“I’m direckit at space”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2158.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 138-9]

Honolulu, [postmark 12] April 1889

My dear Charles,

As usual, your letter is as good as a cordial, and I thank you for it, and all your care, kindness, and generous and thoughtful friendship, from my heart. I was truly glad to hear a word of Colvin, whose long silence has terrified me; and glad to hear that you condoned the notion of my staying longer in the South Seas, for I have decided in that sense.

RLS’s South Seas voyages [www.tikiroom.com]

The first idea was to go in the Morning Star, missionary ship;

The missionary ship Morning Star IV, 1884-1900 [www.trussel.com]

but now I have found a trading schooner, the Equator, which is to call for me here early […] in June


and carry us through the Gilberts.

The Gilbert Islands [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

What will happen then, the Lord knows. My mother does not accompany us:

Margaret Stevenson and Belle Strong, standing near their bungalow at Honolulu,1889; in front of them Ah Fu, their Chinese cook, pouring RLS tea; at their left, Fanny and Lloyd [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

she leaves here for home early in May, and you will hear of us from her; but not, I imagine, anything more definite. We shall get dumped on Butaritari,

Butaritari is a north Gilbert island [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and whether we manage to go on to the Marshalls and Carolines,


or whether we fall back on Samoa,


Heaven must decide; but I mean to fetch back into the course of the Richmond – (to think you don’t know what the Richmond is!-  the steamer of the Eastern South Seas, joining New Zealand, Tonga-tabu, the Samoas, Taheite, and Rarotonga,


and carrying by last advices sheep in the saloon!)


– into the course of the Richmond and make Tahiti again on the home track. […]

[…] Would I like to see the Scots Observer?


Wouldn’t I not? But whaur? I’m direckit at space. They have nae post offishes at the Gilberts, and as for the Car’lines! Ye see, Mr. Baxter, we’re no just in the punkshewal centre o’ civ’lisation. But pile them up for me, and when I’ve decided on an address, I’ll let you ken, and ye’ll can send them stavin’ after me.


[…] – Ever your affectionate


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“It is a grim little wooden shanty; cobwebs bedeck it; friendly mice inhabit its recesses”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2154.]

To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 134-8]

Honolulu, April 6th, 1889

My dear Miss Boodle,

[…] Nobody writes a better letter than my Gamekeeper: so gay, so pleasant, so engagingly particular, answering (by some delicate instinct) all the questions she suggests.

Miss Adelaide Ann Boodle (1858-1934), “the Gamekeeper”, had been neighbour of RLS at Bournemouth. She had become devoted friend of the Stevensons and at that time was taking care of their house, Skerryvore cottage, Bournemouth [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

It is a shame you should get such a poor return as I can make, from a mind essentially and originally incapable of the art epistolary. I would let the paper-cutter take my place;

When the Stevensons left Bournemouth, Miss Boodle gave RLS a paper-cutter. He promised her gift should go to sea with him. This is a different piece that belonged to RLS, now kept at Vailima Museum, Samoa.

but I am sorry to say the little wooden seaman did after the manner of seamen, and deserted in the Societies. The place he seems to have stayed at –  seems, for his absence was not observed till we were near the Equator – was Tautira, and, I assure you, he displayed good taste, Tautira being as ‘nigh hand heaven’ as a paper-cutter or anybody has a right to expect.

Tautira is a beach village on the south-east coast of the island of Tahiti [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I think all our friends will be very angry with us, and I give the grounds of their probable displeasure bluntly – we are not coming home for another year. My mother returns next month.

RLS’s mother Margaret (first on the right) was 60 at that time [https://images.findagrave.com]

Fanny, Lloyd, and I push on again among the islands on a trading schooner, the Equator

The trading schooner Equator, was owned by Wightman Brothers, San Francisco had been the first ship to reach Apia, Samoa, after the famous hurricane of 15-16 March 1889 [https://blueoceanmariner.files.wordpress.com]

first for the Gilbert group, which we shall have an opportunity to explore thoroughly; then, if occasion serve, to the Marshalls and Carolines; and if occasion (or money) fail, to Samoa, and back to Tahiti.


I own we are deserters, but we have excuses. You cannot conceive how these climates agree with the wretched house-plant of Skerryvore: he wonders to find himself sea-bathing, and cutting about the world loose, like a grown-up person.

RLS and his wife at Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth, by John Singer Sargent, 1885 [https://si.wsj.net]

They agree with Fanny too, who does not suffer from her rheumatism, and with Lloyd also.

Fanny Stevenson and her son Lloyd Osbourne (on the left), with RLS, King Kalakaua and Margaret Stevenson, Honolulu, 1889 [https://digital.nls.uk]

And the interest of the islands is endless; and the sea, though I own it is a fearsome place, is very delightful.

The missionary ship Morning Star, 1884-1900 [www.trussel.com]

but this trading schooner is a far preferable idea, giving us more time and a thousandfold more liberty, so we determined to cut off the missionaries with a shilling.

The remains of the schooner Equator have been recognized as a National Historic Place and are now protected by a shed near the Port of Everett’s Marina Park, Washington [https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia]


The Sandwich Islands do not interest us very much;

Sandwich Islands was the name given to the Hawaiian Islands by James Cook in 1778 [https://oliverandamandaineurope.files.wordpress.com]

we live here, oppressed with civilisation, and look for good things in the future. But it would surprise you if you came out to-night from Honolulu  (all shining with electric lights, and all in a bustle from the arrival of the mail, which is to carry you these lines)

Waikiki beach, Honolulu, 19th century [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and crossed the long wooden causeway along the beach,

Waikiki beach, Honolulu, 1886 [www.angelfire.com]
Sans Souci beach, Waikiki, Honolulu [www.angelfire.com]

and came out on the road through Kapiolani park,

Kapiolani Park, Honolulu, early 20th century [https://historichawaii.org]
Waikiki beach and Kapiolani Park, Honolulu.

and seeing a gate in the palings, with a tub of gold-fish by the wayside,


entered casually in. The buildings stand in three groups by the edge of the beach,

RLS’s home at Waikiki, Honolulu: (a) stairs up to balcony; (1) Lloyd’s room; (2) Margaret’s room; (3) a room kept dark for photographs; (4) The kitchen; (5) Balcony; (6) The Lanai or summer parlour or living-room; (7) “A crazy dirty cottage used for the arts”; (8) “Another crazy dirty cottage, where Fanny and I live”.

where an angry little spitfire sea continually spirts and thrashes with impotent irascibility, the big seas breaking further out upon the reef.

The first is a small house, with a very large summer parlour, or lanai, as they call it here, roofed, but practically open. There you will find the lamps burning and the family sitting about the table, dinner just done: my mother, my wife, Lloyd, Belle, my wife’s daughter […], Austin her child, and to-night (by way of rarity) a guest.

All about the walls our South Sea curiosities, war clubs, idols, pearl shells, stone axes, etc.;

South Seas curios from RLS’s collections, on display at the Anderson Galleries in New York, 1914. Most of them were collected during RLS’s next voyage on the schooner Equator: Gilbert Island corselets and human hair necklace, and Hawaiian neck ornament [www.penn.museum]
Coconut fiber overhalls and helmet, with sharks’ teeth weapons are listed in the Princeton Univercity Museum as having come from RLS [www.penn.museum]
Mother-of-pearl shells sent from Samoa by RLS to his cousin, Lady Kyllachy.

and the walls are only a small part of a lanai, the rest being glazed or latticed windows, or mere open space. You will see there no sign of the Squire, however; and being a person of a humane disposition, you will only glance in over the balcony railing at the merry-makers in the summer parlour,

RLS (“the Squire”) and family in the lanai or living room, Waikiki, Honolulu, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

and proceed further afield after the Exile. You look round, there is beautiful green turf,

The garden outside RLS’s bungalow in Waikiki, Honolulu, 1889: (from left to right) RLS, his mother, Fanny, Lloyd and Belle against the fence Ah Fu, their Chinese cook, is crouching on the grass watering it with a hose pipe [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

many trees of an outlandish sort that drop thorns – look out if your feet are bare;

The tree may be the silk floss tree (chorisia speciosa; thanks to Angelo Barili!) [https://i.pinimg.com]

but I beg your pardon, you have not been long enough in the South Seas – and many oleanders in full flower.

Plumeria (thanks to Angelo Barili!) [http://ak.picdn.net]

The next group of buildings is ramshackle, and quite dark; you make out a coach-house door, and look in – only some cocoanuts;


you try round to the left and come to the sea front, where Venus and the moon are making luminous tracks on the water, and a great swell rolls and shines on the outer reef;

Waikiki beach and Diamond Head, Honolulu, seen from the reefs [https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com]

and here is another door – all these places open from the outside – and you go in, and find photography, tubs of water, negatives steeping, a tap, and a chair and an ink-bottle, where my wife is supposed to write; round a little further, a third door, entering which you find a picture […] upon the easel and a table sticky with paints;

Joseph Dwight Strong (1853-99), View of Diamond Head, Honolulu. He was Belle’s husband [https://image.invaluable.com]

fourth door admits you to a sort of court, where there is a hen sitting – I believe on a fallacious egg.

No sign of the Squire in all this. But right opposite the studio door you have observed a third little house, from whose open door lamplight streams and makes hay of the strong moonlight shadows. You had supposed it made no part of the grounds, for a fence runs round it lined with oleander;


but as the Squire is nowhere else, is it not just possible he may be here? It is a grim little wooden shanty; cobwebs bedeck it;


friendly mice inhabit its recesses;


the mailed cockroach walks upon the wall;


so also, I regret to say, the scorpion.


Herein are two pallet beds, two mosquito curtains, strung to the pitch-boards of the roof, two tables laden with books and manuscripts, three chairs, and, in one of the beds, the Squire busy writing to yourself, as it chances, and just at this moment somewhat bitten by mosquitoes.

RLS playing his flageolet in his shanty at Waikiki, Honolulu, 1889 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

He has just set fire to the insect powder,


and will be all right in no time; but just now he contemplates large white blisters, and would like to scratch them, but knows better. The house is not bare; it has been inhabited by Kanakas, and you know what children are! the bare wood walls are pasted over with pages from the Graphic, Harper’s Weekly, etc.


The floor is matted, and I am bound to say the matting is filthy. There are two windows and two doors, one of which is condemned; on the panels of that last a sheet of paper is pinned up, and covered with writing. I cull a few plums: –

‘A duck-hammock for each person.


A patent organ like the commandant’s at Taiohae.


Cheap and bad cigars for presents.


RLS Museum, Vailima, Samoa [www.atlasandboots.comg]

Permanganate of potass.

Potassium permanganate is used as a medication for a number of skin conditions (wounds, dermatitis, tropical ulcers, etc.) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Liniment for the head and sulphur.


Fine tooth-comb.’


What do you think this is? Simply life in the South Seas foreshortened. These are a few of our desiderata for the next trip, which we jot down as they occur.

There, I have really done my best and tried to send something like a letter – one letter in return for all your dozens. Pray remember us all to yourself, Mrs. Boodle, and the rest of your house […]. I do hope your mother will be better when this comes. I shall write and give you a new address when I have made up my mind as to the most probable, and I do beg you will continue to write from time to time and give us airs from home. […] Tomorrow – think of it – I must be off by a quarter to eight to drive in to the palace and breakfast with his Hawaiian Majesty at 8.30: I shall be dead indeed.

King Kalakaua standing on the portico of ‘Iolani Palace, Honolulu, 1880s [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Please give my news to Scott, I trust he is better; give him my warm regards. To you we all send all kinds of things, and I am the absentee Squire,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“It is always darkest before dawn”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2153.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 132-4]

[Honolulu, c. 2 April 1889]

My dear Burlingame,

This is to announce the most prodigious change of programme. I have seen so much of the South Seas that I desire to see more, and I get so much health here that I dread a return to our vile climates. I have applied accordingly to the missionary folk to let me go round in the Morning Star;

The fourth Morning Star, missionary ship of the Boston Board, 1884-1990 [http://marshall.csu.edu.au]

and if the Boston Board should refuse, I shall get somehow to Fiji, hire a trading schooner, and see the Fijis and Friendlies and Samoa. He would be a South Seayer, Mr. Burlingame. Of course, if I go in the Morning Star, I see all the eastern (or western?) islands.

Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga (Friendly Island) and Samoa [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Before I sail, I shall make out to let you have the last of The Master: though I tell you it sticks! – and I hope to have had some proofs forbye, of the verses anyway. And now to business.

I want (if you can find them) in the British sixpenny edition, if not, in some equally compact and portable shape – Seaside Library, for instance – the Waverley Novels entire, or as entire as you can get ’em,

No. 3 in Waverley Novels, Sixpenny Issue, Edinburgh, Adam and Charles Black, 1868 [www.davidmasonbooks.com]

and the following of Marryat: Phantom Ship,

F. Marryat, Phantom Ship, 1857.

Peter Simple,

Percival Keene,


F. Marryat, Privateersman, 1880 ed.

Children of the New Forest,

F. Marryat, The Children of the New Forest, 1847.

Frank Mildmay,

Newton Forster,

F. Marryat, Newton Forster or The Merchant Service, 1880 ed.

Dog Fiend (Snarleyyow).

Also Midshipman Easy,

King’s Own,

Carlyle’s French Revolution,

Motley’s Dutch Republic,

J. L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1883 ed.

Lang’s Letters on Literature,

a complete set of my works, Jenkin, in duplicate;

also Familiar Studies, ditto.

I have to thank you for the accounts, which are satisfactory indeed, and for the cheque for $1000. Another account will have come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate in colour.

Another account will have come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate in colour. I am quite worked out, and this cursed end of The Master hangs over me like the arm of the gallows;

but it is always darkest before dawn, and no doubt the clouds will soon rise;

Sunrise, Edinburgh [www.bbc.co.uk]

but it is a difficult thing to write, above all in Mackellarese; and I cannot yet see my way clear. If I pull this off, The Master will be a pretty good novel or I am the more deceived; and even if I don’t pull it off, it’ll still have some stuff in it.

We shall remain here until the middle of June anyway; but my mother leaves for Europe early in May.

RLS and his family seated at his house in Honolulu, 1889. On the right, his mother Margaret is sewing a large patterned cloth. [www.capitalcollections. org.uk]

Hence our mail should continue to come here; but not hers. I will let you know my next address, which will probably be Sydney. If we get on the Morning Star, I propose at present to get marooned on Ponape,

Senyavin Islands (Popape plus two neighboring atolls) [https://enacademic.com/]

and take my chance of getting a passage to Australia. It will leave times and seasons mighty vague, and the cruise is risky; but I shall know something of the South Seas when it is done, or else the South Seas will contain all there is of me.


It should give me a fine book of  travels, anyway.

RLS had agreed with S. S. McClure to sell him “letters” from the South Seas to be syndicated in newspapers and magazines. These he hoped to use for materials for the “big book” on the Pacific. The volume was published as ‘In the South Seas’, edited by Sidney Colvin and published after RLS’s death in 1896.

Low will probably come and ask some dollars of you. Pray let him have them, they are for outfit. […]

Will H. Low (1853-1932), American painter and RLS’s friend, 1990.

O, another complete set of my books should go to Captain A.H. Otis, care of Dr. Merritt, Yacht Casco, Oakland, Cal.

The schooner Casco, 1889 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

– In haste,


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“Think of me sea-bathing and walking about, as jolly as a sandboy”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2152.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 129-32]

Honolulu, April 2nd, 1889

My dear Colvin,

I am beginning to be ashamed of writing on to you without the least acknowledgment, like a tramp; but I do not care – I am hardened; and whatever be the cause of your silence, I mean to write till all is blue. I am outright ashamed of my news, which is that we are not coming home for another year. I cannot but hope it may continue the vast improvement of my health: I think it good for Fanny and Lloyd; and we have all a taste for this wandering and dangerous life. My mother I send home, to my relief, as this part of our cruise will be (if we can carry it out) rather difficult in places […].

Margaret Stevenson and Belle Strong, standing near their bungalow at Honolulu, 1889; in front of them Ah Fu, their Chinese cook, pouring RLS tea; at their left, Fanny and Lloyd [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

Here is the idea: about the middle of June (unless the Boston Board objects) we sail from Honolulu in the missionary ship (barquentine auxiliary steamer) Morning Star:

The fourth Morning Star, 1884-1900. These ships were built for missionaries working in the Hawaiian islands. The first ship departed from Boston in 1866. The plan was that the Morning Star would make yearly trips from the Gilbert Islands to Ponape, one thousand miles northwest, visiting other mission islands on the way, bringing supplies and occasionally transporting missionaries. After only three years, however, the first Morning Star was lost in a severe squall, though everyone on board was saved [http://marshall.csu.edu.au]

she takes us through the Gilberts and Marshalls,


and drops us (this is my great idea) on Ponape, one of the volcanic islands of the Carolines.

Ponape (Pohnpei since 1984), Eastern Caroline Islands, Micronesia [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Carl Saltzmann (1847-1923), Cruiser And Gunboat Hoist On Ponape.

Here we stay marooned among a doubtful population,

Natives of the Caroline Islands, 1836 [https://a.1stdibscdn.com]

with a Spanish vice-governor and five native kings,

Luis Cadarso y Rey (1843-1898), governor at Ponape, Eastern Caroline Islands. In 1852 the Spanish representative and the kings of Koror and Artingal signed an act which recognized the sovereignty of the king of Spain on the Carolines. Having secured the territory, Spain attempted to establish custom duties in the region in 1875. A conflict arose with Germany and the UK, leading to the arbitration by Pope Leo XIII, who recognized Spanish rights on the islands west of the 164th meridian east; he assigned to Germany the Marshall Islands and the right to maintain a naval station in one of the Caroline Islands, a right that Germany never exercised [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and a sprinkling of missionaries all at loggerheads,

American Missionaries to Ponape, Caroline Islands, 1852 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Spanish Capuchins outside the mission residence on Ponape. The controversy between Germany and Spain concerning the possession of the Carolines having been settled by Pope Leo XIII in favour of Spain, the king directed Spanish Capucins to the islands, 1886, and the Propaganda Fide officially established that mission. The Spanish Capuchins had a catechism and prayer book printed in the Ponape dialect [www.micsem.org]

on the chance of fetching a passage to Sydney in a trader, a labour ship or (maybe, but this appears too bright) a ship of war. If we can’t get the Morning Star (and the Board has many reasons that I can see for refusing its permission) I mean to try to fetch Fiji, hire a schooner there, do the Fijis and Friendlies, hit the course of the Richmondat Tonga Tabu, make back by Tahiti,


and so to S[an] F[rancisco], and home: perhaps in June 1890. For the latter part of the cruise will likely be the same in either case. You can see for yourself how much variety and adventure this promises, and that it is not devoid of danger at the best; but if we can pull it off in safety, gives me a fine book of travel,

The volume ‘In the South Seas’ was edited by Sidney Colvin and published after RLS’s death in 1896.

and Lloyd […] a fine lecture and diorama, which should vastly better our finances. […]

Lloyd Osbourne, RLS’s stepson, aged 21, Honolulu, 1889. He was taking photographs, probably to serve as models for a painter doing dioramas or just to show as slides on a magic lantern [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I feel as if I were untrue to friendship; believe me, Colvin, when I look forward to this absence of another year, my conscience sinks at thought of the Monument:

The British Museum (‘The Monument’, to RLS and Colvin) reading room, 19th century.

but I think you will pardon me if you consider how much this tropical weather mends my health. Remember me as I was at home,

RLS, Bournemouth, 1888.

and think of me sea-bathing and walking about, as jolly as a sandboy:

RLS, prob. Honolulu 1889.

you will own the temptation is strong; and as the scheme, bar fatal accidents, is bound to pay into the bargain, sooner or later, it seems it would be madness to come home now, with an imperfect book, no illustrations to speak of, no diorama, and perhaps fall sick again by autumn.

Edinburgh [https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com]

I do not think I delude myself when I say the tendency to catarrh has visibly diminished. […] It is a singular thing that as I was packing up old papers ere I left Skerryvore, I came on the prophecies of a drunken Highland sibyl, when I was seventeen. She said I was to be very happy, to visit America, and to be much upon the sea. It seems as if it were coming true with a vengeance.

H. Bloemaert (1601-72), A Fortune Teller. RLS’s MS written during a visit to Dunoon in April 1870 was posthumously published as ‘A Retrospect: it describes the prophecies of ‘a poor mad Highland woman’ ‘that I was to visit America, that I was to be very happy, and that I was to be much upon the sea’. RLS appended a note when he came across the MS in 1887: ‘the old pythoness was right: I have been happy, I did go to America
(am even going again – unless -) and I have been twice and once upon the deep’.

Also, do you remember my strong, old, rooted belief that I shall die by drowning? I don’t want that to come true, though it is an easy death;


but it occurs to me oddly, with these long chances in front. I cannot say why I like the sea; no man is more cynically and constantly alive to its perils;

British School, Ships in a Sorm off Sea Cliffs, 19th century [https://media.mutualart.com]

I regard it as the highest form of gambling;

H. Walker, Only survivour of a shipwreck, 19th Century.

and yet I love the sea as much as I hate gambling. Fine, clean emotions; a world all and always beautiful; air better than wine; interest unflagging; there is upon the whole no better life.

[…] – Yours ever,


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“My 19th century strikes here, and lies alongside of something beautiful and ancient”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2151.]

To Herny James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 127-9]

Honolulu [towards the end of March 1889]

My dear James,

Yes – I own up – I am untrue to friendship and (what is less, but still considerable) to civilisation.

“Hawaiian feast given by H M King Kalakaua of Hawaiian Islands to RLS and party at Waikiki, Sandwich Islands”. King Kalakaua sits in the centr; to his right his sister, Liliuokalani, looking at RLS; to the left of the King, Margaret Stevenson and Belle Strong; opposite, Lloyd Osborne [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I am not coming home for another year. There it is, cold and bald, and now you won’t believe in me at all, and serve me right (says you) and the devil take me. But look here, and judge me tenderly. I have had more fun and pleasure of my life these past months than ever before, and more health than any time in ten long years. And even here in Honolulu I have withered in the cold;

RLS playing his flageolet in bed, Honolulu 1889 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and this precious deep is filled with islands, which we may still visit;


and though the sea is a deathful place, I like to be there, and like squalls (when they are over);

and to draw near to a new island, I cannot say how much I like.

In short, I take another year of this sort of life, and mean to try to work down among the poisoned arrows,


and mean (if it may be) to come back again when the thing is through, and converse with Henry James as heretofore;

When RLS lived in Bournemouth, James was visiting his sister there, and came so often to the house that a chair was formally designated “Henry James’s chair.”  It’s the one in this portrait of RLS by John Singer Sargent, 1887 [https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org]

and in the meanwhile issue directions to H.J. to write to me once more.


Let him address here at Honolulu, for my views are vague;

Post Office, Paauhau, Honolulu, early 19th century [www.hawaiianstamps.com]

and if it is sent here it will follow and find me, if I am to be found; and if I am not to be found, the man James will have done his duty, and we shall be at the bottom of the sea, where no post-office clerk can be expected to discover us,


or languishing on a coral island, the philosophic drudges of some barbarian  potentate: perchance, of an American Missionary.


My wife has just sent to Mrs. Sitwell a translation (tant bien que mal) of a letter I have had from my chief friend in this part of the world:

Ori a Ori, the subchief of Tautira village, Tahiti, with his wife Haapie, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

go and see her, and get a hearing of it; it will do you good; it is a better method of correspondence than even Henry James’s. I jest, but seriously it is a strange thing for a tough, sick, middle-aged scrivener like R.L.S. to receive a letter so conceived from a man fifty years old, a leading politician, a crack orator, and the great wit of his village: boldly say, ‘the highly popular M.P. of Tautira.’

Ori a Ori and RLS, Tautira, Tahiti, 1889 [www.capitalcoleections.org.uk]

My nineteenth century strikes here, and lies alongside of something beautiful and ancient. I think the receipt of such a letter might humble, shall I say even Mallock?,

William Hurrell Mallock (1849-1923), author of the satire The New Republic. In 1881 he rebuffed RLS’s friendly approaches at the Savile. In revenge RLS wrote A Portrait (‘I am a kind of farthng dip’, in Underwoods) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and for me, I would rather have received it than written Redgauntlet


or the sixth Aeneid.

F. Perrier, Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl, c. 1646 [www.studiarapido.it]

All told, if my books have enabled or helped me to make this voyage, to know Rui, and to have received such a letter, they have (in the old prefatorial expression) not been writ in vain. It would seem from this that I have been not so much humbled as puffed up; but, I assure you, I have in fact been both. A little of what that letter says is my own earning; not all, but yet a little; and the little makes me proud, and all the rest ashamed; and in the contrast, how much more beautiful altogether is the ancient man than him of to-day!

