This and the following letters date after RLS’s return to Scotland, at Swanston Cottage.
Swanston Cottage was built in 1761 by Edinburgh Council and raised to two stories in 1820. RLS’s parents leased it 1867 to 1880. RLS stays there in the holidays and goes for long walks in the hills. It features in his novel St. Ives, where the main character of that name hides in the cottage while on the run.
The essay Ordered South appears in Macmillan’s Magazine in May 1874; RLS’s mother records in her diary: ‘Read “Ordered South” in Macmillian, like it very much but it is fearfully sad and makes me greet’. The essay on Victor Hugo’s romances will appear in the Cornhill a little later.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 268, dated Apr. 29].
To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1911, 1, 150-151]
[Swanston], May 1874, Monday.
[…] We are now at Swanston Cottage, Lothianburn, Edinburgh. The garden is but little clothed yet, for, you know, here we are six hundred feet above the sea. It is very cold, and has sleeted this morning. Everything wintry.
I am very jolly, however, having finished ‘Victor Hugo’, and just looking round to see what I should next take up. I have been reading Roman Law and Calvin this morning. […]
Evening. – I went up the hill a little this afternoon. The air was invigorating, but it was so cold that my scalp was sore. With this high wintry wind, and the grey sky, and faint northern daylight, it was quite wonderful to hear such a clamour of blackbirds coming up to me out of the woods, and the bleating of sheep being shorn in a field near the garden, and to see golden patches of blossom already on the furze, and delicate green shoots upright and beginning to frond out, among last year’s russet bracken.
Flights of crows were passing continually between the wintry leaden sky and the wintry cold-looking hills. It was the oddest conflict of seasons. A wee rabbit – this year’s making, beyond question – ran out from under my feet, and was in a pretty perturbation, until he hit upon a lucky juniper and blotted himself there promptly. Evidently this gentleman had not had much experience of life.
I have made an arrangement with my people: I am to have £84 a year – I only asked for £80 on mature reflection – and as I should soon make a good bit by my pen, I shall be very comfortable. We are all as jolly as can be together, so that is a great thing gained. […]
Wednesday – […] Yesterday I received a letter that gave me much pleasure from a poor fellow-student of mine, who has been all winter very ill, and seems to be but little better even now. He seems very much pleased with Ordered South. ‘A month ago,’ he says, ‘I could scarcely have ventured to read it; to-day I felt on reading it as I did on the first day that I was able to sun myself a little in the open air.’ And much more to the like effect. It is very gratifying. […] – Ever your faithful friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson