It looks like playing at passion

The following are two different impressions of the Mediterranean, dated on two different Mondays, 1874.

[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, 214 and 232].

To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1912, p. 50]

[Menton, January 19, 1874].

Yes, I am much better; very much better I think I may say. Although it is funny how I have ceased to be able to write with the improvement of my health. […] Do you notice how for some time back you have had no descriptions of anything? The reason is that I can’t describe anything. No words come to me when I see a thing. I want awfully to tell you to-day about a little ‘piece’ of green sea, and gulls, and clouded sky with the usual golden mountain-breaks to the southward. It was wonderful, the sea near at hand was living emerald; the white breasts and wings of the gulls as they circled above – high above even – were dyed bright green by the reflection. And if you could only have seen or if any right word would only come to my pen to tell you how wonderfully these illuminated birds floated hither and thither under the grey purples of the sky!


Cl. Monet, ‘Impression Soleil Levant’, 1872 []

C. Monet, ‘Cliffs and sailboats at Pourville’, 1882 []


Cl. Monet, ‘Soleil couchant a Etretat’, 1883 []

[Menton, February 2, 1874].

[…] To-day has been windy but not cold. The sea was troubled and had a fine fresh saline smell like our own seas, and the sight of the breaking waves, and above all the spray that drove now and again in my face, carried me back to storms that I have enjoyed, O how much! in other places. Still (as Madame Zassetsky justly remarked) there is something irritating in a stormy sea whose waves come always to the same spot and never farther: it looks like playing at passion: it reminds one of the loathsome sham waves in a stage ocean. […]

Robert Louis Stevenson





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