“In the purest innocence of mind”

At the date of the present letter RLS was managing all his publishing arrangements himself. An occasional lapse of memory or attention betrayed him once or twice into misunderstandings, and once at least conflicting agreements with two different publishers, both his friends, Charles Scribner and Samuel Sidney McClure. He was the first to denounce the error when he became aware of it, and suffered sharply from the sense of his own unintentional fault. Only shortly after this letter RLS, to his great advantage, put all his publishing arrangements (as he had already put his private business) into the hands of his friend Charles Baxter.

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1948.]

To Charles Scribner [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 25-26]

[Saranac Lake, c. 20 November 1887]

My dear Mr. Scribner,

Heaven help me, I am under a curse just now. I have played fast and loose with what I said to you; and that, I beg you to believe, in the purest innocence of mind. I told you you should have the power over all my work in this country;


Charles Scribner II (1854-1930), president of Charles Scribner’s Sons [http://library.princeton.edu]

and about a fortnight ago, when M‘Clure was here, I calmly signed a bargain for the serial publication of a story.


Samuel Sidney McClure (1857-1949) was an Irish-American publisher who became known as a key figure in investigative and muckraking journalism. In 1884, he established the McClure Syndicate, the first U.S. newspaper syndicate, which serialized books [https://images.findagrave.com]

You will scarce believe that I did this in mere oblivion; but I did; and all that I can say is that I will do so no more, and ask you to forgive me. Please write to me soon as to this. Will you oblige me by paying in for three articles, as already sent, to my account with John Paton & Co., 52 William Street?

Paton’s avertisement on The Banker’s Almanac and Registe for 1889 [https://books.google.it]


William Street, New York, 19th century [https://inthevintagekitchen.files.wordpress.com]

William Street, New York.


This will be most convenient for us.

The fourth article is nearly done; and I am the more deceived, or it is A Buster.

RLS’s essay, Pulvis et Umbra, Scribner’s Magazine, Aprril 1888. RLS’s fourth essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘Pulvis et Umbra’, was to be published for April 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


Now as to the first thing in this letter, I do wish to hear from you soon; and I am prepared to hear any reproach, or (what is harder to hear) any forgiveness; for I have deserved the worst. Yours

Robert Louis Stevenson









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“Without suspense, there can be little pleasure in this world”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1945.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 37-39]

[Saranac Lake, c. 20 November 1887]

My dear Henry James,

It may please you to know how our family has been employed. In the silence of the snow the afternoon lamp has lighted an eager fireside group: my mother reading, Fanny, Lloyd, and I devoted listeners;


Henry Edward Spernon Tozer (1864-1938), Old woman reading at the fireside [https://i.pinimg.com]

and the work was really one of the best works I ever heard; and its author is to be praised and honoured; and what do you suppose is the name of it? and have you ever read it yourself? and (I am bound I will get to the bottom of the page before I blow the gaff, if I have to fight it out on this line all summer; for if you have not to turn a leaf, there can be no suspense, the conspectory eye being swift to pick out proper names; and without suspense, there can be little pleasure in this world, to my mind at least) – and, in short, the name of it is

Henry James (1843-1926) [https://s3.amazonaws.com]

Roderick Hudson, if you please.


H. James’s novel, ‘Roderick Hudson’, was first serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, 1875 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]



My dear James, it is very spirited, and very sound, and very noble too. Hudson, Mrs. Hudson, Rowland, O, all first-rate: Rowland a very fine fellow; Hudson as good as he can stick (did you know Hudson? I suspect you did), Mrs. H. his real born mother, a thing rarely managed in fiction. We are all keeping pretty fit and pretty hearty; but this letter is not from me to you, it is from a reader of R.H. to the author of the same, and it says nothing, and has nothing to say, but thank you. We are going to re-read Casamassima as a proper pendant.  


H. James’s novel, ‘The Princess Casamassima’ was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, 1885-1886 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Sir, I think these two are your best, and care not who knows it.

