On the advice of the Lord Advocate it has been agreed that RLS will present himself for admission as a student at one of the London Inns of Court and come to town after the middle of October, 1873, to be examined for that purpose.He comes to London but, advised by his friends, Sidney Colvin and Fanny Sitwell, worried by his ill-health and nervous exhaustion brought about by the bitter disagreements with his father, sees a famous physician, Sir Andrew Clark.
The result of the examination is his peremptory despatch to the French Riviera, Mentone, for a winter’s rest and sunshine.
This episode will give occasion to the essay ‘Ordered South’ (Macmillian’s Magazine, May 1874), the only one of his writings in which he takes the invalid point of view or allows his health troubles in any degree to colour his work. Travelling south by slow stages, he writes on the way this diary-letter.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 167, dated Nov. 10].
To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 31-34]
Avignon [November, 1873].
I have just read your letter upon the top of the hill beside the church and castle. The whole air was filled with sunset and the sound of bells; and I wish I could give you the least notion of the southernness and Provençality of all that I saw. […]
I cannot write while I am travelling; c’est un défaut; but so it is. I must have a certain feeling of being at home, and my head must have time to settle. The new images oppress me, and I have a fever of restlessness on me. You must not be disappointed at such shabby letters; and besides, remember my poor head and the fanciful crawling in the spine.
I am back again in the stage of thinking there is nothing the matter with me, which is a good sign; but I am wretchedly nervous. Anything like rudeness I am simply babyishly afraid of; and noises, and especially the sounds of certain voices, are the devil to me. A blind poet whom I found selling his immortal works in the streets of Sens, captivated me with the remarkable equable strength and sweetness of his voice; and I listened a long while and bought some of the poems; and now this voice, after I had thus got it thoroughly into my head, proved false metal and a really bad and horrible voice at bottom. It haunted me some time, but I think I am done with it now.
I hope you don’t dislike reading bad style like this as much as I do writing it: it hurts me when neither words nor clauses fall into their places, much as it would hurt you to sing when you had a bad cold and your voice deceived you and missed every other note. I do feel so inclined to break the pen and write no more; and here à propos begins my back.
After dinner. – It blows to-night from the north down the valley of the Rhone, and everything is so cold that I have been obliged to indulge in a fire. There is a fine crackle and roar of burning wood in the chimney which is very homely and companionable, though it does seem to postulate a town all white with snow outside.
I have bought Sainte-Beuve’s Chateaubriand and am immensely delighted with the critic. […] Chateaubriand is more antipathetic to me than any one else in the world.
I begin to wish myself arrived to-night. Travelling, when one is not quite well, has a good deal of unpleasantness. One is easily upset by cross incidents, and wants that belle humeur and spirit of adventure that makes a pleasure out of what is unpleasant.
Tuesday, November 11th. – There! There’s a date for you. I shall be in Mentone for my birthday, with plenty of nice letters to read. I went away across the Rhone and up the hill on the other side that I might see the town from a distance.
Avignon followed me with its bells and drums and bugles; for the old city has no equal for multitude of such noises.
Crossing the bridge and seeing the brown turbid water foam and eddy about the piers, one could scarce believe one’s eyes when one looked down upon the stream and saw the smooth blue mirroring tree and hill.
Over on the other side, the sun beat down so furiously on the white road that I was glad to keep in the shadow and, when the occasion offered, to turn aside among the olive-yards. It was nine years and six months since I had been in an olive-yard. I found myself much changed, not so gay, but wiser and more happy. I read your letter […] again, and sat awhile looking down over the tawny plain and at the fantastic outline of the city. The hills seemed just fainting into the sky; even the great peak above Carpentras (Lord knows how many metres above the sea) seemed unsubstantial and thin in the breadth and potency of the sunshine.
I should like to stay longer here but I can’t. I am driven forward by restlessness, and leave this afternoon about two. I am just going out now to visit again the church, castle, and hill, for the sake of the magnificent panorama, and besides, because it is the friendliest spot in all Avignon to me.
Later – You cannot picture to yourself anything more steeped in hard bright sunshine than the view from the hill. The immovable inky shadow of the old bridge on the fleeting surface of the yellow river seemed more solid than the bridge itself.
Just in the place where I sat yesterday evening a shaven man in a velvet cap was studying music – evidently one of the singers for La Muette de Portici at the theatre to-night.
I turned back as I went away: the white Christ stood out in strong relief on his brown cross against the blue sky, and the four kneeling angels and lanterns grouped themselves about the foot with a symmetry that was almost laughable; the musician read on at his music, and counted time with his hand on the stone step.
Menton, November 12th. – […] My first enthusiasm was on rising at Orange and throwing open the shutters. Such a great living flood of sunshine poured in upon me, that I confess to having danced and expressed my satisfaction aloud; in the middle of which the boots came to the door with hot water, to my great confusion.
To-day has been one long delight, coming to a magnificent climax on my arrival here. I gave up my baggage to an hotel porter and set off to walk at once. I was somewhat confused as yet as to my directions, for the station of course was new to me, and the hills had not sufficiently opened out to let me recognise the peaks. Suddenly, as I was going forward slowly in this confusion of mind, I was met by a great volley of odours out of the lemon and orange gardens, and the past linked on to the present, and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the whole scene fell before me into order, and I was at home. I nearly danced again.
I suppose I must send off this to-night to notify my arrival in safety and good-humour and, I think, in good health, before relapsing into the old weekly vein. I hope this time to send you a weekly dose of sunshine from the south, instead of the jet of snell Edinburgh, east wind that used to was.
[…] – Ever your faithful friend,