“I can wish you nothing more delightful than my fortune in life”

RLS wrote the next letter to a young friend and visitor of Bournemouth days, on the news of her engagement to Alfred Spender. George and Mary Rawlinson had visited RLS in Bournemouth in 1887, and RLS had sent their eldest daughter May (1868-1947) the poem: ‘Of the many flowers you brought me’.(See previous post: https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/i-do-not-write-possibly-with-all-the-really-somewhat-sickened-gravity-i-feel/).

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2312.]

To May Rawlinson [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 306-8]

Vailima, April 1891

My dear May,

I never think of you by any more ceremonial name, so I will not pretend. There is not much chance that I shall forget you until the time comes for me to forget all this little turmoil in a corner (though indeed I have been in several corners) of an inconsiderable planet. You remain in my mind for a good reason, having given me (in so short a time) the most delightful pleasure. I shall remember, and you must still be beautiful. The truth is, you must grow more so, or you will soon be less. It is not so easy to be a flower, even when you bear a flower’s name.

May (hawthorn blossom) [https://cdn.pixabay.com]

And if I admired you so much, and still remember you, it is not because of your face, but because you were then worthy of it, as you must still continue.

Will you give my heartiest congratulations to Mr. Spender?

John Alfred Spender (1862-1942) journalist and author, married May in 1892. As editor of the Westminster Gazette, a London evening paper,1896-1922, he was to become the most influential political journalist of his day, famous for his leaders preaching a ‘robust and reasoned Liberalism’, and a close friend of all the leading Liberal politicians [https://explore.toynbeehall.org.uk]

He has my admiration; he is a brave man; when I was young, I should have run away from the sight of you, pierced with the sense of my unfitness. He is more wise and manly. What a good husband he will have to be! And you – what a good wife! Carry your love tenderly. I will never forgive him – or you – it is in both your hands – if the face that once gladdened my heart should be changed into one sour or sorrowful.

What a person you are to give flowers! It was so I first heard of you; and now you are giving the May flower!

Yes, Skerryvore has passed; it was, for us.

Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth, 1898. The Stevensons had settled in Bournemouth from July 1884 to August 1887. Lloyd Osbourne, RLS’s stepson, had recently been to England to sell the cottage [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Skerryvore today: foundations of drawing room with bay [https://edrls.wordpress.com]

But I wish you could see us in our new home on the mountain, in the middle of great woods, and looking far out over the Pacific.

RLS’s home at Vailima, Apia, Upolu, Samoa, 1892 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

When Mr. Spender is very rich, he must bring you round the world and let you see it, and see the old gentleman and the old lady. I mean to live quite a long while yet, and my wife must do the same, or else I couldn’t manage it; so, you see, you will have plenty of time; and it’s a pity not to see the most beautiful places, and the most beautiful people moving there, and the real stars and moon overhead,

Austral emisphere sky: the southern Milky Way from Vela (at right) to Centaurus (at left), with the False Cross at left, the trus Southern Cross at right of centre, and Alpha and Beta Centauri at left. Omega Centauri is at upper left. The Coal Sack is left of the Southern Cross. This is a stack of 3 x 3 minute exposures at f/2.8 with the 35mm Canon L-series prime lens, and filter-modified Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 800, plus an exposure taken through the Kenko Softon filter for the star glows. Taken from Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia, April 2014. [https://amazingsky.files.wordpress.com]

instead of the tin imitations that preside over London.

London’s sky at night free of light pollution [www.thisisbigbrother.com]

I do not think my wife very well; but I am in hopes she will now have a little rest. It has been a hard business, above all for her; we lived four months in the hurricane season in a miserable house, overborne with work, illfed, continually worried,  drowned in perpetual rain, beaten upon by wind, so that we must sit in the dark in the evenings;

and then I ran away, and she had a month of it alone.

Fanny Stevenson, 1893.

Things go better now; the back of the work is broken; and we are still foolish enough to look forward to a little peace. I am a very different person from the prisoner of Skerryvore.

RLS and Fanny, Skerryvore cottage, Bournemouth, August 1885, by J. S. Sargent [www.jssgallery.org]

The other day I was three-and-twenty hours in an open boat; it made me pretty ill; but fancy its not killing me half-way! It is like a fairy story that I should have recovered liberty and strength, and should go round again among my fellow-men, boating, riding, bathing, toiling hard with a wood-knife in the forest. I can wish you nothing more delightful than my fortune in life; I wish it you; and better, if the thing be possible.

Lloyd is tinkling below me on the typewriter;

Lloyd’s typewriter, Vailima [https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com]

my wife has just left the room; she asks me to say she would have written had she been well enough, and hopes to do it still. – Accept the best wishes of your admirer,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“I am a real employer of labour now, and have much of the ship captain when aroused”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2309.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 296-9]

[Vailima] Saturday, April 18th [1891]

My dear Colvin,

I got back on Monday night, after twenty-three hours in an open boat;

RLS and the American consul’s party had circumnavigated Tutuila island by easy stages in a whale-boat and had returned to Apia on Monday 13 April 1891 (Cf. Mehew 7, p. 98 n. 3).

the keys were lost; the consul (who had promised us a bottle of Burgundy) nobly broke open his storeroom, and we got to bed about midnight.


Next morning the blessed consul promised us horses for the daybreak; forgot all about it, worthy man; set us off at last in the heat of the day, and by a short cut which caused infinite trouble, and we were not home till dinner.

RLS’s home, Vailima, Upolu, Samoa [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

I was extenuated, and have had a high fever since, or should have been writing before. To-day for the first time, I risk it. Tuesday I was pretty bad; Wednesday had a fever to kill a horse; Thursday I was better, but still out of ability to do aught but read awful trash. This is the time one misses civilisation; I wished to send out for some police novels; Montépin would have about suited my frozen brain.

Xavier Henri Aymon Perrin, Count of Montépin (1823-1902), apopular French novelist [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Montépin, the author of serialised novels and popular plays, is best known for the 19th-Century best-seller, La Porteuse de pain, which was first published in Le Petit Journal, from 1884 to 1889, and underwent many adaptations for theatre, film and television [https://i.pinimg.com]

It is a bother when all one’s thought turns on one’s work in some sense or other; I could not even think yesterday; I took to inventing dishes by way of entertainment. […] Yesterday, while I lay asleep in the afternoon, a very lucky thing happened; the Chief Justice came to call;

Otto Conrad Waldemar Cedarcrantz (1854-1932). The king of Sweden, Oscar II, had been asked by the governments of Germany, Britain and the US to appoint a Chief Justice in the Samoa Islands. Cedarcrantz was appointed on October 3, 1890. He is said to have worked to protect the Samoans from abuse, but he resigned after only three years [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

met one of our employes on the road; and was shown what I had done to the road.

‘Is this the road across the island?’ he asked.

‘The only one,’ said Innes.

‘And has one man done all this?’

‘Three times,’ said the trusty Innes. ‘It has had to be made three times, and when Mr. Stevenson came, it was a track like what you see beyond.’

‘This must be put right,’ said the Chief Justice.

Apia road to Vailima [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

Sunday [19 April]

The truth is, I broke down yesterday almost as soon as I began, and have been surreptitiously finishing the entry to-day. For all that I was much better, ate all the time, and had no fever. The day was otherwise uneventful. I am reminded; I had another visitor on Friday; and Fanny and Lloyd, as they returned from a forest raid, met in our desert, untrodden road, first Father Didier, Keeper of the conscience of Mataafa, the rising star;

Mata’afa Iosefo (1832–1912), ablest of the three contenders for the high chieftainship of Samoa, most distrusted by the Germans, British and Americans. he was a devout Catholic. Father Didier was one of the few priests making up the Roman Catholic Mission in Samoa [https://enacademic.com]

and next the Chief Justice, sole stay of Laupepa, the present and unsteady star,

Susuga Malietoa Laupepa (1841–1898), King of Samoa 1875–1887 and 1889–1898 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and remember, a few days before we were close to the sick bed and entertained by the amateur physician of Tamasese, the late and sunken star.

Tupua Tamasese Titimaea (1830-1891), the second (after Mata’afa) rival of the German-supported Malietoa for the high chieftainship. He had died 2 days before this letter, aged 61 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

‘That is the fun of this place,’ observed Lloyd; ‘everybody you meet is so important.’ Everybody is also so gloomy. It will come to war again, is the opinion of all the well informed – and before that to many bankruptcies; and after that, as usual, to famine. Here, under the microscope, we can see history at work.

Wednesday [22 April]

I have been very neglectful. A return to work, perhaps premature, but necessary, has used up all my possible energies and made me acquainted with the living headache. I just jot down some of the past notabilia. […] Yesterday S[kelton], a carpenter, and K[ing], my (unsuccessful) white man, were absent all morning from their work;

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 was working myself, where I hear every sound with morbid certainty, and I can testify that not a hammer fell. Upon inquiry I found they had passed the morning making ice with our ice machine

and taking the horizon with a spirit level!

Scottish brass inlaid spirit level, circa 1850 [https://images.antiquesatlas.com]

I had no sooner heard this than – a violent headache set in; I am a real employer of labour now, and have much of the ship captain when aroused;and if I had a headache, I believe both these gentlemen had aching hearts. […] I promise you, the late […] was to the front; and K[ing], who was the most guilty, yet (in a sense) the least blameable, having the brains and character of a canary-bird, fared none the better for S[kelton]’s repartees. I hear them hard at work this morning, so the menace may be blessed. It was just after my dinner, just before theirs, that I administered my redoubtable tongue – it is really redoubtable – to these skulkers. (Paul used to triumph over Mr. [Hay] for weeks. ‘I am very sorry for you,’ he would say; ‘you’re going to have a talk with Mr. Stevenson when he comes home: you don’t know what that is!’). In fact, none of them do, till they get it. I have known K[ing], for instance, for months; he has never heard me complain, or take notice, unless it were to praise; I have used him always as my guest, and there seems to be something in my appearance which suggests endless, ovine long-suffering! We sat in the upper verandah all evening, and discussed the price of iron roofing, and the state of the draught-horses, with Innes, a new man we have taken, and who seems to promise well. […]

One thing embarrasses me. No one ever seems to understand my attitude about that book; the stuff sent was never meant for other than a first state; I never meant it to appear as a book. Knowing well that I have never had one hour of inspiration since it was begun, and have only beaten out my metal by brute force and patient repetition, I hoped some day to get a ‘spate of style’ and burnish it – fine mixed metaphor. I am now so sick that I intend, when the Letters are done and some more written that will be wanted, simply to make a book of it by the pruning-knife. […] I cannot fight longer; I am sensible of having done worse than I hoped, worse than I feared; all I can do now is to do the best I can for the future, and clear the book, like a piece of bush, with axe and cutlass. Even to produce the MS of this will occupy me, at the most favourable opinion, till the middle of next year; really five years were wanting, when I could have made a book; but I have a family, and – perhaps I could not make the book after all […].

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“I hope you will remember to register your letters, or I may never receive them”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2308.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, 278-9; www.hathitrust.org]

[Tutuila, Late March / Early April 1891]

My dear Charles,

I have had to draw a bill on you for £150. This was suddenly forced on me by a rise in silver on the beach; it is hard the Republican party should oppose a copyright bill against my books with one hand and with the other raise the currency against my draughts so far away as Apia beach. But I believe (to be more just) they even promoted the copyright bill.

Late 19th-century newspaper advertisement for copyright registration services. The US Senate had finally passed the first international copyright bill, which came into effect on 1 July 1891 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I had not meant to draw until I heard you were in funds, but I think you should be by now. I hope you will remember to register your letters, or I may never receive them.

I write you from Tutuila,


where I am on a trip with the American consul,

Harold Marsh Sewall (1860-1924) was American Consul-General in Samoa 1887-90 and 1891-2 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and tomorrow or next day we sail for Manu’a, the least known group about Samoa.

Map of the Manu’a islands, American Samoa. The small islands lie about 70 miles east of Tutuila. The schooner Nukunona sailed on Thursday 2 April but had to turn back to Tutuila. Thereafter the party circumnavigated Tutuila by easy stages in a whale-boat and returned to Apia on Monday 13 April (Cf. Mehew 7, p. 98 n. 3) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

It is a lovely spot, a lovely morning;

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png

we go tonight to a big feast and dance at the next village;

yesterday I walked to the top of the island.

Pago Pago, Tutuila Island, American Samoa [www.cruisemapper.com]

It was desperate hot at first; then it rained cats and dogs; and the road was steep to mount and slippery to descend.

To crown all, when I got to the summit, the valley had twisted so that I could not look back on the bay we had left, and the trees grew so thick on the steep other side that I could catch but glimpses of the further shore and sea. It may be six to eight hundred feet we climbed, in a continuous wood of palms, forest trees, and tree ferns, and crossing and recrossing a stream;

the road a good road for Samoa, but in the upper part of course a mere ladder of roots and rocks.

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“With the great sliding doors wide open in an undershirt and p’jama trousers”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2307.]

To Sidney Colvin [Vailima Letters, 1895, pp. 109-17]


Saturday [21 March 1891]

To-day I have had a queer experience. My carter has from the first been using my horses for his own ends; when I left for Sydney, I put him on his honour to cease, and my back was scarce turned ere he was forfeit. I have only been waiting to discharge him; and to-day an occasion arose. I am so much the old man virulent, so readily stumble into anger, that I gave a deal of consideration to my bearing, and decided at last to imitate that of the late ——. Whatever he might have to say, this eminently effective controversialist maintained a frozen demeanour and a jeering smile. The frozen demeanour is beyond my reach; but I could try the jeering smile; did so, perceived its efficacy, kept in consequence my temper, and got rid of my friend, myself composed and smiling still, he white and shaking like an aspen. He could explain everything; I said it did not interest me. He said he had enemies; I said nothing was more likely. He said he was calumniated; with all my heart, said I, but there are so many liars, that I find it safer to believe them. He said, in justice to himself, he must explain: God forbid I should interfere with you, said I, with the same factitious grin, but it can change nothing. So I kept my temper, rid myself of an unfaithful servant, found a method of conducting similar interviews in the future, and fell in my own liking. One thing more: I learned a fresh tolerance for the dead ——; he too had learned – perhaps had invented – the trick of this manner; God knows what weakness, what instability of feeling, lay beneath. Ce que c’est que de nous; poor human nature; that at past forty I must adjust this hateful mask for the first time, and rejoice to find it effective; that the effort of maintaining an external smile should confuse and embitter a man’s soul.

To-day I have not weeded; I have written instead from six till eleven, from twelve till two; with the interruption of the interview aforesaid; a damned letter is written for the third time; I dread to read it, for I dare not give it a fourth chance – unless it be very bad indeed. Now I write you from my mosquito curtain, to the song of saws

and planes

and hammers, and wood clumping on the floor above;

in a day of heavenly brightness;

a bird twittering near by; my eye, through the open door, commanding green meads, two or three forest trees casting their boughs against the sky, a forest- clad mountain-side beyond, and close in by the door-jamb a nick of the blue Pacific.

View of the Pacific from Vailima, by Joe Strong [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

It is March in England, bleak March, and I lie here with the great sliding doors wide open in an undershirt and p’jama trousers, and melt in the closure of mosquito bars,

RLS working in his bed, Vailima, 1894.

and burn to be out in the breeze. A few torn clouds – not white, the sun has tinged them a warm pink – swim in heaven.

In which blessed and fair day, I have to make faces and speak bitter words to a man – who has deceived me, it is true – but who is poor, and older than I, and a kind of a gentleman too. On the whole, I prefer the massacre of weeds.



When I had done talking to you yesterday, I played on my pipe


till the conch sounded,

then went over to the old house for dinner, and had scarce risen from table ere I was submerged with visitors. The first of these despatched, I spent the rest of the evening going over the Samoan translation of my Bottle Imp

The first serial tale ever read by Samoans in their own language was RLS’s story,The Bottle Imp, in the English form published first in The Herald (Feb-Mar 1891) and Black and White (Mar-Apr 1891), and afterwards in this volume called Island Nights’ Entertainments, 1893.

with Claxton the missionary;

‘The Bottle Imp’, translated into Samoan by the Rev. A.E. Claxton, was published under the title ‘O Le Fagu Aitu’ in O Le Sulu Samoa (The Samoan Torch), the missionary magazine of which he was editor, May-August and October-December 1891 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

then to bed, but being upset, I suppose, by these interruptions, and having gone all day without my weeding, not to sleep. For hours I lay awake and heard the rain fall,

and saw faint, far-away lightning over the sea,

and wrote you long letters which I scorn to reproduce. This morning Paul was unusually early; the dawn had scarce begun when he appeared with the tray and lit my candle; and I had breakfasted and read (with indescribable sinkings) the whole of yesterday’s work before the sun had risen. Then I sat and thought, and sat and better thought. It was not good enough, nor good; it was as slack as journalism, but not so inspired; it was excellent stuff misused, and the defects stood gross on it like humps upon a camel. But could I, in my present disposition, do much more with it? in my present pressure for time, were I not better employed doing another one about as ill, than making this some thousandth fraction better? Yes, I thought; and tried the new one, and behold, I could do nothing: my head swims, words do not come to me, nor phrases, and I accepted defeat, packed up my traps, and turned to communicate the failure to my esteemed correspondent. I think it possible I overworked yesterday. Well, we’ll see to-morrow – perhaps try again later. It is indeed the hope of trying later that keeps me writing to you. If I take to my pipe, I know myself – all is over for the morning. Hurray, I’ll correct proofs!

Pago-Pago, Wednesday [25 March]

After I finished on Sunday I passed a miserable day; went out weeding, but could not find peace. I do not like to steal my dinner, unless I have given myself a holiday in a canonical manner; and weeding after all is only fun, the amount of its utility small, and the thing capable of being done faster and nearly as well by a hired boy. In the evening Sewall came up (American consul) and proposed to take me on a malaga, which I accepted.

Harold Marsh Sewall (1860-1924), American Consul-General in Samoa 1887-90 and 1891-2. A malaga is a boating tour. [https://images.findagrave.com
Pago Pago was a natural harbour on the south coast of the island of Tutuila which had been ceded to the USA by the Samoan in 1878. It later became a US naval station and capital of American Samoa. The purpose of Sewall’s malaga was to purchase land from local chiefs for the establishment of a settlement [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Monday I rode down to Apia, was nearly all day fighting about drafts and money; the silver problem does not touch you, but it is (in a strange and I hope passing phase) making my situation difficult in Apia. About eleven, the flags were all half-masted; it was old Captain Hamilton (Samesoni the natives called him) who had passed away. In the evening I walked round to the U.S. Consulate;

The American Consulate, Apia, Samoa, 1879. Captain Elisha L. Hamilton (1840-1891) had been harbour-master and American vice-consul in Apia [https://natlib.govt.nz]

it was a lovely night with a full moon; and as I got round to the hot corner of Matautu I heard hymns in front.

Apia Harbour, 1914. It is located in Matautu, a village on the central coast of the island to the east of the capital Apia [https://media.tepapa.govt.nz]

The balcony of the dead man’s house was full of women singing; Mary (the widow, a native) sat on a chair by the doorstep, and I was set beside her on a bench, and next to Paul the carpenter; as I sat down I had a glimpse of the old captain, who lay in a sheet on his own table.

Samoan funeral [https://i.ytimg.com]

After the hymn was over, a native pastor made a speech which lasted a long while; the light poured out of the door and windows; the girls were sitting clustered at my feet; it was choking hot. After the speech was ended, Mary carried me within; the captain’s hands were folded on his bosom, his face and head were composed; he looked as if he might speak at any moment; I have never seen this kind of waxwork so express or more venerable;

and when I went away, I was conscious of a certain envy for the man who was out of the battle. All night it ran in my head,

and the next day when we sighted Tutuila, and ran into this beautiful land-locked loch of Pago Pago (whence I write),

Port of Pago Pago, Tutuila [https://americansamoaport.as.gov]

Captain Hamilton’s folded hands and quiet face said a great deal more to me than the scenery.

I am living here in a trader’s house; we have a good table, Sewall doing things in style; and I hope to benefit by the change, and possibly get more stuff for Letters. In the meanwhile, I am seized quite mal-à-propos with desire to write a story, The Bloody Wedding, founded on fact – very possibly true, being an attempt to read a murder case – not yet months old, in this very place and house where I now write.

The Ashburton Guardian, 22 January 1891, with th the news of the murder in Pago Pago of an American sailor from USS Iroquois. Henry Adams induced consul Sewall to investigate the case (See The Letters of Henry Adams III, 11982, pp. 384-6) [https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz]

The indiscretion is what stops me; but if I keep on feeling as I feel just now it will have to be written. Three Star Nettison, Kit Nettison, Field the Sailor, these are the main characters: old Nettison, and the captain of the man of war, the secondary. Possible scenario. Chapter I

[The MS breaks off at the top of the page. RLS’s story was never written.]

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“But I know pleasure still; pleasure with a thousand faces, and none perfect”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2307.]

To Sidney Colvin [Vailima Letters I, 1895, pp. 102-9]

[Vailima] Friday 19 [actually 20] March [1891]

My dear S.C.,

You probably expect that now I am back at Vailima I shall resume the practice of the diary letter. A good deal is changed. We are more; solitude does not attend me as before; the night is passed playing Van John for shells; and, what is not less important, I have just recovered from a severe illness, and am easily tired.

I will give you to-day. I sleep now in one of the lower rooms of the new house, where my wife has recently joined me.

Vailima, watercolor painting by Joe Strong, circa 1891 [https://stevensonmuseum.org]

We have two beds, an empty case for a table, a chair, a tin basin, a bucket and a jug; next door in the dining-room, the carpenters camp on the floor, which is covered with their mosquito nets. Before the sun rises, at 5.45 or 5.50, Paul brings me tea, bread, and a couple of eggs; and by about six I am at work. I work in bed – my bed is of mats, no mattress, sheets, or filth – mats, a pillow, and a blanket – and put in some three hours.

Vailima [https://i.pinimg.com]

It was 9.5 this morning when I set off to the stream-side to my weeding;

Stream in Vailima Botanical Gardens, Upolu, Samoa [https://live.staticflickr.com]

where I toiled, manuring the ground with the best enricher, human sweat, till the conch-shell was blown from our verandah at 10.30.

At eleven we dine; about half-past twelve I tried (by exception) to work again, could make nothing on’t, and by one was on my way to the weeding, where I wrought till three. Half-past five is our next meal, and I read Flaubert’s Letters till the hour came round;


dined, and then, Fanny having a cold, and I being tired, came over to my den in the unfinished house, where I now write to you, to the tune of the carpenters’ voices, and by the light – I crave your pardon – by the twilight of three vile candles filtered through the medium of my mosquito bar.


Bad ink being of the party, I write quite blindfold, and can only hope you may be granted to read that which I am unable to see while writing.

I said I was tired; it is a mild phrase; my back aches like toothache; when I shut my eyes to sleep, I know I shall see before them – a phenomenon to which both Fanny and I are quite accustomed – endless vivid deeps of grass and weed, each plant particular and distinct, so that I shall lie inert in body, and transact for hours the mental part of my day business, choosing the noxious from the useful.


And in my dreams I shall be hauling on recalcitrants, and suffering stings from nettles,


stabs from citron thorns,


fiery bites from ants,

Fire ants, Samoa [www.rnz.co.nz]

sickening resistances of mud and slime, evasions of slimy roots,


dead weight of heat, sudden puffs of air, sudden starts from bird-calls in the contiguous forest – some mimicking my name, some laughter, some the signal of a whistle, and living over again at large the business of my day.

Though I write so little, I pass all my hours of field-work in continual converse and imaginary correspondence. I scarce pull up a weed, but I invent a sentence on the matter to yourself; it does not get written; autant en emportent les vents;

RLS quotes the refrain from one of François Villon’s Ballades des Seigneurs du Temps Jadis, 1461.

but the intent is there, and for me (in some sort) the companionship. To-day, for instance, we had a great talk. I was toiling, the sweat dripping from my nose, in the hot fit after a squall of rain: methought you asked me – frankly, was I happy. Happy (said I); I was only happy once; that was at Hyères;


it came to an end from a variety of reasons, decline of health, change of place, increase of money, age with his stealing steps; since then, as before then, I know not what it means. But I know pleasure still; pleasure with a thousand faces, and none perfect, a thousand tongues all broken, a thousand hands, and all of them with scratching nails. High among these I place this delight of weeding out here alone by the garrulous water, under the silence of the high wood, broken by incongruous sounds of birds.

And take my life all through, look at it fore and back, and upside down, – though I would very fain change myself – I would not change my circumstances, unless it were to bring you here. And yet God knows perhaps this intercourse of writing serves as well; and I wonder, were you here indeed, would I commune so continually with the thought of you. I say I wonder for a form; I know, and I know I should not.

So far and much further, the conversation went, while I groped in slime after viscous roots, nursing and sparing little spears of grass, and retreating (even with outcry) from the prod of the wild lime.

Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) [www.susanleachsnyder.com]

I wonder if any one had ever the same attitude to Nature as I hold, and have held for so long? This business fascinates me like a tune or a passion; yet all the while I thrill with a strong distaste. The horror of the thing, objective and subjective, is always present to my mind; the horror of creeping things, a superstitious horror of the void and the powers about me, the horror of my own devastation and continual murders. The life of the plants comes through my fingertips, their struggles go to my heart like supplications. I feel myself blood-boltered; then I look back on my cleared grass, and count myself an ally in a fair quarrel, and make stout my heart.

It is but a little while since I lay sick in Sydney, beating the fields about the navy and Dean Swift

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and Dryden’s Latin hymns;

In his Life of Dryden, 1808, Sir Walter Scott attributed to him translations of two Latin hymns, Te Deum and Hymn for St John’s Eve. There is no evidense for the attribution.

judge if I love this reinvigorating climate, where I can already toil till my head swims and every string in the poor jumping Jack

A late 19th century ‘Jumping Jack’ toy, UK [https://image.invaluable.com]

(as he now lies in bed) aches with a kind of yearning strain, difficult to suffer in quiescence. As for my damned literature,

RLS’s manuscript of his South Seas Diary [https://stevensonmuseum.org]

God knows what a business it is, grinding along without a scrap of inspiration or a note of style. But it has to be ground, and the mill grinds exceeding slowly though not particularly small. The last two chapters have taken me considerably over a month, and they are still beneath pity. This I cannot continue, time not sufficing; and the next will just have to be worse. All the good I can express is just this; some day, when style revisits me, they will be excellent matter to rewrite. Of course, my old cure of a change of work would probably answer, but I cannot take it now. The treadmill turns; and, with a kind of desperate cheerfulness, I mount the idle stair. I haven’t the least anxiety about the book; unless I die, I shall find the time to make it good;


but the Lord deliver me from the thought of the Letters! However, the Lord has other things on hand; and about six to-morrow, I shall resume the consideration practically, and face (as best I may) the fact of my incompetence and disaffection to the task. Toil I do not spare; but fortune refuses me success. We can do more, Whatever-his-name-was, we can deserve it. But my misdesert began long since, by the acceptation of a bargain quite unsuitable to all my methods.

[To be continued.]

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“The gentleman I now serve with assures me you are a very pretty fellow and your letter deserves to be remarked”

In 1890, on first becoming acquainted with Kipling’s Soldiers Three, RLS had written off his congratulations red-hot, addressing Thomas Mulvaney, the irrepressible Irish private soldier in Kipling’s bovel: ‘Well and indeed, Mr. Mulvaney, but it’s as good as meat to meet in with you, sir. They tell me it was a man of the name of Kipling made ye; but indeed and they can’t fool me; it was the Lord God Almighty that made you.’ Taking the cue thus offered, Kipling had written back in the character of his own Irishman, Mulvaney, addressing RLS’s Kidnapped Highlander, Alan Breck Stewart. In the following letter Alan Breck is made to reply. ‘The gentleman I now serve with’ means, of course, RLS himself.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2306.]

To Rudyard Kipling [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 271-3]

[Vailima, ? March 1891]


I cannot call to mind having written you, but I am so throng with occupation this may have fallen aside. I never heard tell I had any friends in Ireland, and I am led to understand you are come of no considerable family.


The gentleman I now serve with assures me, however, you are a very pretty fellow and your letter deserves to be remarked. It’s true he is himself a man of a very low descent upon the one side; though upon the other he counts cousinship with a gentleman, my very good friend, the late Mr. Balfour of the Shaws, in the Lothian; which I should be wanting in good fellowship to forget.

Statue of Alan Breck and David Balfour, the heroes in RLS’s novel, “Kidnapped”, by the sculptor Sandy Stoddart. It stands on the N side of Corstorphine Road near ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ where they parted at the end of the novel. Alan Breck is based on a historical character and novel set around real events [https://upload.wikimedia.orgg]

He tells me besides you are a man of your hands; I am not informed of your weapon; but if all be true it sticks in my mind I would be ready to make exception in your favour, and meet you like one gentleman with another. I suppose this’ll be your purpose in your favour, which I could very ill make out; it’s one I would be sweir to baulk you of. It seems, Mr. McIlvaine, which I take to be your name, you are in the household of a gentleman of the name of Coupling: for whom my friend is very much engaged.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) in about 1890 [www.english-heritage.org.uk]

The distances being very uncommodious, I think it will be maybe better if we leave it to these two to settle all that’s necessary to honour. I would have you to take heed it’s a very unusual condescension on my part, that bear a King’s name;

James II King of England and Ireland and VII of Scotland (1633-1701) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and for the matter of that I think shame to be mingled with a person of the name of Coupling, which is doubtless a very good house but one I never heard tell of, any more than Stevenson. But your purpose being laudable, I would be sorry (as the word goes) to cut off my nose to spite my face. – I am, Sir, your humble servant,

A. Stewart,

Chevalier de St. Louis

To Mr. M’Ilvaine,

Gentleman Private in a foot regiment,

under cover to Mr. Coupling.

He has read me some of your Barrack Room Ballants,

Kipling’s collection of poems, Barrack-Room Ballads, had been first published in 4 volumes of The Scots Observer, 1890, and Lloyd had recently taken them with him on his return from England. The poems became a book two years later.

which are not of so noble a strain as some of mine in the Gaelic,

RLS, Underwoods, 1887, list of the poems in Scots.

but I could set some of them to the pipes if this rencounter goes as it’s to be desired.

A small collection of songs supposedly sung in the Barracks with words by Rudyard Kipling.

Let’s first, as I understand you to move, do each other this rational courtesy; and if either will survive, we may grow better acquaint. For your tastes for what’s martial and for poetry agree with mine.


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“Farther from the inviolate island than even Shelley”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2304.]

To Lady Shelley

[Glynn Grylls, Mary Shelley, 1938, pp. 294-5]

S.S. Lübeck, between Sydney and Samoa [Late February 1891]

My dear Lady Shelley,

I have long been wishing to write you a decent letter, and like the most of such wishes, in my case at least – it will very likely never be fulfilled. I can’t think of anything that would have given me greater pleasure than the revolvers from the Oceana.

RLS dictating to his stepdaughter Belle, Vailima 1894. On the wall, his collection of revolvers.
Lady Shelley, Jane St John, née Gibson (1820-1899), the widow of Sir Percy Florence Shelley, had given the revolvers to Lloyd when she had recently met him in Bournemouth. The Oceana was Sir Percy Florence Shelley’s schooner yacht [http://shelleysghost.bodleian.ox.ac.uk]

Lloyd has had them all marked with my name and the name of the donors; they shall stand in my house I hope forever, and as long as any of us continue to go in and out, they will call to mind far away places and loved faces. I was glad too to get your letter, and to see how faithfully and wisely you have borne your loss.

Sir Percy Florence Shelley (1819-1889), the poet’s son. He was buried in the family vault in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth, reputedly with the heart of his father alongside him. In that vault, in addition to the patrilineal family, lie the remains of his maternal grandparents, namely Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin [www.findagrave.com]
Wollstonecraft-Shelley grave in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth. The son of the poet was buried with the heart of his father alongside him [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

These survivals are not, after all, for so long. You ask me to visit you, dear lady, it is still a race between us for the goal; but if I prove the laggard and do by any chance ever return to England, the visit shall be paid. It is more likely I shall lie, as I shall live, in Upolu, farther from the inviolate island than even Shelley; the farthest, I suppose, of all that ever blackened paper with printed English words. – I would like exceedingly to visit you today at Boscombe,

Shelley House, Boscombe, Bournemouth. From 1848, Shelley Manor was the private abode and performing home to the Shelley family.  Sir Percy Florence Shelley bought Boscombe Cottage renaming the house Boscombe Manor. His mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was in ill health, and had been recommended the the mild climate and sea air of Bournemouth,  so he hoped to create a retirement home for her final years. Sadly, Mary died before work on the house was finished.  Sir Percy and his wife, Lady Shelley, took up residence instead. [http://shelleytheatre.co.uk]
Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth, is now the last remaining building in UK with direct links to the Shelleys, and the theatre itself is a rare and valuable example of a mid-Victorian private theatre [http://shelleytheatre.co.uk]

come into the long drawing room, go up the stairs in the conservatory and sit awhile to speak with you in the shrine;

Heritage plaque at Boscombe Manor House, Shelley Park, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset, UK.

but I would not stop for lunch; for then I should see the empty place to which I have not yet become the least accustomed – and when lunch was over, how could I go into the green room alone? No, it is perhaps better to stay where I am, and look at my pistols where both names are engraved, and think of you, as I have known you, undivided.

I am so glad Sir Percy saw the Master; I little thought what a strange second sense, BRD would come to bear;

Dedication of The Master of Ballantrae. The acronym B.R.D. is the international signalling code for ‘adieu’ [Mehew 7, p. 89 n. 3]

well, we all fly it, and the night is at hand. I have just had an acute attack in Sydney and got off with some difficulty for my more congenial island, there I trust to be all right again – for a while. Our place promises to be most beautiful, six hundred feet above the sea, part on the slope of a steep mountain, part on a kind of table land cut through by the deep beds of streams. All is in forest.

Distant view of Vailima (second wing completed) with the second wing completed in 1893. Family group to right foreground includes RLS, Lloyd, Fanny, Belle and Graham Balfour; a few Samoans are with them and another group of Samoans in foreground.

We can see the ships entering and leaving the port of Apia at our feet; if they lie far out and have tall spars, we can even see them rolling at anchor in the roads; some fifty miles of blue Pacific lies outspread in front of us; and on the left the view is inclosed by some green mountains six or eight miles to the eastward.

Sea view from Vaoala, near Vailima, Upolu, Samoa [https://scontent-mxp1-1.xx.fbcdn.net]

When I left, my wife and I had been for months toiling very hard and living very meagrely in a sort of shanty; a very resonant place in rains, and a very draughty one in wind, of both of which we had plenty.

(I should say the ship is rolling very hard, which must explain my handwriting; I dare not set the inkpot on the table – and my pen describes some singular evolutions in which I have no share; the letter was begun some days ago when it was smooth.) I was glad to hear of the Shelley Memorial. An idea strikes me; how would it be to put upon it for epigraph [sic] the splendid verse; ‘The inheritors of unfulfilled renown’ – I forget how the phrase finishes, but I know it is apposite and beautiful, and means something like ‘arose to greet him’. I do not like to put my oar in; but I shall make an alternative suggestion from the same poem, the stanza about life and death and the glass being trampled. Either of these would be excellent; but give me ‘the inheritors’.

Percy Bysshe Shelly’s memorial at University College, Oxford, by Edward Obslow Ford. The statue was commissioned by Shelley’s daughter-in-law, Lady Shelley. It was originally intended to be located over the poet’s grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, at the request of Edward John Trelawny (1792-1881), a friend of Shelley, who wanted to have a monument of the poet next to his own. However, Trelawny’s descendants thought that Ford’s statue was too large and thus did not consent to his wishes. Eventually the statue ended up at University College, donated by Lady Shelley, with a formal opening ceremony on 14 June 1893 [https://www.tate.org.uk]
Percy Bysshe Shelly’s memorial at University College, Oxford [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
The quotations suggested by RLS came from Shelley’s ‘Adonais, An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’, stanzas XLV and LII.
Ultimately chosen were the opening lines of stanza XLII, cf. Mehew 7, p. 90 n. 5.

This dreadful ink so runs [?] and sticks, I doubt if one word will be legible by the time this reaches you. I hope enough will remain to testify to the warm affection with which I sign myself Your friend

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“Better a finger aff as aye waggin”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 7, 2303.]

To Charles Baxter

[Baxter Letters, pp. 276-8; www.hathitrust.org]

S.S. Lübeck at sea [Late February 1891]

My dear Charles,

Perhaps in my old days I do grow irascible – “the old man virulent” has long been my pet name for myself – and I daresay you were inclined to exclaim at my surprising outburst from Apia. Well, the temper is at least all gone now. Time is good at lowering these distemperatures; far better is a sharp sickness, and I am just (and scarce) afoot again after a smoking hot little malady at Sydney. And the temper being gone, I still think the same. “Better a finger aff as aye waggin’.” For some years it has been rather a one-sided friendship.

William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). In 1888 RLS’s old friend had accused Fanny of plagiarizing a story from Katharine De Mattos’s own. RLS had taken his wife’s side, hurting Katharine’s feelings and alienating himself from Henley [http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk]

I have had few occasions to speak well of him; I am sure I have lost none. I know of more than one that he has had, and seized, to speak not well of me; and even at the antipodes these things leak put at last. You will tell me he does not mean them, that he talks much and loud, that his bark etc. That was all very well when our friendship stood upon four legs; in those days I let him roar his fill like the young lions.

Portrait of W.E. Henley, by A. Rodin, 1884-1886 [www.victorianweb.org]

When (thanks to another, not to him) it began to stand on three, a different bearing was required. Since then I have spoken of him with Lloyd often, he will have told you how; and I have written of him to you, to no one else: these were priviledged communications. He has not confined himself to such. During the same period we have had not much occasion to serve each other; I do not believe that we have either of us lost many; I do not think so meanly either of him or me. Then he had an occasion: he had not long before lost his mother, I had lost my father, she her husband; she went to a desolate home, where you attended, helped, and comforted her like my good trusty friend;

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1897). RLS’s mother had just come back from Edinburgh after arranging the sale of 17 Heriot Row [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
The original furniture of the Stevenson House, 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh [http://library.sc.edu]

he never paid her a call. I may be wrong, but if this be friendship, I prefer the other thing. We have not our parents for ever; we are never very good to them; when they go, and we have lost our front file man, we begin to feel all our neglects mighty sensibly. I propose a proposal. My mother is here on board with me; today for once, I mean to make her as happy as I am able, and to do that which I know she likes; you, on the other hand, go and see your father, and do ditto, and give him a real good hour or two. We shall both be glad hereafter. I send your father my love – in no merely verbal sense; charming old gentleman, I wish I could see his clever face!

As for Henley, what a miss I have of him. The charm, the wit, the vigour of the man haunt my memory; my past is all full of his big presence and his welcome, wooden footstep.

William Ernest Henley, c. 1890. From the age of 12, he suffered from tuberculosis of the bone that resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee in 1868–69. The idea for the character of Long John Silver was inspired by him [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

Let it be a past henceforward: a beloved past, without continuation. I had a letter from him the other day in which he signed himself “my old friend”. I accept the phrase: I am his old friend; I was, not am, his friend. The affair is ended, the record closed, without ill will on my side and without irritation. I believe I see him without prejudice; I believe I know what arguments he can bring forward in his own defence. They leave me very cold, for this reason: that I do not think he should have argued. But I grant them valid, a fair set off. He may win the cause then; I am quite satisfied if I lose the half friend. The only pity is it was not earlier.

Thence I turn to the more cheerful subject of pipes. The pipe sent, a Bohem flageolet, is awfully difficult, and its difficulty was not lightened by the fact that the tutor was all wrong. However I have made it all out, and it has a mighty pretty note, far better than a piccolo, above all in the low notes.

RLS playing his flageolet while visiting Hawaii, 1889. The Boehm-system flageolet was the most advanced French flageolet manufactured and is the closest the flageolet came to be developed into a modern orchestral instrument. Whilst most authors refer to this type of instrument as “Boehm-system”, it not clear who developed it. Although Theobald Boehm (1794-1881), the inventor of the Boehm-system, is a possibility since he may have played the flageolet in his early life, the system is perhaps too far removed from that of the Boehm-system flute to be his invention. A more likely candidate might be Jean-Louis Buffet (1813-1865) or his father, Auguste (1789-1864), since many surviving instruments were made by the Buffet-Crampon company and Auguste Buffet carried out much of the work on adapting the Boehm-system to the clarinet. The Boehm-system is usually thought of as aiming to ensure that the tone holes for each note are in the acoustically optimal places and are at the acoustically optimal size, improve the “venting” of the instrument by keeping all tone holes open below the lowest note that is being played, simplify fingering by reducing the number of notes which have to be cross-fingered.
In order to achieve the above, this type of flageolet has considerably more keys than most French flageolets: usually 13 in total; and, with the exception of three keys around the windway, each key is far more elaborate than those that appear on other instruments. Compared to the flute, the benefits of the additional keywork are not so apparent: flageolet tone-holes tend to be very small in any event and a certain amount of cross-fingering is inevitable. However, the simplification of some fingering is very helpful and the Boehm-system flageolet has greater power than other versions of the instruments. Most Boehm-system flageolets are slightly longer than normal French flageolets. Two keys allow the playing of a low G and G♯ without with performer putting his little-finger into the bell of the instrument. The low G is particularly useful since this opens up much music written for the flute or recorder which otherwise cannot satisfactorily be played [https://upload.wikimedia.org; http://www..flageolets.comarticles]

I wish you to order me another, and two cases – no case was sent with the last, and two turnscrews – no turnscrew was sent, and a packet of pads; also two mother-of-pearl mouthpieces; I live in endless fear of breaking a spring and being silenced. Should you see any easy and good flute duets, you (or your friend) might send them also; for I can usually take the upper part, and the ordinary D flute-flageolet can generally take the second, and so we have music.

“A Night in Vailima”, A-Major Duet in Three, by RLS.

Please remember always to register when you write; masses of my letters are lost and masses of yours: Sydney is a jawhole. For instance – I need not bother with instances: such is the grim fact, and must still be borne in mind.

Yours ever,


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“Terra marique per pericula per ardua”

RLS was on his way back from Sydney to Samoa, having received proofs of some of his South Sea chapters.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2302.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 280-3]

[On board S.S. Lübeck between Sydney and Apia, 25 February 1891]

My dear Colvin,

The Janet Nicoll stuff was rather worse than I had looked for; you have picked out all that is fit to stand, bar two others (which I don’t dislike) – the ‘Port of Entry’ and the ‘House of Temoana’;

Sidney Colvin had commented on the first 15 of the South Seas letters privately printed as The South Seas in 1890. The references are to chapters VIII and IX of the published edition (here the contents of the second edition by E. Gosse, 1908).

that is for a present opinion; I may condemn these also ere I have done. By this time you should have another Marquesan letter, the worst of the lot, I think; and seven Paumotu letters, which are not far out of the vein, as I wish it;

The additional Marquesas letter is ‘The Two Chiefs of Atuona’, published as chapter XV in 1896.

I am in hopes the Hawaiian stuff is better yet: time will show, and time will make perfect. Is something of this sort practicable for the dedication?






‘Tis a first shot concocted this morning in my berth: I had always before been trying it in English, which insisted on being either insignificant or fulsome: I cannot think of a better word than comes, there being not the shadow of a Latin book on board; yet sure there is some other. Then viator (though it sounds all right) is doubtful; it has too much, perhaps, the sense of wayfarer? Last, will it mark sufficiently that I mean my wife? And first, how about blunders? I scarce wish it longer.

RLS and Fanny, Samoa, 1889-90.

Have had a swingeing sharp attack in Sydney; beating the fields for two nights, Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday was brought on board, tel quel, a wonderful wreck; and now, Wednesday week, am a good deal picked up, but yet not quite a Samson, being still groggy afoot and vague in the head. My chess, for instance, which is usually a pretty strong game, and defies all rivalry aboard, is vacillating, devoid of resource and observation, and hitherto not covered with customary laurels.

RLS’s travelling chess set, Beinecke Collection, Yale [https://pbs.twimg.com/]

As for work, it is impossible. We shall be in the saddle before long, no doubt, and the pen once more couched. You must not expect a letter under these circumstances, but be very thankful for a note. Once at Samoa, I shall try to resume my late excellent habits, and delight you with journals, you unaccustomed, I unaccustomed; but it is never too late to mend.

It is vastly annoying that I cannot go even to Sydney without an attack; and heaven knows my life was anodyne. I only once dined with anybody; at the club with Wise;

Bernhard Ringrose Wise (1858-1916), Sydney lawyer and politician [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

worked all morning – a terrible dead pull; a month only produced the imperfect embryos of two chapters; lunched in the boarding-house, played on my pipe;

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, unfinished but opened and dedicated, 1882. RLS was living nearby, at Mrs Leaney’s, 6 St Mary’s Terrace. [https://www.stmaryscathedral.org.au]

went out and did some of my messages; dined at a French restaurant,

The City of Sydney, 1888 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and returned to play draughts,

Faed, Thomas (1826-1900), A Game of Draughts [www.artuk.org]


Illustration by George Hunt, 1820-45 [www.toonry.com]

or Van John with my family.

Twenty-One card game was colloquially known as “Van John” [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

This makes a cheery life after Samoa; but it isn’t what you call burning the candle at both ends, is it?

(It appears to me not one word of this letter will be legible by the time I am done with it, this dreadful ink rubs off.) […]

I have a strange kind of novel under construction; it begins about 1660 and ends 1830, or perhaps I may continue it to 1875 or so, with another life. One, two, three, four, five, six generations, perhaps seven, figure, therein; two of my old stories, ‘Delafield’ and ‘Shovel,’ are incorporated; it is to be told in the third person, with some of the brevity of history, some of the detail of romance. The Shovels of Newton French will be the name. The idea is an old one; it was brought to birth by an accident; a friend in the islands who picked up F. Jenkin,

RLS’s Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin, prefixed to Papers Literary, Scientific, etc., by the late Fleeming Jenkin, F.R.S., LL.D., 1887. The first chapters consist of a genealogical history of the family. This, to Colvin’s mind was one of the best works of RLS. Of Delafield Colvin never heard again; the plan of Shovel, 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.

read a part, and said: ‘Do you know, that’s a strange book? I like it; I don’t believe the public will; but I like it.’ He thought it was a novel! ‘Very well,’ said I, ‘we’ll see whether the public will like it or not; they shall have the chance.’ – Yours […]


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“What a tongue it would be to write, if one only knew it – and there were only readers!”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 7, 2295.]

This is the first appearance in RLS’s letters of the Swedish Chief Justice of Samoa, Conrad Cedarcrantz, of whom we shall hear enough and more than enough in the sequel.

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 273-7]

SS. Lübeck, between Apia and Sydney,

Jan. 17th, 1891.

My dear Colvin,

The Faamasino Sili, or Chief Justice, to speak your low language, has arrived.

Otto Conrad Waldemar Cedarcrantz (1854-1932). The king of Sweden, Oscar II, had been asked by the governments of Germany, Britain and the US to appoint a Chief Justice in the Samoa Islands. Cedarcrantz was appointed on October 3, 1890. He is said to have worked to protect the Samoans from abuse, but he resigned after only three years [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I had ridden down with Henry and Lafaele; the sun was down, the night was close at hand, so we rode fast;


just as I came to the corner of the road before Apia, I heard a gun fire; and lo, there was a great crowd at the end of the pier, and the troops out, and a chief or two in the height of Samoa finery, and Seumanu coming in his boat (the oarsmen all in uniform),

Seumanutafa Pogai, c. 1890 [https://media.tepapa.govt.nzw]

bringing the Faamasino Sili sure enough. It was lucky he was no longer; the natives would not have waited many weeks. But think of it, as I sat in the saddle at the outside of the crowd (looking, the English consul said, as if I were commanding the manoeuvres),

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

I was nearly knocked down by a stampede of the three consuls; they had been waiting their guest at the Matafele end, and some wretched intrigue among the whites had brought him to Apia, and the consuls had to run all the length of the town and come too late.

The American, British and German consuls of Samoa, 1890-1898 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The next day was a long one; I was at a marriage of Gurr the banker

Edwin William Gurr (1863-1933) was born in Tasmania and educated in New Zealand. He had qualified as a barrister in Samoa. In 1892 he became Natives’ Advocate on the Land Commission. In 1924 became one of the leader of the Samoan Mau movements opposing the New Zealand administration. For these activities he was deported by the New Zealand Governor in 1928 for 5 years. The marriage with Fanua, the adopted daughter of Samoan Chief Seumanutafa, took place at the British Consulate and RLS made a speech at the wedding breakfast (cf. Mehew 7, p. 76 n. 1) [https://tree-portraits-pgp.familysearchcdn.org]

to Fanua, the virgin of Apia […].

Fanuaea Eleitino Katopau (1872-1917) became a close friend of Belle’s and was a great favourite at Vailima where she and her husband were frequent visitors (Cf. mehew 7, p. 76 n. 1) [https://tree-portraits-pgp.familysearchcdn.org]

Bride and bridesmaids were all in the old high dress […]; the ladies were all native; the men, with the exception of Seumanu, all white. It was quite a pleasant party,

and while we were waiting, we had a bird’s-eye view of the public reception of the Chief Justice. The best part of it were some natives in war array;

with blacked faces, turbans, tapa kilts, and guns, they looked very manly and purposelike. No, the best part was poor old drunken Joe, the Portuguese boatman, who seemed to think himself specially charged with the reception, and ended by falling on his knees before the Chief Justice on the end of the pier and in full view of the whole town and bay. The natives pelted him with rotten bananas; how the Chief Justice took it I was too far off to see; but it was highly absurd.

I have commemorated my genial hopes for the regimen of the Faamasino Sili in the following canine verses, which, if you at all guess how to read them, are very pretty in movement, and (unless he be a mighty good man) too true in sense.

We’re quarrelling, the villages, we’ve beaten the wooden drums,

Sa femisai o nu’u, sa taia o pate,

Is confounded thereby the justice,

Ua atuatuvale a le faamasino e,

The chief justice, the terrified justice,

Le faamasino sili, le faamasino se,

Is on the point of running away the justice,

O le a solasola le faamasino e,

The justice denied any influence, the terrified justice,

O le faamasino le ai, a, le faamasino se,

O le a solasola le faamasino e.

Well, after this excursion into tongues that have never been alive – though I assure you we have one capital book in the language, a book of fables by an old missionary of the unpromising name of Pratt, which is simply the best and the most literary version of the fables known to me.

The Revd George Pratt (1817-94) arrived in Samoa in 1839 and worked as a missionary until 1879, when he retired to Sydney. He translated the Bible into Samoan in 1862.
RLS’s copy of Pratt’s Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, 3rd edition, is at Yale and his copy of Pratt’s Fables from Many Lands translated into Samoan (Religious Tract Society, 1890) is at Princeton.

I suppose I should except La Fontaine, but L.F. takes a long time; these are brief as the books of our childhood, and full of wit and literary colour; and O, Colvin, what a tongue it would be to write, if one only knew it – and there were only readers. Its curse in common use is an incredible left-handed wordiness; but in the hands of a man like Pratt it is succinct as Latin, compact of long rolling polysyllables and little and often pithy particles, and for beauty of sound a dream. Listen, I quote from Pratt – this is good Samoan, not canine –

               1    2       3              4    1

O le afa, ua taalili ai le ulu vao, ua pa mai le faititili.

1 almost wa, 2 the two a’s just distinguished, 3 the ai is practically suffixed to the verb, 4 almost vow.

[The storm shook the hair of the woods, burst hither the thunder] […]

The excursion has prolonged itself. I started by the Lübeck to meet Lloyd and my mother; there were many reasons for and against; the main reason against was the leaving of Fanny alone in her blessed cabin, which has been somewhat remedied by my carter, Mr. [Hay], putting up in the stable and messing with her; but perhaps desire of change decided me not well, though I do think I ought to see an oculist, being very blind indeed, and sometimes unable to read. Anyway I left, the only cabin passenger, four and a kid in the second cabin, and a dear voyage it had like to have proved. Close to Fiji (choose a worse place on the map)

we broke our shaft early one morning; and when or where we might expect to fetch land or meet with any ship, I would like you to tell me. The Pacific is absolutely desert. I have sailed there now some years; and scarce ever seen a ship except in port or close by; I think twice. It was the hurricane season besides, and hurricane waters. Well, our chief engineer got the shaft – it was the middle crank shaft – mended;

Period cutaway diagram of a triple-expansion steam engine installation, circa 1918 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

thrice it was mended, and twice broke down; but now keeps up – only we dare not stop, for it is almost impossible to start again. The captain in the meanwhile crowded her with sail; fifteen sails in all, every stay being gratified with a stay-sail,

The names and locations of sails, 1853 [https://cnx.org]

a boat-boom sent aloft for a maintopgallant yard, and the derrick of a crane brought in service as bowsprit.

The derrick of a crane brought in service as bowsprit [https://maritime.org]

All the time we have had a fine, fair wind and a smooth sea; to-day at noon our run was 203 miles (if you please!), and we are within some 360 miles of Sydney. Probably there has never been a more gallant success; and I can say honestly it was well worked for. No flurry, no high words, no long faces; only hard work and honest thought; a pleasant, manly business to be present at. All the chances were we might have been six weeks – ay, or three months at sea – or never turned up at all, and now it looks as though we should reach our destination some five days too late.

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