May I beg you, the next time Roderick is printed off, to go over the sheets of the last few chapters, and strike out ‘immense’ and ‘tremendous’? You have simply dropped them there like your pocket-handkerchief; all you have to do is to pick them up and pouch them, and your room – what do I say? – your cathedral! – will be swept and garnished.


H. James, Roderick Hudson: use of the word ‘immense’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


H. James, Roderick Hudson: use of the word ‘tremendous’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


H. James, Roderick Hudson: use of the word ‘tremendous’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


– I am, dear sir, your delighted reader,

Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. – Perhaps it is a pang of causeless honesty, perhaps I hope it will set a value on my praise of Roderick, perhaps it’s a burst of the diabolic, but I must break out with the news that I can’t bear the Portrait of a Lady.


H. James’s novel, ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, 1880-1881 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

I read it all, and I wept too; but I can’t stand your having written it; and I beg you will write no more of the like. Infra, sir; Below you; I can’t help it – it may be your favourite work, but in my eyes it’s BELOW YOU to write and me to read.


I thought Roderick was going to be another such at the beginning: and I cannot describe my pleasure as I found it taking bones and blood, and looking out at me with a moved and human countenance, whose lineaments are written in my memory until my last of days.


My wife begs your forgiveness; I believe for her silence.

Fanny Stevenson durante su estancia en Inglaterra.

Fanny Stevenson, 1885 [https://s6.eestatic.com]





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“And the wind swoops at me round the corner, like a lion, and fluffs the snow in my face”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1944.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 39-41]

Saranac Lake [c. 20 December 1887]

My dear Colvin,This goes to say that we are all fit, and the place is very bleak and wintry, and up to now has shown no such charms of climate as Davos,

G. Schmocker, Davos in the Snow, c. 1880 [www.richardreddingantiques.com]

but is a place where men eat and where the cattarh, catarrh (cattarrh, or cattarrhh) appears to be unknown. I walk in my verandy in the snaw, sir, 

RLS at Saranac Lake, pictured in a diorama on Baker’s veranda [www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com]

looking down over one of those dabbled wintry landscapes that are (to be frank) so chilly to the human bosom,

Adirondack Carousel, William Morris Park, Sananac Lake [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

Haystack Mountain, Saranac Lake in winter [www.saranaclake.com]


and up at a grey, English – nay, mehercle, Scottish – heaven;

Pentland Hills, Scotland [www.edinburghspotlight.com]

Black Hill, Pentlands, Scotland [https://farm5.staticflickr.com]


and I think it pretty bleak; and the wind swoops at me round the corner, like a lion, and fluffs the snow in my face;


and I could aspire to be elsewhere; but yet I do not catch cold, and yet, when I come in, I eat. So that hitherto Saranac, if not deliriously delectable, has not been a failure; nay, from the mere point of view of the wicked body, it has proved a success. But I wish I could still get to the woods; alas, nous n’irons plus au bois is my poor song;


the paths are buried, the dingles drifted full, a little walk is grown a long one; till spring comes, I fear the burthen will hold good.

Adirondacks mountains [www.mikeitsnow.com]




I get along with my papers for Scribner not fast, nor so far specially well;


only this last, the fourth one (which makes a third part of my whole task), I do believe is pulled off after a fashion. It is a mere sermon: ‘Smith opens out’;

The Rev. George Smith of Galston (1748-1823), the minister thus referred to by Burns (in the Holy Fair), was a great-grandfather of RLS on the mother’s side; and against RLS himself, in his didactic moods, the passage was often quoted by his friends when they wished to tease him. His daughter Henrietta (“Helen”) Scott Smith married Lewis Balfour, a minister of nearby Sorn (later Minister at Collinton), and was the grandmother of Robert Louis Stevenson [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

but it is true, and I find it touching and beneficial, to me at least; and I think there is some fine writing in it, some very apt and pregnant phrases. Pulms et Umbra, I call it; 

RLS’s essay, Pulvis et Umbra, Scribner’s Magazine, Aprril 1888. The phrase ‘pulvis et umbra sumus’ comes from Horace, Odes IV, VII (Diffugere nives – The snow has vanished), “we’re only dust and shadow” [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Horace, Odes, IV, 7, 1886 edition: Though the earth renews itself, and the waning moon waxes afresh, yet death is the ending of human life. Let us then make the best of our days while they last [https://ia601509.us.archive.org]

I might have called it a Darwinian Sermon, if I had wanted. Its sentiments, although parsonic, will not offend even you, I believe. The other three papers, I fear, bear many traces of effort, and the ungenuine inspiration of an income at so much per essay, and the honest desire of the incomer to give good measure for his money. Well, I did my damndest anyway.

We have been reading H. James’s Roderick Hudson, which I eagerly press you to get at once: it is a book of a high order – the last volume in particular.

Henry James (1843-1916) [www.victorianweb.org]

H. James, Roderick Hudson, first UK edition, 1875 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


I wish Meredith would read it.

George Meredith (1828-1909), English novelist and poet [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

It took my breath away. I am at the seventh book of the Aeneid, and quite amazed at its merits (also very often floored by its difficulties). The Circe passage at the beginning, and the sublime business of Amata with the simile of the boy’s top – O Lord, what a happy thought! – have specially delighted me.



– I am, dear sir, your respected friend,

John Gregg Gillson, J.P., M.R.I.A., etc.


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“Times are changed since the Lothian Road”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1942.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, p. 24]

[Saranac Lake], 18th November 1887

My dear Charles,

No likely I’m going to waste a sheet of paper. […] I am offered £1600 ($8000) for the American serial rights on my next story!

RLS, ‘The Misadventures of John Nicholson. A Christmas Story’, Dec. 1887.

image of page 697

RLS, ‘The Master of Ballantrae’, Scribner’s Magazine Nov. 1888-Oct. 1889 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

RLS, ‘The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale’. New York/London: Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889.


As you say, times are changed since the Lothian Road.


St Cuthbert’s Church, Lothian Road, Edinburgh, 1882. RLS met Charles Baxter (1848-1919) in 1871 and developed a lifelong friendship: the two young men would often drink in pubs on the Lothian Road [https://2.bp.blogspot.com]


Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh, 19th century. Here, in a pub, RLS and friends like Bob Stevenson and Charles Baxter created the LJR, League Liberty, Justice, Reverence. The club’s tenet was “disregard everything our parents taught us” [https://i.pinimg.com]


Well, the Lothian Road was grand fun too; I could take an afternoon of it with great delight. But I’m awfu’ grand noo, and long may it last!

Remember me to any of the faithful − if there are any left. I wish I could have a crack with you. Yours ever affectionately,


I find I have forgotten more than I remembered of business. […] Please let us know (if you know) for how much Skerryvore is let;


Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth, was a gift from RLS’s father to his daughter-in-law, 1885. It was let till 22 February 1888 at the total sum of £109 [www.awesomestories.com]

you will here detect the female mind; I let it for what I could get; nor shall the possession of this knowledge (which I am happy to have forgot) increase the amount by so much as the shadow of a sixpenny piece;



but my females are agog.


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


Margaret Isabella Stevenson, 1887 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Yours ever,






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“The harm was in Jekyll, because he was a hypocrite”

John Paul Bocock (1856-1903), American editor and poet, was in the staff of the Philadelphia Press. In an article published in the New York Sun,  Mansfield’s interpretation of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ was contrasted with that of RLS.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Hellman. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1939.]

To John Paul Bocock [Hellman, The True Stevenson, 1925, p. 129-30]

Saranac Lake [? Mid-November 1887]


[…] You are right as to Mansfield;


On September 12th, 1887,the actor Richard Mansfield (1857-1907) gave, at the Madison Square Garden in NYC, the initial performance of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Fanny and MIS were in the audience, but RLS himself was lying ill at Newport, and neither then, nor at any other time, saw the dramatized version of his story [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Poster for ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, Chicago, 1888 [www.awesomestories.com]


Hyde was the younger of the two. He was not good-looking, however; and not, Great Gods! a mere voluptuary. There is no harm in voluptuaries; and none, with my hand on my heart and in the sight of God, none – no harm whatsoever in what prurient fools call “immorality”.


The harm was in Jekyll, because he was a hypocrite – not because he was fond of women; he says so himself; but people are so filled full of folly and inverted lust, that they think of nothing but sexuality.


The Hypocrite let out the beast of Hyde – who is no more sexual than another, but who is the essence of cruelty and malice and selfishness and cowardice, and these are the diabolic in man – not this poor wish to love a woman, that they make such a cry about. I know and I dare say, you know as well as I, that bad and good, even to human eyes, has no more connection with what is called dissipation than it has with flying kites.


But the sexual filed and the business filed are the two best fitted for the display of cruelty and cowardice and selfishness. […]








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“To impress that obdurate dog, your reader”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1938.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 27-28]

[Saranac Lake, c. 15 November 1887]

Dear Mr. Burlingame,

The revise seemed all right, so I did not trouble you with it; indeed, my demand for one was theatrical, to impress that obdurate dog, your reader.

RLS’s first monthly essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘A Chapter on Dreams’, was to be published for January 1888 [www.bl.uk]

E.L. Bulingame (1848-1922), a journalist and editor, joined Scribner’s firm as a literary adviser in 1879. In 1886 he had become first editor of Scribner’s Magazine, where he served until his resignation in 1914 [http://library.princeton.edu]


Herewith a third paper: it has been a cruel long time upon the road, but here it is, and not bad at last, I fondly hope.

RLS’s third monthly essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘Beggars’, was to be published for March 1888.


I was glad you liked the Lantern Bearers; I did, too. I thought it was a good paper, really contained some excellent sense, and was ingeniously put together.

RLS’s secondmonthly essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘The Lantern-Bearers’, was to be published for February 1888.

“The essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut, the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your fool’s heart, to know you had a bull’s-eye at your belt, and to exult and sing over the knowledge” (RLS, ‘The Lantern-Bearers’) [https://content.artofmanliness.com]

I have not often had more trouble than I have with these papers; thirty or forty pages of foul copy, twenty is the very least I have had. Well, you pay high; it is fit that I should have to work hard, it somewhat quiets my conscience. Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson





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“When I say ‘writing’ ― O, believe me, it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind”

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1925.]

To Richard Harding Davis

[Sangree, R.H. Davis, Ainslee’s Magazine 7, 1901, p. 9]

[Saranac Lake, c. 24 October 1887]

Dear Sir,

Why, thank you very much for your frank, agreeable and natural letter. It is certainly very pleasant that all you young fellows should enjoy my work, and get some good out of it; and it was very kind in you to write and tell me so.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916), later to become a highly successful journalist, war correspondent and popular novelist, was at this time a young reporter of the Philadelphia Press. He had written a fan letter to RLS expressing the pleasure RLS’s ‘Markheim’ and ‘A lodging for the Night’ had given him and his fellows in the office [https://static1.squarespace.com]

Facsimile of RLS’s letter to Davis, in A. Sangree, Richard Harding Davis, Ainslee’s Magazine 7, 1901 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


The tale of the suicide is excellently droll; and your letter, you may be sure, will be preserved.

RLS’s story, ‘Markheim’: Davis’s fellow reporters had spent summer reading RLS’s work and one of them in a press report had carried his admiration ‘Markheim’, to the extent of putting into the mouth of a suicide the lines, ‘If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down’ [Cf. Mehew 6, p. 45]

If you are to escape, unhurt out of your present business, you must be very careful, and you must find in your heart much constancy. The swiftly done work of the journalist, and the cheap finish and ready-made methods to which it leads, you must try to counteract in private writing with the most considerate slowness and on the most ambitious models. And when I say “writing” ― O, believe me, it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind. If you will do this, I hope to hear of you some day.

Richard Harding Davis, Stories for Boys, 1891.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916).

Richard Harding Davis, The West from a Car-Window, 1892.


Please excuse this sermon from         Your obliged,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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