[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2158.]
To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 138-9]
Honolulu, [postmark 12] April 1889
My dear Charles,
As usual, your letter is as good as a cordial, and I thank you for it, and all your care, kindness, and generous and thoughtful friendship, from my heart. I was truly glad to hear a word of Colvin, whose long silence has terrified me; and glad to hear that you condoned the notion of my staying longer in the South Seas, for I have decided in that sense.
The first idea was to go in the Morning Star, missionary ship;
but now I have found a trading schooner, the Equator, which is to call for me here early […] in June
and carry us through the Gilberts.
What will happen then, the Lord knows. My mother does not accompany us:
she leaves here for home early in May, and you will hear of us from her; but not, I imagine, anything more definite. We shall get dumped on Butaritari,
and whether we manage to go on to the Marshalls and Carolines,
or whether we fall back on Samoa,
Heaven must decide; but I mean to fetch back into the course of the Richmond – (to think you don’t know what the Richmond is!- the steamer of the Eastern South Seas, joining New Zealand, Tonga-tabu, the Samoas, Taheite, and Rarotonga,
and carrying by last advices sheep in the saloon!)
– into the course of the Richmond and make Tahiti again on the home track. […]
[…] Would I like to see the Scots Observer?
Wouldn’t I not? But whaur? I’m direckit at space. They have nae post offishes at the Gilberts, and as for the Car’lines! Ye see, Mr. Baxter, we’re no just in the punkshewal centre o’ civ’lisation. But pile them up for me, and when I’ve decided on an address, I’ll let you ken, and ye’ll can send them stavin’ after me.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2154.]
To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 134-8]
Honolulu, April 6th, 1889
My dear Miss Boodle,
[…] Nobody writes a better letter than my Gamekeeper: so gay, so pleasant, so engagingly particular, answering (by some delicate instinct) all the questions she suggests.
It is a shame you should get such a poor return as I can make, from a mind essentially and originally incapable of the art epistolary. I would let the paper-cutter take my place;
but I am sorry to say the little wooden seaman did after the manner of seamen, and deserted in the Societies. The place he seems to have stayed at – seems, for his absence was not observed till we were near the Equator – was Tautira, and, I assure you, he displayed good taste, Tautira being as ‘nigh hand heaven’ as a paper-cutter or anybody has a right to expect.
I think all our friends will be very angry with us, and I give the grounds of their probable displeasure bluntly – we are not coming home for another year. My mother returns next month.
Fanny, Lloyd, and I push on again among the islands on a trading schooner, the Equator –
first for the Gilbert group, which we shall have an opportunity to explore thoroughly; then, if occasion serve, to the Marshalls and Carolines; and if occasion (or money) fail, to Samoa, and back to Tahiti.
I own we are deserters, but we have excuses. You cannot conceive how these climates agree with the wretched house-plant of Skerryvore: he wonders to find himself sea-bathing, and cutting about the world loose, like a grown-up person.
They agree with Fanny too, who does not suffer from her rheumatism, and with Lloyd also.
And the interest of the islands is endless; and the sea, though I own it is a fearsome place, is very delightful.
but this trading schooner is a far preferable idea, giving us more time and a thousandfold more liberty, so we determined to cut off the missionaries with a shilling.
The Sandwich Islands do not interest us very much;
we live here, oppressed with civilisation, and look for good things in the future. But it would surprise you if you came out to-night from Honolulu (all shining with electric lights, and all in a bustle from the arrival of the mail, which is to carry you these lines)
and crossed the long wooden causeway along the beach,
and came out on the road through Kapiolani park,
and seeing a gate in the palings, with a tub of gold-fish by the wayside,
entered casually in. The buildings stand in three groups by the edge of the beach,
where an angry little spitfire sea continually spirts and thrashes with impotent irascibility, the big seas breaking further out upon the reef.
The first is a small house, with a very large summer parlour, or lanai, as they call it here, roofed, but practically open. There you will find the lamps burning and the family sitting about the table, dinner just done: my mother, my wife, Lloyd, Belle, my wife’s daughter […], Austin her child, and to-night (by way of rarity) a guest.
All about the walls our South Sea curiosities, war clubs, idols, pearl shells, stone axes, etc.;
and the walls are only a small part of a lanai, the rest being glazed or latticed windows, or mere open space. You will see there no sign of the Squire, however; and being a person of a humane disposition, you will only glance in over the balcony railing at the merry-makers in the summer parlour,
and proceed further afield after the Exile. You look round, there is beautiful green turf,
many trees of an outlandish sort that drop thorns – look out if your feet are bare;
but I beg your pardon, you have not been long enough in the South Seas – and many oleanders in full flower.
The next group of buildings is ramshackle, and quite dark; you make out a coach-house door, and look in – only some cocoanuts;
you try round to the left and come to the sea front, where Venus and the moon are making luminous tracks on the water, and a great swell rolls and shines on the outer reef;
and here is another door – all these places open from the outside – and you go in, and find photography, tubs of water, negatives steeping, a tap, and a chair and an ink-bottle, where my wife is supposed to write; round a little further, a third door, entering which you find a picture […] upon the easel and a table sticky with paints;
fourth door admits you to a sort of court, where there is a hen sitting – I believe on a fallacious egg.
No sign of the Squire in all this. But right opposite the studio door you have observed a third little house, from whose open door lamplight streams and makes hay of the strong moonlight shadows. You had supposed it made no part of the grounds, for a fence runs round it lined with oleander;
but as the Squire is nowhere else, is it not just possible he may be here? It is a grim little wooden shanty; cobwebs bedeck it;
friendly mice inhabit its recesses;
the mailed cockroach walks upon the wall;
so also, I regret to say, the scorpion.
Herein are two pallet beds, two mosquito curtains, strung to the pitch-boards of the roof, two tables laden with books and manuscripts, three chairs, and, in one of the beds, the Squire busy writing to yourself, as it chances, and just at this moment somewhat bitten by mosquitoes.
He has just set fire to the insect powder,
and will be all right in no time; but just now he contemplates large white blisters, and would like to scratch them, but knows better. The house is not bare; it has been inhabited by Kanakas, and you know what children are! the bare wood walls are pasted over with pages from the Graphic, Harper’s Weekly, etc.
The floor is matted, and I am bound to say the matting is filthy. There are two windows and two doors, one of which is condemned; on the panels of that last a sheet of paper is pinned up, and covered with writing. I cull a few plums: –
‘A duck-hammock for each person.
A patent organ like the commandant’s at Taiohae.
Cheap and bad cigars for presents.
Permanganate of potass.
Liniment for the head and sulphur.
What do you think this is? Simply life in the South Seas foreshortened. These are a few of our desiderata for the next trip, which we jot down as they occur.
There, I have really done my best and tried to send something like a letter – one letter in return for all your dozens. Pray remember us all to yourself, Mrs. Boodle, and the rest of your house […]. I do hope your mother will be better when this comes. I shall write and give you a new address when I have made up my mind as to the most probable, and I do beg you will continue to write from time to time and give us airs from home. […] Tomorrow – think of it – I must be off by a quarter to eight to drive in to the palace and breakfast with his Hawaiian Majesty at 8.30: I shall be dead indeed.
Please give my news to Scott, I trust he is better; give him my warm regards. To you we all send all kinds of things, and I am the absentee Squire,
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2153.]
To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 132-4]
[Honolulu, c. 2 April 1889]
My dear Burlingame,
This is to announce the most prodigious change of programme. I have seen so much of the South Seas that I desire to see more, and I get so much health here that I dread a return to our vile climates. I have applied accordingly to the missionary folk to let me go round in the MorningStar;
and if the Boston Board should refuse, I shall get somehow to Fiji, hire a trading schooner, and see the Fijis and Friendlies and Samoa. He would be a South Seayer, Mr. Burlingame. Of course, if I go in the Morning Star, I see all the eastern (or western?) islands.
Before I sail, I shall make out to let you have the last of The Master: though I tell you it sticks! – and I hope to have had some proofs forbye, of the verses anyway. And now to business.
I want (if you can find them) in the British sixpenny edition, if not, in some equally compact and portable shape – Seaside Library, for instance – the Waverley Novels entire, or as entire as you can get ’em,
and the following of Marryat: Phantom Ship,
Children of the New Forest,
Dog Fiend (Snarleyyow).
Also Midshipman Easy,
Carlyle’s French Revolution,
Motley’s Dutch Republic,
Lang’s Letters on Literature,
a complete set of my works, Jenkin, in duplicate;
also Familiar Studies, ditto.
I have to thank you for the accounts, which are satisfactory indeed, and for the cheque for $1000. Another account will have come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate in colour.
Another account will have come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate in colour. I am quite worked out, and this cursed end of The Master hangs over me like the arm of the gallows;
but it is always darkest before dawn, and no doubt the clouds will soon rise;
but it is a difficult thing to write, above all in
Mackellarese; and I cannot yet see my way clear. If I pull this off, The Master will be a pretty good novel
or I am the more deceived; and even if I don’t pull it off, it’ll still have
some stuff in it.
We shall remain here until the middle of June anyway; but my mother leaves for Europe early in May.
Hence our mail should continue to come here; but not hers. I will let you know my next address, which will probably be Sydney. If we get on the Morning Star, I propose at present to get marooned on Ponape,
and take my chance of getting a passage to Australia. It will leave times and seasons mighty vague, and the cruise is risky; but I shall know something of the South Seas when it is done, or else the South Seas will contain all there is of me.
It should give me a fine book of travels, anyway.
Low will probably come and ask some dollars of you. Pray let him have them, they are for outfit. […]
O, another complete set of my books should go to Captain A.H. Otis, care of Dr. Merritt, Yacht Casco, Oakland, Cal.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2152.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 129-32]
Honolulu, April 2nd, 1889
My dear Colvin,
I am beginning to be ashamed of writing on to you without the least acknowledgment, like a tramp; but I do not care – I am hardened; and whatever be the cause of your silence, I mean to write till all is blue. I am outright ashamed of my news, which is that we are not coming home for another year. I cannot but hope it may continue the vast improvement of my health: I think it good for Fanny and Lloyd; and we have all a taste for this wandering and dangerous life. My mother I send home, to my relief, as this part of our cruise will be (if we can carry it out) rather difficult in places […].
Here is the idea: about the middle of June (unless the Boston Board objects) we sail from Honolulu in the missionary ship (barquentine auxiliary steamer) Morning Star:
she takes us through the Gilberts and Marshalls,
and drops us (this is my great idea) on Ponape, one of the volcanic islands of the Carolines.
Here we stay marooned among a doubtful population,
with a Spanish vice-governor and five native kings,
and a sprinkling of missionaries all at loggerheads,
on the chance of fetching a passage to Sydney in a trader, a labour ship or (maybe, but this appears too bright) a ship of war. If we can’t get the Morning Star (and the Board has many reasons that I can see for refusing its permission) I mean to try to fetch Fiji, hire a schooner there, do the Fijis and Friendlies, hit the course of the Richmondat Tonga Tabu, make back by Tahiti,
and so to S[an] F[rancisco], and home: perhaps in June 1890. For the latter part of the cruise will likely be the same in either case. You can see for yourself how much variety and adventure this promises, and that it is not devoid of danger at the best; but if we can pull it off in safety, gives me a fine book of travel,
and Lloyd […] a fine lecture and diorama, which should vastly better our finances. […]
I feel as if I were untrue to friendship; believe me, Colvin, when I look forward to this absence of another year, my conscience sinks at thought of the Monument:
but I think you will pardon me if you consider how much this tropical weather mends my health. Remember me as I was at home,
and think of me sea-bathing and walking about, as jolly as a sandboy:
you will own the temptation is strong; and as the scheme, bar fatal accidents, is bound to pay into the bargain, sooner or later, it seems it would be madness to come home now, with an imperfect book, no illustrations to speak of, no diorama, and perhaps fall sick again by autumn.
