[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2457.]
To G.A. Sala [Sala’s Journal I, p. 603]
[c. 12 September 1892]
In a cutting from your Journal, which has come to my hands without date, I see you appeal to me by name, and I have much pleasure in answering that appeal.
I have already visited upwards of forty islands in the South Seas; I have besides resided for a considerable length of time in no less than four different groups; and nowhere have I met with anything of the kind referred to in the cutting. The ‘little ninepenny Bible’ is a curious flight of ignorance and want of thought. It seems to have escaped the retailers of such reports to English newspapers that the Bible in question must have been translated into, and printed in, the island language; a work of great labour, knowledge, time, vigilance, and expense. Take our Bible here in Samoa; it is not only a monument of excellent literature, but a desirable piece of typography.
I would gladly pay high for as good an edition of its English sister, if one existed; and the price is 6s. small, or 10s. large. As for the ‘heavy fines’ and ‘public floggings’ they are the coinage of ignorance or malice. All missions are not equally good, nor all missionaries either wise or honest. But missions in the South Seas generally are far the most pleasing result of the presence of white men; and those in Samoa are the best I have ever seen.
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2456.]
To Gordon Browne [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 129-30]
[Dictated to Belle]
Vailima Plantation [c. 12 September 1892]
To the Artist who did the illustrations to ‘Uma’
I only know you under the initials G.B., but you have done some exceedingly spirited and satisfactory illustrations to my story The Beach of Falesá, and I wish to write and thank you expressly for the care and talent shown.
Such numbers of people can do good black and whites!
So few can illustrate a story, or apparently read it. You have shown that you can do both, and your creation of Wiltshire is a real illumination of the text.
It was exactly so that Wiltshire dressed and looked, and you have the line of his nose to a nicety. His nose is an inspiration. Nor should I forget to thank you for Case, particularly in his last appearance.
It is a singular fact – which seems to point still more directly to inspiration in your case – that your missionary actually resembles the flesh-and-blood person from whom Mr. Tarleton was drawn.
The general effect of the islands is all that could be wished;
indeed I have but one criticism to make, that in the background of Case taking the dollar from Mr. Tarleton’s head – head – not hand, as the fools have printed it – the natives have a little too much the look of Africans.
But the great affair is that you have been to the pains to illustrate my story instead of making conscientious black and whites of people sitting talking. I doubt if you have left unrepresented a single pictorial incident. I am writing by this mail to the editor in the hopes that I may buy from him the originals, and I am, dear sir, your very much obliged,
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2455.]
To Elizabeth Fairchild [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 113-6]
[Vailima, Early September 1892]
My dear Mrs. Fairchild,
Thank you a thousand times for your letter. You are the Angel of (the sort of) Information (that I care about);
I appoint you successor to the newspaper press; and I beg of you, whenever you wish to gird at the age, or think the bugs out of proportion to the roses, or despair, or enjoy any cosmic or epochal emotion, to sit down again and write to the Hermit of Samoa. What do I think of it all? Well, I love the romantic solemnity of youth; and even in this form, although not without laughter, I have to love it still. They are such ducks! But what are they made of? We were just as solemn as that about atheism and the stars and humanity; but we were all for belief anyway – we held atheism and sociology (of which none of us, nor indeed anybody, knew anything) for a gospel and an iron rule of life; and it was lucky enough, or there would have been more windows broken. What is apt to puzzle one at first sight in the New Youth is that, with such rickety and risky problems always at heart, they should not plunge down a Niagara of Dissolution. But let us remember the high practical timidity of youth. I was a particularly brave boy – this I think of myself, looking back – and plunged into adventures and experiments, and ran risks that it still surprises me to recall.
But, dear me, what a fear I was in of that strange blind machinery in the midst of which I stood; and with what a compressed heart and what empty lungs I would touch a new crank and await developments! I do not mean to say I do not fear life still; I do; and that terror (for an adventurer like myself) is still one of the chief joys of living.
But it was different indeed, while I was yet girt with the priceless robes of inexperience; then the fear was exquisite and infinite. And so, when you see all these little Ibsens, who seem at once so dry and so excitable, and faint in swathes over a play (I suppose – for a wager) that would seem to me merely tedious, smile behind your hand, and remember the little dears are all in a blue funk. It must be very funny, and to a spectator like yourself I almost envy it. But never get desperate; human nature is human nature; and the Roman Empire, since the Romans founded it and made our European human nature what it is, bids fair to go on and to be true to itself. These little bodies will all grow up and become men and women, and have heaps of fun; nay, and are having it now; and whatever happens to the fashion of the age, it makes no difference – there are always high and brave and amusing lives to be lived; and a change of key, however exotic, does not exclude melody.
Even Chinamen, hard as we find it to believe, enjoy being Chinese. And the Chinaman stands alone to be unthinkable; natural enough, as the representative of the only other great civilisation. Take my people here at my doors; their life is a very good one; it is quite thinkable, quite acceptable to us. And the little dears will be soon skating on the other foot; sooner or later, in each generation, the one-half of them at least begin to remember all the material they had rejected when first they made and nailed up their little theory of life; and these become reactionaries or conservatives, and the ship of man begins to fill upon the other tack.
Here is a sermon, by your leave! It is your own fault, you have amused and interested me so much by your breath of the New Youth, which comes to me from so far away, where I live up here in my mountain, and secret messengers bring me letters from rebels, and the government sometimes seizes them, and generally grumbles in its beard that Stevenson should really be deported. O my life is the more lively, never fear!
It has recently been most amusingly varied by a visit from Lady Jersey.
I took her over mysteriously (under the pseudonym of my cousin, Miss Amelia Balfour) to visit Mataafa, our rebel;
and we had great fun, and wrote a Ouida novel on our life here, in which every author had to describe himself in the Ouida glamour, and of which – for the Jerseys intend printing it – I must let you have a copy.
My wife’s chapter, and my description of myself, should, I think, amuse you.
But there were finer touches still; as when Belle and Lady Jersey came out to brush their teeth in front of the rebel king’s palace, and the night guard squatted opposite on the grass and watched the process; or when I and my interpreter, and the king with his secretary, mysteriously disappeared to conspire. – Ever yours sincerely.
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2453.]
To Adelaide Boodle and ‘The Children in the Cellar’
[Colvin 1912, pp. 291-7]
[Dictated to Belle]
Vailima Plantation, Samoan Islands
Dear Children in the Cellar,
I told you before something of the black boys who come here for work on the plantations,
and some of whom run away and live a wild life in the forests of the islands. Now I want to tell you of one who lived in the house of the lean man. Like the rest of them here, he is a little fellow,
and when he goes about in old, battered, cheap European clothes looks very small and shabby. When first he came he was as lean as a tobacco-pipe,
and his smile (like that of almost all the others) was the sort that makes you half wish to smile yourself, and half wish to cry. However, the boys in the kitchen took him in hand and fed him up. They would set him down alone to table and wait upon him till he had his fill, which was a good long time to wait; and the first thing we noticed was that his little stomach began to stick out like a pigeon’s breast;
and then the food got a little wider spread and he started little calves to his legs; and last of all he began to get quite saucy and impudent, so that we could know what sort of a fellow he really was when he was no longer afraid of being thrashed. He is really what you ought to call a young man, though I suppose nobody in the whole wide world has any idea of his age; and, as far as his behaviour goes, you can only think of him as a big little child with a good deal of sense. When Austin built his fort against the Indians,
Arrick (for that is the black boy’s name) liked nothing so much as to help him. And this is very funny, when you think that of all the dangerous savages in this island Arrick is one of the most dangerous. The other day, besides, he made Austin a musical instrument of the sort they use in his own country, a harp with only one string. He took a stick about three feet long, and perhaps four inches round. The under side he hollowed out in a deep trench to serve as sounding box; the two ends of the upper side he made to curve upward like the ends of a canoe, and between these he stretched the single string. He plays upon it with a match or a little piece of stick, and sings to it songs of his own country,
of which no person here can understand a single word, and which are very likely all about fighting with his enemies in battle, and killing them, and I am sorry to say cooking them in a ground oven and eating them for supper when the fight is over.
For Arrick is really what you might call a savage, though a savage is a very different person in reality, and a very much nicer, from what he is made to appear in little books.
He is the sort of person that everybody smiles to, or makes faces at, or gives a smack to as he goes by; the sort of person that all the girls on the plantation give the best seat to, and help first, and love to decorate with flowers and ribbons, and yet all the while are laughing at him; the sort of person who likes best to play with Austin, and whom Austin perhaps (when he is allowed) likes best to play with. He is all grins and giggles, and little steps out of dances, and little droll ways, to attract people’s attention and set them laughing. And yet when you come to look at him closer, you will find that his body is all covered with scars. This was when he was a child. There was a war, as is the way in these wild islands, between his village and the next, much as if there were war in London between one street and another; and all the children ran about playing in the middle of the trouble, and I dare say took no more notice of the war than you children in London do of a general election. But sometimes, at general elections, English children may get run over by processions in the street;
and it chanced that as little Arrick was running about in the bush, and very busy about his playing, he ran into the midst of the warriors on the other side. These speared him with a poisoned spear; and his own people, when they had found him lying for dead, and in order to cure him of the poison, cut him up with knives that were probably made of fish-bones.
This is a very savage piece of child-life, and Arrick, for all his good-nature, is still a very savage person. I have told you how the black boys sometimes run away from the plantations, and live behind alone in the forest, building little sheds to protect them from the rain, and sometimes planting little gardens of food, but for the most part living the best they can upon the nuts of the trees
and yams that they dig with their hands out of the earth.
I do not think there can be anywhere in the world people more wretched than these runaways. They cannot return, for they would only return to be punished. They can never hope to see again their own land or their own people – indeed, I do not know what they can hope, but just to find enough yams every day to keep them from starvation. And in the wet season of the year, which is our summer and your winter, and the rain falls day after day
far harder and louder than the loudest thunderplump that ever fell in England, and the noon is sometimes so dark that the lean man is glad to light his lamp to write by,
I can think of nothing so dreary as the state of these poor runaway slaves in the houseless bush. You are to remember, besides, that the people of this island hate and fear them because they are cannibals, sit and tell tales of them about their lamps at night in their own comfortable houses, and are sometimes afraid to lie down to sleep if they think there is a lurking black boy in the neighbourhood.
Well, now, Arrick is of their own race and language, only he is a little more lucky because he has not run away; and how do you think that he proposed to help them? He asked if he might not have a gun. “What do you want with a gun, Arrick?” was asked. And he said quite simply, and with his nice good-natured smile, that if he had a gun he would go up into the high bush and shoot black boys as men shoot pigeons. He said nothing about eating them, nor do I think he really meant to. I think all he wanted was to clear the property of vermin as gamekeepers at home kill weasels, or housewives mice.
The other day he was sent down on an errand to the German Firm, where many of the black boys live.
It was very late when he came home on a bright moonlight night. He had a white bandage round his head, his eyes shone, and he could scarcely speak for excitement. It seems some of the black boys who were his enemies at home had attacked him, and one with a knife. By his own account he had fought very well, but the odds were heavy; the man with the knife had cut him both in the head and back, he had been struck down, and if some of the black boys of his own side had not come to the rescue, he must certainly have been killed. I am sure no Christmas-box could make any of you children so happy as this fight made Arrick. A great part of the next day he neglected his work to play upon the one-stringed harp and sing songs about his great victory. And today, when he is gone upon his holiday, he has announced that he is going back to the German Firm to have another battle and another triumph. I do not think he will go all the same, or I should be more uneasy, for I do not want to have my Arrick killed; and there is no doubt that if he begins to fight again, he will be likely to go on with it very far. For I have seen him once when he saw, or thought he saw, an enemy. It was one of our dreadful days of rain,
the sound of it like a great waterfall or like a tempest of wind blowing in the forest; and there came to our door two runaway black boys seeking work. In such weather as that my enemy’s dog (as Shakespeare says) should have had a right to shelter.
But when Arrick saw these two poor rogues coming with their empty bellies and drenched clothes, and one of them with a stolen cutlass in his hand, through that world of falling water, he had no thought of pity in his heart. Crouching behind one of the pillars of the verandah, which he held in his two hands, his mouth drew back into a strange sort of smile, his eyes grew bigger and bigger, and his whole face was just like the one word Murder in big capitals.
Now I have told you a great deal too much about poor Arrick’s savage nature, and now I must tell you about a great amusement he had the other day. There came an English ship of war in the harbour, and the officers very good naturedly gave an entertainment of songs and dances and a magic-lantern, to which Arrick and Austin were allowed to go. At the door of the hall there were crowds of black boys waiting and trying to peep in, the way children at home lie about and peep under the tent of a circus; and you may be sure Arrick was a very proud person when he passed them all by and entered the hall with his ticket. I wish I knew what he thought of the whole performance; but the housekeeper of the lean man, who sat just in front of him, tells me what seemed to startle him the most. The first thing was when two of the officers came out with blackened faces like Christy minstrel boys and began to dance.
Arrick was sure that they were really black and his own people, and he was wonderfully surprised to see them dance this new European style of dance. But the great affair was the magic-lantern. The hall was made quite dark, which was very little to Arrick’s taste. He sat there behind the housekeeper, nothing to be seen of him but eyes and teeth, and his heart beating finely in his little scarred breast. And presently there came out on the white sheet that great bright eye of light that I am sure all you children must have often seen.
It was quite new to Arrick, he had no idea what would happen next; and in his fear and excitement, he laid hold with his little slim black fingers like a bird’s claws on the neck of the housekeeper in front of him.
All through the rest of the show, as one picture followed another on the white sheet, he sat there gasping and clutching at the housekeeper’s neck, and goodness knows whether he were more pleased or frightened. Doubtless it was a very fine thing to see all these bright pictures coming out and dying away again one after another; but doubtless it was rather alarming also, for how was it done?
And at last, when there appeared upon the screen the head of a black woman (as it might be his own mother or sister), and the black woman of a sudden began to roll her eyes, the fear or the excitement, whichever it was, wrung out of him a loud shuddering sob.
And I think we all ought to admire his courage when, after an evening spent in looking on at such wonderful miracles, he and Austin set out alone through the forest to the lean man’s house. It was late at night and pitch dark when some of the party overtook the little white boy and the big black boy marching among the trees with their lantern.
I have told you the wood has an ill name, and all the people of the island believe it to be full of devils; but even if you do not believe in the devils, it is a pretty dreadful place to walk in by the moving light of a lantern, with nothing about you but a curious whirl of shadows and the black night above and beyond.
But Arrick kept his courage up, and I dare say Austin’s too, with a perpetual chatter, so that the people coming after heard his voice long before they saw the shining of the lantern.
