In Edinburgh Sacramental fast-days were observed on the Thursday before the last Sunday of April and October; they were discontinued in 1887.
The ‘Song of Deborah and Barak’ is from the Bible, Judges 5.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 326].
To Mrs. Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 92-94]
[October 22, 1874], Edinburgh, Thursday.
It is cold, […] but very sunshiny and dry; I wish you were here; it would suit you and it doesn’t suit me; if we could change? This is the Fast day – Thursday preceding bi-annual Holy Sacrament that is – nobody does any work, they go to Church twice, they read nothing secular (except the newspapers, that is the nuance between Fast day and Sunday), they eat like fighting-cocks. Behold how good a thing it is and becoming well to fast in Scotland.
I am progressing with John Knox and Women No. 2; I shall finish it, I think, in a fortnight hence; and then I shall begin to enjoy myself. J. K. and W. No. 2 is not uninteresting however; it only bores me because I am so anxious to be at something else which I like better. I shall perhaps go to Church this afternoon from a sort of feeling that it is rather a wholesome thing to do of an afternoon; it keeps one from work and it lets you out so late that you cannot weary yourself walking and so spoil your evening’s work.
Friday. – I got your letter this morning, and whether owing to that, or to the fact that I had spent the evening before in comparatively riotous living, I managed to work five hours and a half well and without fatigue; besides reading about an hour more at history. This is a thing to be proud of. We have had lately some of the most beautiful sunsets; our autumn sunsets here are always admirable in colour. Tonight there was just a little lake of tarnished green deepening into a blood-orange at the margins, framed above by dark clouds and below by the long roof-line of the Egyptian buildings on what we called the Mound, the statues on the top (of her Britannic Majesty and diverse nondescript Sphinxes) printing themselves off black against the lit space.
Saturday. – It has been colder than ever; and tonight there is a truculent wind about the house, shaking the windows and making a hollow inarticulate grumbling in the chimney. I cannot say how much I hate the cold. It makes my scalp so tight across my head and gives me such a beastly rheumatism about my shoulders, and wrinkles and stiffens my face; O I have such a Sehnsucht for Mentone, where the sun is shining and the air still, and (a friend […] writes to me) people are complaining of the heat.[…]
Sunday. – I was chased out by my lamp again last night; it always goes out when I feel in the humour to write to you.
Today I have been to Church, which has not improved my temper I must own. The clergyman did his best to make me hate him, and I took refuge in that admirable poem, the Song of Deborah and Barak; I should like to make a long scroll of painting (say to go all round a cornice) illustrative of this poem; with the people seen in the distance going stealthily on footpaths while the great highways go vacant; with the archers besetting the draw-wells; with the princes in hiding on the hills among the bleating sheep-flocks; with the overthrow of Sisera, the stars fighting against him in their courses and that ancient river, the river Kishon, sweeping him away in anger; with his mother looking and looking down the long road in the red sunset, and never a banner and never a spear-clump coming into sight, and her women with white faces round her, ready with lying comfort. To say nothing of the people on white asses.
O, I do hate this damned life that I lead. Work – work – work; that ‘s all right, it’s amusing; but I want women about me and I want pleasure. John Knox had a better time of it than I, with his godly females all leaving their husbands to follow after him; I would I were John Knox; I hate living like a hermit. […] Write me a nice letter if ever you are in the humour to write me, and it doesn’t hurt your head […]. Good-bye […]. Ever your faithful friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson