“The remainder of a joint of mutton”

At this time, there was no railway right into the village, and the freshness of supplies could not always be guaranteed. Thirty years later the recipient of the note presented it to the Stevenson Society: it is still kept in the RLS Memorial Cottage, Saranac Lake.

[For critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2004.]

To Harry Oldfield [Steuart, RLS, Man and Writer, 1924, II, 102]

[Saranac Lake, 3 February 1888]

Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson presents his compliments to Mr. Oldfield, and begs to return him the remainder of a joint of mutton which he refuses either to eat or pay for.



Fillet of beef had been ordered as far back as Monday.

Free Range Whole Beef Fillet


Mr. Stevenson can readily understand there might arise some difficulty in supplying that; but at least Mr. Oldfield knew that Mr. S. would want something on Thursday; and Mr. S. prefers to hope it was in error that Mr. O. sent him anything so perfectly uneatable as the joint of which he now has the pleasure to return him part.


Early village of Saranac Lake, 1800’s [www.bunksplace.com]


Saranac Lake, late 1800s [https://localwiki.org]


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“That was how the tale came to me however… I joined the two ends in a day or two of constant feverish thought, and began to write”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2001.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 57-59]

[Saranac Lake, Late January 1888]

My dear delightful James.

To quote your heading to my wife, I think no man writes so elegant a letter, I am sure none so kind, unless it be Colvin, and there is more of the stern parent about him.


Henry James (1843-1916) [https://laculturadelbloggo.files.wordpress.com]

I was vexed at your account of my admired Meredith: […] I wish I could go and see him; as it is I will try to write; and yet (do you understand me?) there is something in that potent, genialisch affection that puts one on the strain even to address him in a letter. He is not an easy man to be yourself with; there is so much of him, and the veracity and the high athletic intellectual humbug are so intermixed.


George Meredith ( 1828-1909), English novelist and poet, c. 1890 [www.oxforddnb.com]

I read with indescribable admiration your Emerson.

Henry James’s essay, “The Life of Emerson”, was first printed in Macmillan’s Magazine for December 1887.


I begin to long for the day when these portraits of yours shall be collected: do put me in. But Emerson is a higher flight. Have you a Tourgueneff? You have told me many interesting things of him, and I seem to see them written, and forming a graceful and bildende sketch. (I wonder whence comes this flood of German – I haven’t opened a German book since I teethed.)


‘The Life of Emerson by H. James was to be reprinted in ‘Partial Portraits’, 1888, together with the essays on RLS and Turgenieff [https://cdn.shopify.com]


R.W. Emerson (1803-82), American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet [https://naqyr37xcg93tizq734pqsx1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com]

H. James, ‘Emerson’, Partial Portraits, 1888.


RLS by Wyatt Eaton, January-March 1888 [www.hmdb.org]

H. James, ‘RLS’, Partial Portraits, 1888.


Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) [http://skotkacy.com]

H. James, ‘Ivan Turgénieff’, Partial Portraits, 1888.


My novel is a tragedy;

The Master of Ballantrae was to become a book in 1889.


four parts out of six or seven are written, and gone to Burlingame.


Edward Livermore Burlingame (1848-1922), founding editor-in-chief of Scribner’s Magazine [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Five parts of it are bound, human tragedy; […] the last one or two, I regret to say, not so soundly designed; I almost hesitate to write them; they are very picturesque, but they are fantastic; they shame, perhaps, degrade, the beginning. I wish I knew; that was how the tale came to me however. I got the situation; it was an old taste of mine: The older brother goes out in the ’45, the younger stays; the younger, of course, gets title and estate and marries the bride designate of the elder – a family match, but he (the younger) had always loved her, and she had really loved the elder. Do you see the situation? Then the devil and Saranac suggested this dénouement, and I joined the two ends in a day or two of constant feverish thought, and began to write. And now – I wonder if I have not gone too far with the fantastic? The elder brother is an INCUBUS: supposed to be killed at Culloden, he turns up again and bleeds the family of money; on that stopping he comes and lives with them, whence flows the real tragedy, the nocturnal duel of the brothers (very naturally, and indeed, I think, inevitably arising), and second supposed death of the elder.