My dear Miss Boodle,
will I be asking too much that you should send me back my letters to the Children, or copies, if you prefer; I have an idea that they may perhaps help in time to make up a book on the South Seas for children. I have addressed the Cellar so long this time that you must take this note for yourself and excuse, yours most sincerely,
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin; for full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2452.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 100-113, continued]
[Vailima] Tuesday [30 August 1892].
The wild round of gaiety continues. After I had written to you yesterday, the brain being wholly extinct, I played piquet all morning with Graham.
After lunch down to call on the U.S. consul, hurt in a steeplechase;
thence back to the new girls’ school which Lady J[ersey] was to open, and where my ladies met me.
Lady J. is really an orator, with a voice of gold; the rest of us played our unremarked parts; missionaries, Haggard, myself, a Samoan chief, holding forth in turn; myself with (at least) a golden brevity. Thence, Fanny, Belle, and I to town, to our billiard room in Haggard’s back garden, where we found Lloyd and where Graham joined us. The three men first dressed, with the ladies in a corner; and then, to leave them a free field, we went off to Haggard and Leigh’s quarters, whereafter all to dinner, where our two parties, a brother of Colonel Kitchener’s, a passing globe-trotter,
and Clarke the missionary.
A very gay evening, with all sorts of chaff and mirth, and a moonlit ride home, and to bed before 12.30. And now to-day, we have the Jersey-Haggard troupe to lunch, and I must pass the morning dressing ship.
Thursday, Sept. 1st
I sit to write to you now, 7.15, all the world in bed except myself, accounted for, and Belle and Graham, down at Haggard’s at dinner. Not a leaf is stirring here; but the moon overhead (now of a good bigness) is obscured and partly revealed in a whirling covey of thin storm-clouds.
By Jove, it blows above.
From 8 till 11.15 on Tuesday, I dressed ship, and in particular cleaned crystal, my specialty.
About 11.30 the guests began to arrive before I was dressed, and between while I had written a parody for Lloyd to sing.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I had to start out about 3 for town, had a long interview with the head of the German Firm about some work in my new house, got over to Lloyd’s billiard-room about six, on the way whither I met Fanny and Belle coming down with one Kitchener, a brother of the Colonel’s. Dined in the billiard-room, discovered we had forgot to order oatmeal; whereupon, in the moonlit evening, I set forth in my tropical array, mess jacket and such, to get the oatmeal,
and meet a young fellow C[hristian] –
and not a bad young fellow either, only an idiot – as drunk as Croesus.
He wept with me, he wept for me; he talked like a bad character in an impudently bad farce; I could have laughed aloud to hear, and could make you laugh by repeating, but laughter was not uppermost. […]
This morning at about seven, I set off after the lost sheep. I could have no horse; all that could be mounted – we have one girth-sore and one dead-lame in the establishment – were due at a picnic about 10.30. The morning was very wet, and I set off barefoot, with my trousers over my knees, and a macintosh. Presently I had to take a side path in the bush; missed it; came forth in a great oblong patch of taro solemnly surrounded by forest –
no soul, no sign, no sound – and as I stood there at a loss, suddenly between the showers
out broke the note of a harmonium and a woman’s voice singing an air that I know very well, but have (as usual) forgot the name of.
‘Twas from a great way off, but seemed to fill the world. It was strongly romantic, and gave me a point which brought me, by all sorts of forest wading, to an open space of palms. These were of all ages, but mostly at that age when the branches arch from the ground level, range themselves, with leaves exquisitely green.
The whole interspace was overgrown with convolvulus, purple, yellow and white,
often as deep as to my waist, in which I floundered aimlessly. The very mountain was invisible from here. The rain came and went; now in sunlit April showers, now with the proper tramp and rattle of the tropics.
All this while I met no sight or sound of man, except the voice which was now silent, and a damned pig-fence that headed me off at every corner. Do you know barbed wire?
Think of a fence of it on rotten posts, and you barefoot. But I crossed it at last with my heart in my mouth and no harm done. Thence at last to C[hristian]’s: no C[hristian]. Next place I came to was in the zone of woods. They offered me a buggy
and set a black boy to wash my legs and feet. ‘Washum legs belong that fellow white-man’ was the command. So at last I ran down my son of a gun in the hotel, sober, and with no story to tell; penitent, I think.
As I sat and looked at him, I knew from my inside the biggest truth in life: there is only one thing that we cannot forgive, and that is ugliness – our ugliness. There is no ugliness, no beauty, only that which makes me (ipse) sicken or rejoice. And poor C[hristian] makes me sicken. Yet, according to canons, he is not amiss. Home, by buggy and my poor feet, up three miles of root, boulder, gravel, and liquid mud, slipping back at every step.
Sunday, Sept. 4th 
Hope you will be able to read a word of the last, no joke writing by a bad lantern with a groggy hand and your glasses mislaid. Not that the hand is not better, as you see by the absence of the amanuensis hitherto.
Mail came Friday, and a communication from yourself much more decent than usual, for which I thank you. Glad The Wrecker should so hum; but Lord, what fools these mortals be! So far yesterday, the citation being wrung from me by remembrance of many reviews. I have now received all Falesá, and my admiration for that tale rises; I believe it is in some ways my best work; I am pretty sure, at least, I have never done anything better than Wiltshire. […]
Monday, 13th [actually 12] September 1892
On Wednesday the Spinsters of Apia gave a ball to a select crowd.
