The heroine of George Sand, Consuelo (1868), is under an obligation to marry a man she does not love because he has been kind to her grandfather; eventually she is able to marry the young man she does love.
The Holy Gost alludes to Heine’s Aus die Harzreise, Bergidylle II, 1827, where the poet calls himself a Knight of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost being the Spirit of the Age.
Dowson is the father of the unfortunate poet, Ernest Dowson. His acquaintance is the first result of Stevenson’s search for “any one conversable” in the hotel.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 179 and 176].
To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 35-39]
Menton, Sunday [November 30, 1873].
My dear friend,
To-day is as hot as it has been in the sun; and as I was a little tired and seedy, I went down and just drank in sunshine. A strong wind has risen out of the west; the great big dead leaves from the roadside planes scuttled about and chased one another over the gravel round me with a noise like little waves under the keel of a boat, and jumped up sometimes on to my lap and into my face. I lay down on my back at last, and looked up into the sky. The white corner of the hotel with a wide projection at the top, stood out in dazzling relief; and there was nothing else, save a few of the plane leaves that had got up wonderfully high and turned and eddied and flew here and there like little pieces of gold leaf, to break the extraordinary sea of blue. It was bluer than anything in the world here; wonderfully blue, and looking deeply peaceful, although in truth there was a high wind blowing.
I am concerned about the plane leaves. Hitherto it has always been a great feature to see these trees standing up head and shoulders and chest – head and body, in fact – above the wonderful blue-grey-greens of the olives, in one glory of red gold. Much more of this wind, and the gold, I fear, will be all spent.
9.20. – I must write you another little word. I have found here a new friend, to whom I grow daily more devoted – George Sand. I go on from one novel to another and think the last I have read the most sympathetic and friendly in tone, until I have read another. It is a life in dreamland. Have you read Mademoiselle Merquem? […]
Monday. – I did not quite know last night what to say to you about Mdlle Merquem […]. If you want to be unpleasantly moved, read it […].
I am gloomy and out of spirits to-night in consequence of a ridiculous scene at the table d’hôte, where a parson whom I rather liked took offence at something I said and we had almost a quarrel. It was mopped up and stifled, like spilt wine with a napkin; but it leaves an unpleasant impression.
I have again ceased all work, because I felt that it strained my head a little, and so I have resumed the tedious task of waiting with folded hands for better days. But thanks to George Sand and the sunshine, I am very jolly.
That last word was so much out of key that I could sit no longer, and went away to seek out my clergyman and apologise to him. He was gone to bed. I don’t know what makes me take this so much to heart. I suppose it’s nerves or pride or something; but I am unhappy about it. I am going to drown my sorrows in Consuelo and burn some incense in my pipe to the god of Contentment and Forgetfulness.
I do not know, but I hope, if I can only get better, I shall be a help to you soon in every way and no more a trouble and burthen. All my difficulties about life have so cleared away; the scales have fallen from my eyes, and the broad road of my duty lies out straight before me without cross or hindrance. I have given up all hope, all fancy rather, of making literature my hold: I see that I have not capacity enough. My life shall be, if I can make it, my only business. I am desirous to practise now, rather than to preach, for I know that I should ever preach badly, and men can more easily forgive faulty practice than dull sermons. If Colvin does not think that I shall be able to support myself soon by literature, I shall give it up and go (horrible as the thought is to me) into an office of some sort: the first, the main question is, that I must live by my own hands; after that come the others. […]
You will not regard me as a madman, I am sure […]. It is a very rational aberration at least to try to put your beliefs into practice. Strangely enough, it has taken me a long time to see this distinctly with regard to my whole creed; but I have seen it at last, praised be my sickness and my leisure! I have seen it at last; the sun of my duty has risen; I have enlisted for the first time, and after long coquetting with the shilling, under the banner of the Holy Ghost!
8.15. – […] If you had seen the moon last night! It was like transfigured sunshine; as clear and mellow, only showing everything in a new wonderful significance. The shadows of the leaves on the road were so strangely black that Dowson and I had difficulty in believing that they were not solid, or at least pools of dark mire. And the hills and the trees, and the white Italian houses with lit windows! O! nothing could bring home to you the keenness and the reality and the wonderful Unheimlichkeit of all these. When the moon rises every night over the Italian coast, it makes a long path over the sea as yellow as gold.
How I happened to be out in the moonlight yesterday, was that Dowson and I spent the evening with an odd man called Bates, who played Italian music to us with great feeling; all of which was quite a dissipation in my still existence. […]
Friday. – […] I cannot endure to be dependent much longer, it stops my mouth. Something I must find shortly. I mean when I am able for anything. However I am much better already; and have been writing not altogether my worst although not very well. Walt Whitman is stopped. I have bemired it so atrociously by working at it when I was out of humour that I must let the colour dry; and alas! what I have been doing in this place doesn’t seem to promise any money. However, it is all practice and it interests myself extremely. I have now received £80, some £55 of which still remain; all this is more debt to civilisation and my fellowmen. When shall I be able to pay it back? […] You do not know how much this money question begins to take more and more importance in my eyes every day. It is an old phrase of mine that money is the atmosphere of civilised life, and I do hate to take the breath out of other people’s nostrils. I live here at the rate of more than £3 a week and I do nothing for it. If I didn’t hope to get well and do good work yet and more than repay my debts to the world, I should consider it right to invest an extra franc or two in laudanum. But I will repay it. […] – Always your faithful friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson