“Labuntur anni!”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2345.]

To E.L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, p. 322]

Vailima [c. 15 August 1891]

My dear Burlingame,


I find among my grandfather’s papers his own reminiscences of his voyage round the north with Sir Walter, eighty years ago, labuntur anni!

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). In August and September 1814 he sailed on the Lighthouse yacht ‘Pharos’ for a six week cruise as a guest of the Commissioners of Northern Lights. The Commissioners’ purpose was to visit lighthouses and investigate sites for new lights. Also aboard, overseeing this task was Robert Stevenson, RLS’s grandfather, the Board’s engineer and the designer of the Bell Rock Light [https://en.wikipedia.org/]
By ‘labuntur anni!’ RLS is quoting Horace, Odes II, XIV.2 [www.poetryintranslation.com]

They are not remarkably good, but he was not a bad observer, and several touches seem to me speaking. It has occurred to me you might like them to appear in the Magazine. If you would, kindly let me know, and tell me how you would like it handled. My grandad’s MS runs to between six and seven thousand words, which I could abbreviate of anecdotes that scarce touch Sir W. Would you like this done? Would you like me to introduce the old gentleman? I had something of the sort in my mind, and could fill a few columns rather à propos. I give you the first offer of this, according to your request; for though it may forestall one of the interests of my biography, the thing seems to me particularly suited for prior appearance in a magazine.

Robert Stevenson’s ‘Reminiscences of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet’ preceded by RLS’s ‘Scott’s voyage in the Lighthouse Yacht’ appeared in Scribner’s Magazine for October 1893.
Sir Walter Scott’s diary, ed. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland, 1998 [http://fyca.org.uk]

I see the first number of The Wrecker; I thought it went lively enough; and by a singular accident, the picture is not unlike Tai-o-hae!

Scribner’s Magazine for August 1891 contained the first instalment of The Wrecker with an illustration by W.B. Hole set on the verandah of a house in Tai-o-hae, the capital of the Marquesas Islands.

Thus we see the age of miracles, etc. – Yours very sincerely,


Proofs for next mail.

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“Poor Butterfly, thy case I mourn”

[Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 323-4; Mehew 7, 2340.]

William Craibe Angus (1830-1899), a fine-art dealer in Glasgow, was a noted Burns collector and one of the chief organisers of the Burns Exhibition in that city, to commemorate the centenary of the poet’s death (1896). In 1891 he had proposed to send out to Samoa a precious copy of Burns’s poem, The Jolly Beggars, to receive the autograph of RLS and be returned for the purposes of that exhibition. The proposal for a preface by RLS to the Burns Exhibition catalogue came to nothing.

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2340.]

To William Craibe Angus [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 323-4]

VaiLIMA [? July or August 1891]

Dear Mr. Angus,

You can use my letter as you will. The parcel has not come; pray Heaven the next post bring it safe. Is it possible for me to write a preface here?

I will try if you like, if you think I must: though surely there are Rivers in Assyria. Of course you will send me sheets of the catalogue; I suppose it (the preface) need not be long; perhaps it should be rather very short? Be sure you give me your views upon these points. Also tell me what names to mention among those of your helpers, and do remember to register everything, else it is not safe.

The true place (in my view) for a monument to Fergusson

Robert Fergusson (1750-74) was the Edinburgh poet acknowledged by Burns as ‘my elder brother in Misfortune, by far my elder brother in the Muse’ whose life ended tragically in a madhouse. RLS always felt a strong sense of kinship with him [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

were the churchyard of Haddington.

St Mary’s Church, Haddington, Lothian, 1857 [www.ebay.co.uk]
St Mary’s collegiate church, Haddington, Lothian [https://live.staticflickr.com]

But as that would perhaps not carry many votes, I should say one of the two following sites: – First, either as near the site of the old Bedlam as we could get,

Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as the Bedlam, London [www,huffingtonpost.com]

or, second, beside the Cross, the heart of his city.

The Cross, Edinburgh, 18th century [https://twitter.com]

Upon this I would have a fluttering butterfly, and, I suggest, the citation.

Poor Butterfly, thy case I mourn.

RLS is quoting Fergusson’s poem, On Seeing a Butterfly in the Street.

For the case of Fergusson is not one to pretend about. A more miserable tragedy the sun never shone upon, or (in consideration of our climate) I should rather say refused to brighten. – Yours truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

Where Burns goes will not matter. He is no local poet, like your Robin the First; he is general as the casing air.

RLS is quoting Macbeth III.IV.23 [www.shakespeareitalia.com]

Glasgow, as the chief city of Scottish men, would do well; but for God’s sake, don’t let it be like the Glasgow memorial to Knox:

John Knox’s Monument, 1840. The monument, within Glasgow Necropolis, was placed on a column at the top of a hill in 1825 by public subscription [www.istockphoto.com]
John Knox Monument in the Glasgow Necropolis.

I remember, when I first saw this, laughing for an hour by Shrewsbury clock.

RLS is quoting Henry IV, V.IV [www.wikipedia.org]

I Henry IV, V.IV


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“This is a great pleasure to me; the band-mastering, the playing and all”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2335.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 326-31]

[Vailima, 24 or 25 June 1891]

My dear Colvin,

I am so hideously in arrears that I know not where to begin. However, here I am a prisoner in my room, unfit for work, incapable of reading with interest, and trying to catch up a bit. We have a guest here: a welcome guest: my Sydney music master, whose health broke down, and who came with his remarkable simplicity, to ask a month’s lodging. He is newly married, his wife in the family way: beastly time to fall sick. I have found, by good luck, a job for him here, which will pay some of his way: and in the meantime he is a pleasant guest, for he plays the flute with little sentiment but great perfection, and endears himself by his simplicity. To me, especially; I am so weary of finding people approach me with precaution, pick their words, flatter, and twitter; but the muttons of the good God are not at all afraid of the lion. They take him as he comes, and he does not bite – at least not hard. This makes us a party of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, at table; deftly waited on by Mary Carter, a very nice Sydney girl, who served us at boarding-house and has since come on –

RLS’s family, 11 May 1892: Mary Carter (Margaret Stevenson’s maid) in the background, Lloyd seated on steps, Margaret Stevenson (r. profile), Belle and Austin (with Belle’s hat on) seated on steps, RLS and Fanny seated behind, Joe Strong (Belle’s husband) with parrot leaning against pillar. Mary Carter had arrived at Vailima with the Strongs on 24 May 1891 and stayed on for a whole year.

how long she will endure this exile is another story; and gauchely waited on by Faauma, the new left-handed wife of the famed Lafaele, a little creature in native dress of course and as beautiful as a bronze candlestick, so fine, clean and dainty in every limb; her arms and her little hips in particular masterpieces.

RLS’s household on the steps of Vailima, 11 May 1892: Joe Strong (Colvin erased his name from the letter) with Cocky the parrot, on l., looking away; central group on the veranda: RLS’s mother (seated, profile), Lloyd (standing), RLS and fanny (seated); Simi (steward, standing), Laafaele (cattle man) sitting in front of him and Tomasi (assistant cook) to his left with an axe; Belle and her son Austin on steps in front of Fanny. Sitting on the top step: Mary Carter (white maid), Talolo (cook) in front of RLS. Sitting on the bottom step: Savea (plantation hand), Elena (laundress), and Aporick (pantry man) [Many thanks to Richard Dury!]

The rest of the crew may be stated briefly, the great Henry Simelé, still to the front; King, of the yellow beard, rather a disappointment –

The grave of Arthur Aris King, RLS’s white employée, Kelvin Grove Cenetery, Palmerston North, Manawatu, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand [https://it.billiongraves.international]

I am inclined on this point to republican opinions: Ratke, a German cook, good – and Germanly bad, he don’t make my kitchen; Paul, now working out his debts outdoor; Emma, a strange weird creature – I suspect (from her colour) a quarter white – widow of a white man, ugly, capable, a really good laundress; Java – yes, that is the name – they spell it Siava, but pronounce it, and explain it Java – her assistant, a creature I adore from her plain, wholesome, bread-and-butter beauty. An honest, almost ugly, bright, good-natured face; the rest (to my sense) merely exquisite […]. She comes steering into my room of a morning, like Mrs. Nickleby, with elaborate precaution; unlike her, noiseless.

RLS is quoting ch. 55 of Dickens’s Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

If I look up from my work, she is ready with an explosive smile. I generally don’t, and wait to look at her as she stoops for the bellows, and trips tiptoe off again, a miracle of successful womanhood in every line. […] I am amused to find plain, healthy Java pass in my fancy so far before pretty young Faauma. I observed Lloyd the other day to say that Java must have been lovely “when she was young”; and I thought it an odd word, of a woman in the height of health, not yet touched with fat, though (to be just) a little slack of bust.

Our party you know: Fanny, Lloyd, my mother, […], Belle, and “the babe” – as we call him – Austin. […] We have now three instruments; Boehm flageolet, flute, and B♭ clarinet;

RLS playing his Boehm flageolet, 1889 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

and we expect in a few days our piano. This is a great pleasure to me; the band-mastering, the playing and all. As soon as I am done with this stage of a letter, I shall return, not being allowed to play, to bandmaster, being engaged in an attempt to arrange an air with effect for the three pipes. And I’ll go now, by jabers.

RLS’s arrangement for an A-major trio in 6/8, undated.

July 3rd.

A long pause: occasioned, first by some days of hard work: next by a vile quinsey – if that be the way to spell it. But to-day I must write. For we have all kinds of larks on hand. The wars and rumours of wars begin to take consistency, insomuch that we have landed the weapons this morning, and inspected the premises with a view to defence. Of course it will come to nothing; but as in all stories of massacres, the one you don’t prepare for is the one that comes off. All our natives think ill of the business; none of the whites do. According to our natives the demonstration threatened for to-day or to-morrow is one of vengeance on the whites – small wonder – and if that begins – where will it stop? Anyway I don’t mean to go down for nothing, if I can help it; and to amuse you I will tell you our plans.

There is the house, upper story.

Our weak point is of course the sides AB, AH; so we propose to place half our garrison in the space HGFD and half in the opposite corner, BBCD. We shall communicate through the interior, there is a water-tank in the angle C, my mother and Austin are to go in the loft. The holding of only these two corners and deserting the corner Cis for economy and communication, two doors being in the sides GF and CD; so that any one in the corner C could only communicate or be reinforced by exposure. Besides we are short of mattresses. Garrison: R.L.S., Lloyd, Fanny, […], King, Ratke – doubtful, he may go – Emma, Mary, Belle; weapons: eight revolvers and a shot-gun, and swords galore;

RLS dictating to his step daughter Belle in the library at Vailima, 1894. Their revolvers on the walls.
Some of RLS’s weapons at Vailima [www.pinterest.it]

but we’re pretty far gone when we come to the swords. It has been rather a lark arranging; but I find it a bore to write, and I doubt it will be cruel stale to read about, when all’s over and done, as it will be ere this goes, I fancy: far more ere it reaches you.

Date unknown [c. 13 July].

Well, nothing as yet, though I don’t swear by it yet. There has been a lot of trouble, and there still a lot of doubt as to the future; and those who sit in the chief seats, who are all excellent, pleasant creatures, are not, perhaps, the most wise of mankind. They actually proposed to kidnap and deport Mataafa;

Portrait of Samoan Chief, Mata’afa Iosefo. The misgivings about the imminence of a native war were not realised until two years later, and the plans of defence into which RLS here enters with characteristic gusto were not put to the test [https://en.wikipedia.org]

a scheme which would have loosed the avalanche at once. But some human being interfered and choked off this pleasing scheme.

The Revd Arthur Edward Claxton (1862-1941) of the London Missionary Society had proposed the American Consul that Mata’afa should be decoyed to Apia and there arrested. RLS (without naming names) will put the story into A Footnote to History. Following Mataafa’s secession to Malie, there were serious fears of an uprising and it was reported that he had 600 armed men.

You ask me in yours just received, what will become of us if it comes to war? Well, if it is a war of the old sort, nothing. It will mean a little bother, and a great deal of theft, and more amusement. But if it comes to the massacre lark, I can only answer with the Bell of Old Bow.

You are to understand that, in my reading of the native character, every day that passes is a solid gain. They put in the time public speaking; so wear out their energy, develop points of difference and exacerbate internal ill feeling. Consequently, I feel less apprehension of difficulty now, by about a hundredfold. All that I stick to, is that if war begins, there are ten chances to one we shall have it bad. The natives have been scurvily used by all the white powers without exception; and they labour under the belief, of which they can’t be cured, that they defeated Germany. This makes an awkward complication.

I was extremely vexed to hear you were ill again. I hope you are better. ’Tis a long time we have known each other now, to be sure. Well, well! you say you are sure to catch fever in the bush; so we do continually; but you are to conceive Samoa fever as the least formidable malady under heaven: implying only a day or so of slight headache and languor and ill humour, easily reduced by quinine or antipyrine.

A man with influenza, taken in hand by a doctor, surrounded by dancing politicians. Wood engraving by Pépin (E. Guillaumin), 1889 [https://en.wikipedia.org]

The hot fever I had was from over-exertion and blood poisoning, no doubt, and irritation of the bladder; it went of its own accord and with rest. I have had since a bad quinsey which knocked me rather useless for about a week, but I stuck to my work, with great difficulty and small success.

Date unknown […] – But it’s fast day and July, and the rude inclement depth of winter, and the thermometer was 68° this morning and a few days ago it was 63°, and we have all been perishing with cold. All still seems quiet. Your counterfeit presentments are all round us: the pastel over my bed, the Dew-Smith photograph over my door,

RLS in 1885, by photographer Albert George Dew-Smith [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

and the “celebrity” on Fanny’s table. […] My room is now done, and looks very gay, and chromatic with its blue walls and my coloured lines of books.

Vailima library, today [https://farm4.static.flickr.com]
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“It is not a life for a hog”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2333.]

To Charles Baxter

[Baxter Letters, pp.280-2; www.hathitrust.org]

Vailima, Sunday, 20 [actually 21] June 1891

My dear Charles,

Your hand was a welcome sight. But I think in the pressure of arrears, you must have let a point slip. £890 in hand, you say, but nothing of the house; has the house money gone down to that?

Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth, 1898. Lloyd had gone there to handle its sale and had just then returned to Vailima [https://edrls.wordpress.com]

Well, I shall know when your bill comes. It is so exceedingly difficult and anxious to finance our establishment that I am going to ask you to get one of your clerks to send me monthly my ballance; I do not mind details, only the result and a note of large payments to account. This will be a great help and pacifier. We trust we are nearly through not only the worst of our expenses, but what has bothered us far more, the currency famine. I have been driven at last to import gold from Sydney. I shall probably hear from you as to my big bills next month. I still think the money should be raised; it is so needful I should have a credit in Sydney.

I have written to McClure thus:

Samuel Sidney McClure (1857-1949). In 1884, he had established theMcClure Syndicate, the first U.S. newspaper syndicate. He published in Sunday newspapers, containing serials of books and reviews. He had got the serial rights to RLS’s letters from the South Seas, and had begun their serialisation in Black and White magazine. He finally appears as Jim Pinkerton in The Wrecker [https://alchetron.com]

“It seems your agent in England is retaining 25/100 of the Black and White money; I remember nothing of this in our bargain, which is not at hand, suppose it in consequence to be an oversight, and have to ask you to rectify it.” I have an idea this will bring things to a hearing. Our recollection is 10/100, but my papers are in too huge a disorder to let me look for the bargain with any hope of success. It would probably take days and I have no days to spare. I have drafted this month 132 pp. of my MS: 66,000 words; and out of all that toilful scriving only four letters and two chapters of The Wrecker go to press! It is not a life for a hog; but thank God even at this pitiful and costly rate, four months should see me shut of both these nightmares. This rate of production is worthy of my early beginnings, when I used to write the matter of a volume to produce a 5 guinea Cornhill essay. Only one thing is changed, my power of enduring work; it has been common for me to write seven and eight hours, and that with no other inconvenience than extreme fatigue.

Fanny, I am rejoiced to say, is better. We make a big and rather a pleasant party up here,

RLS and Fanny at Vailima, Samoa, 1889-1890.

and all my spare time is spent in making (or rather marring) music. How often have I not thought of you and your oboe! But we have easier instruments, though some of my upper notes would raise a smile. I fear this is a dreadful poor letter, but business so overrides us at this critical hour, you must excuse my incomparable dryness.

Yours ever affectionately,

Robert Louis Stevenson

I have asked Lloyd to try and give you my news. You say nothing of the Henley affair, from which I gather you disapprove.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). The friendship between RLS and W.E. Henley had grown strained for many reasons. Henley disliked RLS’s wife, and felt that she interfered with their friendship. Furthermore, he was more convinced than RLS about the viability of the plays that the writers had been collaborating on: Henley, who was often worried about money, thought the plays would be lucrative, while RLS felt that the plays were not a literary success. Their biggest quarrel came in March 1888. Henley accused Fanny Stevenson of plagiarism when she published the short story “The Nixie” in Scribner’s Magazine. He argued that it had actually been taken from one of Katharine De Mattos’s own stories.  RLS took Fanny’s side. Even after all of their difficulties, RLS still missed his friend, though they never fully recovered their friendship. None of plays listed below was ever completed [https://s.yimg.com/]

Well, you are very likely right; it makes a damned hole in my life: I am always thinking of things I want to say to him, but que voulez vous? he wore me out. I have no ill feeling, plenty of kind ones, but no desire to go back into that doubtful medium. By the way, we ought to decide on the property of our sketch plays. Hester Noble, being very largely mine and founded on an old play of mine, I think should come to me. I must go on another sheet, I see. The King of Clubs was mainly his, and should go to him. Ajax and Honour and Arms remain, and by my memory were fairly equally contributed to by both. I will do as you say: either give him these, or toss up for ’em, you and he. The rest I do not remember to have been of much account. Do what he wishes. But I think some sharing should be done, as we put a good deal of thought into these drafts, and it is hard we should both be shut out of our own. Besides I was thinking Henley might have a chance after the Beau, and one of these might please him.

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917) had finally produced RLS and Henley’s play, Beau Austin, at the Haymarked Theatre in London in 1890. Henley did not come down from Edinburgh to see it, while Lloyd and RLS’s mother were there, together with Henry James and Oscar Wilde. Most of the reviewers were unimpressed [www.npg.org.uk]

I have named Hester Noble because it was so very largely mine and I have been always tempted to make a story of it. But should you find he likes it himself, I will gladly cede it. Do not let him think me indifferent (which I am not), but sound him and give way. I place myself in your hands. You might mention casually I had been reading our old plays, and thought Macaire the footiest rot,

1895 edition of the play ‘Macaire’: it was first privately printed in 1885.

and was bowled over by Admiral Guinea and shed tears.

Henley and RLS finally wrote in collaboration ‘Admiral Guinea’ in 1884 ( here the 1892 edition).

I had clean done forgot it was so good. And I declare, with decisive cutting and powerfully acted, the blame thing would have a chance.

O I do not possess a copy of the last act of Deacon Brodie as rewritten and would like that.

Three plays were co-written by RLS and W.E. Henley, and published together in 1892. Of these, ‘Deacon Brodie’ had been privately printed in 1880 and first performed in 1882.

I have never even seen it since it was copied.

Yours ever,


Flageolet to hand: A-1.

French flageolet in A, mid-19th century [www.metmuseum.org]

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“I look up at your portrait, and it frowns upon me”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2331-2332.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 317-21]

[Vailima, ? 19] June 1891


To you, under your portrait, which is, in expression, your true, breathing self, and up to now saddens me; in time, and soon, I shall be glad to have it there; it is still only a reminder of your absence. Fanny wept when we unpacked it, and you know how little she is given to that mood; I was scarce Roman myself, but that does not count – I lift up my voice so readily. These are good compliments to the artist.

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), RLS’s friend, was keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum. On 17 and 18 June 1891 two boxes of pictures arrived at Vailima, sent by him. Among them was Colvin’s portrait, by Fanny Fetherstonhaugh Macpherson, which RLS describes in this letter (yet not found, not the one in this picture) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Charles Holroyd, ‘Night’ (Portrait of the artist’s wife), 1898. Fanny Fetherstonhaugh Macpherson (1863-1924), daughter of Fanny Sitwell’s sister Louisa, was, according to Colvin, the author of Colvin’s portrait sent to RLS. She married in 1891 Sir Charles Holroyd, later to become Director of the National Gallery [www.britishmuseum.org]

I write in the midst of a wreck of books, which have just come up, and have for once defied my labours to get straight. The whole floor is filled with them, and (what’s worse) most of the shelves forbye; and where they are to go to, and what is to become of the librarian, God knows. It is hot to-night, and has been airless all day, and I am out of sorts, and my work sticks, the devil fly away with it and me. We had an alarm of war since last I wrote my screeds to you, and it blew over, and is to blow on again, and the rumour goes they are to begin by killing all the whites.

Mata’afa Iosefo (1832-1912) had first come into prominence in September 1888 when under his command, his followers had rebelled against the German-backed Tamasese who was proclaimed King of Samoa. On Sunday 31 May 1891, Mataafa was taken by his followers to the village of Malie for the purpose of making him King in opposition to Malietoa Laupepa. There were fears that fighting would begin and a flurry of activity by the white officials. The 3 consuls accompanied the president on a visit to Malie. Mataafa remained at Malie living in regal state, but not provoking conflict nor disobeying the laws [www.thecoconet.tv]
Susuga Malietoa Laupepa (1841–1898), King of Samoa 1875–1887 and 1889–1898 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I have no belief in this, and should be infinitely sorry if it came to pass – I do not mean for us, that were otiose – but for the poor, deluded schoolboys, who should hope to gain by such a step.

Letter resumed, June 20th.

No diary this time. Why? you ask. I have only sent out four letters, and two chapters of The Wrecker.

Autograph manuscript of The Wrecker, Edwin J. Beinecke Collection of RLS, Yale [https://collections.library.yale.edu/]

Yes, but to get these I have written 132 pp., 66,000 words in thirty days; 2200 words a day; the labours of an elephant. God knows what it’s like, and don’t ask me, but nobody shall say I have spared pains. I thought for some time it wouldn’t come at all. I was days and days over the first letter of the lot – days and days writing and deleting and making no headway whatever, till I thought I should have gone bust; but it came at last after a fashion, and the rest went a thought more easily, though I am not so fond as to fancy any better.

Your opinion as to the Letters as a whole is so damnatory that I put them by. But there is a ‘hell of a want of’ money this year. And these Gilbert Island papers, being the most interesting in matter, and forming a compact whole, and being well illustrated, I did think of as a possible resource.

It would be called

Six Months in Micronesia,

Two Island Kings,

  ———– Monarchies,

Gilbert Island Kings,

—-———- Monarchies,

and I dare say I’ll think of a better yet – and would divide thus:


I. A Town asleep.

II. The Three Brothers.

III. Around our House.

IV. A Tale of a Tapu.

V. The Five Days’ Festival.

VI. Domestic Life – (which might be omitted, but not well, better be recast).

The King of Apemama

VII. The Royal Traders.

VIII. Foundation of Equator Town.

IX. The Palace of Many Women.

X. Equator Town and the Palace.

XI. King and Commons.

XII. The Devil Work Box.

XIII. The Three Corslets.

XIV. Tail piece; the Court upon a Journey.

The last paper of RLS’s list seems not to have been written. All the others, in a few cases with different titles, appear in In the South Seas, 1896.

I wish you to watch these closely, judging them as a whole, and treating them as I have asked you, and favour me with your damnatory advice. I look up at your portrait, and it frowns upon me. You seem to view me with reproach. The expression is excellent; Fanny wept when she saw it, and you know she is not given to the melting mood. She seems really better; I have a touch of fever again, I fancy overwork, and to-day, when I have overtaken my letters, I shall blow on my pipe.

RLS playing his flageolet, Hawaii 1889 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Tell Mrs. Sitwell I have been playing Le Chant d’Amour lately, and have arranged it, after awful trouble, rather prettily for two pipes;

Bizet’s song from Lamartine’s poem, 1872. No arrangement by RLS has been left [https://sites.google.com]

and it brought her before me with an effect scarce short of allucination.

Frances (Fanny) Jane Fetherstonhaugh Sitwell (1839-1924) worked as a secretary at the College for Working Women. She also worked as a translator and reviewer. She had met Sidney Colvin in the late 1860s, and they had fallen in love. Fanny’s husband died in 1894, but it seems that worries about money kept Fanny and Colvin from marrying until July 1903 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

I could hear her voice in every note;

yet I had forgot the air entirely, and began to pipe it from notes as something new, when I was brought up with a round turn by this reminiscence. We are now very much installed; the dining-room is done, and looks lovely. Soon we shall begin to photograph and send you our circumstances.

Vailima interior [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

My room is still a howling wilderness. I sleep on a platform in a window, and strike my mosquito bar and roll up my bedclothes every morning, so that the bed becomes by day a divan. A great part of the floor is knee-deep in books, yet nearly all the shelves are filled, alas! It is a place to make a pig recoil, yet here are my interminable labours begun daily by lamp-light, and sometimes not yet done when the lamp has once more to be lighted.

RLS and his step daughter Belle at work in the library at Vailima, 1894.

The effect of pictures in this place is surprising. They give great pleasure.

June 21st. – A word more. I had my breakfast this morning at 4.30! My new cook has beaten me and (as Lloyd says) revenged all the cooks in the world. I have been hunting them to give me breakfast early since I was twenty; and now here comes Mr. Ratke, and I have to plead for mercy, I cannot stand 4.30; I am a mere fevered wreck; it is now half-past eight, and I can no more, and four hours divide me from lunch, the devil take the man! Yesterday it was about 5.30, which I can stand; day before 5, which is bad enough; to-day I give out. It is like a London season

W.P. Frith, A Private view at the Royal Academy, at the opening of the Season 1881 [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

and as I do not take a siesta once in a month, and then only five mintues, I am being worn to the bones, and look aged and anxious.

We have Rider Haggard’s brother here as a Land Commissioner; a nice kind of a fellow;

Henry Rider Haggard (1856–1925), English writer of adventure fiction set in exotic locations, predominantly Africa, and a pioneer of the lost world literary genre. He was also involved in agricultural reform throughout the British Empire. His brother, Bazett Michael Haggard (1847-99) , barrister, was the British representative on the Samoan Land Commission, which had just then began its activities [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]
Bazett Haggard’s pony Rebecca (no picture of him found yet!), Samoa. Although very able, his increasing drunkenness later caused problems [https://natlib.govt.nz]

indeed, all the three Land Commissioners are very agreeable.

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“Your traduction winks at me with a yellow back as I sit writing”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2329.]

To Berthe M. Low

[W.H. Low, A Chronicle of Friendships, 1908, pp.433-4]

June 19, 1891, Vailima.

My dear Traducer,

In all things it seems you have done very well:

Will Hicok Low, ‘Souvenir of Nantucket’. The American painter had married in 1878 Berthe Julienne, who had translated Treasure Island into French in 1885 [www.askart.com]

the keys have come, but not yet the boxes,

St. Stephen Hotel, 46-52 East 11th Street, NY, c. 1880. At Mrs Low’s prompting, some trunks left by RLS at the hotel had been shipped to Apia [http://thehotelalbert.com]

nor any word from the perfidious Burlingame.

Edward Livermore Burlingame (1848-1922), editor-in-chief of Scribner’s Magazine. In a later letter he made it clear that the material left at Scribner’s was also being sent by the safest means [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

But what am I to say? His letter has probably miscarried, as some of mine have done. For it seems that you have never heard of the arrival of the traduction, which, however, I read with much pleasure and which winks at me with a yellow back as I sit writing.

Berthe Low’s French translation of Jekyll & Hyde had been published in August 1890 [https://picclick.fr/]

And it seems yet another has gone wrong – my last to your degenerate husband,

William Hicok Low c. 1880 in his Bronxville studio [www.albanyinstitute.org]

in which I offered him (in my name and Lloyd’s) the dedication of “The Wrecker”, and gave him an order on Burlingame for the sheets so far as they went. This, I believe even a New Yorker would have answered. The point is this: Loudon Dodd, the narrator of the tale, is drawn a good deal from the degenerate W.H.L.: some of his adventures and some of mine are agreeably mingled in the early parts, and the thing might seem too near the truth for him to care about the connection.

Illustration from The Wrecker, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1892. Artist: Willard Leroy Metcalf [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com]

See that he bears this sheet to the truculent Bulingame, by which he (the T. Blgme.) is authorized to communicate “The Wrecker”, and do you see that he (the degenerate W.H.L.) answers it. He will start to find himself quite a taffrail!

We guess we shan’t want the skates much before winter: though I daresay I might use them for razors – they would be as good as what we have.

RLS in a diorama on Baker’s veranda with his skates at Saranak Lake in 1888 [www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com]

But the lakes in this part of the States don’t bear much before Christmas. I am fatuous: enough. I can inflict no more of this rubbish, even on a traducer. And with a thousand thanks for all the horrid bother we have put you to, I say farewell,

Yours ever,


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“Considering that I have no now further use for a birthday of any description…”

The following is written to the American Land Commissioner (later Chief Justice for a term) in Samoa, whose elder daughter, then at home in the States, had been born on a Christmas Day, and consequently regarded herself as defrauded of her natural rights to a private anniversary of her own.

The witness at the end of this letter, Harold Watts, was RLS’s flageolet teacher in Sydney who had just arrived in Apia and was staying at Vailima.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2328.]

To Henry Clay Ide [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 324-6]

[Vailima, June 19, 1891]

Dear Mr. Ide,

Herewith please find the DOCUMENT, which I trust will prove sufficient in law. It seems to me very attractive in its eclecticism; Scots, English, and Roman law phrases are all indifferently introduced, and a quotation from the works of Haynes Bayly can hardly fail to attract the indulgence of the Bench.

– Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

I, Robert Louis Stevenson, Advocate of the Scots Bar,

RLS as an advocate, 1875 [https://commons.wikimedia.org/]

author of “The Master of Ballantrae” and “Moral Emblems”,

First English edition of The Master of Ballantrae, 1889 [https://it.wikipedia.org/]
Moral Emblems, as reproduced in facsimile in Edin Ed 28, 1898.

stuck civil engineer,

Lighthouse drawing by RLS, 1864-1863.

sole owner and patentee of the Palace and Plantation known as Vailima in the island of Upolu, Samoa,

Sketch of RLS’s estate, Vailima, Apia, Samoa [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

a British Subject, being in sound mind, and pretty well, I thank you, in body:

RLS, Vailima,1892.

In consideration that Miss Annie H. Ide, daughter of H.C. Ide, in the town of Saint Johnsbury, in the country of Caledonia, in the State of Vermont, United States of America, was born, out of all reason, upon Christmas Day, and is therefore out of all justice denied the consolation and profit of a proper birthday;

Anne H. Ide (1879-1945), c. 1908. She accompanied her father to Samoa in 1893 with her two sisters and was soon on friendly terms with the Stevensons when she was 14. Annie and Belle became lifelong friends. She was known as “Levei-malo” to the Samoans. She later married as his 3rd wife William Bourke Cockran, the New York lawyer who taught the young Winston Churchill to become an orator [https://uselessinformation.org]
Birth Certificate for Annie Ide (unnamed at the time) confirming that she was born on Christmas Day to Mary M. Melcher and Henry Ide in St. Johnsbury, Vermont [https://uselessinformation.org/]

And considering that I, the said Robert Louis Stevenson, have attained an age when O, we never mention it,

19th century popular song ‘Oh! No! We Never Mention Her’ by Thomas Haynes Bayly.
Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839), English poet, songwriter, dramatist, and miscellaneous writer.[www.npg.org.uk]

and that I have no now further use for a birthday of any description;

And in consideration that I have met H.C. Ide, the father of the said Annie H. Ide, and found him about as white a land commissioner as I require:

Henry Clay Ide (1844-1921) in 1901. An American lawyer and public official, he had arrived in Apia on 16 May 1891 following his appointment as American Land Commissioner. In A Footnote to History RLS described him as ‘a man of character and intelligence’ [https://commons.wikimedia.org/]

Have transferred, and do hereby transfer, to the said Annie H. Ide, all and whole my rights and privileges in the thirteenth day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said Annie H. Ide, to have, hold, exercise, and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats, and receipt of gifts, compliments, and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors;

And I direct the said Annie H. Ide to add to the said name of Annie H. Ide the name Louisa – at least in private;

Grave of Anne ‘Louisa’ Ide, Gate of heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York [www.findagrave.com]

and I charge her to use my said birthday with moderation and humanity, et tamquam bona filia familiae, the said birthday not being so young as it once was, and having carried me in a very satisfactory manner since I can remember;

Daguerreotype portrait of RLS, 1852 [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

And in case the said Annie H. Ide shall neglect or contravene either of the above conditions, I hereby revoke the donation and transfer my rights in the said birthday to the President of the United States of America for the time being:

Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) was the 23rd President of the US from 1889 to 1893 [https://en.wikipedia.org/]
William H. Taft (1857-1930) was the 27th President of the US from 1909 to 1913. It is related that he (who knew the Ides in the Philippines) entered into the joke by formally enquiring whether the birthday was being properly celebrated [www.britannica.com]

In witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal this nineteenth day of June in the year of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-one.


Robert Louis Stevenson


Witness, Lloyd Osbourne,

Witness, Harold Watts.

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“No more Sabbath breaking for the repentant”

On one Sunday, RLS joined a party of New Zealand tourists who had arrived at Apia on an excursion steamer, and went to the adjoining island of Savaii for a pleasure trip. In the afternoon the weather changed; there was a fierce gale of wind, the Savaii mountains were wreathed in a driving mist, and long before nightfall there was a tropical downpour of torrential rain. Some time after Rev. Clarke and his family had retired to bed they heard a knocking at the door; it was RLS, very shamefaced, who had come to beg a night’s shelter for his step daughter Belle, who had accompanied him. As Clarke told: “His clothes were clinging around him, and the rain pouring off at every possible angle. He looked an abject and pitiable figure as he stood on the veranda, drenched and shivering. He refused to stay the night himself, fearing it might alarm his wife and mother, and being a little apprehensive at the possibility of becoming ill away from home.” They gave him a rub-down, a dry flannel suit, a hot drink, and some food, and covered with a dry rain-coat he made his way back to Vailima in the pelting rain. Next morning a boy arrived at Clarke’s with this note.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2327.]

To Rev. William Edward Clarke

[The Yale Review, Jan. 1921, pp. 286-7; http://www.hathitrust.org]

[Vailima, 15 June 1891]

Dear Clarke,

I was meaning to have ridden down but here is Mr. — who offers to do my errand.

RLS on his horse Jack, Samoa, 1892 [https://i.guim.co.uk]

Will you kindly entrust this messenger with some of your fever medicine, and a word as to the dose. I got back all right last night, but the track was dark as Hades.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Abduction of Proserpina (c. 1631) [https://commons.wikimedia.org]

My wife had a hot bath in readiness, physicked me to raise my temperature, jawed me and raised my temper, and then put me to bed!

Fanny’s medicine cabinet at Vailima, Samoa [www.happinessandthings.com]

O am O.K. this morning, but no more Sabbath breaking for the repentant


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“I know the public won’t like it; let ’em lump it then”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2324.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, pp.279-80; www.hathitrust.org]

[Vailima] Tuesday, 19 May 1891

My dear Charles,

I don’t know what you think of me, not having written to you at all during your illness. I find two sheets begun with your name, but that is no excuse… I am keeping bravely; getting about better every day, and hope soon to be in my usual fettle. My books begin to come; and I fell once more on the Old Bailey session papers. I have 1778, 1784, and 1786. Should you be able to lay hands on any other volumes, above all a little later, I should be very glad you should buy them for me.

Old Bailey Session Papers. The online project (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org) involved the digitisation of all surviving pages and transcripts of trials from the Old Bailey Session Papers between 1674 and 1913. It contains data from an astounding 197,745 criminal trails [https://guildhalllibrarynewsletter.files.wordpress.com]

I particularly want one or two during the course of the Peninsular War.

F. Goya, El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid, 1814. The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was the military conflict fought by Spain and Portugal, assisted by the United Kingdom, against the invading and occupying forces of France for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. In Spain, it is considered to overlap with the Spanish War of Independence. Goya’s work commemorates Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies during the occupation of 1808 [www.arteopereartisti.it]

Come to think, I ought rather to have communicated this want to Bain. Would it bore you to communicate to that effect with the great man? The sooner I have them, the better for me. ’Tis for Henry Shovel. But Henry Shovel has now turned into a work called The Shovels of Newton French: including Memoirs of Henry Shovel, a Private in the Peninsular War,

James Bain bookseller, 1 Haymarket, London [/www.rickarobooks.co.uk]
Site of James Bain bookshop, 1 Haymarket, London. The plan ofThe Shovels of Newton French, which was to be in great part a story of the Peninsular War, had been sketched out and a few chapters written in the 1870s, but it was never completed.

Which work is to begin in 1664 with the marriage of Skipper, afterwards Alderman Shovel of Bristol, Henry’s great-great-grandfather, and end about 1832 with his own second marriage to the daughter of his runaway aunt. Will the public ever stand such an opus? Gute kens, but it tickles me. Two or three historical personages will just appear: Judge Jeffreys,

George Jeffreys (1648-89), 1st Baron of Wem, Lord Chief Justice 1682, Lord Chancellor 1685, by J. Closterman. Jeffreys conducted the “Bloody Assizes”, a series of trials started at Wichester in 1685 in the aftermath of the Battle of Sedgemoor, which ended the Monmouth Rebellion in England [www.meisterdrucke.it]


Field Marchal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman, serving twice as prime minister. He ended the Napoleonic Wars when he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Colquhoun Grant,

Lieutenant-colonel Colquhoun Grant (1780-1829), a British Army soldier and intelligence officer during the Napoleonic Wars [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

And I think Townsend the runner.

John Tonsend (1760-1832), a famous Bow Street Runner [www.the-saleroom.com]
A 19th century depiction of the courtroom at 4 Bow Street, London. The Bow Street Runners have been called London’s first professional police force. The force originally numbered six men and was founded in 1749 by magistrate and well known author Henry Fielding. Bow Street Runners was the public’s nickname for the officers, although the officers did not use the term themselves, considering it derogatory. The group was disbanded in 1839 and its personnel merged with the Metropolitan Police Service [https://en.wikipedia.org]
The former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, London, has recently been transformed in a modern hotel [www.businesstraveller.com]

I know the public won’t like it; let ’em lump it then; I mean to make it good; it will be more like a saga.


Yours ever affectionately,

R.L. Stevenson

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