I must just be content to live as I have begun, an ignorant, chic-y penny-a-liner

Written in Paris on his way home to Edinburgh. Some of the talk with Sidney Colvin at Mentone run on the scheme of a spectacle play on the story of the burning of the temple of Diana at Ephesus by Herostratus, the type of insane vanity in excelsis.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 263].

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, p. 67-68]

[Hotel St. Romain, Paris, end of April, 1874.]

My dear Colvin,

I am a great deal better, but still have to take care.

The Hotel Saint Romain, 5 rue Saint-Roch, Paris [https://maps.google.com/]

The Hotel Saint Romain, 5 rue Saint-Roch, Paris [https://maps.google.com/]

I have got quite a lot of Victor Hugo done; and not I think so badly: pitching into this work has straightened me up a good deal. It is the devil’s own weather but that is a trifle. I must know when Cornhill must see it. I can send some of it […] in a week easily, […] but I still have to read the […] Laughing Man, and I mean to wait until I get to London and have the loan of that from you. If I buy anything more this production will not pay itself. […] The first part is not too well written, though it has good stuff in it. […]

V. Hugo, ‘L’homme qui rit’, 1869 [http://i.ebayimg.com/]

My people have made no objection to my going to Göttingen; but my body has made I think very strong objections. And you know if it is cold here, it must be colder there. It is a sore pity; that was a great chance for me, and it is gone. I know very well that between Galitzin and this swell professor I should have become a good specialist in law and how that would have changed and bettered all my work it is easy to see; however I must just be content to live as I have begun, an ignorant, chic-y penny-a-liner. May the Lord have mercy on my soul!


Going home not very well is an astonishing good hold for me. I shall simply be a prince.

Have you had any thought about Diana of the Ephesians? I will straighten up a play for you, but it may take years. A play is a thing just like a story, it begins to disengage itself and then unrolls gradually in block. It will disengage itself some day for me and then I will send you the nugget and you will see if you can make anything out of it. – Ever yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson


Plan of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, built by Herostratus (4th century BC), 1862 [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

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2 Responses to I must just be content to live as I have begun, an ignorant, chic-y penny-a-liner

  1. rdury says:

    Although chic now usually has an approving meaning (‘elegant’, ‘original’ etc.), Stevenson is using it in its original pejorative sense, which seems to have almost the opposite meaning: ‘Manière de peindre ou de dessiner artificielle, conventionnelle’. This was a new word for Baudelaire in 1846 (in his review of the Salon of that year).
    For a writer, chic was what was conventional, the product of reference to other writers rather than direct observation: Car dans ce livre, comme dans les autres livres de ce singulier chef d’école, c’est toujours la créature de pure imagination, la créature fabriquée par les procédés de tous les auteurs qui l’ont précédé! oui, je le répète encore une fois, chez Zola, les milieux seulement sont faits d’après nature, et le personnage toujours fabriqué de chic. (E. et J. DE GONCOURT, Journal, 1884, p. 312.)


  2. mafalda says:

    How many things to learn! Thank you, Richard.


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