[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 276].
To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 74-78]
[Swanston, June, 1874], Wednesday.
[…] news reaches me that Bob is laid down with diphtheria; and you know what that means. Night. – I am glad to say that I have on the whole a good account of Bob and I do hope he may pull through in spite of all. I went down and saw the doctor; but it is not thought right that I should go in to see him in case of contagion: you know it is a very contagious malady. […]
Thursday. – […] It is curious how calm I am in such a case. I wait in perfect composure for farther news; I can do nothing; why should I disturb myself? And yet if things go wrong I shall be in a fine way I can tell you.
How curiously we are built up into our false positions. The other day, having toothache and the black dog on my back generally, I was rude to one of the servants at the dinner-table. And nothing of course can be more disgusting than for a man to speak harshly to a young woman who will lose her place if she speak back to him; and of course I determined to apologise. Well, do you know, it was perhaps four days before I found courage enough, and I felt as red and ashamed as could be. Why? because I had been rude? not a bit of it; because I was doing a thing that would be called ridiculous in thus apologising. I did not know I had so much respect of middle-class notions before; this is my right hand which I must cut off. Hold the arm please: once – twice – thrice: the offensive member is amputated: let us hope I shall never be such a cad any more as to be ashamed of being a gentleman.
Night. – I suppose I must have been more affected than I thought; at least I found I could not work this morning and had to go out. The whole garden was filled with a high westerly wind, coming straight out of the hills and richly scented with furze – or whins, as we would say. The trees were all in a tempest and roared like a heavy surf; the paths all strewn with fallen apple-blossom and leaves. I got a quiet seat behind a yew and went away into a meditation. […] I was very happy after my own fashion, and whenever there came a blink of sunshine or a bird whistled higher than usual, or a little powder of white apple-blossom came over the hedge and settled about me in the grass, I had the gladdest little flutter at my heart and stretched myself for very voluptuousness.
I wasn’t altogether taken up with my private pleasures, however, and had many a look down ugly vistas in the future, for […] Bob and others. But we must all be content and brave, and look eagerly for these little passages of happiness by the wayside, and go on afterwards, savouring them under the tongue.
Friday. – Our garden has grown beautiful at last, beautiful with fresh foliage and daisied grass. The sky is still cloudy and the day perhaps even a little gloomy; but under this grey roof, in this shaded temperate light, how delightful the new summer is! […]
When I shall come to London must always be problematical like all my movements, and of course this sickness of Bob’s makes it still more uncertain. If all goes well I may have to go to the country and take care of him in his convalescence. But […] I shall come shortly. Do not hurry to write me; I had rather you had ten minutes more of good, friendly sleep, than I a longer letter; and you know I am rather partial to your letters.
Yesterday, by the bye, I received the proof of Victor Hugo; it is not nicely written, but the stuff is capital, I think. Modesty is my most remarkable quality, I may say in passing. […]
1.30. – I was out, behind the yew hedge, reading the Contesse de Rudolstadt when I found my eyes grow weary, and looked up from the book. O the rest of the quiet greens and whites, of the daisied surface! […] I was very peaceful, but it began to sprinkle rain and so I was fain to come in for a moment and chat with you. By the way, I must send you Consuelo; you said you had quite forgotten it if I remember aright; and surely a book that could divert me, when I thought myself on the very edge of the grave, from the work that I so much desired and was yet unable to do, and from many painful thoughts, should somewhat support and amuse you under all the hard things that may be coming upon you. […]
If you should wonder why I am writing to you so voluminously, know that it is because I am not suffering myself to work, and in idleness, as in death, etc.
Saturday. – […] I have had a very cruel day. I heard this morning that yesterday Bob had been very much worse and I went down to Portobello with all sorts of horrible presentiments. I was glad when I turned the corner and saw the blinds still up. He was definitely better, if the word definitely can be used about such a detestably insidious complaint. […] I have ordered Consuelo for you, and you should have it soon this week; I mean next week of course; I am thinking when you will receive this letter, not of now when I am writing it.
I am so tired; but I am very hopeful. […] All will be well […] some time, if it be only when we are dead. One thing I see so clearly. Death is the end neither of joy nor sorrow. Let us pass into the clods and come up again as grass and flowers; we shall still be this wonderful, shrinking, sentient matter – we shall still thrill to the sun and grow relaxed and quiet after rain, and have all manner of pains and pleasures that we know not of now. Consciousness, and ganglia, and such like, are after all but theories. And who knows? This God may not be cruel when all is done; he may relent and be good to us à la fin des fins. Think of how he tempers our afflictions to us, of how tenderly he mixes in bright joys with the grey web of trouble and care that we call our life. Think of how he gives, who takes away. […] Out of the bottom of the miry clay I write this; and I look forward confidently; I have faith after all; I believe, I hope, I will not have it reft from me; there is something good behind it all, bitter and terrible as it seems. The infinite majesty (as it will be always in regard to us the bubbles of an hour) the infinite majesty must have moments, if it were no more, of greatness; must sometimes be touched with a feeling for our infirmities, must sometimes relent and be clement to those frail playthings that he has made, and made so bitterly alive. Must it not be so, my dear friend, out of the depths I cry? I feel it, now when I am most painfully conscious of his cruelty. He must relent. He must reward. He must give some indemnity, if it were but in the quiet of a daisy, tasting of the sun, and the soft rain and the sweet shadow of trees, for all the dire fever that he makes us bear in this poor existence. We make too much of this human life of ours. It may be that two clods together, two flowers together, two grown trees together, touching each other deliciously with their spread leaves, […]; it may be that these dumb things have their own priceless sympathies, surer and more untroubled than ours. […]
I don’t know quite whether I have wandered. Forgive me, […]. I feel as I had relieved myself; so perhaps it may not be unpleasant for you either. […] – Believe me, […], ever your faithful friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson