In 1869 RLS has been elected to the Speculative Society (the ‘Spec.’) on the strength of his conversational powers, and he contributes several essays to its meetings. In 1872 he is elected one of the five Presidents, and Baxter is elected Secretary. The Presidents and Secretary make up the Standing Committee.
The name of ‘Rural Voluptuary’ comes from Washington Irving’s ‘The Sketch Book’, 1840, quoting the song from As you like it, II, v. 5-8.
Elliot and Wilson are a bookseller and a tabacconist respectively, in Edinburgh.
The Earthly Paradise is William Morris’s huge collection of poems, published in 1868-1870.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 98].
To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, pp. 40-41]
Dunblane, Tuesday, 9th April 1872.
My dear Baxter,
I don’t know what you mean. I know nothing about the Standing Committee of the Spec., did not know that such a body existed, and even if it doth exist, must sadly repudiate all association with such ‘goodly fellowship.’ I am a ‘Rural Voluptuary’ at present. That is what is the matter with me. The Spec. may go whistle […]. As for ‘C. Baxter, Esq.,’ who is he? […] ‘One Baxter, or Bagster, a secretary,’ I say to mine acquaintance, ‘is at present disquieting my leisure with certain illegal, uncharitable, unchristian, and unconstitutional documents called Business Letters: The affair is in the hands of the Police.’ Do you hear that, you evildoer? Sending business letters is surely a far more hateful and slimy degree of wickedness than sending threatening letters; the man who throws grenades and torpedoes is less malicious; the Devil in red-hot hell rubs his hands with glee as he reckons up the number that go forth spreading pain and anxiety with each delivery of the post.
I have been walking to-day by a colonnade of beeches along the brawling Allan. My character for sanity is quite gone, seeing that I cheered my lonely way with the following, in a triumphant chaunt: ‘Thank God for the grass, and the fir-trees, and the crows, and the sheep, and the sunshine, and the shadows of the fir-trees.’ I hold that he is a poor mean devil who can walk alone, in such a place and in such weather, and doesn’t set up his lungs and cry back to the birds and the river. Follow, follow, follow me. Come hither, come hither, come hither – here shall you see – no enemy – except a very slight remnant of winter and its rough weather.
My bedroom, when I awoke this morning, was full of bird-songs, which is the greatest pleasure in life. Come hither, come hither, come hither, and when you come bring the third part of the Earthly Paradise; you can get it for me in Elliot’s for two and tenpence (2s. 10d.) (business habits). Also bring an ounce of honeydew from Wilson’s. […]