Henry James (1843-1916)[www.wpclipart.com]

Well, well, Henry James is pretty good, though he is of the nineteenth century, and that glaringly. And to curry favour with him, I wish I could be more explicit; but, indeed, I am still of necessity extremely vague, and cannot tell what I am to do, nor where I am to go for some while yet. As soon as I am sure, you shall hear. All are fairly well – the wife, your countrywoman, least of all. Troubles are not entirely wanting; but on the whole we prosper, and we are all affectionately yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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“I shall not be home this summer”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2147.]

To Tati Salmon [The Bookman 43, 1916, pp. 594-6]

Honolulu [23 March 1889]

My dear Chief,

Here is the mischief to pay! I shall not be home this summer. I stay on to go farther afield in the Pacific, and see more, and get more health, and get (I do not doubt) to love this part of the world better than ever: but the deuce of it is I shall not be at home to receive my Chieftain.

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]

Alexander Salmon (1820–1866), Tati’s father, was an English merchant and first Jew to reside in Tahiti. He became secretary to Queen Pomare IV and married her adopted half-sister Ariitaimai [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
The Teva Chiefess Ariitaimai (1821-97), Tati’s mother [http://histoire.assemblee.pf]

I send you herewith two introductions: the first of them, that to Mr. Colvin (to whom I write), I beg you as a personal favour to find (or make) the time to present; for he is my most valued friend and a man of the most exceptional distinction. The other I should like you to give also; I should insist more on the second if I did not wish to lay all weight on Mr. Colvin’s.

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

If I am thus debarred the pleasure of meeting you in Europe I am not in the least, for all that, writing farewell. Whatever I do, and I have two schemes in view, one thing is at least certain: Bar accidents to health and life, I shall find my way back to Tahiti by the Richmond some time next January or February or about a year from now, say; and shall go again to see my dear Arii, and (if he will take a gift of me) my Chief into the bargain.

Tati did not get to England and the letters were therefore never presened. Those to Colvin and James had been destroyed by rats and only the one to Lang survived [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

It is then we shall be able to talk ballads and compare stories and names and customs; for I shall (or ought to) know something of the islands before then.

RLS’s volume ‘Ballads? was to be published next year, 1890.

I write to prepare Colvin for your appearance and I wish to assure you if you find him at the first sight anyway dry it is a question of manner and you will soon see how very noble and kind a nature lies behind. I have seen many men; never a finer; nor is there any more dear to me.

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

Mr. Lang is a great authority on folk-lore, ballads, etc., and the first of those I had meant to consult about your volume.

Andrew Lang (1844-1912), RLS’s friend, Scots poet, novelist, literary critic, best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales, 1884 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

The first (I mean) after Colvin, for he comes first with me, cela va sans dire, in all things. You will do well, I think, to speak of the volume to both. I am a very good man,

RLS, ca. 1889.

but I am going most probably to Micronesia; and these are on the spot.


When I reach Tahiti you will give me news of England; it seems strange! Pray remember me to your family and the Frenchman that is in your gates;

Tati’s son, Opuhara Salmon (1875-1908) as an adult. The Frenchmen mentioned by RLS was the tutor of Opuhara, then 14 years old [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and believe me (in spite of my defection),

Your loyal Clansman,


Robert Louis Stevenson.

I add a 3rd letter to Mr. Henry James the novelist.

Henry James, 1889.RLS’s letters to Colvin and James were destroyed by rats and only the one to Lang survived [www.literaryhistory.com]


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“But the world whirls to me perceptibly”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2143.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, p. 251-3]

Honolulu, [c. 8] March, 1889

My dear Colvin,

Still not a word from you! I am utterly cast down; but I will try to return good for evil and for once give you news. We are here in the suburb of Honolulu in a rambling house or set of houses in a great garden.

The garden outside RLS’s house, Waikiki, Honolulu. From r. to l.: RLS, Margaret Stevenson, Fanny, Lloyd, Belle and their Chinese cook Ah Fu [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

a a a, stairs up to balcony.

1. Lloyd’s room. 2. My mother’s room. 3. A room kept dark for photographs. 4. The kitchen. 5. Balcony. 6. The Lanai, an open room or summer parlour, partly surrounded with Venetian shutters, in part quite open, which is the living-room. 7. A crazy dirty cottage used for the arts. 8. Another crazy dirty cottage, where Fanny and I live.

