The two Russian ladies are from Georgia…

Professor H.Ch.F. Jenkin, the electrical engineer, and his wife, an actress, are known in the Edimburgh social scene for their theatrical productions. In the Jenkin theatricals of May 1873, RLS has played ‘Vatel, a cook’ in My Son-in-Law, translated from E. Augier’s comedy Le Gendre de Monsieur Poirier.

[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, 205].

To his mother [Colvin 1912, pp. 47-48]

[Menton], Sunday, 11th January, 1874.

In many ways this hotel is more amusing than the Pavillon. There are the children, to begin with; and then there are games every evening – the stool of repentance, question and answer, etc.; and then we speak French, although that is not exactly an advantage in so far as personal brilliancy is concerned.

[…] I am in lovely health again to-day: […] I walked as far as the Pont St. Louis very nearly, besides walking and knocking about among the olives in the afternoon.

Pont St. Louis on the Franco-Italian border, Menton, 1903 [http://www.cparama.com/]

Cl. Monet, ‘Olive Tree Wood in the Moreno Garden, Bordighera’, 1884 [http://www.peintures-tableaux.com/]

J.L. Pickering (1845-1912), ‘Among the Olives’ [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

I do not make much progress with my French; but I do make a little, I think. I was pleased with my success this evening, though I do not know if others shared the satisfaction.

The two Russian ladies are from Georgia all the way. They do not at all answer to the description of Georgian slaves however, being graceful and refined, and only good-looking after you know them a bit. […]

A.A. Harlamoff (1840-1925), ‘Portrait of a Georgian Princess ‘ [http://www.christies.com/]

F.X. Winterhalter, ‘Elizabeth Orbeliani-Boryatinskaya, a georgian princess (1833-1899)’ [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

[…] Please remember me very kindly to the Jenkins, and thank them for having asked about me. Tell Mrs. J. that I am engaged in perfecting myself in the “Gallic idiom,” in order to be a worthier Vatel for the future.

François Vatel (1631-1671), Steward to the prince de Condé, committed suicide in 1671 because he thought the fish would not arrive in time for a banquet for Louis XIV [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Monsieur Folleté, our host, is a Vatel by the way. He cooks himself, and is not insensible to flattery on the score of his table. I began, of course, to complain of the wine (part of the. routine of life at Mentone); I told him that where one found a kitchen so exquisite, one astonished oneself that the wine was not up to the same form. “Et voilà précisément mon côté faible, monsieur,” he replied, with an indescribable amplitude of gesture. “Que voulez-vous? Moi, je suis cuisinier!” It was as though Shakespeare, called to account for some such peccadillo as the Bohemian seaport, should answer magnificently that he was a poet. So Folleté lives in a golden zone of a certain sort – a golden, or rather torrid zone, whence he issues twice daily purple as to his face – and all these clouds and vapours and ephemeral winds pass far below him and disturb him not.

He has another hobby however – his garden, round which it is his highest pleasure to lead the unwilling guest. Whenever he is not in the kitchen, he is hanging round loose, seeking whom he may show his garden to. Much of my time is passed in studiously avoiding him, and I have brought the art to a very extreme pitch of perfection. The fox, often hunted, becomes wary. – Ever your affectionate son,

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

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