‘John Knox’ and ‘J.K.’ herein mentioned are the two papers on John Knox and his Relations with Women, first printed in Manmillan’s Magazine and afterwards in Familiar Studies of Men and Books.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 325].
To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1911, pp. 180-182]
Swanston, Wednesday, [October 21] 1874.
I have been hard at work all yesterday, and besides had to write a long letter to Bob, so I found no time until quite late, and then was sleepy. Last night it blew a fearful gale; I was kept awake about a couple of hours, and could not get to sleep for the horror of the wind’s noise; the whole house shook; and, mind you, our house is a house, a great castle of jointed stone that would weigh up a street of English houses; so that when it quakes, as it did last night, it means something. But the quaking was not what put me about; it was the horrible howl of the wind round the corner; the audible haunting of an incarnate anger about the house; the evil spirit that was abroad; and, above all, the shuddering silent pauses when the storm’s heart stands dreadfully still for a moment.
O how I hate a storm at night! They have been a great influence in my life, I am sure; for I can remember them so far back – long before I was six at least, for we left the house in which I remember listening to them times without number when I was six. And in those days the storm had for me a perfect impersonation, as durable and unvarying as any heathen deity. I always heard it, as a horseman riding past with his cloak about his head, and somehow always carried away, and riding past again, and being baffled yet once more, ad infinitum, all night long. I think I wanted him to get past, but I am not sure; I know only that I had some interest either for or against in the matter; and I used to lie and hold my breath, not quite frightened, but in a state of miserable exaltation.
My first John Knox is in proof, and my second is on the anvil. It is very good of me so to do; for I want so much to get to my real tour and my sham tour, the real tour first: it is always working in my head, and if I can only turn on the right sort of style at the right moment, I am not much afraid of it. One thing bothers me; what with hammering at this John Knox, and writing necessary letters, and taking necessary exercise (that even not enough, the weather is so repulsive to me, cold and windy), I find I have no time for reading except times of fatigue, when I wish merely to relax myself. O – and I read over again for this purpose Flaubert’s Tentation de St. Antoine; it struck me a good deal at first, but this second time it has fetched me immensely. I am but just done with it, so you will know the large proportion of salt to take with my present statement, that it’s the finest thing I ever read! Of course, it isn’t that, it’s full of longueurs, and is not quite ‘redd up,’ as we say in Scotland, not quite articulated; but there are splendid things in it.
I say, do take your maccaroni with oil […]: do, please. It’s beastly with butter.[…] – Ever your faithful friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson