Why don’t they stamp their foot upon the ground and awake?

Back to Swanston Cottage, from his yachting tour in the Inner Hebrides with his friend Sir Walter Simpson.

George Grove is for some years before and after this date the editor of Macmillan’s Magazine. After the Knox articles no more contributions from RLS appeared in this magazine, partly because Mr. Alexander Macmillan disapproved of his essay on Burns published the following year.

The Portfolio paper here mentioned is that entitled On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places, who will be published in November 1874.

Mrs Sitwell (after separation from her husband) takes up her new post as Secretary of the College for Working Women in Queen’s Square, London, and moves there, 2 Brunswick Row.

RLS’s ‘way to Poland’ refers to his plan to visit there Mme Garshine, his Russian acquaintance at Mentone.

[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, 309, dated Sept. 3 ff.]

To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 90-92]

[Swanston, Autumn, 1874], Thursday.

My dear friend,

I have another letter from Grove, about my John Knox, which is flattering in its way: he is a very gushing and spontaneous person.

George Grove (1820-1900), British writer on music and editor of Macmillan’s Magazine since 1873 [http://images.npg.org.uk/]

Alexander Macmillan (1818-1892), cofounder with his brother of Macmillan Publishers in 1843 [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

I am busy with another Portfolio paper for which I can find no name; I think I shall require to leave it without.


I am afraid I shall not get to London on my way to Poland, but I must try to manage it on my way back; I must see you anyway, before I tackle this sad winter work, just to get new heart. As it is, I am as jolly as three, in good health, fairish working trim and on good, very good, terms with my people.


Look here, I must have people well. If they will keep well, I am all right: if they won’t – well I’ll do as well as I can, and forgive them, and try to be something of a comfortable thought in spite. So with that cheerful sentiment, good-night dear friend and good health to you.

Saturday. – Your letter today. Thank you. […]

It is a horrid day, outside.

You talk of my setting to a book, as if I could; don’t you know that things must come to me? I can do but little; I mostly wait and look out. I am struggling with a Portfolio paper just now, which will not come straight somehow and will get too gushy; but a little patience will get it out of the kink and sober it down I hope. I have been thinking over my movements, and am not sure that I may get to London on my way to Poland after all. Hurrah! But we must not halloo till we are out of the wood; this may be only a clearing.

God help us all, it is a funny world. To see people skipping all round us with their eyes sealed up with indifference, knowing nothing of the earth or man or woman, going automatically to offices and saying they are happy or unhappy out of a sense of duty, I suppose, surely at least from no sense of happiness or unhappiness, unless perhaps they have a tooth that twinges, is it not like a bad dream? Why don’t they stamp their foot upon the ground and awake? There is the moon rising in the east, and there is a person with their heart broken and still glad and conscious of the world’s glory up to the point of pain; and behold they know nothing of all this!

The new underground rail service featured in Christmas cards after 1863 [http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/]

A London omnibus, 1870s. [http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/]

Liverpool Street Station, London. Workingman traveling by the 12:55 p.m. train to Enfield Town, 1884 [http://www.victorianweb.org/]

Moonrise over New Town, Edinburgh [http://djmac.co.uk/]

I should like to kick them into consciousness, for damp gingerbread puppets as they are. Sidney Colvin is down on me for being bitter; who can help it sometimes, especially after they have slept ill?



I am going to have a lot of lunch presently; and then I shall feel all right again, and the loneliness will pass away as often before. It is the flesh that is weak. Already I have done myself all the good in the world by this scribble, and feel alive again and pretty jolly.

Sunday. – What a day! Cold and dark as midwinter. I shall send with this two new photographs of myself for your opinion.

My father regards this life “as a shambling sort of omnibus which is taking him to his hotel.” Is that not well said? It came out in a rather pleasant and entirely amicable discussion which we had this afternoon on a walk.

Thomas Stevenson [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

The colouring of the world, today, is of course hideous; we saw only one pleasant sight, a couple of lovers under a thorn-tree by the wayside, he with his arm about her waist: they did not seem to find it so cold as we. I have made a lot of progress today with my Portfolio paper. I think some of it should be nice, but it rambles a little; I like rambling, if the country be pleasant; don’t you? […][…] – Ever your faithful friend,

Robert Louis Stevenson


A soldier saying goodbye to his sweetheart as he leaves for the Crimean War [http://i.dailymail.co.uk/]

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1 Response to Why don’t they stamp their foot upon the ground and awake?

  1. rdury says:

    The words about people going through life without lookig etc. remind me of ‘An Apology for Idlers’ (1876): ‘There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. […] When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. ‘


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