Beggars must not be choosers

After spending a few days in one of the more retired hotels of Monte Carlo, RLS and Sidney Colvin go on to Mentone and settle at the Hotel Mirabeau, (no more existing) near the eastern extremity of the town.

P.R. stays for Poste Restante.

Old Smoko is, of course, Edinburgh.

[For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 199].

To his mother [Colvin 1912 pp. 45-46]

[Hôtel Mirabeau,] Menton, January 2nd, 1874.

Here I am over in the east bay of Mentone, where I am not altogether sorry to find myself. I move so little that I soon exhaust the immediate neighbourhood of my dwelling places. Our reason for coming here was however very simple. Hobson’s choice. Mentone during my absence has filled marvellously.

Continue to address P.R. Menton; and try to conceive it as possible that I am not a drivelling idiot. When I wish an address changed, it is quite on the cards that I shall be able to find language explicit enough to express the desire. My whole desire is to avoid complication of addresses. It is quite fatal. If two P.R.s have contradictory orders they will continue to play battledoor and shuttlecock with an unhappy epistle, which will never get farther afield but perish there miserably.

Battledoor and shuttlecock, aka Badminton []

You act too much on the principle that whatever I do is done unwisely; and that whatever I do not, has been culpably forgotten. This is wounding to my nat’ral vanity.

I have not written for three days I think; but what days! They were very cold; and I must say that I was able thoroughly to appreciate the blessings of Mentone. Old Smoko this winter would evidently have been very summary with me. I could not stand the cold at all. I exhausted all my own and all Colvin’s clothing; I then retired to the house, and then to bed; in a condition of sorrow for myself unequalled. The sun is forth again (laus Deo) and the wind is milder, and I am greatly re-established. A certain asperity of temper still lingers, however, which Colvin supports with much mildness.

In this hotel, I have a room on the first floor! Luxury, however, is not altogether regardless of expense. We only pay 13 francs per day – 3½ more than at the Pavillon on the third floor. – And beggars must not be choosers. We were very nearly houseless, the night we came. And it is rarely that such winds of adversity blow men into Kings’ Palaces.

Looking over what has gone before, it seems to me that it is not strictly polite. I beg to withdraw all that is offensive.

At table d’hôte, we have some people who amuse us much; two Americans, who would try to pass for French people, and their daughter, the most charming of little girls. Both Colvin and I have planned an abduction already. The whole hotel is devoted to her; and the waiters continually do smuggle out comfits and fruit and pudding to her. All well. – Ever your affectionate son,

Robert Louis Stevenson


‘Table d’hôte in the older time’ []

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