In the winter of 1872-73 Stevenson is out of health; and there begins a religious quarrel with his father. Perhaps Thomas Stevenson, a true Scottish Calvinist, discovered the constitution of the L.J.R. (Liberty, Justice, Reverence) League, a club founded by RLS and friends (like Charles Baxter) in a pub in Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh. The L.J.R.’s motto is “disregard everything our parents taught us”.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 123].
To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1912, pp. 17-19]
17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, Sunday, February 2, 1873.
My dear Baxter,
The thunderbolt has fallen with a vengeance now. […] On Friday night after leaving you, in the course of conversation, my father put me one or two questions as to beliefs, which I candidly answered. I really hate all lying so much now – a new found honesty that has somehow come out of my late illness – that I could not so much as hesitate at the time; but if I had foreseen the real hell of everything since, I think I should have lied, as I have done so often before. I so far thought of my father, but I had forgotten my mother. And now! they are both ill, both silent, both as down in the mouth as if – I can find no simile. You may fancy how happy it is for me. If it were not too late, I think I could almost find it in my heart to retract, but it is too late; and again, am I to live my whole life as one falsehood? Of course, it is rougher than hell upon my father, but can I help it? They don’t see either that my game is not the light-hearted scoffer; that I am not (as they call me) a careless infidel. I believe as much as they do, only generally in the inverse ratio: I am, I think, as honest as they can be in what I hold. I have not come hastily to my views. I reserve (as I told them) many points until I acquire fuller information, and do not think I am thus justly to be called ‘horrible atheist’ […].
Now, what is to take place? What a curse I am to my parents! […] O Lord, what a pleasant thing it is to have just damned the happiness of (probably) the only two people who care a damn about you in the world. […]
What is my life to be at this rate? What, you rascal? Answer – I have a pistol at your throat. If all that I hold true and most desire to spread is to be such death, and a worse than death, in the eyes of my father and mother, what the devil am I to do?
Here is a good heavy cross with a vengeance, and all rough with rusty nails that tear your fingers, only it is not I that have to carry it alone; I hold the light end, but the heavy burden falls on these two. […]
Don’t – I don’t know what I was going to say. I am an abject idiot, which, all things considered, is not remarkable. – Ever your affectionate and horrible atheist,
R.L. Stevenson […]