“I could not eat a penny roll that piece of bludgeoning had gained for me”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2251.]

To Andrew Chatto

[Baxter Letters, pp. 271-2: http://www.hathitrust.org]

Union Club, Sydney [September 1890]

Dear Mr. Chatto,

The letter to Dr Hyde is yours, or any man’s, I will never touch a penny of remuneration.

The Letter to Dr. Hyde in the defence of Father Damien was to be published by Chatto & Windus that year as a pamphlet, and the royalties sent to the Leper Fund [https://thumbs.worthpoint.com]

I do no stick at murder; I draw the line at cannibalism; I could not eat a penny roll that piece of bludgeoning had gained for me.

I believe you will soon receive sheets of a thin book of ballads from Scribners. Pray put it in the hand of Clarke, Edinburgh; see that the American spellings are removed, see that “O!” is always “O!” and never “Oh!”, and bring it out, if you please, on the same terms as Underwoods.

RLS’s book of Ballads was to be published by Scribner’s on 13 December 1890 and by Chatto on 18 Dec 1890.

With good wishes – (I daresay Mr. Osbourne will call on you and give my news)

Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson, was on his way to Edinburgh to sell 17 Heriot Row [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

– I am Yours sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

Address Apia, Samoa

Copies of Ballads, please, to

Sidney Colvin, British Museum

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

Theodore Watts, (Athenaeum?)

Walter Theodore Watts (1832–1914) contributed regularly to The Athenaeum 1875-98, being its principal critic of poetry [http://1.bp.blogspot.com]

George Meredith, Box Hill, Dorking

George Meredith (1828–1909) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Flint Cottage, Box Hill, Dorking, Surrey. RLS had met him there in 1878 [https://dorkingmuseum.org.uk]

Charles Baxter, W.S., 11 S. Charlotte St., Edinburgh

11 South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh (on the right). We don’t know until now any portrait picture of one of RLS’s best friends.

H.B. Baildon, Princes Street, Edinburgh

The grave of Henry Bellyse Baildon (d. 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 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Princes Street, Edinburgh, 1890.

Prof. R.A.M. Stevenson, 16 St. Leonard’s Terrace, Chelsea

Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (1847-1900), RLS’s cousin Bob [http://stevensonmuseum.org/]
16 St. Leonard’s Terrace, Chelsea, London

W.E. Henley, Scots Advertiser Office, Thistle Street, Edinburgh

William Ernest Henley, c. 1890 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]
“Advertiser” is a slip by RLS for “Observer”. Henley was its editor 1889-1893 [https://oscarwildeinamerica.files.wordpress.com]
Thistle Street, Edinburgh.

George Saintsbury Esq. (?), Saturday Review?

George Edward Bateman Saintsbury, FBA (1845–1933), English writer, literary critic and historian, an important member of Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, London.

Edmund Gosse, Delamere Terrace W.

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) lived at 28 Delamere Terrace W., London [http://media-2.web.britannica.com/]
Delamere Terrace, London, late 19th century [https://i.pinimg.com]
28 Delamere Terrace, today.

Ori a Ori, Sous chef de Tautira, Tautira, Tahiti

Tautira, Tahiti. We have no picture of the sub-chief Teriitera, usually called Ori a Ori (1838-1916), deacon of the Protestant church with whom RLS became great friend [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Tati Salmon, Chef de Papara, Papara, Tahiti

Ari’i Teuraitera’i Tati Salmon (1850-1918) hereditary high chief of the Tevas at Papara, the greatest and oldest native family in Tahiti, was educated in England and was an authority on Tahitian legends and poetry. He was one of the 10 children of Alexander Salmon, an Anglo-Jewish trader who married the famous Teva chiefess Ariitaimai (1821-97) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Papara, Tahiti [https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com]

Madame la Princesse Moe, Papeete, Tahiti

A 1880 studio portrait of Moe-te-ra-uri (“Sleep-in-darkened-sun”) a Moe-Tati Maheanu’u-a-Mai, Ari‘irahi of Huahine and Pare-Arue (1850-1890). Known more simply as Princess Moe-a-Mai, she was a prominent member of the Tahitian royal house of Pomare, being (1863-81) the wife of King Tamatoa V of Raiatea (1842-1881), and then (1883-90) of Teheiura Pierre Paruru Laharrague (1853-1918). She had 5 living children [https://cdn.douglasstewart.com.au]
Papeete, Tahiti, c. 1890.

H.M. the King of the Hawaiian Islands, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Kalakaua, called The Merrie Monarch, was the last king and penultimate monarch of Hawai’i.
Jolani Palace, the Royal Palace, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawai’i [https://www.nps.gov]

Six to myself.

RLS, Sydney, 1890.


Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All this literary gossip I bestow upon you entre confrères, Miss Green”

Apparently in the guise of ‘Miss Green’, Miss Boodle had sent RLS (in the guise of Robin Lewison) an imaginary account of the discovery of the MS of an unknown novel in the garret of Sherryvore Cottage, Bournemouth. According to E. Mehew (6, p. 422 n. 1), on 8 April 1926 she sent Austin Strong, Fanny Stevenson’s grandchildren, her last copy of the tale, explaining that it had been published in ‘a local magazine edited by a friend of mine’. That copy is still lost (Mehew 6, p. 422). The letter is interesting as containing the only mention of certain schemes of romance afterwards abandoned by RLS.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2250.]

To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 211-4]

Union Club, Sydney, 1st September 1890

My dear Miss Boodle,

I find you have been behaving very ill: been very ill, in fact. I find this hard to forgive; probably should not forgive it at all if Robin Lewison had not been sick himself and a wretched sick-room prisoner in this club for near a month. Well, the best and bravest sometimes fail. But who is Miss Green? Don’t know her […]! I knew a lady of an exceedingly generous and perfervid nature – worthy to be suspected of Scotch blood for the perfervidness – equipped with a couple – perhaps a brace sounds better English – of perfervid eyes – with a certain graceful gaucherie of manner, almost like a child’s, and that is at once the highest point of gaucherie and grace – a friend everybody I ever saw was delighted to see come and sorry to see go. Yes, I knew that lady, and can see her now.

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]

But who was Miss Green? There is something amiss here. Either the Robin Lewisons have been very shabbily treated, […] or – and this is the serious part of the affair – somebody unknown to me has been entrusted with the key of the Skerryvore garret.

This may go as far as the Old Bailey, ma’am.

The Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey Trial, The Illustrated London News, 1842 [www.ph.ucla.edu]

But why should I gird at you or anybody, when the truth is we are the most miserable sinners in the world? For we are not coming home, I dare not. Even coming to Sydney has made me quite ill, and back I go to Samoa, whither please address Apia, Samoa – (and remember it is Sámó-a, a spondee to begin with, or Sahmóa, if you prefer that writing) – back I and my wife go to Samoa to live on our landed estate with four black labour boys in a kind of a sort of house, which Lloyd will describe to you. For he has gone to England:

Al that time Lloyd had gone back to Edinburgh for the sale of 17 Hariot Row [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

receive him like a favour and a piece of cake; he is our greeting to friends.

I paused here to put in the date on the first page. I am precious nearly through my fortieth year, thinks I to myself. Must be nearly as old as Miss Green, thinks I. O, come! I exclaimed, not as bad as that! Some lees of youth about the old remnant yet. […]

RLS, Sydney, prob. August 1890.

My amiable Miss Green, I beg you to give me news of your health, and if it may be good news. And when you shall have seen Lloyd, to tell me how his reports of the South Seas and our new circumstances strike such an awfully old person as yourself, and to tell me if you ever received a letter I sent you from Hawaii. I remember thinking – or remember remembering rather – it was (for me) quite a long respectable communication. Also, you might tell me if you got my war-whoop and scalping-knife assault on le nommé Hyde.[…]

RLS’s original pamphlet on Father Damien, written as an open letter to the Rev. Dr. Hyde of Honolulu, had been privately printed in Sydney, 1890 [www.lofty.com]

I ought not to forget to say your tale fetched me (Miss Green) by its really vile probability. If we had met that man in Honolulu he would have done it, and Miss Green would have done it. Only, alas! there is no completed novel lying in the garret: would there were! It should be out to-morrow with the name to it, and relieve a kind of tightness in the money market much deplored in our immediate circle. To be sure (now I come to think of it) there are some seven chapters of The Great North Road;

The fragment of The Great North Road was postumously published in vol. VII of the Edinburgh Edition, 1897 [https://deriv.nls.uk]

three, I think, of Robin Run the Hedge, given up when some nefarious person pre-empted the name;

This appears to be the work called ‘Tribulations of one Mr Baskerfield of Singleton St Marys and his ward Robin Rutledge’: the first chapter was posthumously published in Vailima Edition, 26, 1923. RLS’s reference is to Annette Lyster’s ‘Robin-Run-the-Hedge’, 1884.

and either there – or somewhere else – likely New York – one chapter of David Balfour, and five or six of the Memoirs of Henry Shovel.

Catriona, the sequel to Kidnapped (1886) wa to be published in the USA as David Balfour in 1993. The novel follows David’s attempts to secure Alan Breck Stewart and James Stewart’s innocence for the murder of Colin Roy, the “Red Fox”. Of the ‘Adventures of Henry Shovel’ only 3 chapters were written, and published in the Vailima Edition, Vol. 25 (1923).

That’s all. But Lloyd and I have one-half of The Wrecker in type,

RLS and Lloyd Osbourne’s novel, ‘The Wrecker’, was to be serialized in Scribner’s Magazine 10-12 (Aug 1891-July 1892) [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

and a good part of The Pearl Fisher (O, a great and grisly tale that!) in MS. And I have a projected, entirely planned love-story – everybody will think it dreadfully improper, I’m afraid – called Cannonmills. And I’ve a vague, rosy haze before me – a love-story too, but not improper – called The Rising Sun. (It’s the name of the wayside inn where the story, or much of the story, runs; but it’s a kind of a pun: it means the stirring up of a boy by falling in love, and how he rises in the estimation of a girl who despised him, though she liked him, and had befriended him; I really scarce see beyond their childhood yet, but I want to go beyond, and make each out-top the other by successions: it should be pretty and true if I could do it.)

The final title for The Pearl Fisher was to become The Ebb Tide, serialised in McClure’s Magazine from November 1894. The first paragraphs of Cannonmills (apparently all that RLS wrote) were first published in Vailima Edition (1923). Nothing more is heard of The Rising Sun [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Also I have my big book, The South Seas, always with me, and a sair handfu’ – if I may be allowed to speak Scotch to Miss Green – a sair handfu’ it is likely to be.

RLS’s travel book was published as ‘In the South Seas’ after RLS’s death, in 1896, and edited by Sidney Colvin.

All this literary gossip I bestow upon you entre confrères, Miss Green, which is little more than fair, Miss Green.

Allow me to remark that it is now

half-past twelve o’clock of the living night; I should certainly be ashamed of myself, and you also; for this is no time of the night for Miss Green to be colloguing with a comparatively young gentleman of forty […]. So with all the kindest wishes to yourself, and all at Lostock, and all friends in Hants, or over the borders in Dorset, I bring my folly to an end. Please believe, even when I am silent, in my real affection; I need not say the same for Fanny, more obdurately silent, not less affectionate than I. – Your friend,

Robert – Robin Lewison

(Nearly had it wrong – force of habit.)

Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our civilisation is a hollow fraud, all the fun of life is lost by it”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2249.]

To Elizabeth Fairchild [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 214-6]

Union Club, Sydney [c. 1 September 1890]

My dear Mrs. Fairchild,

I began a letter to you on board the Janet Nicoll on my last cruise, wrote, I believe, two sheets, and ruthlessly destroyed the flippant trash.

Elizabeth Nelson Fairchild (1845–1924), by J. Singer Sargent, c. 1887. In that year RLS and Fanny had found the most hospitable of refuges in the house of their friends, the Fairchilds, at 94 Washington Street, Newport, Rhode Island. Charles Fairchild (1838-1910) was a lawyer and Boston banker, friend and patron of the painter too [www.jssgallery.org]

Your last has given me great pleasure and some pain, for it increased the consciousness of my neglect. Now, this must go to you, whatever it is like.


It is always harshness that one regrets. […] I regret also my letter to Dr. Hyde.

RLS’s original pamphlet on Father Damien, written as an open letter to the Rev. Dr. Hyde of Honolulu, had been privately printed in Sydney, 1890 [www.lofty.com]
Rev. Charles McEwen Hyde (1832-99), a Congregationalist missionary, had arrived in Hawaii in 1877, sent there by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He mentored native Hawaiians who wanted to enter the Christian ministry, and he helped provide smallpox vaccinations for the population. After Father Damien’s death there had been controversy in the religious press between Protestants and Catholics about the extent of his contribution to the relief of lepers at Molokai. In a private letter to Revd. H.B. Gage, a Californian Presbyterian minister, Dr. Hyde had expressed surprise at ‘the extravagant newspaper laudations as if he (Damien) was a most saintly philantropist’ and proceeded to attack Damien’s character, morals and motives and to depreciate his labours [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Father Damien (1840-1889; canonized in 2009), born Jozef De Veuster, the famous Belgian Roman Catholic missionary priest, went to Molokai in 1873 and devoted the rest of his like to caring for the lepers and improving conditions at the settlement. He had died of leprosy on 15 April 1889, just a few weeks before RLS’s arrival at Molokai [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Yes, I do; I think it was barbarously harsh; if I did it now, I would defend Damien no less well, and give less pain to those who are alive. These promptings of good-humour are not all sound; the three times three, cheer boys, cheer, and general amiability business rests on a sneaking love of popularity, the most insidious enemy of virtue. On the whole, it was virtuous […] to defend Damien; but it was harsh to strike so hard at Dr. Hyde. When I wrote the letter, I believed he would bring an action, in which case I knew I could be beggared […]. And as yet there has come no action; the injured Doctor has contented himself up to now with the (truly innocuous) vengeance of calling me a ‘Bohemian Crank,’ and I have deeply wounded one of his colleagues whom I esteemed and liked.

Well, such is life. You are quite right; our civilisation is a hollow fraud, all the fun of life is lost by it; all it gains is that a larger number of persons can continue to be contemporaneously unhappy on the surface of the globe. O, unhappy! – there is a big word and a false – continue to be not nearly by about twenty per cent – so happy as they might be: that would be nearer the mark.

When – observe that word, which I will write again and larger – WHEN you come to see us in Samoa, you will see for yourself a healthy and happy people.

RLS and Fanny with their friends Nan Tok and Nei Takauti, Butaritary, Gilbert Islands, July or October 1889.

You see, you are one of the very few of our friends rich enough to come and see us; and when my house is built, and the road is made, and we have enough fruit planted and poultry and pigs raised,

RLS?s house, Vailima, Upolu Island, Samoa, 1892.

it is undeniable that you must come – must is the word; that is the way in which I speak to ladies. You and Fairchild, anyway

Charles Fairchild (1838-1910) was a Boston banker, friend and patron of Sargent [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– perhaps my friend Blair –

Charles Fairchild’s son, J. Blair Fairchild (1877–1933), was to become a composer and diplomat [https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com]

we’ll arrange details in good time. It will be the salvation of your souls, and make you willing to die.

Let me tell you this: In ’74 or 5 there came to stay with my father and mother a certain Mr. Seed, a prime minister or something of New Zealand. He spotted what my complaint was; told me that I had no business to stay in Europe; that I should find all I cared for, and all that was good for me, in the Navigator Islands; sat up till four in the morning persuading me, demolishing my scruples.

The grave of Hob. William Seed (1827-90), Bolton Street Cemetery, Wellington City, New Zealand. He was formerly Secretary to the Customs and Marine Department of New Zealand, visited Samoa (then called Navigator’s Island) in 1870 and made a tour of British lighthouses with the Stevenson in 1875. It was from his conversation that the notion of the Samoan Islands as a place of refuge for the sick and world-worn first entered Stevenson’s mind, to lie dormant and be revived thirteen years later. See Letter 397 at https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/nothing-to-do-but-to-study-oratory-and-etiquette-sit-in-the-sun-and-pick-up-the-fruits-as-they-fall/ [https://images.findagrave.com]

And I resisted: I refused to go so far from my father and mother.

Thomas Stevenson (1818-87) [http://pharology.eu]
Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-97) [www.wikimedia.org]

O, it was virtuous, and O, wasn’t it silly! But my father, who was always my dearest, got to his grave without that pang;

Stevenson family grave, New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh [https://images.findagrave.com]

and now in 1890, I (or what is left of me) go at last to the Navigator Islands.

The Group of Samoa was called “Navigator Islands” by European explorers before the 20th century because of the Samoans’ seafaring skills.

God go with us! It is but a Pisgah sight when all is said; I go there only to grow old and die; but when you come, you will see it is a fair place for the purpose.

Locacion of Vailima, near Apia, Upolu Island, Samoa.

Flaubert has not turned up; I hope he will soon; I knew of him only through Maxime Descamps.

The first 2 volumes of Flaubert’s Correspondance had been published 1887 and 1889.
Maxime Du Camp (1822-94) was a French journalist and novelist and friend of Flaubert. RLS had read his Souvenirs Littéraires, 1882-3 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– With kindest messages to yourself and all of yours, I remain

Robert Louis Stevenson

Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“My report would be – no connection between standing stones and sepulture”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2247.]

To Andrew Lang [Colvin 1911, 3, 209-10]

Union Club, Sydney [late August 1890]

My dear Lang,

I observed with a great deal of surprise and interest that a controversy in which you have been taking sides at home, in yellow London, hinges in part at least on the Gilbert Islanders and their customs in burial.

Andrew Lang’s paper, “Was Jehovah a fetish stone?”, had been published in the Contemporary Review for March 1890.

Nearly six months of my life has been passed in the group: I have revisited it but the other day; and I make haste to tell you what I know. The upright stones – I enclose you a photograph of one on Apemama – are certainly connected with religion; I do not think they are adored.

Navigation stones, Arorae Island, Gilbert Group. The stones seem to have been used to direct canoe voyages to distant islands with the help of horizon stars en route, the stars’ movements and bearings being studied and memorized in relation to the correct stone on the night before departure. They perhaps mark the site of a Polynesian navigation school which existed somewhere between A.D. 1000 and 1500. The directions given by the stones appear to have been corrected for drift due to the Equatorial Current. On the island of Arorae in the Gilbert Islands there is a group of eight or nine stones which are said by the natives to have been used by early canoe voyagers to set their courses on departure to distant islands. No other such stones for navigation have been reported from the Pacific, which makes the coral stones of Arorae of unique value in the history of navigation. The stones are some of the few pieces of real evidence in the long-standing controversy on the nature and range of Polynesian navigation. The stones are called ‘Atibu-ni-Borau’ by the natives, which means ‘stones for voyages’. They have no legends or traditions which shed any light on the origin or actual use of the stones, but there are several clues available from elsewhere in the Pacific which enable the use of the stones to be determined with a high degree of probability [B. Hilder, Polynesian Navigational Stones, in ‘The Journal of Navigation’, 12, 1, 1959; phot.: Kiribati: Aspects of History, 1984, p. 18]
Marae Tainuu on Raiatea Island, French Polynesia. The European missionarys who arrived in the 18th century tried to completely suppress the ancient culture and religious beliefs of the people. It is reflected clearly here where a church has actually been built on part of the marae. This menhir still remains as does a large part of the marae positioned behind the church [www.megalithic.co.uk]
Tomga’s trilithon [www.megalithic.co.uk]

They stand usually on the windward shore of the islands, that is to say, apart from habitation (on enclosed islands, where the people live on the sea side, I do not know how it is, never having lived on one). I gathered from Tembinoka, Rex Apemamae,

King Tembenoka writing the ‘History of Apemama’ in an account book, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

that the pillars were supposed to fortify the island from invasion: spiritual martellos.

Canford Cliffs and martello tower, Bournemouth. Martello towers (named from a Corsican origin) were a series of small circular forts built along the south coast of England as a defence against invasion during the Napoleonic wars [https://live.staticflickr.com]
Tally Toor, Martello Tower in Leith, Edinburgh [https://live.staticflickr.com]

I think he indicated they were connected with the cult of Tenti – pronounce almost as chintz in English, the t being explosive; but you must take this with a grain of salt, for I know no word of Gilbert Island; and the King’s English, although creditable, is rather vigorous than exact. Now, here follows the point of interest to you: such pillars, or standing stones, have no connection with graves. The most elaborate grave that I have ever seen in the group – to be certain – is in the form of a raised border of gravel, usually strewn with broken glass.

The boua represented the “body” of the ‘ancestral deity’ of the totem group. Most of them were unhappily destroyed by Christian iconoclast [A.F. Grimble,Tungaru Traditions: Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands, 2019]

One, of which I cannot be sure that it was a grave, for I was told by one that it was, and by another that it was not – consisted of a mound about breast high in an excavated taro swamp, on the top of which was a child’s house, or rather maniapa – that is to say, shed, or open house, such as is used in the group for social or political gatherings – so small that only a child could creep under its eaves.

Council of War in big speak-house, Apemama, Gilbert Group, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I have heard of another great tomb on Apemama, which I did not see; but here again, by all accounts, no sign of a standing stone. My report would be – no connection between standing stones and sepulture. I shall, however, send on the terms of the problem to a highly intelligent resident trader, who knows more than perhaps any one living, white or native, of the Gilbert group; and you shall have the result. In Samoa, whither I return for good, I shall myself make inquiries; up to now, I have neither seen nor heard of any standing stones in that group.

[…] – Yours,

R.L. Stevenson

Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sic veerin’ and steerin’! What port are ye neerin’?”

Excerpt of this letter had been quoted by Andrew Lang in a letter to H. Rider Haggard, with a copy made by Haggard of the verses. Lang had quoted RLS’s views on The World’s Desire by Haggard and Lang, published in 1890.

The World’s Desire is the story of “the Wanderer”, Odysseus, who returns home after his second, unsung journey. He is hoping to find a “home at peace, wife dear and true and his son worthy of him”. But instead he finds his home is ravaged by a plague and his wife Penelope has been slain. As he grieves, he is visited by an old flame, Helen of Troy, for whom the novel is named. Helen leads him to equip himself with the Bow of Eurytus and embark on his last journey. This is an exhausting journey in which he encounters a Pharaoh who is wed to a murderess beauty (his sister Meriamun), a holy and helpful priest, and his own fate.

Lang had quoted RLS so: “Stevenson says he is ‘thrilled and chilled’ by Meriamun. He thinks much of it ‘too steep,’ bars Odysseus killing so many, enemies – exactly what Longinus says of Homer – and fears Meriamun is likely to play down Helen. He is kind enough to say ‘the style is all right,’ and adds a poem on Odysseus”.

Here is RLS’s poem.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2246.] 

To Andrew Lang [Haggard, The Days of My Life, 1926, II, 7-9]

[Sydney, late August 1890]



Awdawcious Odyshes,

Your conduc’ is vicious,

Your tale is suspicious

           An’ queer.

Bartholomeus Spranger, Circe and Odysseus, 1586-7 [https://painting-planet.com]

Ye ancient sea-roamer,

Ye dour auld beach-comber,

Frae Haggard to Homer

             Ye veer.

J.H.W. Tischbein (1751-1829), Odysseus Yearns for Ithaca [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Sic veerin’ and steerin’!

What port are ye neerin’

As frae Egypt to Erin

             Ye gang?

J.M.W. Turner, Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, 1829 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Ye ancient auld blackguard,

Just see whaur ye’re staggered

From Homer to Haggard

              And Lang!

W. A. Bouguereau, Homer and His Guide, 1874 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was an English writer of adventure fiction set in exotic locations, and a pioneer of the ‘lost world’ literary genre [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Andrew Lang (1844-1912), RLS’s friend, was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, contributor to the field of anthropology, and collector of folk and fairy tales [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


In stunt and in strife

To gang seeking a wife –

At your time o’ life

       It was wrang.

M. Greiffenhagen’s illustrations for Haggard and Lang’s ‘lost world’ novel, ‘The World’s Desire’, 1894 edition [https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com]

An’ see! Fresh afflictions

Into Haggard’s descriptions

An’ the plagues o’ the Egyptians

               Ye sprang!



The folk ye’re now in wi’

Are ill to begin wi’

Or to risk a hale skin wi’

            In breeks –

They’re blacker and better –

(Just ask your begetter)

And far frae bein’ better

          Than Greeks.


Ther’s your Meriamun:

She’ll mebbe can gammon

That auld-furrand salmon



An’ Moses and Aaron

Will gie ye your fairin’

Wi’ fire an’ het airn

         In Hell.


I refuse to continue longer. I had an excellent half-verse there, but couldn’t get the necessary pendant, and anyway there’s no end to such truck.



Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In the matter of rhyme no man can judge himself”

This letter is in acknowledgment of proofs received from Scribner’s of a proposed volume of verse to contain, besides “Ticonderoga: A Legend of the West Highlands” and the two ballads “The Feast of Famine: Marquesan Manners” and “The Song of Rahero: A Legend of Tahiti”, a number of the other miscellaneous verses which he had written in the course of his travels.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2243.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, 203-4]

Union Club, Sydney [Late August 1890]

My dear Burlingame,



The deuce is in this volume. It has cost me more botheration and dubiety than any other I ever took in hand. On one thing my mind is made up: the verses at the end have no business there, and throw them down. Many of them are bad, many of the rest want nine years’ keeping, and the remainder are not relevant – throw them down; some I never want to hear of more, others will grow in time towards decent items in a second Underwoods – and in the meanwhile, down with them! At the same time, I have a sneaking idea the ballads are not altogether without merit – I don’t know if they’re poetry, but they’re good narrative, or I’m deceived.

In the end, the ballads only stood for publication at this time.

(You’ve never said one word about them, from which I astutely gather you are dead set against: ‘he was a diplomatic man’ – extract from epitaph of E.L.B. – ‘and remained on good terms with Minor Poets.’)

Edward Livermore Burlingame (1848-1922), founding editor-in-chief of Scribner’s Magazine since 1886 [https://images.findagrave.com]
E.L. Burlingame’s grave, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachussetts [https://images.findagrave.com]

You will have to judge: one of the Gladstonian trinity of paths must be chosen. (1st) Either publish the five ballads, such as they are, in a volume called Ballads; in which case pray send sheets at once to Chatto and Windus. Or (2nd) write and tell me you think the book too small, and I’ll try and get into the mood to do some more. Or (3rd) write and tell me the whole thing is a blooming illusion; in which case draw off some twenty copies for my private entertainment, and charge me with the expense of the whole […] dream.

The other verses were reserved and posthumously published under the title Songs of Travel. In December 1894, shortly after the author’s death, Sidney Colvin collected the lyric and occasional poems in Volume XIV of the Edinburgh Edition, incorporating them as Songs of Travel.

In the matter of rhyme no man can judge himself; I am at the world’s end, have no one to consult, and my publisher holds his tongue. I call it unfair and almost unmanly. I do indeed begin to be filled with animosity; Lord, wait till you see the continuation of The Wrecker, when I introduce some New York publishers. […] It’s a good scene; the quantities you drink and the really hideous language you are represented as employing may perhaps cause you one tithe of the pain you have inflicted by your silence on, sir, The Poetaster,


RLS, The Wrecker, 1892. Burlingame wrote to RLS commenting ‘very frankly’ on ‘a little bad after-taste left for me by the needlessly aggressive anti-Americanism of many passages’. RLS duly toned down the offending passages in the proofs. And Burlingame answered: ‘the animosity is gone’.

[…] Lloyd is off home;

Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson, has then gone to Edinburgh for the sail of their house at 17 Heriot Row [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

my wife and I dwell sundered: she in lodgings, preparing for the move;

Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney, late 19th century [https://monovisions.com]

I here in the club, and at my old trade – bedridden.

The Union Clun, Sydney, prob. late 19th century [http://sydneyarchitecture.com]

Naturally, the visit home is given up; we only wait our opportunity to get to Samoa, where, please, address me.

RLS on his veranda in Vailima, Samoa, 11 May 1892. In 1890 he made a stay of about a month in Sydney, before to settled in Samoa and superintend the operations of planting and building [https://davidlarkin.files.wordpress.com]

Have I yet asked you to despatch the books and papers left in your care to me at Apia, Samoa? I wish you would, quam primum.



Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Since my dear wild noble father died no head on earth is more precious to my thoughts than yours”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2240.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin, Memories and Notes, 1922, 146-7]

Union Club, Sydney [August 1890]


We had a very interesting voyage for some part; it would have been delightful to the end – […] – had my health held out.

Map to illustrate the cruise of the Janet Nicoll, 11 April – 25 July, 1890 [http://4.bp.blogspot.com]

That it did not, I attribute to savage hard work in a wild cabin heated like the Babylonian furnace,

Gustave Doré, The Babylonian furnace of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3: 24), 1866.

four plies of blotting-paper under my wet hand


and the drops trailing from my brow. For God’s sake don’t start in to blame Fanny: often enough she besought me not to go on: but I did my work while I was a bedridden worm in England, and please God I shall do my work until I burst.

RLS at work in his bed, Vailima, Samoa, 1894.

I do not know any other virtue that I possess; and indeed there are few others I prize alongside of it. Only, one other I have: I love my friends, and I don’t like to hear the most beloved of all casting doubt on that affection.

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

Did you not get the verses I sent you from Apemama?

These are the verses “To S.C.”, afterwards printed as no. XXXVI in the volume ‘Songs of Travel’, 1896. The package containing them had for the time being failed to reach Sidney Colvin. Cf. previous Letter #2191 to Sidney Colvin, 2 december 1889, from schooner Equator: https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2020/01/05/to-other-lands-and-nights-my-fancy-turned/

I guess they were not A.1. verses, but they expressed something you surely could not doubt. But perhaps all my letters have miscarried? A sorrow on correspondence! If this miscarry too? See here: if by any chance this should come to your hand, […] understand once and for all that since my dear wild noble father died no head on earth is more precious to my thoughts than yours. […]

[…] But all this talk is useless. Know this, I love you, and since I am speaking plainly for once, I bind it upon you as a sacred duty, […] should you be dangerously ill, I must be summoned. I will never forgive you […] if I am not. So long as there is no danger, I do well, do I not? – to consider conditions necessary to my work and health. I have a charge of souls; I keep many eating and drinking; my continued life has a value of its own; and I cannot but feel it. But I have to see you again. That is sure. And – how strangely we are made! – I see no harm in my dying like a burst pig upon some outlandish island,

RLS’s grave on Mount Vaea, Upolu, Samoa, 1909 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

but if you  died, without due notice and a chance for me to see you, I should count it a disloyalty […].

Grave of Sidney Colvin, St John-at-Hampstead Churchyard, London. The inscription runs:
“In loving memory of
Frances Jane
fourth daughter of
Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh
formerly of Dardiston West Meath
born January 25th 1839
died August 1st 1924
and of her son
Frederick Sitwell
born June 20th 1861
died April 27th 1873.
Here lies also
her husband
in happy second marriage
Sidney Colvin K.t
born June 18th 1845
died May 11th 1927″

[Fanny concludes] […]

Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I was never fond of towns, houses, society, or (it seems) civilisation”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2239.] 

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 204-6]

Union Club, Sydney [19 August 1890]

My dear Henry James,

Kipling is too clever to live.

Rudyard Kipling (right) with his father John Lockwood Kipling, circa 1890. In a letter of 21 March 1890, referring to RLS’s expected return to England, Henry James had written: ‘We’ll tell you all about Rudyard Kipling – your nascent rival… the star of the hour.’ [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Henry James had presumably sent RLS Kipling’s book of short stories, ‘Soldiers Three‘, published in 1888 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The Bête Humaine I had already perused in Noumea,


listening the while to the strains of the convict band.

French Convict Band playing in prison ground, Noumea [https://3.bp.blogspot.com]
Convict band in kiosk, Public Gardens, Noumea [https://3.bp.blogspot.com]

He is a Beast; but not human, and, to be frank, not very interesting. ‘Nervous maladies: the homicidal ward,’ would be the better name: O, this game gets very tedious.

Henry James, early 1890s. On 28 April 1890 he had written to RLS: ‘I sent you a new Zola the other day – at a venture: but I have no confidence that I gratified a curiosity. I haven’t read The Human Beast – one knows him without that – and I am told Zola’s account of him is dull and imperfect’ [https://4.bp.blogspot.comg]

Your two long and kind letters have helped to entertain the old familiar sickbed. So has a book called The Bondman, by Hall Caine; I wish you would look at it. […] I am not half-way through yet. […] Read the book, and communicate your views.

Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931), English successful and popular novelist [https://collectionimages.npg.org.uk]

Hall Caine, by the way, appears to take Hugo’s view of History and Chronology. (Later; the book doesn’t keep up; it gets very wild.)


I must tell you plainly – I can’t tell Colvin – I do not think I shall come to England more than once, and then it’ll be to die. Health I enjoy in the tropics; even here, which they call sub- or semi-tropical, I come only to catch cold. I have not been out since my arrival; live here in a nice bedroom by the fireside,

RLS was staying at the Union Club (right), 2 Bligh Street, Sydney. The building had been designed by William Wardell in 1884 in the Classical Revival style [http://sydneyarchitecture.com]

and read books and letters from Henry James, and send out to get his Tragic Muse,

James’s novel ‘The Tragic Muse’ had been published in June 1890; in a letter of 29 April he had promised to send RLS a copy.

only to be told they can’t be had as yet in Sydney, and have altogether a placid time. But I can’t go out! The thermometer was nearly down to 50° the other day – no temperature for me, Mr. James: how should I do in England? I fear not at all. Am I very sorry? […] I am sorry about […] seven or eight people in England, and […] one or two in the States. And outside of that, I simply prefer Samoa. These are the words of honesty and soberness. (I am fasting from all but sin, coughing, The Bondman, a couple of eggs and a cup of tea.) I was never fond of towns, houses, society, or (it seems) civilisation. Nor yet it seems was I ever very fond of (what is technically called) God’s green earth. The sea, islands, the islanders, the island life and climate, make and keep me truly happier.

RLS and Fanny with their native friends Nan Tok and Nei Takauti, Butaritari, Gilbert Islands 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

These last two years I have been much at sea, and I have never wearied; sometimes I have indeed grown impatient for some destination; more often I was sorry that the voyage drew so early to an end; and never once did I lose my fidelity to blue water and a ship. It is plain, then, that for me my exile to the place of schooners and islands can be in no sense regarded as a calamity. […]


Good-bye just now: I must take a turn at my proofs.

N.B. – Even my wife has weakened about the sea. She wearied, the last time we were ashore, to get afloat again. – Yours ever,


Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If you would but take a fancy to translate a book of mine that I myself admired…”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2238.]

To Marcel Schwob [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 206-9]

Union Club, Sydney, August 19th 1890

My dear Mr. Schwob,

Mais, alors, vous avez tous les bonheurs, vous!

Marcel Schwob (1867-1905), French essayist and author of a number of imaginatives tales. He had a gift for languages and become multilingual. In 1884, he had discovered RLS who became one of his friends and models [https://lemuseinquiete.it]

More about Villon; it seems incredible: when it is put in order, pray send it me.

Marcel Schwob was studying Villon and the language of his time.
Schwob’s career was cut short by chronic ill-health and some of his essays were to be after his death.

You wish to translate the Black Arrow: dear sir, you are hereby authorised; but I warn you, I do not like the work.

In 1889, Marcel Schwob had requested permission to translate The Black Arrow. Nothing came of the project.

Ah, if you, who know so well both tongues, and have taste and instruction – if you would but take a fancy to translate a book of mine that I myself admired – for we sometimes admire our own – or I do – with what satisfaction would the authority be granted! But these things are too much to expect. Vous ne détestez pas alors mes bonnes femmes? moi, je les déteste. I have never pleased myself with any women of mine save two character parts, one of only a few lines – the Countess of Rosen,

First book edition of ‘Prince Otto’, London 1885. The character of the Countess Von Rosen was inspired by the Russian princess met in Mentone in 1874: “The Countess von Rosen… I’ll never tell you who she is; it’s a secret; but I have known the countess; well, I will tell you; it’s my old Russian friend, Nadia Zassetsky.” See previous post, https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/you-know-i-was-a-story-teller-ingrain-did-not-that-reassure-you/ [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and Madame Desprez in the Treasure of Franchard.

Anastasie Desprez is Dr. Desprez’s wife in RLS’s short story ‘The Treasure of Franchard’, written in 1883 and collected in the book ‘The Merry Men’ in 1887. The beginning of the 1895 edition.

I had indeed one moment of pride about my poor Black Arrow: Dickon Crookback I did, and I do, think is a spirited and possible figure.

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III of England, c. 1520, after a lost original [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Shakespeare’s – O, if we can call that cocoon Shakespeare! – Shakespeare’s is spirited – one likes to see the untaught athlete butting against the adamantine ramparts of human nature, head down, breach up; it reminds us how trivial we are today, and what safety resides in our triviality. For spirited it may be, but O, sure not possible!

I love Dumas

Alexander Dumas pére (1802-70) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and I love Shakespeare:


you will not mistake me when I say that the Richard of the one

Richard Mansfield as Richard III, c. 1889 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

reminds me of the Porthos of the other;

Porthos, by Vivant Beaucé, 1849 [www.pointdevue.fr]

and if by any sacrifice of my own literary baggage I could clear the Vicomte de Bragelonne of Porthos, Jekyll might go, and the Master, and the Black Arrow, you may be sure, and I should think my life not lost for mankind if half a dozen more of my volumes must be thrown in.

The tone of your pleasant letters makes me egotistical; you make me take myself too gravely. Comprehend how I have lived much of my time in France, and loved your country, and many of its people, and all the time was learning that which your country has to teach – breathing in rather that atmosphere of art which can only there be breathed; and all the time knew – and raged to know – that I might write with the pen of angels or of heroes, and no Frenchman be the least the wiser! And now steps in M. Marcel Schwob, writes me the most kind encouragement, and reads and understands, and is kind enough to like my work.

Marcel Schwob adolescent [https://i.pinimg.comg]

I am just now overloaded with work. I have two huge novels on hand – The Wrecker

RLS and Lloyd’s novel ‘The Wrecker’ began to be serialized in Scribner’s Magazine for August 1891.

and the Pearl Fisher, in collaboration with my stepson: the latter, the Pearl Fisher, I think highly of, for a black, ugly, trampling, violent story, full of strange scenes and striking characters.

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 then I am about waist-deep in my big book on the South Seas: the big book on the South Seas it ought to be, and shall.

The book was to be published posthumously, in 1896.

And besides, I have some verses in the press, which, however, I hesitate to publish. For I am no judge of my own verse; self-deception is there so facile. All this and the cares of an impending settlement in Samoa keep me very busy,

‘Pineapple Cottage’, a temporary house built for use while Vailima was being built [www.capitalcollections.org.uk][https://media.springernature.com]

and a cold (as usual) keeps me in bed.

Alas, I shall not have the pleasure to see you yet awhile, if ever. You must be content to take me as a wandering voice, and in the form of occasional letters from recondite islands:

Marcel Schwob made a journey to Samoa in 1901-2 but was too ill to visit RLS’s grave [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and address me, if you will be good enough to write, to Apia, Samoa. My stepson, Mr. Osbourne, goes home meanwhile to arrange some affairs; it is not unlikely he may go to Paris to arrange about the illustrations to my South Seas; in which case I shall ask him to call upon you, and give you some word of our outlandish destinies. You will find him intelligent, I think; and I am sure, if (par hasard) you should take any interest in the islands, he will have much to tell you. – Herewith I conclude, and am your obliged and interested correspondent,

Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. – The story you refer to has got lost in the post.

Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“My loneliness has a certain pleasure”

[For critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2235.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 199-202]

Hotel Sebastopol, Noumea [late July 1890]

My dear Charles,

I have stayed here a week

On 26 July 1890, on the way between Samoa and Sydney RLS left the Janet Nicoll for a week’s stay in Noumea, capital and chief port of the French colony of New Caledonia [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Rue Sebastopol, Noumea, New Caledonia.

while Lloyd and my wife continue to voyage in the Janet Nicoll;

The Janet Nicoll left next day and reached Sydney on 4 August [https://i.ebayimg.com]

this I did, partly to see the convict system,

View of a French penal colony in Nouvelle-Caledonie before 1892. In The Ebb-Tide RLS referred to ‘those white, shaved men, in their dust clothes and straw hats, prowling around in gangs in the lamplight at Noumea’. The convict settlement was established in 1864 [Cf. Mehew 6, p. 396 n. 2]

partly to shorten my stay in the extreme cold – hear me with my extreme! moi qui suis originaire d’Edimbourg – of Sydney at this season. I am feeling very seedy, utterly fatigued, and overborne with sleep.

RLS in Sydney, 1890.

I have a fine old gentleman of a doctor, who attends and cheers and entertains, if he does not cure me; but even with his ministrations I am almost incapable of the exertion sufficient for this letter; and I am really, as I write, falling down with sleep. What is necessary to say, I must try to say shortly. Lloyd goes to clear out our establishments:

17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, RLS’s home was to be sold by RLS’s mother and stepson Lloyd [https://i.pinimg.com]

pray keep him in funds, if I have any; if I have not, pray try to raise them. Here is the idea: to install ourselves, at the risk of bankruptcy, in Samoa.

It is not the least likely it will pay (although it may); but it is almost certain it will support life, with very few external expenses. If I die, it will be an endowment for the survivors, at least for my wife and Lloyd; and my mother, who might prefer to go home, has her own. Hence I believe I shall do well to hurry my installation. The letters are already in part done; in part done is a novel for Scribner;

RLS and Lloyd’s novel ‘The Wrecker’ began to be serialized in Scribner’s Magazine for August 1891.

in the course of the next twelve months I should receive a considerable amount of money. I am aware I had intended to pay back to my capital some of this. I am now of opinion I should act foolishly. Better to build the house and have a roof and farm of my own; and thereafter, with a livelihood assured, save and repay, than to go on, living expensively and paying back capital which makes only a modest return. I am in hopes you will share this view. The price of the house will be considerable; my expenses have to be faced before we have cattle, feed, and vegetable.

RLS on his veranda, Vailima, Upolu, Samoa, 1892 [https://1.bp.blogspot.com]

On the other hand, once faced, there is my livelihood, all but books and wine, ready in a nutshell;

A close-up of a shelf of Stevenson’s book collection, RLS Museum, Vailima [www.albomadventures.com]

and it ought to be more easy to save and to repay afterwards. Excellent, say you, but will you save and will you repay? I do not know, said the Bell of Old Bow.

But, on the other hand, will you tell me how much I shall lose, if I delay building my house and mounting my plantation, and must live at heck and manger, paying three prices for one, after I have paid back the money, and while I economise, under this drain, the fresh capital necessary for the installation? It seems clear to me.

Have you paid back what I owe to Simpson?

Sir Walter Grindlay Simpson (1843-1898), was RLS’s companion on the “Inland Voyage” and one of his closest friends from his student days at Edinburgh University [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/]

Please guide Lloyd all you can. We see him go, Fanny and I, with sinkings. He is not – well – not a man of business.

RLS and Fanny, Samoa, 1889-1890.
Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

The deuce of the affair is that I do not know when I shall see you and Colvin. I guess you will have to come and see me: many a time already we have arranged the details of your visit in the yet unbuilt house on the mountain. I shall be able to get decent wine from Noumea. We shall be able to give you a decent welcome, and talk of old days. Apropos of old days, do you remember still the phrase we heard in Waterloo Place?

Waterloo Place, Edinburgh. Cf. Letter #474: “the past where we have been drunk and sober, and sat outside the grocers’ shops on fine dark nights, and wrangled in the Speculative, and heard mitsterious whistling in Waterloo Place, and met missionaries from Aberdeen: generally, the past”.

