The letter to Dr Hyde is yours, or any man’s, I will never touch a penny of remuneration.
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.
With good wishes – (I daresay Mr. Osbourne will call on you and give my news)
– I am Yours sincerely,
Robert Louis Stevenson
Address Apia, Samoa
Copies of Ballads, please, to
Sidney Colvin, British Museum
Theodore Watts, (Athenaeum?)
George Meredith, Box Hill, Dorking
Charles Baxter, W.S., 11 S. Charlotte St., Edinburgh
H.B. Baildon, Princes Street, Edinburgh
Prof. R.A.M. Stevenson, 16 St. Leonard’s Terrace, Chelsea
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.
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.
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:
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. […]
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.[…]
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;
three, I think, of Robin Run the Hedge, given up when some nefarious person pre-empted the name;
and either there – or somewhere else – likely New York – one chapter of David Balfour, and five or six of the Memoirs of Henry Shovel.
That’s all. But Lloyd and I have one-half of The Wrecker in type,
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.)
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.
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,
[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.
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.
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.
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,
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
– perhaps my friend Blair –
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.
And I resisted: I refused to go so far from my father and mother.
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;
and now in 1890, I (or what is left of me) go at last to the Navigator Islands.
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.
Flaubert has not turned up; I hope he will soon; I knew of him only through Maxime Descamps.
– With kindest messages to yourself and all of yours, I remain
[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.
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.
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,
that the pillars were supposed to fortify the island from invasion: spiritual martellos.
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.
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.
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.
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, forcorrect 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]
Your conduc’ is vicious,
Your tale is suspicious
Ye ancient sea-roamer,
Ye dour auld beach-comber,
Frae Haggard to Homer
Sic veerin’ and steerin’!
What port are ye neerin’
As frae Egypt to Erin
Ye ancient auld blackguard,
Just see whaur ye’re staggered
From Homer to Haggard
In stunt and in strife
To gang seeking a wife –
At your time o’ life
It was wrang.
An’ see! Fresh afflictions
Into Haggard’s descriptions
An’ the plagues o’ the Egyptians
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
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
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.
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.
(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.’)
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.
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,
[…] Lloyd is off home;
my wife and I dwell sundered: she in lodgings, preparing for the move;
I here in the club, and at my old trade – bedridden.
Naturally, the visit home is given up; we only wait our opportunity to get to Samoa, where, please, address me.
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.
[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.
That it did not, I attribute to savage hard work in a wild cabin heated like the Babylonian furnace,
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.
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.
Did you not get the verses I sent you from Apemama?
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,
but if you died, without due notice and a chance for me to see you, I should count it a disloyalty […].
[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.
The Bête Humaine I had already perused in Noumea,
listening the while to the strains of the convict band.
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.
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.
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,
and read books and letters from Henry James, and send out to get his Tragic Muse,
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.
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,
[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!
More about Villon; it seems incredible: when it is put in order, pray send it me.
You wish to translate the Black Arrow: dear sir, you are hereby authorised; but I warn you, I do not like the work.
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,
and Madame Desprez in the Treasure of Franchard.
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.
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
and I love Shakespeare:
you will not mistake me when I say that the Richard of the one
reminds me of the Porthos of the other;
and if by any sacrifice of my own literary baggage I could clear the Vicomtede 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.
I am just now overloaded with work. I have two huge novels on hand – The Wrecker
and the PearlFisher, 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.
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.
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,
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:
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.
[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
while Lloyd and my wife continue to voyage in the Janet Nicoll;
this I did, partly to see the convict system,
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.
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:
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;
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.
On the other hand, once faced, there is my livelihood, all but books and wine, ready in a nutshell;
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?
Please guide Lloyd all you can. We see him go, Fanny and I, with sinkings. He is not – well – not a man of business.
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?
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.
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.
Even Bob writes to me with an embarassment which communicates itself to my answers.
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.
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.
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.
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.