Fanny, Belle, Lloyd, and I rode down, met Haggard by the way and joined company with him […]. Dinner with Haggard, and thence to the ball. The Chief Justice appeared […];
it was immediately remarked, and whispered from one to another, that he and I had the only red sashes in the room, – and they were both of the hue of blood, sir, blood.
He shook hands with myself and all the members of my family. Then the cream came, and I found myself in the same set of a quadrille with his honour.
We dance here in Apia a most fearful and wonderful quadrille, I don’t know where the devil they fished it from; but it is rackety and prancing and embraceatory beyond words; perhaps it is best defined in Haggard’s expression of a gambado. When I and my great enemy found ourselves involved in this gambol, and crossing hands, and kicking up, and being embraced almost in common by large and quite respectable females, we – or I – tried to preserve some rags of dignity, but not for long. The deuce of it is that, personally, I love this man; his eye speaks to me, I am pleased in his society. We exchanged a glance, and then a grin; the man took me in his confidence; and through the remainder of that prance we pranced for each other. Hard to imagine any position more ridiculous; a week before he had been trying to rake up evidence against me by brow-beating and threatening a half-white interpreter; that very morning I had been writing most villainous attacks upon him for The Times; and we meet and smile, and – damn it! – like each other. […] I do my best to damn the man and drive him from these islands; but the weakness endures – I love him. This is a thing I would despise in anybody else; but […] he is so jolly insidious and ingratiating! No, sir, I can’t dislike him; but if I don’t make hay of him, it shall not be for want of trying.
Yesterday, we had two Germans and a young American boy to lunch; and in the afternoon, Vailima was in a state of siege; ten white people on the front verandah, at least as many brown in the cook house, and countless blacks to see the black boy Arrick.
Which reminds me, Arrick was sent Friday was a week to the German Firm with a note,
and was not home on time. Lloyd and I were going bedward, it was late with a bright moon – ah, poor dog, you know no such moons as these! –
when home came Arrick with his head in a white bandage and his eyes shining. He had had a fight with other blacks, Malaita boys;
many against one, and one with a knife: ‘I KNICKED ‘EM DOWN, three four!’ he cried; and had himself to be taken to the doctor’s and bandaged. Next day, he could not work, glory of battle swelle’d too high in his threadpaper breast; he had made a one-stringed harp for Austin,
borrowed it, came to Fanny’s room, and sang war-songs and danced a war dance in honour of his victory. And it appears, by subsequent advices, that it was a serious victory enough; four of his assailants went to hospital, and one is thought in danger. All Vailima rejoiced at this news.
Five more chapters of David, 22 to 27, go to Baxter. All love affair; seems pretty good to me. Will it do for the young person? I don’t know; since The Beach, I know nothing, except that men are fools and hypocrites, and I know less of them than I was fond enough to fancy.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin; for full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2452.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 100-113, continued]
[Monday 29 August 1892]
Then we came home; Belle, Graham, and Lloyd to the Chinaman’s, I with Lady Jesrey, to lunch; so, severally home. Thursday I have forgotten: Saturday, I began again on Davie; on Sunday, the Jersey party came up to call and carried me to dinner. As I came out, to ride home, the search-lights of the Curaçoa were lightening on the horizon from many miles away, and next morning she came in.
Tuesday was huge fun: a reception at Haggard’s. All our party dined there; Lloyd and I, in the absence of Haggard and Leigh, had to play aide-de-camp and host for about twenty minutes, and I presented the population of Apia at random but (luck helping) without one mistake. Wednesday we had two middies to lunch.
Thursday we had Eeles and Hoskyn (lieutenant and doctor – very, very nice fellows – simple, good and not the least dull) to dinner.
Saturday, Graham and I lunched on board;
Graham, Belle, Lloyd dined at the G[urr]’s;
and Austin and the whole of our servants went with them to an evening entertainment; the more bold returning by lantern-light. Yesterday, Sunday, Belle and I were off about half past eight,
left our horses at a public house, and went on board the Curaçoa in the wardroom skiff;
were entertained in the wardroom; thence on deck to the service, which was a great treat; three fiddles and a harmonium and excellent choir, and the great ship’s company joining: on shore in Haggard’s big boat to lunch with the party. Thence all together to Vailima, where we read aloud a Ouida Romance we have been secretly writing;
in which Haggard was the hero, and each one of the authors had to draw a portrait of him or herself in a Ouida light. Leigh, Lady J., Fanny, R.L.S., Belle and Graham were the authors. […]
In the midst of this gay life, I have finally recopied two chapters, and drafted for the first time three of Davie Balfour. But it is not a life that would continue to suit me, and if I have not continued to write to you, you will scarce wonder. And today we all go down again to dinner, and tomorrow they all come up to lunch! The world is too much with us. But it now nears an end, today already the Curaçoa has sailed; and on Saturday or Sunday Lady Jersey will follow them in the mail steamer. I am sending you a wire by her hands as far as Sydney, that is to say either you or Cassell, about Falesá: I will not allow it to be called Uma in book form, that is not the logical name of the story.
Nor can I have the marriage contract omitted; and the thing is full of misprints abominable. […] In the picture, Uma is rot; so is the old man and the negro;
but Wiltshire is splendid, and Case will do.
It seems badly illuminated, but this may be printing. How have I seen this first number? Not through your attention, guilty one! Lady Jersey had it, and only mentioned it yesterday. […]
I ought to say how much we all like the Jersey party. Leigh is very amusing in his way.
Lady Margaret is a charming girl.
And Lady Jersey is in all ways admirable, so unfussy, so plucky, so very kind and gracious.
My boy Henry was enraptured with the manners of the Tawaitai Sili (chief lady). Among our other occupations, I did a bit of a supposed epic describing our tryst at the ford of the Gasigasi;
and Belle and I made a little book of caricatures and verses about incidents on the visit. […]
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin; for full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2452.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 100-13]
[Vailima, 19 August 1892]
My dear Colvin,
This is Friday night, the (I believe) 18th or 20th August or September. I shall probably regret tomorrow having written you with my own hand like the Apostle Paul. But I am alone over here in the workman’s house, […] where I and Belle and Lloyd and Austin are pigging; the rest are at cards in the main residence.
I have not joined them because ‘belly belong me’ has been kicking up, and I have just taken 15 drops of laudanum.
On Tuesday, the party set out – self in white cap, velvet coat, cords and yellow half boots,
Belle in a white kind of suit and white cap to match mine, Lloyd in white clothes and long yellow boots and a straw hat,
Graham in khakis and gaiters,
Henry (my old overseer) in blue coat and black kilt, and the great Lafaele with a big ship-bag on his saddle-bow.
We left the mail at the P.O.,
had lunch at the hotel,
and about 1.50 set out westward to the place of tryst. This was by a little shrunken brook in a deep channel of mud, on the far side of which, in a thicket of low trees, all full of moths of shadow and butterflies of sun,
we lay down to await her ladyship.
Whisky and water, then a sketch of the encampment for which we all posed to Belle,
passed off the time until 3.30. Then I could hold on no longer. 30 minutes late. Had the secret oozed out? Were they arrested? I got my horse,
crossed the brook again, and rode hard back to the Vaea cross roads,
whence I was aware of white clothes glancing in the other long straight radius of the quarrant. I turned at once to return to the place of tryst; but D. [= Haggard] […] overtook me, and almost bore me down, shouting ‘Ride, ride!’ like a hero in a ballad. Lady Margaret and he were only come to shew the place; they returned, and the rest of our party, reinforced by Captain Leigh
and Lady Jersey, set on for Malie.
The delay was due to D.’s infinite precautions, leading them up lanes, by back ways, and then down again to the beach road a hundred yards further on.
It was agreed that Lady Jersey existed no more; she was now my cousin Amelia Balfour. That relative and I headed the march; she is a charming woman, all of us like her extremely after trial on this somewhat rude and absurd excursion. And we Amelia’d or Miss Balfour’d her with great but intermittent fidelity. When we came to the last village, I sent Henry on ahead to warn the king of our approach and amend his discretion, if that might be. As he left I heard the villagers asking which was the great lady? And a little further, at the borders of Malie itself, we found the guard making a music of bugles and conches.
Then I knew the game was up and the secret out. A considerable guard of honour, mostly children, accompanied us; but, for our good fortune, we had been looked for earlier, and the crowd was gone.
Dinner at the king’s; he asked me to say grace, I could think of none – never could; Graham suggested Benedictus Benedicat, at which I leaped.
We were nearly done, when old Popo inflicted the Atua howl (of which you have heard already) right at Lady Jersey’s shoulder. She started in fine style. – ‘There,’ I said, ‘we have been giving you a chapter of Scott, but this goes beyond the Waverley Novels.’ After dinner, kava. Lady J. was served before me, and the king drank last; it was the least formal kava I ever saw in that house, – no names called, no show of ceremony.
All my ladies are well trained, and when Belle drained her bowl, the king was pleased to clap his hands.
Then he and I must retire for our private interview, to another house. He gave me his own staff and made me pass before him; and in the interview, which was long and delicate, he twice called me afioga. Ah, that leaves you cold, but I am Samoan enough to have been moved. Susuga is my accepted rank; to be called afioga – Heavens! what an advance and it leaves Europe cold.
But it staggered my Henry. The first time it was complicated ‘lana susuga ma lana afioga – his excellency and his majesty’ – the next time plain Majesty. Henry then begged to interrupt the interview and tell who he was – he is a small family chief in Sawaii, not very small – ‘I do not wish the king,’ says he, ‘to think me a boy from Apia.’ On our return to the palace, we separated. I had asked for the ladies to sleep alone – that was understood; but that Tusitala – his afioga Tusitala – should go out with the other young men, and not sleep with the highborn females of his family – was a doctrine received with difficulty. Lloyd and I had one screen, Graham and Leigh another, and we slept well.
