The expression ‘’prentice hand’, at the end of the letter, is a quote from the song ‘Green Grow the Rashes’, by Robert Burns, 1783.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 139].
To Mrs. Sitwell [Colvin 1911, pp. 71-74]
17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, Friday, September 12, 1873.
[…] I was over last night, contrary to my own wish, in Leven, Fife;
and this morning I had a conversation of which, I think, some account might interest you. I was up with a cousin who was fishing in a mill-lade, and a shower of rain drove me for shelter into a tumbledown steading attached to the mill.
There I found a labourer cleaning a byre, with whom I fell into talk. The man was to all appearance as heavy, as hébété, as any English clodhopper; but I knew I was in Scotland, and launched out forthright into Education and Politics and the aims of one’s life.
I told him how I had found the peasantry in Suffolk, and added that their state had made me feel quite pained and down-hearted. ‘It but to do that,’ he said, ‘to onybody that thinks at a’!’ Then, again, he said that he could not conceive how anything could daunt or cast down a man who had an aim in life. ‘They that have had a guid schoolin’ and do nae mair, whatever they do, they have done; but him that has aye something ayont need never be weary.’ I have had to mutilate the dialect much, so that it might be comprehensible to you; but I think the sentiment will keep, even through a change of words, something of the heartsome ring of encouragement that it had for me: and that from a man cleaning a byre! You see what John Knox and his schools have done. […]
Saturday. – This has been a charming day for me from morning to now (5 p.m.). First, I found your letter, and went down and read it on a seat in those Public Gardens of which you have heard already. […]
After lunch, my father and I went down to the coast and walked a little way along the shore between Granton and Cramond. This has always been with me a very favourite walk. The Firth closes gradually together before you, the coast runs in a series of the most beautifully moulded bays, hill after hill, wooded and softly outlined, trends away in front till the two shores join together. When the tide is out there are great, gleaming flats of wet sand, over which the gulls go flying and crying; and every cape runs down into them with its little spit of wall and trees. We lay together a long time on the beach; the sea just babbled among the stones; and at one time we heard the hollow, sturdy beat of the paddles of an unseen steamer somewhere round the cape. I am glad to say that the peace of the day and scenery was not marred by any unpleasantness between us two […].
I am, unhappily, off my style, and can do nothing well; indeed, I fear I have marred Roads finally by patching at it when I was out of the humour. Only, I am beginning to see something great about John Knox and Queen Mary: I like them both so much, that I feel as if I could write the history fairly. […]
Sunday. – It has rained and blown chilly out of the East all day. This was my first visit to church since the last Sunday at Cockfield. I was alone, and read the minor prophets and thought of the past all the time; a sentimental Calvinist preached – a very odd animal, as you may fancy – and to him I did not attend very closely.
All afternoon I worked until half-past four, when I went out, under an umbrella, and cruised about the empty, wet, glimmering streets until near dinner time.
I have finished Roads to-day, and send it off to you to see. The Lord knows whether it is worth anything! – some of it pleases me a good deal, but I fear it is quite unfit for any possible magazine. However, I wish you to see it, as you know the humour in which it was conceived, walking alone and very happily about the Suffolk highways and byeways on several splendid sunny afternoons. […] – Believe me, ever your faithful friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson
Monday. – […] I have looked over Roads again, and I am aghast at its feebleness. It is the trial of a very ‘’prentice hand’ indeed. Shall I ever learn to do anything well? However, it shall go to you, for the reasons given above. […]