“In the South Seas, any exclusiveness becomes impossible”

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2219.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters pp. 265-6, www.hathitrust.org]

[Sydney, 20 March 1890]

My dear Doer,

You will receive along with this a document in which you are trustee. It seems elaborate, and dodgy; I trust it is also, as it looks to the layman, perfectly efficacious.

I will inclose here Moors’s last letter in which you will see how things go upon Vailima – Stevensonia, as he calls it – and what you may look for in the way of drafts. I think you will agree it is a very kindly letter.

Harry Jay Moors (1854-1926), South Seas trader, who began his career as a labour recruiter for the sugar plantations in Hawai’i. From 1883 settled in Apia, Samoa. He later wrote With Stevenson in Samoa, Boston 1910. His wife was a Samoan [https://covers.openlibrary.org]

The man himself is a curious being, not of the best character; has been in the labour trade as supercargo; has been partner with Grossmühl, the most infamous trader in these waters,

Moors was in partnership with the German firm E.A. Grevsmühl & Co., Samoa [https://forums.gunboards.com]

the man who is accused of paying natives with whist counters;

German whist counters, late 19th century [https://thumbs.worthpoint.com]

has settled down at last in Apia, where everyone owes his money on mortgage, where his business is both large and growing, and where he took a great though secret part in the late war. I was forced to be his guest, rather against my will, for his looks, his round blue eyes etc. went against me, and the repulsion was mutual. However we both got over it, and grew to like each other; and it’s my belief he won’t cheat me. He is highly intelligent; tells a story well and from a veracious understanding: of all the scores of witnesses I examined about the war, H.J.M. was the only one whom documents invariably corroborated, and also (although the most open enemy of the Germans at the time) appeared to suffer from no bias in the retrospect. He is married to a Samoan, whom he treats kindly, and his oldest girl is in the States at school. I draw you this portrait because the man is necessarily a feature in my business life and has the marring of many of my affairs. You may wonder I should become at all intimate with a man of a past so doubtful, but in the South Seas, any exclusiveness becomes impossible; they are worth mention. The character of my solicitor for instance is extraordinary;

RLS’s solicitor in Apia was Richard Hetherington Carruthers (1844-c.1909), a Scotsman from Melbourne, who had come to Samoa as a lawyer. He added Carruthers to his name in 1888 on succeeding to an estate and began the cultivation of cacao in a commercial way [https://forums.gunboards.com]

and it was perhaps chiefly as a choice of evils that I left my power of attorney with H.J.M. At the same time, he is a man of so strong an understanding, and is so well-to-do, that personally I am not the least alarmed.

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"Upon this topic my zeal is complete and, probably enough, without discretion"

[For critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2217.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters pp. 264-5, www.hathitrust.org]

Private and confidential

Sydney, 12 March [1890]

My dear Charles,

Enclosed please find a libel:

RLS was sending Baxter his original pamphlet on Father Damien, privately printed in Sydney, 1890 [www.lofty.com]

you perceive I am quite frank with my legal adviser; and I will also add it is conceivable an action might be brought, and in that event probable I should be ruined. If you had been through my experience, you would understand how little I care; for upon this topic my zeal is complete and, probably enough, without discretion.

I put myself in your hands, for Henley’s sake, not mine. My case is beyond help. This leaves tomorrow the 13th; two weeks later, day for day, it will be followed by presentation copies, which, for all purposes of action, is publication quite enough, is it not? Thus you will have no power to save me, and can, with a light conscience, follow my desires. That is to say:

1st. If you think Henley should try the gamble, you will let him have it.

W.E. Henley published RLS’s pamphlet in the Scots Observer, May 1890. [www.104orizzontale.com]

2nd. If you think Henley shouldn’t, you will kindly see whether the Times, Scotsman, or other leading paper will touch it.

3rd. If none of them will, see if Chatto will issue it as a pamphlet.

N.B. Of course in no case will I receive any emolument. Or, if, in your good judgement, you see any other reputable means of publication, I set you free to adopt it.

Baxter had an edition of 30 copies privately printed in Edinburgh, issued simultaneously with this edition of 1000 copies published by Chatto in June 1890 [https://thumbs.worthpoint.com]

On the probabilities of action, a barrister here whom I consulted, one of the leaders,

The lawyer consulted by RLS in Sydney was probably Julian Emanue Salomons (1835-1909) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

said, “Have you used any epithets – any epithets, you know? Coarse expressions? No? Not called him ‘Hell-Hound’? nor ‘Atheist’? No? O then, there’s nothing in it?” Which is funny, but unhappily not true. What’s more to the purpose, his collegues in Honolulu, whom I know, would probably – I think certainly – dissuade him with eagerness. But then there is the Boston Board of Missions – they may be a low lot, I don’t know them from Adam – and the trouble may come from there.

Revd. 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]

I own I cannot see what they would gain, unless revenge. But then sectarian animosity does not reckon, and there is no question, I may find myself nipped between conflicting churches. You must weigh this in considering for Henley. I don’t want to give him a serpent for a fish – no offence to eels. On the other hand, you, better than I, can judge if the thing would be apt to help him. It seems to me rather a spirited piece; but of course I am the last to know, and all of us here, knowing Dr. Hyde personally as we do, are perhaps apt to consider it more pungent than it can appear to the outsider. He is a large, dark, smooth, grave, personable man; carries his blue ribbon like a decoration; and looks as though you might have encountered him in Queen Street, arm in arm with Dr. Phin.

The grave of Rev. Kenneth Macleay Phin (1816-88), Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh. He ran the Church of Scotland’s Home Mission Scheme. As a church campaigner and pamphleteer he was known as The Investigator [https://images.findagrave.com]
Quuen Street, Edinburgh, 19th century.

Much love,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“I am sure I shall never come back home except to die”

RLS had not been long at Sydney – just long enough to write and print the famous Letter to Dr. Hyde in defence of Father Damien – when he fell ill again with one of his old bad attacks of fever and hemorrhage from the lungs.

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2215.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters pp. 263-4, www.hathitrust.org]

Union Club, Sydney [7 March 1890]

My dear Charles,

I did not send off the enclosed before from laziness; having gone quite sick, and being a blooming prisoner here in the club and indeed in my bedroom.

Union Club, Sydney [https://uusc.com.au]

I was in receipt of your letters and your ornamental photo, and was delighted to see how well you looked, and how reasonably well I stood.

RLS, Sydney 1890.

Again consider the problem in the encloses. I believe – but have yet to consider Samoan prices – that a thousand pounds or at the outside 1250 should erect my house in its first and imperfect state.

While RLS was staying in Sydney, in Apia “Pineapple Cottage” was being built, a small house for accommodation during the construction of the main Vailima house [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I am sure I shall never come back home except to die; I may do it, but shall always think of the move as suicidal, unless a great change comes over me, of which as yet I see no symptom.

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

This visit to Sydney has smashed me handsomely; and yet I made myself a prisoner here in the club upon my first arrival. This is not encouraging for further ventures; Sydney winter – or I might almost say Sydney spring, for I came when the worst was over – is so small an affair,

Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney. Photo: Charles Kerry (1857-1928) [https://monovisions.com]

comparable to our June depression at home in Scotland.


I deed not say, my dear Charles, that all you have done for Bob and Henley exactly pleases me.

Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (1847–1900), Scottish art critic and RLS’s cousin [https://images.findagrave.com]
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

You have nothing to do with either: you acted according to my instructions in making both the loans, whereof no more, an you love me. I must tell you that the Strongs have been behaving excellently. Joe still lives, but in a great and unceasing danger; Belle has been a kind nurse to him; both have lived all this while on their allowance, and not made one penny of debt.

From left: Lloyd, Margaret Stevenson, Belle Strong, RLS, Austin Strong, Fanny Stevenson, Joe Strong. Vailima 1891 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I cannot tell you how encouraging this is, and how it reconciles me with life.

The pipe is right again; it was the springs that had rusted, and ought to have been oiled. Its voice is now that of an angel; but Lord! here in the club I dare not wake it! Conceive my impatience to be in my own backwoods and raise the sound of minstrelsy. What pleasures are to be compared with those of the Unvirtuous Virtuoso.

Yours ever affctly,

The Unvirtuous Virtuoso,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“As this is like to be our metropolis…”

[For critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2214.]