In the morning I was first abroad before dawn; not very long, already there was a stir of birds.
A little after, I heard singing from the king’s chapel – exceeding good –
and went across in the hour when the east is yellow and the morning bank is breaking up, to hear it nearer.
All about the chapel, the guards were posted, and all saluted Tusitala. I could not refrain from smiling: ‘So there is a place too,’ I thought, ‘where sentinels salute me.’ Mine has been a queer life.
[…] Breakfast was rather a protracted business. And that was scarce over when we were called to the great house (now finished – recall your earlier letters) to see a royal kava. This function is of rare use; I know grown Samoans who have never witnessed it. It is, besides, as you are to hear, a piece of prehistoric history, crystallized in figures, and the facts largely forgotten; an acted hieroglyph. The house is really splendid; in the rafters in the midst, two carved and coloured model birds are posted;
the only thing of the sort I have ever remarked in Samoa, the Samoans being literal observers of the second commandment. At one side of the egg our party sat.
a = Mataafa, b = Lady J., c = Belle, d = Tusitala, e = Graham, f = Lloyd, g = Captain Leigh, h = Henry, i = Popo. The x’s round are the high chiefs, each man in his historical position. One side of the house is set apart for the king alone; we were allowed there as his guests and Henry as our interpreter.
It was a huge trial to the lad, when a speech was made to me which he must translate, and I made a speech in answer which he had to orate, full-breathed, to that big circle; he blushed through his dark skin, but looked and acted like a gentleman and a young fellow of sense; then the kava came to the king; he poured one drop in libation, drank another, and flung the remainder outside the house behind him. Next came the turn of the old shapeless stone marked T. It stands for one of the king’s titles, Tamasoalii; Mataafa is Tamasoalii this day, but cannot drink for it;
and the stone must first be washed with water, and then have the bowl emptied on it. Then – the order I cannot recall – came the turn of y and z, two orators of the name of Malietoa;
the first took his kava down plain, like an ordinary man; the second must be packed to bed under a big sheet of tapa, and be massaged by anxious assistants and rise on his elbow groaning to drink his cup. W., a great hereditary war man, came next; five times the cup-bearers marched up and down the house and passed the cup on, five times it was filled and the General’s name and titles heralded at the bowl, and five times he refused it (after examination) as too small. It is said this commemorates a time when Malietoa at the head of his army suffered much for want of supplies. Then this same military gentleman must drink five cups, one from each of the great names: all which took a precious long time. He acted very well, haughtily and in a society tone outlining the part. The difference was marked when he subsequently made a speech in his own character as a plain God-fearing chief. A few more high chiefs, then Tusitala; one more, and then Lady Jersey; one more, and then Captain Leigh, and so on with the rest of our party – Henry of course excepted. You see in public, Lady Jersey followed me – just so far was the secret kept.
This blog is taking a few-week vacation because its author is going to the academic conference “Stevenson and Pleasure”, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 16th-18th June 2022. Please find here the conference programme: https://rls2020.sciencesconf.org/resource/page/id/6.
In the month of August 1892, RLS received a visit paid to Apia by Margaret Elizabeth Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (1849-1945), who came over from Sydney with her brother Captain Rupert Leigh (1856-1919) and her young daughter Lady Margaret Villiers (1875-1959).
“A warm friendship,” writes Lady Jersey, “was the immediate result; we constantly met, either in the hospitable abode of our host Mr. Bazett Haggard, or in Mr. Stevenson’s delightful mountain home, and passed many happy hours in riding, walking, and conversation.”
Among other things, it was arranged that the party should pay a visit of curiosity to the ‘rebel King,’ or more properly the rival claimant to the kingly power, Mataafa, in his camp at Malie. RLS at once treated the adventure as a chapter out of a Waverley novel.
“The wife of the new Government of New South Wales,” continues Lady Jersey, “could not pay such a visit in her own name, so Mr. Stevenson adopted me as his cousin, ‘Amelia Balfour’.
This transparent disguise was congenial to his romantic instincts, and he writes concerning the arrangements made for the expedition, carefully dating his letter Aug. 14, 1745.
[As usual for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2449 and 2451.]
To Lady Jersey[Colvin 1911, 4, 98-9]
[Vailima] August 14, 1745
To Miss Amelia Balfour – My dear Cousin,
We are going an expedition to leeward on Tuesday morning. If a lady were perhaps to be encountered on horseback – say, towards the Gasi-gasi river – about six A.M., I think we should have an episode somewhat after the style of the ’45.
What a misfortune, my dear cousin, that you should have arrived while your cousin Graham was occupying my only guest-chamber –
for Osterley Park is not so large in Samoa as it was at home –
but happily our friend Haggard has found a corner for you!
The King over the Water – the Gasi-gasi water – will be pleased to see the clan of Balfour mustering so thick around his standard.
I have (one serious word) been so lucky as to get a really secret interpreter, so all is for the best in our little adventure into the Waverley Novels.