Outside the bungalow, Waikiki, Honolulu. In the doorway, Margaret Stevenson and Belle Strong; in front of them, the Chinese cook Ah Fu pouring RLS tea; beside RLS, Fanny and Lloyd [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
RLS and his family in the lanai of their house, Waikiki, Honolulu [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

The town is some three miles away, but the house is connected by telephone with the chief shops, and the tramway runs to within a quarter of a mile of us.

The first cars of the Honolulu tramway began service on New Year’s day, 1889. On January 26 service was extended to Waikiki. The system had a total length of 12 miles and one of the main lines was on King Street from Kalihi to Waikiki [http:hawaiiantimemachin.blogspot.com]

I find Honolulu a beastly climate after Tahiti and have been in bed a little; but my colds took on no catarrhal symptom, which is staggeringly delightful.

RLS in bed, with Lloyd Osbourne and Joe Strong, Waikiki, Honolulu [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I am studying Hawaiian with a native, a Mr. Joseph Poepoe, a clever fellow too:

Joseph Mokuohai Poewpoe (1852-1913), Hawaiian lawyer and editor of the Hawaiian native newspaper Kuokoa, was to become active in local politics as a supporter of King Kalakaua [www.facebook.com/Kanaeokana]

the tongue is a little bewildering; I am reading a pretty story in native – no, really it is pretty, although wandering and wordy; highly pretty with its continual traffic from one isle to another of the soothsayer, pursuing rainbows .

P. Gauguin, The Moon and the Hearth, 1893. RLS was probably reading about the Polynesian legend of the moon-goddess Hina. According to the myth, Hina fashioned the finest and softest kapa cloth in Hawaii, from the bark of the banyan tree. She worked long, long hours with little rest and eventually grew tired and decided to leave Hawaii. So she traveled up a rainbow into the sky, and went to the Sun, but found it so hot and inhospitable that she could not live there. Then she climbed a rainbow to the Moon and was so pleased with what she found that she made it her home. The Hawaiian name for the Moon, “Mahina,” is derived from her name [https://artsandculture.google.com]

Fanny is, I think, a good deal better on the whole, having profited like me by the tropics; my mother and Lloyd are first-rate. […]

A Hawaiian feast, 1889. From left: Belle Strong, King Kalakaua, Margaret Stevenson, Fanny Stevenson [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
A Hawaiian feast, 1889. Lloyd Osbourne, third from left [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

[…] I do not think I have heard from you since last May; certainly not since June; and this really frightens me.

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge 1873-1895, photographed by F. Hollyer, ca. 1890. Ill-health and pressing preoccupations, together with uncertainty as to when and where letters would reach RLS, had kept Colvin from writing during the previous autumn and winter [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

Do write, even now. Scribner’s Sons it should be;

RLS’s mail address was c/o Scribner’s editors, 743-745 Broadway, New York [http://library.princeton.edu]

we shall probably be out of this some time in April, home some time in June.

Edinburgh in June [https://e6o8t841jw-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com]

But the world whirls to me perceptibly,

a mass of times and seasons and places and engagements, and seas to cross, and continents to traverse, so that I scarce know where I am.

The Pacific Ocean [https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov]

Well, I have had a brave time. Et ego in Arcadia – though I don’t believe Arcadia was a spot upon Tahiti.

G.F. Barbieri (Guercino), Et in Arcadia ego, 1618-22 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I have written another long narrative poem: the Song of Rahero. Privately, I think it good: but your ominous silence over the Feast of Famine leads me to fear we shall not be agreed. Is it possible I have wounded you in some way?

‘The Song of Rahéro’ and ‘The Feast of Famine’ were to be published in 1890 in RLS’s volume of ‘Ballads’.

I scarce like to dream that it is possible; and yet I know too well it may be so. If so, don’t write, and you can pitch into me when we meet. I am, admittedly, as mild as London Stout now;


and the Old Man Virulent much a creature of the past. My dear Colvin, I owe you and Fleeming Jenkin,

Henry Charles Fleeming [pronounced ‘Flemming’] Jenkin (1833-1885) had been Professor of Engineering at Edinburgh University and RLS’s friend [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/]

the two older men who took the trouble, and knew how to make a friend of me, everything that I have or am: if I have behaved ill, just hold on and give me a chance, you shall have the slanging of me and I bet I shall prefer it to this silence.

RLS shaving in Honolulu, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

– Ever, my dear Colvin, your most affectionate


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