To his Mother [Colvin 1912, pp. 264-5]

Union Club, Sydney, March 5, 1890.

My dear Mother,

I understand the family keeps you somewhat informed. For myself I am in such a whirl of work and society, I can ill spare a moment. My health is excellent and has been here tried by abominable wet weather, and (what’s waur) dinners and lunches. As this is like to be our metropolis, I have tried to lay myself out to be sociable with an eye to yoursel’.

George St West (Broadway), Sydney, ca 1890 [https://i.pinimg.com]

Several niceish people have turned up: Fanny has an evening, but she is about at the end of the virtuous effort, and shrinks from the approach of any fellow creature.

Have you seen Hyde’s (Dr. not Mr.) letter about Damien?

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 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Revd. Charles McEwen Hyde (1832-99), a Congregationalist missionary who arrived in Hawaii in 1877. 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]

That has been one of my concerns; I have an answer in the press; and have just written a difficult letter to Damon trying to prepare him for what (I fear) must be to him extremely painful.

Revd. Francis (Frank) Williams Damon (Honolulu 1852-1915), one of the missionaries of the American Board of Missions, Honolulu. RLS and Fanny both liked him very much [https://images.findagrave.com]

The answer is to come out as a pamphlet; of which I make of course a present to the publisher.

Dr. Hyde’s letter had been copied in the religious press, and in a white-heat indignation RLS wrote his famous Open Letter to Dr Hyde, dated 25 February 1890 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

I am not a cannibal, I would not eat the flesh of Dr. Hyde, – and it is conceivable it will make a noise in Honolulu. I have struck as hard as I knew how; nor do I think my answer can fail to do away (in the minds of all who see it) with the effect of Hyde’s incredible and really villainous production. What a mercy I wasn’t this man’s guest in the Morning Star!I think it would have broke my heart.

The missionary ship Morning Star IV, 1884-1900. Revd. Damon had consulted his collegue Dr. Hyde about RLS’s request to sail on that ship [www.trussel.com]

Time for me to go! More anon. With love,


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“Here – in this excellent civilised, antipodal club smoking-room…”

The S.S. Lübeck arrived in Sydney on 16 February, 1890. RLS gave interviews to journalists that evening at the Hotel Metropole. He caught a cold almost immediately and moved into the Union Club.

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2010.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1912, pp. 263-4]

Union Club, Sydney, February 19, 1890.

Here – in this excellent civilised, antipodal club smoking-room,

The Hotel Metropole (left) and the Union Club (right), 2 Bligh Street, Sydney, had been designed by William Wardell in 1884 in the Classical Revival style [http://sydneyarchitecture.com]
On the site of the Union Club today, the Sofitel Wentworth Hotel [http://sydneyarchitecture.com]

I have just read the first part of your Solution.

Henry James’s short story, The Solution, was first published in the monthly magazine The New Review in three issues between December 1889 and February 1890, and repinted by Macmillians in The Lesson of the Master, 1892 (see picture).

Dear Henry James, it is an exquisite art; do not be troubled by the shadows of your French competitors: not one, not de Maupassant, could have done a thing more clean and fine; dry in touch, but the atmosphere (as in a fine summer sunset) rich with colour and with perfume.I shall say no more; this note is De Solutione; except that I – that we – are all your sincere friends and hope to shake you by the hand in June.

Robert Louis Stevenson

signed, sealed and

delivered as his act

and deed

and very thought of very thought,

this nineteenth of February in the year of our

Lord one thousand eight hundred ninety

and nothing.

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“Do you remember a lean youth who used to hang daily around Leslie Stephen?”

[For critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2207.]

To Anne Thackeray Ritchie

[Sturgies, in Cornhill, Nov. 1919, pp. 465-6]

S.S. Lübeck, between Apia and Samoa [February 1890]

Dear Mrs Ritchie,

Do you remember a lean youth who used to hang daily around Leslie Stephen?

Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (1837-1919), novelist and essayist, William Macpeace Thackeray’s eldest daughter. Her sister Harriet (Minny) had been Leslie Stephen’s first wife. RLS had met Anne Thackeray when visiting Stephen, in 1874. She had married her cousin, Richmond Ritchie, in 1877.[https://somethingrhymed.files.wordpress.com]
Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), Anne Thackeray’s brother-in-law, editor of Cornhill Magazine 1871-82, and father of Virginia Woolf 1882)[https://collectionimages.npg.org.uk]

I am that – I mean am all that remains of that youth, and have just been startled into boyish joy, and diverted from the path of duty (answering eight months’ accumulated correspondence) by your Book of Sybils.

I want MORE.  I am fond of making studies myself; and rather plume myself on my talent in that way; my method is the exact opposite of yours; I never see why you lay on the touch rather than another, I cannot see why you make your breaks, all your craft is magic and mystery in my matter-of-fact eyes; but the result is indeed exquisite, and in your small volume I have made a host of friends. I beg of you to give me more: a second volume: Joanna Baillie,

Joanna Baillie (1762-1851), Scottish poet and dramatist and friend of Ealter Scott [www.artuk.org]

Mary Wollstonecraft,

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97), English writer [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Mrs. Fry,

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), Quaker prison reformer and preacher [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Mrs. Inchbald,

Elizabeth Simpson Inchbald (1753-1821), English novelist, actress, and dramatist [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and (please) Mrs. Radcliffe.

Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764–1823), English author and pioneer of Gothic fiction [https://1.bp.blogspot.com]

My wife (in a state of delight almost equal to mine) joins me in my pleading. Show us these faces, let us hear these voices, also, and make some happy hours for

Your admirer,

Robert Louis Stevenson

Or must you be wooed in verse?

The faces and the forms of yore,

Again recall, again recast;

Let your fine fingers raise once more

The curtains of the quiet past;

And then, beside the English fires

That sang and sparkled long ago,

The sires of our departed sires,

The mothers of our mothers, show.


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“There is no postal service; and schooners must take it, how they may and when”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2206.]

To E.L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 181-5]

S.S. Lübeck [between Apia and Sydney]

[February] 1890

My dear Burlingame,

I desire nothing better than to continue my relation with the Magazine, to which it pleases me to hear I have been useful.

The editor of Scribner’s Magazine, E.L. Burlingame, had asked RLS for fresh contributions [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

The only thing I have ready is the enclosed barbaric piece. As soon as I have arrived in Sydney I shall send you some photographs, a portrait of Tembinoka, perhaps a view of the palace or of the ‘matted men’ at their singing;

RLS sent the set of verses addressed to Tembinoka, the king at Butaritari: They were published in Scribner-s for July 1890 with two illustrations taken from photograps, and afterwards reprinted in Songs of Travel, XXXVII, 1896 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

also T.’s flag, which my wife designed for him:

Royal flag of the Kingdom of Abemama, Gilbert Islands, created by Fanny Stevenson and adopted by King Tembinoka [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

in a word, what I can do best for you. It will be thus a foretaste of my book of travels. I shall ask you to let me have, if I wish it, the use of the plates made, and to make up a little tract of the verses and illustrations, of which you might send six copies to H.M. Tembinoka, King of Apemama, via Butaritari, Gilbert Islands.

Tembinoka, KIng of Apemama, with the heir-apparent [www.gutenberg.org]

It might be best to send it by Crawford & Co., S.F.

A. Crawford & Co. Ship Chandlery & Ship Stores, San Francisco, late 19th century.

There is no postal service; and schooners must take it, how they may and when.

Perhaps some such note as this might be prefixed:

At my departure from the island of Apemama, for which you will look in vain in most atlases,


the king and I agreed, since we both set up to be in the poetical way, that we should celebrate our separation in verse. Whether or not his majesty has been true to his bargain, the laggard posts of the Pacific may perhaps inform me in six months, perhaps not before a year. The following lines represent my part of the contract, and it is hoped, by their pictures of strange manners, they may entertain a civilized audience. Nothing throughout has been invented or exaggerated; the lady herein referred to as the authors Muse, has confined herself to stringing into rhyme facts and legends that I saw or heard during two months’ residence upon the island.


You will have received from me a letter about The Wrecker. No doubt it is a new experiment for me, being disguised so much as a study of manners, and the interest turning on a mystery of the detective sort. I think there need be no hesitation about beginning it in the fall of the year. Lloyd has nearly finished his part, and I shall hope to send you very soon the MS of about the first four-sevenths.

RLS and Lloyd’s novel, ‘The Wrecker’ began to be serialized in Scribner’s Magazine, August 1891 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

At the same time, I have been employing myself in Samoa, collecting facts about the recent war; and I propose to write almost at once and to publish shortly a small volume, called I know not what – the War in Samoa, the Samoa Trouble, an Island War, the War of the Three Consuls, I know not – perhaps you can suggest.

Men with guns at Fort Samoa, Apia, Samoa, during the civil war in 1888-1889. Photograph taken by Alfred James Tattersall [https://i.pinimg.com]

It was meant to be a part of my travel book; but material has accumulated on my hands until I see myself forced into volume form, and I hope it may be of use, if it come soon. I have a few photographs of the war, which will do for illustrations. It is conceivable you might wish to handle this in the Magazine, although I am inclined to think you won’t, and to agree with you. But if you think otherwise, there it is.

Tamesese surrounded by war-chiefs, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

The travel letters (fifty of them) are already contracted for in papers; these I was quite bound to let M’Clure handle, as the idea was of his suggestion, and I always felt a little sore as to one trick I played him in the matter of the end-papers. The war-volume will contain some very interesting and picturesque details: more I can’t promise for it. Of course the fifty newspaper letters will be simply patches chosen from the travel volume (or volumes) as it gets written.

But you see I have in hand: –

Say half done. 1. The Wrecker.

Lloyd’s copy half done, mine not touched. 2. The Pearl Fisher (a novel promised to the Ledger, and which will form, when it comes in book form, No. 2 of our South Sea Yarns).

Not begun, but all material ready. 3. The War volume.

Ditto. 4. The Big Travel Book, which includes the letters.

You know how they stand. 5. The Ballads.

Excusez du peu! And you see what madness it would be to make any fresh engagement. At the same time, you have The Wrecker and the War Volume, if you like either – or both – to keep my name in the Magazine.

It begins to look as if I should not be able to get any more ballads done this somewhile. I know the book would sell better if it were all ballads; and yet I am growing half tempted to fill up with some other verses. A good few are connected with my voyage, such as the ‘Home of Tembinoka’ sent herewith, and would have a sort of slight affinity to the South Sea Ballads. You might tell me how that strikes a stranger.

In all this, my real interest is with the travel volume, which ought to be of a really extraordinary interest. I am sending you ‘Tembinoka’ as he stands; but there are parts of him that I hope to better, particularly in stanzas III and II. I scarce feel intelligent enough to try just now; and I thought at any rate you had better see it, set it up if you think well, and let me have a proof; so, at least, we shall get the bulk of it straight. I have spared you Teñkoruti, Tembaitake, Tembinatake, and other barbarous names, because I thought the dentists in the States had work enough without my assistance;

RLS’s three Gilbert Island corselets, sold in a 1915 auction and now at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. RLS described the gift and the history of the owners in In the South Seas, Part V, ch. VII. Two of them had belonged to Temkorotu (Tembinoka’s grandfather) and one of his two sons, Tembaiteke Tembinatake and Tembaiteke (Tembinoka’s father) [www.penn.museum]

but my chief’s name is TEMBINOKA, pronounced, according to the present quite modern habit in the Gilberts, Tembinok’. Compare in the margin Tengkorootch; a singular new trick, setting at defiance all South Sea analogy, for nowhere else do they show even the ability, far less the will, to end a word upon a consonant. Loia is Lloyd’s name, ship becomes shipé, teapot tipoté, etc. Our admirable friend Herman Melville, of whom, since I could judge, I have thought more than ever, had no ear for languages whatever: his Hapar tribe should be Hapaa, etc.

Herman Melville (1819-91), 1985. When the future author of ‘Typee’ arrived in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, in 1846, the Happar were one of three tribes that dominated those islands during the 19th century colonization period. Some modern scholars defend Melsille’s ear, suggesting that RLS was mislead by Melville’s habit of spelling Polynesian names that end in a vowel sound, such as “Happa” (Melville spelled it “Happar”), with a terminal “r”[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

But this is of no interest to you: suffice it, you see how I am as usual up to the neck in projects, and really all likely bairns this time. When will this activity cease? Too soon for me, I dare to say.


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