I believe you made a piece for the piano on that phrase. Pray, if you remember it, send it me in your next. If you find it impossible to write correctly, send it me à la récitative, and indicate the accents. Do you feel (you must) how strangely heavy and stupid I am? I must at last give up and go sleep; I am simply a rag.

The morrow: I feel better, but still dim and groggy. Tonight I go to the governor’s; such a lark – no dress clothes – 24 hour’s notice able-bodied Polish tailor – suit made for a man with the figure of a puncheon – same hastily altered for self with the figure of a bodkin – front flaps of coat descending to pudenda – sight inconceivable. Never mind; dress clothes, ‘which nobody can deny’; and the officials have been all so civil that I liked neither to refuse nor to appear in mufti. Bad dress clothes only prove you are a grisly ass; no dress clothes, even when explained, indicate a want of respect. I wish you were here with me to help me dress in this wild raiment, and to accompany me to M. Noel-Pardon’s.

Governor residence in Noumea, New Caledonia, 1867. Marie Jacques Noël Pardon (1854–1910) was Acting Governor of New Caledonia 1889-91. He was concerned about the shortage of agricultural laborers, and about the lack of supervision of workers hired privately. He supported the official resumption of indentured servitude as long as recruitment was regulated, as demanded by the General Council, an advisory body that represented the free citizens of the colony. In 1890 Pardon submitted a proposal for land reform in New Caledonia to the Extra-Parliamentary Committee of the Cadastre. He wanted to apply the Torrens title system in the colony, which would allow for the appropriation and sale of lands to private individuals, with the profit used to cover the colony’s costs. There would be no difficulty with indigenous legislation, since there was none [https://previews.123rf.com]

My dear Charles, it is a very poor affair to (what is called) succeed. My faults, whatever they were, were taken very easily by my friends till I had (what is called) succeeded; then the measure was changed. What I have gained is an invitation to the governor’s in New Caledonia; what I have lost, you can see in what I wrote last night, when I mentioned you and Colvin – and you two only.

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

Even Bob writes to me with an embarassment which communicates itself to my answers.

Robert Alan Mowbray (“Bob”) Stevenson (1847-1900) [www.stevensonmuseum.org]

Our relations is too old and close to be destroyed; I have forgiven him too much – and he me – to leave a rupture possible; but there it is – the shadow. I bore you with these regrets. But I did not ever care for much else than my friends; and some they are dead etc., and I am at the end of the world from what remains; gone, all are gone. I cannot say what I would give if there came a knock now at the door and you came in. I guess Noel-Pardon would go begging, and we might burn the £200 dress clothes in the back garden for a bonfire; or what would be yet more expensive and more humorous, get them once more expanded to fit you, and when that was done, a second time cut down for my gossamer dimensions.

I hope you never forget to remember me to your father, who has always a place in my heart, as I hope I have a little in his. His kindness helped me infinitely when you and I were young; I recall it with gratitude and affection in this town of convicts at the world’s end.

Penal colony, Noumea [https://lh3.googleusercontent.com]
In New Caledonia, around 1890, some French convicts, common law prisoners and former communards pulling some hay carts to carry it in a market. The fruits of the prisoners’ work helped the French colonization of the Nouvelle Caledonie.

There are very few things, my dear Charles, worth mention: on a retrospect of life, the day’s flash and colour, one day with another, flames, dazzles, and puts to sleep; and when the days are gone, like a fast-flying thaumatrope, they make but a single pattern.

Only a few things stand out; and among these – most plainly to me – Rutland Square.

Rutland Square, Edinburgh [www.filmedinburgh.org]

I don’t know if it will cut you to the heart as it does me, but the Bohem flageolet has gone (presumiably with the heat) out of tune.

RLS playing his flageolet while visiting Hawaii, 1889. The Boehm-system flageolet was the most advanced French flageolet manufactured and is the closest the flageolet came to be developed into a modern orchestral instrument. Whilst most authors refer to this type of instrument as “Boehm-system”, it not clear who developed it. Although Theobald Boehm (1794-1881), the inventor of the Boehm-system, is a possibility since he may have played the flageolet in his early life, the system is perhaps too far removed from that of the Boehm-system flute to be his invention. A more likely candidate might be Jean-Louis Buffet (1813-1865) or his father, Auguste (1789-1864), since many surviving instruments were made by the Buffet-Crampon company and Auguste Buffet carried out much of the work on adapting the Boehm-system to the clarinet. The Boehm-system is usually thought of as aiming to ensure that the tone holes for each note are in the acoustically optimal places and are at the acoustically optimal size, improve the “venting” of the instrument by keeping all tone holes open below the lowest note that is being played, simplify fingering by reducing the number of notes which have to be cross-fingered.
In order to achieve the above, this type of flageolet has considerably more keys than most French flageolets: usually 13 in total; and, with the exception of three keys around the windway, each key is far more elaborate than those that appear on other instruments. Compared to the flute, the benefits of the additional keywork are not so apparent: flageolet tone-holes tend to be very small in any event and a certain amount of cross-fingering is inevitable. However, the simplification of some fingering is very helpful and the Boehm-system flageolet has greater power than other versions of the instruments. Most Boehm-system flageolets are slightly longer than normal French flageolets. Two keys allow the playing of a low G and G♯ without with performer putting his little-finger into the bell of the instrument. The low G is particularly useful since this opens up much music written for the flute or recorder which otherwise cannot satisfactorily be played [https://upload.wikimedia.org; http://www..flageolets.comarticles]

A, B♭, B, C# have all run together: C# certainly flat, and most of the others I think sharp; all at least run into “pie”, and the pipe smiles in the face of the performer. I dare not play now: it is bad enough to play inconceivably ill; when the pipe itself is out of tune, the offence is capital.

I believe I show in these words that I am not quite so much out of gear as I was last night; yet I still struggle with sonnolence and make but an imperfect fight of it, and when I walk it is still on aching legs. Possibly the long voyage, and so long ship’s food, explain my state; but I feel unusually useless. My loneliness has a certain pleasure. Ever, my dear Charles, your affectionate friend,

Robert Louis Stevenson

On my arrival at Sydney, I shall doubtless find a letter. This is to be ready before, and to go first of all, should there be mail on the move.

P.S. – Just returned from trying on the dress clo’. Lord, you should see the coat! It stands out at the waist like a bustle, the flaps cross in front, the sleeves are like bags.

Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments