartered my schooner and made all arrangements before (at last) we got definite news. I feel highly guilty; I should be back to insult and worry you a little. Our address till further notice is to be c/o R. Towns & Co., Sydney. […] That is final: I only got the arrangement made yesterday; but you may now publish it abroad. […] – Yours ever,
RLS’s account of his visit is to the leper colony on Molokai island, Hawaii.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2174.]
To his Wife[Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 147-51]
Molokai [22 May 1889]
I had a lovely sail up.
Captain Cameron and Mr. Gilfillan,
both born in the States, yet the first still with a strong Highland, and the second still with a strong Lowland accent, were good company; the night was warm, the victuals plain but good. Mr. Gilfillan gave me his berth, and I slept well, though I heard the sisters sick in the next stateroom, poor souls.
Heavy rolling woke me in the morning; I turned in all standing, so went right on the upper deck. The day was on the peep out of a low morning bank, and we were wallowing along under stupendous cliffs. As the lights brightened, we could see certain abutments and buttresses on their front where wood clustered and grass grew brightly. But the whole brow seemed quite impassable, and my heart sank at the sight. Two thousand feet of rock making 19° (the Captain guesses) seemed quite beyond my powers.
However, I had come so far; and, to tell you the truth, I was so cowed with fear and disgust that I dared not go back on the adventure in the interests of my own self-respect. Presently we came up with the leper promontory: lowland, quite bare and bleak and harsh, a little town of wooden houses, two churches, a landing-stair, all unsightly, sour, northerly, lying athwart the sunrise, with the great wall of the pali cutting the world out on the south.
Our lepers were sent on the first boat, about a dozen, one poor child very horrid, one white man, leaving a large grown family behind him in Honolulu, and then into the second stepped the sisters and myself.
I do not know how it would have been with me had the sisters not been there. My horror of the horrible is about my weakest point; but the moral loveliness at my elbow blotted all else out; and when I found that one of them was crying, poor soul, quietly under her veil, I cried a little myself; then I felt as right as a trivet, only a little crushed to be there so uselessly. I thought it was a sin and a shame she should feel unhappy; I turned round to her, and said something like this: ‘Ladies, God Himself is here to give you welcome. I’m sure it is good for me to be beside you; I hope it will be blessed to me; I thank you for myself and the good you do me.’ It seemed to cheer her up; but indeed I had scarce said it when we were at the landing-stairs, and there was a great crowd, hundreds of (God save us!) pantomime masks in poor human flesh, waiting to receive the sisters and the new patients.
Every hand was offered: I had gloves, but I had made up my mind on the boat’s voyage not to give my hand; that seemed less offensive than the gloves. So the sisters and I went up among that crew, and presently I got aside (for I felt I had no business there) and set off on foot across the promontory, carrying my wrap and the camera. All horror was quite gone from me: to see these dread creatures smile and look happy was beautiful. On my way through Kalaupapa I was exchanging cheerful alohas with the patients coming galloping over on their horses; I was stopping to gossip at house-doors; I was happy, only ashamed of myself that I was here for no good.
One woman was pretty, and spoke good English, and was infinitely engaging and (in the old phrase) towardly; she thought I was the new white patient; and when she found I was only a visitor, a curious change came in her face and voice – the only sad thing, morally sad, I mean – that I met that morning.
But for all that, they tell me none want to leave.
Beyond Kalaupapa the houses became rare; dry stone dykes, grassy, stony land, one sick pandanus; a dreary country; from overhead in the little clinging wood shogs of the pali chirruping of birds fell; the low sun was right in my face; the trade blew pure and cool and delicious;
I felt as right as ninepence, and stopped and chatted with the patients whom I still met on their horses, with not the least disgust.
About half-way over, I met the superintendent (a leper) with a horse for me, and O, wasn’t I glad!
But the horse was one of those curious, dogged, cranky brutes that always dully want to go somewhere else, and my traffic with him completed my crushing fatigue. I got to the guest-house, an empty house with several rooms, kitchen, bath, etc. There was no one there, and I let the horse go loose in the garden, lay down on the bed, and fell asleep. Dr. Swift woke me and gave me breakfast,
then I came back and slept again while he was at the dispensary, and he woke me for dinner; and I came back and slept again, and he woke me about six for supper; and then in about an hour I felt tired again, and came up to my solitary guest-house, played the flageolet, and am now writing to you. As yet, you see, I have seen nothing of the settlement, and my crushing fatigue (though I believe that was moral and a measure of my cowardice) and the doctor’s opinion make me think the pali hopeless. ‘You don’t look a strong man,’ said the doctor; ‘but are you sound?’ I told him the truth; then he said it was out of the question, and if I were to get up at all, I must be carried up. But, as it seems, men as well as horses continually fall on this ascent: the doctor goes up with a change of clothes – it is plain that to be carried would in itself be very fatiguing to both mind and body; and I should then be at the beginning of thirteen miles of mountain road to be ridden against time. How should I come through?
I hope you will think me right in my decision: I mean to stay, and shall not be back in Honolulu till Saturday, June first. You must all do the best you can to make ready.
Dr. Swift has a wife and an infant son, beginning to toddle and run, and they live here as composed as brick and mortar – at least the wife does, a Kentucky German, a fine enough creature, I believe, who was quite amazed at the sisters shedding tears! How strange is mankind! Gilfillan too, a good fellow I think, and far from a stupid, kept up his hard Lowland Scottish talk in the boat while the sister was covering her face; but I believe he knew, and did it (partly) in embarrassment, and part perhaps in mistaken kindness. And that was one reason, too, why I made my speech to them. Partly, too, I did it, because I was ashamed to do so, and remembered one of my golden rules, ‘When you are ashamed to speak, speak up at once.’ But, mind you, that rule is only golden with strangers; with your own folks, there are other considerations. This is a strange place to be in. A bell has been sounded at intervals while I wrote,
now all is still but a musical humming of the sea, not unlike the sound of telegraph wires;
the night is quite cool and pitch dark, with a small fine rain;
one light over in the leper settlement,
one cricket whistling in the garden,
my lamp here by my bedside, and my pen cheeping between my inky fingers. […]
lovely morning, slept all night, 80° in the shade, strong, sweet Anaho
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2172.]
To Will H. Low[Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 142-3]
Honolulu, (about) 20th
My dear Low,
[…] – The
goods have come; many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them
[…] I have at length finished The Master; it has been a sore cross to me; but now he is buried, his body’s under hatches, – his soul, if there is any hell to go to, gone to hell;
and I forgive him: it is harder to forgive Burlingame for having induced me to begin the publication, or myself for suffering the induction.
– Yes, I think Hole has done finely; it will be one of the most adequately illustrated books of our generation; he gets the note, he tells the story – my story:
I know only one failure – the Master standing on the beach.
– You must have a letter for me at Sydney – till further notice. Remember me to Mrs. Will H., the godlike sculptor,
and any of the faithful. […] If you want to cease to be a republican, see my little Kaiulani, as she goes through – but she is gone already.
You will die a red: I wear the colours of that little royal maiden, Nous allons chanter à la ronde, si vous voulez!
only she is not blonde by several chalks, though she is but a half-blood, and the wrong half Edinburgh Scots like mysel’.
But, O Low, I love the Polynesian: this civilisation of ours is a dingy, ungentlemanly business; it drops out too much of man, and too much of that the very beauty of the poor beast; who has his beauties in spite of Zola and Co.
As usual, here is a whole letter with no news: I am a bloodless, inhuman dog; and no doubt Zola is a better correspondent. – Long live your fine old English admiral – yours, I mean – the U.S.A. one at Samoa; I wept tears and loved myself and mankind when I read of him: he is not too much civilised.
And there was Gordon, too;
and there are others, beyond question. But if you could live, the only white folk, in a Polynesian village; and drink that warm, light vin du pays of human affection and enjoy that simple dignity of all about you
– I will not gush, for I am now in my fortieth year, which seems highly unjust, but there it is, Mr. Low,
The reference in the first paragraph is to the publication in the press, which Baxter had permitted, of one of RLS’s letters written during the earlier part of his voyage. RLS had remonstrated, always greatly disliking the publication of private letters during the writer’s lifetime; and now wrote to soften the effect of his remonstrance.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Charles Baxter. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2165.]
I am appalled to gather from your last just to hand that you have felt so much concern about the letter. Pray dismiss it from your mind. But I think you scarce appreciate how disagreeable it is to have your private affairs and private unguarded expressions getting into print. It would soon sicken any one of writing letters. I have no doubt that letter was very wisely selected, but it just shows how things crop up. There was a raging jealousy between the two yachts; our captain was nearly in a fight over it.
However, no more; and whatever you think, my dear fellow, do not suppose me angry with you […]; although I was annoyed at the circumstance – a very different thing. But it is difficult to conduct life by letter, and I continually feel I may be drifting into some matter of offence, in which my heart takes no part. […]
I must now turn to a point of business. This new cruise of ours is somewhat venturesome; and I think it needful to warn you not to be in a hurry to suppose us dead. In these ill-charted seas, it is quite on the cards we might be cast on some unvisited, or very rarely visited, island; that there we might lie for a long time, even years, unheard of; and yet turn up smiling at the hinder end.
So do not let me be ‘rowpit’ [= sold by auction] till you get some certainty we have gone to Davie Jones in a squall,
or graced the feast of some barbarian in the character of Long Pig.
I have just been a week away alone on the lee coast of Hawaii,
the only white creature in many miles, riding five and a half hours one day, living with a native, seeing four lepers shipped off to Molokai,
hearing native causes, and giving my opinion as amicus curiae, as to the interpretation of a statute in English; a lovely week among God’s best – at least God’s sweetest works – Polynesians. It has bettered me greatly. If I could only stay there the time that remains, I could get my work done and be happy; but the care of […] my family keeps me in vile Honolulu, where I am always out of sorts,
amidst heat and cold and cesspools and beastly haoles. What is a haole? You are one; and so, I am sorry to say, am I. After so long a dose of whites, it was a blessing to get among Polynesians again even for a week.
Well, Charles, there are waur haoles than yoursel’, I’ll say that for ye; and trust before I sail I shall get another letter […] with more about yourself. Ever your affectionate friend,