“I have fallen head over heels into a new tale, The Master of Ballantrae”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1974.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 41-43]

[Saranac Lake, December 24, 1887]

My dear Colvin,

[…] Thank you for your explanations. I have done no more Virgil since I finished the seventh book,



for I have first been eaten up with Taine,


and next have fallen head over heels into a new tale, The Master of Ballantrae.


The Master of Ballantrae was to be published in 1889.


No thought have I now apart from it, and I have got along up to page ninety-two of the draft with great interest. It is to me a most seizing tale; there are some fantastic elements; the most is a dead genuine human problem − human tragedy, I should say rather. It will be about as long, I imagine, as Kidnapped.




(1) My old Lord Durrisdeer.

(2) The Master of Ballantrae, and

(3) Henry Durie, his sons.

(4) Clementina, engaged to the first, married to the second.


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]

(5) Ephraim Mackellar; land steward at Durrisdeer and narrator of the most of the book.

(6) Francis Burke, Chevalier de St. Louis, one of Prince Charlie’s Irishmen and narrator of the rest.

Besides these, many instant figures, most of them dumb or nearly so: Jessie Brown the whore, Captain Crail, Captain MacCombie, our old friend Alan Breck,


Image of Alan Breck Stewart’s face, recostructed by Prof Caroline Wilkinson. The chief suspect of the Appin Murder, he is one of the main carachters of RLS’s ‘Kidnapped’ [https://senzaerroridistumpa.myblog.it]

our old friend Riach (both only for an instant), Teach the pirate (vulgarly Blackbeard),


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]

John Paul and Macconochie, servants at Durrisdeer. The date is from 1745 to ’65 (about). The scene, near Kirkcudbright,



in the States,


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]

and for a little moment in the French East Indies.


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]

I have done most of the big work, the quarrel, duel between the brothers,


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]

and announcement of the death to Clementina and my Lord − Clementina, Henry, and Mackellar (nicknamed Squaretoes) are really very fine fellows; the Master is all I know of the devil.


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]


RLS, The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, New York/London, Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889 [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]


I have known hints of him, in the world, but always cowards; he is as bold as a lion, but with the same deadly, causeless duplicity I have watched with so much surprise in my two cowards. ‘Tis true, I saw a hint of the same nature in another man who was not a coward; but he had other things to attend to; the Master has nothing else but his devilry. Here come my visitors … and have now gone, or the first relay of them; and I hope no more may come. For mark you, sir, this is our ‘day’ − Saturday, as ever was; and here we sit, my mother and I, before a large wood fire and await the enemy with the most steadfast courage;


RLS (aged 4) and his mother, Edinburgh 1854 [https://i.pinimg.com]

and without snow and greyness: and the woman Fanny in New York for her health, which is far from good; and the lad Lloyd at the inn in the village because he has a cold; and the handmaid Valentine abroad in a sleigh upon her messages;


Valentine Roch, another servant, Lloyd, Fanny and RLS on the veranda at Saranac Lake, 1887 [https://i0.wp.com]

and to-morrow Christmas and no mistake.


Such is human life: la carrière humaine. I will enclose, if I remember, the required autograph.

I will do better, put it on the back of this page.




Love to all, and mostly, my very dear Colvin, to yourself. For whatever I say or do, or don’t say or do, you may be very sure I am, Yours always affectionately,





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“I fear the railroad car as abjectly as I do an earwig”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1972.]

To Harriet Monroe [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 36-37]

Saranac Lake, New York [December 19, 1887]

Dear Miss Monroe,

Many thanks for your letter and your good wishes.


The American poet Harriet Monroe (1860–1936) was to become a future editor, scholar, literary critic, and patron of the arts [www.buckeyemuse.com]

It was much my desire to get to Chicago:


Chicago, 1887 [www.chicagoinphotographs.com]

had I done − or if I yet do − so, I shall hope to see the original of my photograph, which is one of my show possessions; but the fates are rather contrary. My wife is far from well; I myself dread, worse than almost any other imaginable peril, that miraculous and really insane invention the American Railroad Car.


America Railroad Car, Harpers Magazine 1885.


Pullman Sleeping Car, 1887 [www.railswest.com]

Heaven help the man − may I add the woman − that sets foot in one! Ah, if it were only an ocean to cross, it would be a matter of small thought to me − and great pleasure.


A. Jacobsen (1850-1921, manner of), The Steamship Ludgate Hill in Choppy Water [https://media.mutualart.com]

But the railroad car − every man has his weak point; and I fear the railroad car as abjectly as I do an earwig,



and, on the whole, on better grounds. You do not know how bitter it is to have to make such a confession; for you have not the pretension nor the weakness of a man.

If I do get to Chicago, you will hear of me: so much can be said. And do you never come east?

I was pleased to recognise a word of my poor old Deacon in your letter.

Brodies Close

Brodie’s Close, Edinburgh. The play ‘Deacon Brodie’ (by RLS and W.E. Henley) was at this time being performed at Chicago, with Henley’s brother (E.J.) in the title-part [www.eyeonedinburgh.net]

It would interest me very much to hear how it went and what you thought of piece and actors; and my collaborator, who knows and respects the photograph, would be pleased too.


W.E. Henley(1849-1903), RLS’s collaborator at the play ‘Deacon Brodie’ [http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk]

− Still in the hope of seeing you, I am, yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson



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“All my spare time, is spent in trying to set words to music”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Balfour. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1971.]

To Ida and Una Taylor

[Balfour, The Life of RLS, 2, 1901, pp. 42-43, 211]

[Saranac Lake, c. 18 December 1887]


All my spare time, is spent in trying to set words to music. My last attempt is the divine theme of Beethoven’s six variations faciles.


Beethoven, Sechs Leichte Variationen, W o O 77 [https://sites.google.com]


Beethoven, Sechs Leichte Variationen, W o O 77, theme [https://sites.google.com]

RLS adapted his poem ‘Tempest tossed’ to Beethoven’s theme [https://sites.google.com]


RLS’s poem ‘Tempest tossed’ [https://sites.google.com]


Una will know it; and if she does not like it well, she knows nothing of music, or sorrow, or consolation, or religion.


Una Mary Ashwoth Taylor’s romance ‘The City of Sarras’, 1887 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


Ida Ashworth Taylor, Una’s sister, wrote six novels before turning to historical biography [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


[…] That air has done me more good than all the churches of Christendom.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Saranac Lake, 1879. RLS wanted the song performed there for Christmas, 1887 [https://localwiki.org]


True to my character, I have to preach. But just read the book.


RLS is quoting Taine’s ‘Les Origines de la France Contemporaine”, 1875-1883 [https://pmcdn.priceminister.com]

It is not absolutely fair, for Taine does not feel, with a warm heart, the touching side of their poor soul’s illusions; he does not feel the infinite pathos of the Federations, poor pantomime and orgie, that (to its actors) seemed upon the very margin of heaven; nor the unspeakable, almost unthinkable tragedy of such a poor, virtuous, wooden-headed lot as the methodistic Jacobins.


‘Les trois Jacobins’ (1819), shows the extent to which the meaning of Jacobinism has been confused and diluted over time: here it appears to represent fanaticism, anarchy, and monarchism all at once [https://amymilka.files.wordpress.com]

But he tells, as no one else, the dreadful end of sentimental politics.




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“It howls and blows and rains and snows in a pleasant medley of ill weather; and I am from the midst of it”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Caro Lloyd. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1966.]

To George Iles [C. Lloyd, Henry Demarest Lloyd, 1912, I, p. 71]

Saranak Lake, Dec. 14, 1887

[…] Goodness knows what we have to thank you for – or I should say, what not. I was exceedingly interested by the articles of Mr. Lloyd, who is certainly a very capable, clever fellow;


Henry Demarest Lloyd (1847-1903), American journalist, known as the first of the muck-rakers, who created a sensation with his article. ‘The Story of a Great Monopoly’ (the Standard Oil Company) in the Atlantic Monthly for March 1881. George Iles( 1852-1942), American author and populariser of science, had sent RLS copies of this and subsequent articles and copied RLS’s letter to Lloyd [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

he writes the most workmanlike article of any man known to me in America, unless it should be Parkman.


Francis Parkman (1823-93), American historian, author of ‘The Conspiracy of Pontiac’, 1851, the first of a series of works on the conflict between France and England for North America [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Not a touch in Lloyd of the amateur; and but James,


Henry James (1843-1916) and his pen [https://s3.amazonaws.com]



William Dean Howells (1837–1920), an American realist novelist, literary critic, and playwright, particularly known for his tenure as editor of The Atlantic Monthly [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and the aforesaid Parkman, I can’t call to mind one American writer who has not a little taint of it.

[…] It howls and blows and rains and snows in a pleasant medley of ill weather; and I am from the midst of it.


Yours truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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“I thocht I was sae dam patriotic j’inin'”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1964.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 35-36]

Saranac Lake, 12th December ’87

My dear Charles,

Will you please send £20 to [Aunt Alan] for a Christmas from [my mother]?


‘Aunt Alan’ was RLS’s aunt, Margaret Scott Jones (aka ‘Gatchie’, 1812-95). New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh [https://images.findagrave.com]

Moreover, I cannot remember what I told you to send to [Katharine];


Katharine Elizabeth Alan Stevenson (1851-1939), RLS’s cousin and Bob’s sister. They played together when they were children. RLS dedicated ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ to her. In June 1874 she married, against the wishes of her family, William Sydney de Mattos, known as a “Cambridge atheist”. His constant infidelities led to their separation in 1881. At the age of 30, Katharine moved to London with her two children and, with help from RLS and Henley, supported herself by journalism [www.cityofliterature.com]

but as God has dealt so providentially with me this year, I now propose to make it £20. […]

I beg of you also to consider my strange position. I joined a club which it was said was to defend the Union; and I had a letter from the secretary, which his name I believe was Lord Warmingpan (or words to that effect), to say I am elected, and had better pay up a certain sum of money, I forget what.


The supposed Lord Warmingpan was really John Horace Savile, Viscount Pollington, later the Earl of Mexborough (1843-1916). Cimitero evangelico degli allori, Florence [https://images.findagrave.com]


RLS’s essay, ‘Confession of a Unionist’ seems to be the ‘talk on things current’ of which RLS wrote to the editor of Scribner’s Magazine from Saranac Lake in the early winter of 1887-88. This must have been intended for one of the early numbers of that magazine. Proof of the articlewhere sold by Isobel Strong and are now at Harvard [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


Now I cannae verra weel draw a blank cheque and send to −

LORD WARMINGPAN (or words to that effect),

London, England.

And, man, if it was possible, I would be dooms glad to be out of this bit scrapie. Mebbe the club was ca’d ‘The Union,’ but I wouldnae like to sweir; and mebbe it was nae, or mebbe only words to that effec’ but I wouldnae care just exac’ly about sweirin’. Do ye no think Henley, or Pollick, or some o’ they London fellies, micht mebbe perhaps find out for me?


William Ernest Henley (1849- 1903) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Walter Herries Pollock (1850-1926), editor of the Saturday Review and member of the ‘Athenaeum’, 1892 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


and just what the soom was? And that you would aiblins pay for me? For I thocht I was sae dam patriotic j’inin’, and it would be a kind o’ a comedoun to be turned out again. Mebbe Lang would ken;

Andrew Lang, (1844- 1912) [www.mainlesson.com]

or mebbe Rider Haggyard:


Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1825), English writer of adventure novels set in exotic locations [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

they’re kind o’ Union folks. But it’s my belief his name was Warmingpan whatever. Yours,


alias Robert Louis Stevenson

Could it be Warminster?

Give us news of all your folk. A Merry Christmas from all of us.

File:A merry Christmas to you. (To) George Shaw, Xmas 87 (1887) (21658288342).jpg

George Shaw, Christmas postcard, Xmas 1887 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]




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“The place does not suit her – it is my private opinion that no place does”

Miss Adelaide Ann Boodle (1858-1934), the lady at Bournemouth, had been trusted to keep an eye on RLS’s interests in connection with his house (Skerryvore Cottage), which had been let, and other matters, and to report thereon from time to time. In their correspondence RLS is generally referred to as the Squire and the lady as the Gamekeeper.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1963.]

To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 34-35]

[Saranac Lake, c. 10 December 1887]

My dear Miss Boodle,

I am so much afraid our gamekeeper may weary of unacknowledged reports!

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


Hence, in the midst of a perfect horror of detestable weathers of a quite incongruous strain, and with less desire for correspondence than – well, than – well, with no desire for correspondence, behold me dash into the breach. Do keep up your letters. They are most delightful to this exiled backwoods family; and in your next, we shall hope somehow or other to hear better news of you and yours – that in the first place – and to hear more news of our beasts and birds and kindly fruits of earth and those human tenants who are (truly) too much with us. […]


Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]

I am very well; better than for years: that is for good. But then my wife is no great shakes; the place does not suit her – it is my private opinion that no place does – and she is now away down to New York for a change,


Columbus Circle, New York, late 19th century [https://cdn.archpaper.com]

which (as Lloyd is in Boston)


Boston, late 19th century [https://i.pinimg.com]

leaves my mother and me and Valentine alone in our wind-beleaguered hilltop hatbox of a house.


RLS’s cottage, Saranac Lake, 1904 [https://localwiki.org]

You should hear the cows butt against the walls in the early morning while they feed;



you should also see our back log when the thermometer goes (as it does go) away – away below zero, till it can be seen no more by the eye of man – not the thermometer, which is still perfectly visible, but the mercury, which curls up into the bulb like a hibernating bear;






you should also see the lad who ‘does chores’ for us, with his red stockings and his thirteen-year-old face, and his highly manly tramp into the room; and his two alternative answers to all questions about the weather: either ‘Cold,’

Saranac Lake, winter [www.saranaclake.com]

or with a really lyrical movement of the voice, ‘Lovely – raining!’


Will you take this miserable scrap for what it is worth? Will you also understand that I am the man to blame, and my wife is really almost too much out of health to write, or at least doesn’t write? And believe me, with fond remembrances to Mrs. Boodle and your sisters, very sincerely yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson





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“Bating bad memory and self-deception”

As already said, RLS was managing all his publishing arrangements himself, and an occasional lapse of memory or attention betrayed him into misunderstandings and conflicting agreements with two different publishers, both his friends, Charles Scribner and Samuel Sidney McClure. He was the first to denounce the error when he became aware of it, and suffered sharply from the sense of his own unintentional fault.

This is the first of many letters, increasing in friendliness as the correspondence goes on, to the editor of Scribner’s Magazine.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1961.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 26-27]

[Saranac Lake, 6 December 1887]

Dear Mr. Burlingame,

[…] I enclose corrected proof of Beggars, which seems good.


The 3rd essay for The Scribner’s Magazine, ‘Beggars’, was to be published for March 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

I mean to make a second sermon, which, if it is about the same length as Pulvis et Umbra, might go in along with it as two sermons, in which case I should call the first ‘The Whole Creation,’ and the second ‘Any Good.’


The 4th essay for The Scribner’s Magazine, ‘Pulvis et Umbra’, was to be published for April 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


RLS uses the phrase ‘the whole creation groans in mortal frailty’ (Cr. Romans 8:22) in the last paragraph of his essay ‘Pulvis et Umbra’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


We shall see; but you might say how you like the notion.

One word: if you have heard from Mr. Scribner of my unhappy oversight in the matter of a story, you will make me ashamed to write to you, and yet I wish to beg you to help me into quieter waters. The oversight committed – and I do think it was not so bad as Mr. Scribner seems to think it – and discovered, I was in a miserable position. I need not tell you that my first impulse was to offer to share or to surrender the price agreed upon when it should fall due; and it is almost to my credit that I arranged to refrain. It is one of these positions from which there is no escape; I cannot undo what I have done. And I wish to beg you – should Mr. Scribner speak to you in the matter – to try to get him to see this neglect of mine for no worse than it is: unpardonable enough, because a breach of an agreement; but still pardonable, because a piece of sheer carelessness and want of memory, done, God knows, without design and since most sincerely regretted. I have no memory. You have seen how I omitted to reserve the American rights in Jekyll: last winter I wrote and demanded, as an increase, a less sum than had already been agreed upon for a story that I gave to Cassell’s.


First American edition of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, 1886 [www.baumanrarebooks.com]

For once that my forgetfulness has, by a cursed fortune, seemed to gain, instead of lose, me money, it is painful indeed that I should produce so poor an impression on the mind of Mr. Scribner.


Charles Scribner II (1854-1930) [http://library.princeton.edu]


Edward L. Burlingame (1848-1922) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


But I beg you to believe, and if possible to make him believe, that I am in no degree or sense a faiseur, and that in matters of business my design, at least, is honest. Nor (bating bad memory and self-deception) am I untruthful in such affairs.

If Mr. Scribner shall have said nothing to you in the matter, please regard the above as unwritten, and believe me, yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson




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