Husband and wife now really make up, and then the cloven hoof appears. For the third supposed death and the manner of the third reappearance is steep; steep, sir. It is even very steep, and I fear it shames the honest stuff so far; but then it is highly pictorial, and it leads up to the death of the elder brother at the hands of the younger in a perfectly cold-blooded murder, of which I wish (and mean) the reader to approve. You see how daring is the design. There are really but six characters, and one of these episodic, and yet it covers eighteen years, and will be, I imagine, the longest of my works.


Yours ever,


Read Gosse’s Raleigh. First-rate.




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“Prince Otto was originally a tragedy, and, by my sooth! in blank verse”

Gerald Gurney and T.B. Thalberg were adapting on the stage RLS’s novel, Prince Otto.

[For critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2000.]

To Gerald Gurney [The Academy, 19 May 1900, p. 419]

Saranac Lake [? January 1888]

Dear Sir,

It will be time (pardon my pessimism) to think of that when your piece is produced.


‘Prince Otto’, a comedy in 3 acts, was being dramatised by T.B. Thalberg and Gerald Gurney [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

But I am sure that whatever you and Mr Thalberg shall think right will gratify me;


The English actor T.B. Thalberg (here withLena Ashwell), 1899 [www.mediastorehouse.com]

and, indeed, I am already gratified by your proposal.


The comedy ‘Prince Otto, dramatised by T.B. Thalberg and Gerald Gurney, was prouced at the Spa Concert Room, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on 24 March 1888 [www.arthurlloyd.co.uk]


Site of the Royal Spa Concert Rooms, Harrogate, in 2002 [www.arthurlloyd.co.uk]


Stephen Phillips (1864-1915), English poet and dramatist, took the part of Fritz at the Harrogate production of ‘Prince Otto’. In 1885 Phillips had joined his cousin F.R.Benson’s dramatic company, playing various small parts for six years [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


‘Prince Otto’ was to be played again at the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, Glasgow, on 4 June 1900, with Marion Terry as the heroine [www.arthurlloyd.co.uk]


Marion Bessie Terry (1853 –1930) was to play the heroine in the 1900 production of ‘Prince Otto’ [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Marion Bessie Terry (1853 –1930), as Mrs Erlynne in a production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ by Oscar Wilde , 1892 [https://media.gettyimages.com]

– With every wish for your success, I am, yours and Mr Thalberg’s

Robert Louis Stevenson

It may interest you to know that Prince Otto was originally a tragedy, and, by my sooth! in blank verse. I still think it has much that is very suitable to the boards.R.L.S.

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“The scene of that romance… it jumps like a flea”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1994.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 46-48]

Saranac Lake, [6 January 1888]

Dear Mr. Burlingame,

[…] I am keeping the sermon to see if I can’t add another. Meanwhile, I will send you very soon a different paper which may take its place. Possibly some of these days soon I may get together a talk on things current, which should go in (if possible) earlier than either.


The ‘talk on things current’ of which RLS wrote to the editor of Scribner’s Magazine was to become the essay ‘Confessions of a Unionist’, privately printed only in 1921 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

I am now less nervous about these papers; I believe I can do the trick without great strain, though the terror that breathed on my back in the beginning is not yet forgotten.

The Master of Ballantrae I have had to leave aside, as I was quite worked out. But in about a week I hope to try back and send you the first four numbers: these are all drafted, it is only the revision that has broken me down, as it is often the hardest work. These four I propose you should set up for me at once, and we’ll copyright ’em in a pamphlet. I will tell you the names of the bona fide purchasers in England. The numbers will run from twenty to thirty pages of my manuscript. You can give me that much, can you not ? It is a howling good tale − at least these first four numbers are; the end is a trifle more fantastic, but ’tis all picturesque.


Scribner’s Magazine issued ‘The Master of Ballantrae” from November 1888 to October 1889 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Don’t trouble about any more French books; I am on another scent, you see, just now. Only the French in Hindustan I await with impatience, as that is for Ballantrae.


The scene of that romance is Scotland − the States − Scotland − India − Scotland − and the States again; so it jumps like a flea.


I have enough about the States now, and very much obliged I am; yet if Drake’s Tragedies of the Wilderness is (as I gather) a collection of originals, I should like to purchase it. If it is a picturesque vulgarisation, I do not wish to look it in the face.


Burlingame replied that he was unable to trace a copy of Drake’s ‘Tragedies of the Wilderness; or, true and Authentic Narratives of Captives who have been Carried Away by the Indians… Illustrating the Manners and Customs, Barbarous Rites and Ceremonies of the North American Indians, and their various Methods of Torture”, Boston 1841 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Purchase, I say; for I think it would be well to have some such collection by me with a view to fresh works. − Yours very sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. − If you think of having the Master illustrated, I suggest that Hole would be very well up to the Scottish, which is the larger, part. If you have it done here, tell your artist to look at the hall of Craigievar in Billing’s Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities, and he will get a broad hint for the hall at Durrisdeer;


Robert William Billings, Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1845-52): one of the books RLS read as a child.


it is, I think, the chimney of Craigievar and the roof of Pinkie, and perhaps a little more of Pinkie altogether; but I should have to see the book myself to be sure.


R.W. Billings, Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, I: Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire.






R.W. Billings, Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, IV: Pinkie House in Musselburgh, Midlothian.


Hole would be invaluable for this.


William Brassey Hole (1846-1917), Edinburgh-based artist specialised in history painting and etching. He provided illustrations for The Master of Ballantrae in Scribner’s Magazine Nov 1888 – Oct 1889, and in the Scribner book-edition too  [https://collectionimages.npg.org.uk]


William Brassey Hole, illustration for The Master of Ballantrae, November 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


William Brassey Hole, illustration for The Master of Ballantrae, December 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


William Brassey Hole, illustration for The Master of Ballantrae, February 1889 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


I dare say if you had it illustrated, you could let me have one or two for the English edition.



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“Will my doer collaborate thus much in my new novel?”

In Scotland the term “doer” is used for the law-agent or man of business of any person.

RLS invited his friend and lawyer Charles Baxter (1848-1919) to allow himself (under the alias of Mr. Johnstone Thomson) and his office in Edinburgh to figure in a preface to his new story, The Master of Ballantrae. Such a preface was drafted accordingly, but on second thoughts suppressed; to be, on renewed consideration, reinstated in the final editions.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1992.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 45-46]

Saranac Lake, [2] January ’88

Dear Charles,

[…] You are the flower of Doers.


Will my doer collaborate thus much in my new novel? In the year 1794 or 5, Mr. Ephraim Mackellar, A.M., late steward on the Durrisdeer estates, completed a set of memoranda (as long as a novel) with regard to the death of the (then) late Lord Durrisdeer, and as to that of his attainted elder brother, […] called by the family courtesy title the Master of Ballantrae.


Illustration for the 1911 edition of ‘The Master of Ballantrae’ by Walter Paget [https://i0.wp.com]

Artwork by Sir William George Gillies, "Near Durrisdeer", Made of oil on canvas

Sir William George Gillies (1898-1973), “Near Durrisdeer” [https://media.mutualart.com]



Durrisdeer village, Dumfriesshire, Scotland [www.scottish-country-dancing-dictionary.com]


These he placed in the hand of John Macbrair, W.S., the family agent, on the understanding they were to be sealed until 1862, when a century would have elapsed since the affair in the wilderness (my lord’s death). You succeeded Mr. Macbrair’s firm; the Durrisdeers are extinct; and last year, in an old green box, you found these papers with Macbrair’s indorsation. It is that indorsation of which I want a copy; you may remember, when you gave me the papers, I neglected to take that, and I am sure you are a man too careful of antiquities to have let it fall aside. I shall have a little introduction descriptive of my visit to Edinburgh, arrival there, denner with yoursel’, and first reading of the papers in your smoking-room: all of which, of course, you well remember.

Baxter sent the requested document but RLS didn’t use it. It was posthumously published in 1925 preface of The Master of Ballantrae.

− Ever yours affectionately.


Your name is my friend Mr. Johnstone Thomson, W.S.!!!






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“I know too well how difficult it is to put even two sincere lines upon paper”

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1986.]

To Archibald Charteris [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 55-56]

[Saranac Lake, ? December 1887]

My dear Dr. Charteris,

I have asked Douglas and Foulis to send you my last volume, so that you may possess my little paper on my father in a permanent shape; not for what that is worth, but as a tribute of respect to one whom my father regarded with such love, esteem, and affection.