– I am, your affectionate cousin,
Robert Louis Stevenson
Observe the stealth with which I have blotted my signature, but we must be political à outrance.
To Lady Jersey [Colvin 1911, 4, p 9]
[Vailima] 15 August 1745
My dear Cousin,
I send for your information a copy of my last letter to the gentleman in question. ‘Tis thought more wise, in consideration of the difficulty and peril of the enterprise, that we should leave the town in the afternoon, and by several detachments. If you would start for a ride with the Master of Haggard and Captain Lockhart of Lee,
say at three o’clock of the afternoon, you would make some recounters by the wayside, which might be agreeable to your political opinions. All present will be staunch. The Master of Haggard might extend his ride a little, and return through the marsh and by the nuns’ house (I trust that has the proper flavour), so as a little to diminish the effect of separation. I remain your affectionate cousin to command
P.S. It is to be thought this present year of grace will be historical.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin; for full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2447.]
To Adelaide Boodle(continued) [Colvin 1912, pp. 287-91]
[Vailima Plantation, Samoan Islands, August 14th, 1892]
Here are a lot of curious and interesting things that Austin sees round him every day; and when I was a child at home in the old country I used to play and pretend to myself that I saw things of the same kind.
That the rooms were full of orange and nutmeg trees,
and the cold town gardens outside the windows
were alive with parrots and with lions.
What do the little girls in the cellar think that Austin does?
He makes believe just the other way: he pretends that the strange great trees with their broad leaves and slab-sided root
are European oaks;
In the streams that come running down out of the mountains, and which are all as clear and bright as mirror glass,
he sees eels and little bright fish that sometimes jump together out of the surface of the brook in a little knot of silver, and fresh-water prawns which lie close under the stones, and can be seen looking up at him with eyes of the colour of a jewel.
He sees all kinds of beautiful birds, some of them blue and white,
some of them blue and white and red,
and some of them coloured like our pigeons at home,
and these last the little girls in the cellar may like to know live almost entirely on nutmegs as they fall ripe off the trees.
Another little bird he may sometimes see, as the lean man saw him only this morning, a little fellow not so big as a man’s hand, exquisitely neat, of a pretty bronze black like ladies’ shoes, and who sticks up behind him (much as a peacock does) his little tail shaped and fluted like a scallop shell.
And the places on the road up (where you and I and the little girls in the cellar have already gone) he calls by old-fashioned, far-away European names, just as if you were to call the cellar stair and the corner of the next street – if you could only manage to pronounce the names – Upolu and Savaii.
And so it is with all of us, with Austin and the lean man and the little girls in the cellar; wherever we are it is but a stage on the way to somewhere else, and whatever we do, however well we do it, it is only a preparation to do something else that shall be different.
But you must not suppose that Austin does nothing but build forts and walk among the woods and swim in the rivers. On the contrary, he is sometimes a very busy and useful fellow; and I think the little girls in the cellar would have admired him very nearly as much as he admired himself if they had seen him setting off on horseback with his hand on his hip and his pockets full of letters and orders, at the head of quite a procession of huge white cart-horses with pack-saddles, and big brown native men with nothing on but gaudy kilts.
Mighty well he managed all his commissions; and those who saw him ordering and eating his single-handed luncheon in the queer little Chinese restaurant on the beach declared he looked as if the place, and the town, and the whole archipelago belonged to him.
But I am not going to let you suppose that this great gentleman at the head of all his horses and his men, like the King of France in the old rhyme,
would be thought much of a dandy on the streets of London.
On the contrary, if he could be seen there with his dirty white cap, and his faded purple shirt, and his little brown breeks that do not reach his knees, and the bare shanks below, and the bare feet stuck in the stirrup leathers, for he is not quite long enough to reach the irons, I am afraid the little boys and girls in your part of the town might feel very much inclined to give him a penny in charity.
So you see that a very, very big man in one place might seem very small potatoes in another, just as the king’s palace here (of which I told you in my last)
would be thought rather a poor place of residence by a Surrey gipsy.
And if you come to that, even the lean man himself, who is no end of an important person, if he were picked up from the chair where he is now sitting, and slung down, feet foremost, in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross,
would probably have to escape into the nearest shop, of take the consequences of being mobbed. And the ladies of his family, who are very pretty ladies, and think themselves uncommonly well-dressed for Samoa,
would (if the same thing were done to them) be extremely glad to get into a cab.
I write to you by the hands of another, because I am threatened again with scrivener’s cramp.
My health is beyond reproach; I wish I could say as much for my wife’s, which is far from the thing.
Give us some news of yours, and even when none of us write, do not suppose for a moment that we are forgetful of our old gamekeeper.
Our prettiest walk, an alley of really beautiful green sward which leads through Fanny’s garden to the river and the bridge and the beginning of the high woods on the mountain-side,
where the Tapu a fafine (or spirit of the land) has her dwelling, and the work-boys fear to go alone,
is called by a name that I think our gamekeeper has heard before – Adelaide Road.
With much love from all of us to yourself, and all good wishes for your future, and the future of […] the children in the cellar, believe me your affectionate friend,