I do not think I delude myself when I say the tendency to catarrh has visibly diminished. […] It is a singular thing that as I was packing up old papers ere I left Skerryvore, I came on the prophecies of a drunken Highland sibyl, when I was seventeen. She said I was to be very happy, to visit America, and to be much upon the sea. It seems as if it were coming true with a vengeance.
Also, do you remember my strong, old, rooted belief that I shall die by drowning? I don’t want that to come true, though it is an easy death;
but it occurs to me oddly, with these long chances in front. I cannot say why I like the sea; no man is more cynically and constantly alive to its perils;
I regard it as the highest form of gambling;
and yet I love the sea as much as I hate gambling. Fine, clean emotions; a world all and always beautiful; air better than wine; interest unflagging; there is upon the whole no better life.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2151.]
To Herny James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 127-9]
Honolulu [towards the end of March 1889]
My dear James,
Yes – I own up – I am untrue to friendship and (what is less, but still considerable) to civilisation.
I am not coming home for another year. There it is, cold and bald, and now you won’t believe in me at all, and serve me right (says you) and the devil take me. But look here, and judge me tenderly. I have had more fun and pleasure of my life these past months than ever before, and more health than any time in ten long years. And even here in Honolulu I have withered in the cold;
and this precious deep is filled with islands, which we may still visit;
and though the sea is a deathful place, I like to be there, and like squalls (when they are over);
and to draw near to a new island, I cannot say how much I like.
In short, I take another year of this sort of life, and mean to try to work down among the poisoned arrows,
and mean (if it may be) to come back again when the thing is through, and converse with Henry James as heretofore;
and in the meanwhile issue directions to H.J. to write to me once more.
Let him address here at Honolulu, for my views are vague;
and if it is sent here it will follow and find me, if I am to be found; and if I am not to be found, the man James will have done his duty, and we shall be at the bottom of the sea, where no post-office clerk can be expected to discover us,
or languishing on a coral island, the philosophic drudges of some barbarian potentate: perchance, of an American Missionary.
My wife has just sent to Mrs. Sitwell a translation (tant bien que mal) of a letter I have had from my chief friend in this part of the world:
go and see her, and get a hearing of it; it will do you good; it is a better method of correspondence than even Henry James’s. I jest, but seriously it is a strange thing for a tough, sick, middle-aged scrivener like R.L.S. to receive a letter so conceived from a man fifty years old, a leading politician, a crack orator, and the great wit of his village: boldly say, ‘the highly popular M.P. of Tautira.’
My nineteenth century strikes here, and lies alongside of something beautiful and ancient. I think the receipt of such a letter might humble, shall I say even Mallock?,
and for me, I would rather have received it than written Redgauntlet
or the sixth Aeneid.
All told, if my books have enabled or helped me to make this voyage, to know Rui, and to have received such a letter, they have (in the old prefatorial expression) not been writ in vain. It would seem from this that I have been not so much humbled as puffed up; but, I assure you, I have in fact been both. A little of what that letter says is my own earning; not all, but yet a little; and the little makes me proud, and all the rest ashamed; and in the contrast, how much more beautiful altogether is the ancient man than him of to-day!
Well, well, Henry James is pretty good, though he is of the nineteenth century, and that glaringly. And to curry favour with him, I wish I could be more explicit; but, indeed, I am still of necessity extremely vague, and cannot tell what I am to do, nor where I am to go for some while yet. As soon as I am sure, you shall hear. All are fairly well – the wife, your countrywoman, least of all. Troubles are not entirely wanting; but on the whole we prosper, and we are all affectionately yours,
[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2147.]
To Tati Salmon [The Bookman 43, 1916, pp. 594-6]
Honolulu [23 March 1889]
My dear Chief,
Here is the mischief to pay! I shall not be home this summer. I stay on to go farther afield in the Pacific, and see more, and get more health, and get (I do not doubt) to love this part of the world better than ever: but the deuce of it is I shall not be at home to receive my Chieftain.
I send you herewith two introductions: the first of them, that to Mr. Colvin (to whom I write), I beg you as a personal favour to find (or make) the time to present; for he is my most valued friend and a man of the most exceptional distinction. The other I should like you to give also; I should insist more on the second if I did not wish to lay all weight on Mr. Colvin’s.
If I am thus debarred the pleasure of meeting you in Europe I am not in the least, for all that, writing farewell. Whatever I do, and I have two schemes in view, one thing is at least certain: Bar accidents to health and life, I shall find my way back to Tahiti by the Richmond some time next January or February or about a year from now, say; and shall go again to see my dear Arii, and (if he will take a gift of me) my Chief into the bargain.
It is then we shall be able to talk ballads and compare stories and names and customs; for I shall (or ought to) know something of the islands before then.
I write to prepare Colvin for your appearance and I wish to assure you if you find him at the first sight anyway dry it is a question of manner and you will soon see how very noble and kind a nature lies behind. I have seen many men; never a finer; nor is there any more dear to me.
Mr. Lang is a great authority on folk-lore, ballads, etc., and the first of those I had meant to consult about your volume.
The first (I mean) after Colvin, for he comes first with me, cela va sans dire, in all things. You will do well, I think, to speak of the volume to both. I am a very good man,
but I am going most probably to Micronesia; and these are on the spot.
When I reach Tahiti you will give me news of England; it seems strange! Pray remember me to your family and the Frenchman that is in your gates;
and believe me (in spite of my defection),
I add a 3rd letter to Mr. Henry James the novelist.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2143.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, p. 251-3]
Honolulu, [c. 8] March, 1889
My dear Colvin,
Still not a word from you! I am utterly cast down; but I will try to return good for evil and for once give you news. We are here in the suburb of Honolulu in a rambling house or set of houses in a great garden.
a a a, stairs up to balcony.
1. Lloyd’s room. 2. My mother’s room. 3. A room kept dark for photographs. 4. The kitchen. 5. Balcony. 6. The Lanai, an open room or summer parlour, partly surrounded with Venetian shutters, in part quite open, which is the living-room. 7. A crazy dirty cottage used for the arts. 8. Another crazy dirty cottage, where Fanny and I live.
The town is some three miles away, but the house is connected by telephone with the chief shops, and the tramway runs to within a quarter of a mile of us.
I find Honolulu a beastly climate after Tahiti and have been in bed a little; but my colds took on no catarrhal symptom, which is staggeringly delightful.
I am studying Hawaiian with a native, a Mr. Joseph Poepoe, a clever fellow too:
the tongue is a little bewildering; I am reading a pretty story in native – no, really it is pretty, although wandering and wordy; highly pretty with its continual traffic from one isle to another of the soothsayer, pursuing rainbows .
Fanny is, I think, a good deal better on the whole, having profited like me by the tropics; my mother and Lloyd are first-rate. […]
[…] I do not think I have heard from you since last May; certainly not since June; and this really frightens me.
Do write, even now. Scribner’s Sons it should be;
we shall probably be out of this some time in April, home some time in June.
But the world whirls to me perceptibly,
a mass of times and seasons and places and engagements, and seas to cross, and continents to traverse, so that I scarce know where I am.
Well, I have had a brave time. Et ego in Arcadia – though I don’t believe Arcadia was a spot upon Tahiti.
I have written another long narrative poem: the Song of Rahero. Privately, I think it good: but your ominous silence over the Feast of Famine leads me to fear we shall not be agreed. Is it possible I have wounded you in some way?
I scarce like to dream that it is possible; and yet I know too well it may be so. If so, don’t write, and you can pitch into me when we meet. I am, admittedly, as mild as London Stout now;
and the Old Man Virulent much a creature of the past. My dear Colvin, I owe you and Fleeming Jenkin,
the two older men who took the trouble, and knew how to make a friend of me, everything that I have or am: if I have behaved ill, just hold on and give me a chance, you shall have the slanging of me and I bet I shall prefer it to this silence.