Rev. Archibald Hamilton Charteris (1835-1908), was a Scottish theologian, a Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, professor of biblical criticism at the University of Edinburgh and a leading voice in Church reforms. He had been one of the most intimate friends of RLS’s father [https://d3d00swyhr67nd.cloudfront.net]


RLS’s last volume was ‘Memories and Portraits’, 1887.


RLS’s essay on his father, published in ‘Memories and Portraits’, 1887.


Advertisement for Douglas & Foulis Library, Edinburgh [https://deriv.nls.uk]

Besides, as you will see, I have brought you under contribution, and I have still to thank you for your letter to my mother; so more than kind; in much, so just.


RLS’s dedication of ‘Memories and Portraits’ to his mother.


It is my hope, when time and health permit, to do something more definite for my father’s memory.


“Something more definite” for his father’s memory was to be published on the Scribner’s Magazine for November 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

You are one of the very few who can (if you will) help me. Pray believe that I lay on you no obligation; I know too well, you may believe me, how difficult it is to put even two sincere lines upon paper, where all, too, is to order. But if the spirit should ever move you, and you should recall something memorable of your friend, his son will heartily thank you for a note of it. − With much respect, believe me, yours sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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“I will not sit down under the name of a giver of White Elephants”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1979.]

To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 44-45]

Saranac Lake, Christmas 1887.

My dear Miss Boodle,

And a very good Christmas to you all; and better fortune; and if worse, the more courage to support it − which I think is the kinder wish in all human affairs.


Adelaide Ann Boodle (1858-1934) was the 6th of the 7 daughters of Edward, a London barrister and his wife Julia Barrie. After her husband’s death, Mrs Boodle and her daughters came to Bournemouth because Adelaide was threatened with lung trouble; they were neighbours of RLS. Adelaide became a devoted friend of the Stevenson: her book “RLS and his Sine Qua Non” (1926) gives an affectionate account of life at Skerryvore [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Somewhile − I fear a good while − after this, you should receive our Christmas gift; we have no tact and no taste, only a welcome and (often) tonic brutality; and I dare say the present, even after my friend Baxter has acted on and reviewed my hints, may prove a White Elephant. That is why I dread presents. And therefore pray understand if any element of that hamper prove unwelcome, it is to be exchanged. I will not sit down under the name of a giver of White Elephants. I never had any elephant but one, and his initials were R.L.S.; and he trod on my foot at a very early age. But this is a fable, and not in the least to the point: which is that if, for once in my life, I have wished to make things nicer for anybody but the Elephant (see fable), do not suffer me to have made them ineffably more embarrassing, and exchange: ruthlessly exchange!



For my part, I am the most cockered up of any mortal being; and one of the healthiest, or thereabout, at some modest distance from the bull’s eye.



I am condemned to write twelve articles in Scribner’s Magazine for the love of gain; I think I had better send you them;

Image result for scribner's magazine january 1888

RLS was to publish 12 monthly essays for Scribner’s Magazine, beginning from January 1888. At the time of this letter he had already given Scribner: ‘A Chapter on Dreams’, ‘The Lantern Bearers’, ‘Beggars’, ‘Pulvis et Umbra’, and ‘Gentlemen’ [www.antiques.com]

what is far more to the purpose, I am on the jump with a new story which has bewitched me − I doubt it may bewitch no one else. It is called The Master of Ballantrae − pronounce Ballantray. If it is not good, well, mine will be the fault; for I believe it is a good tale.

THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE: Stevenson, Robert Louis


The greetings of the season to you, and your mother, and your sisters […]. My wife heartily joins. − And I am, yours very sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. − You will think me an illiterate dog: I am, for the first time, reading Robertson’s sermons.



Frederick William Robertson (1816-53), byname Robertson Of Brighton, Anglican clergyman who became widely popular particularly among the working class because of the oratory and psychological insight in his sermons preached from 1847 at Trinity Chapel, Brighton. Appealing to a broad religious consensus within Anglican belief by avoiding theological concepts, he advocated the reform ideas of the 1848 Revolution, but his views generated strong opposition. His Sermons, published posthumously, deeply influenced Anglican devotion [https://fortynotes.files.wordpress.com]

I do not know how to express how much I think of them. If by any chance you should be as illiterate as I, and not know them, it is worth while curing the defect.











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