No one of the stories mentioned here will turn out according to RLS’s dream and desire at its first conception, or even will be preserved for use afterwards as the foundation of riper work.
“Clytie” is the famous Roman bust of a joung woman emerging from a flower, from the Townley collection in the British Museum. Townley identified her as Clytie, the nymph who was turned into a sunflower by Apollo. Now she is identified as Antonia, Mark Antony’s daughter, although some scholars consider it a 18th century artwork. It was extensively reproduced: Goethe owned two casts of this.
Richmond Seeley is the proprietor and publisher of the Portfolio.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 329].
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, pp. 105-107]
[Edinburgh, Late October or early November 1874.]
My dear Colvin,
Thanks for your letter, I too am in such a state of business that I know not when to find the time to write. Look here – Seeley does not seem to me to have put that paper of mine in this month; so I remain unable to pay you; which is a sad pity and must be forgiven me.
What am I doing? Well I wrote my second John Knox, which is not a bad piece of work for me; begun and finished ready for press in nine days. Then I have since written a story called King Matthias’s Hunting Horn, and I am engaged in finishing another called The Two Falconers of Cairnstane. I find my stories affect me rather more perhaps than is wholesome. I have only been two hours at work to-day, and yet I have been crying and am shaking badly, as you can see in my handwriting, and my back is a bit bad. They give me […] pleasure though, quite worth all results. However I shall work no more today.
I am to get £1,000 when I pass Advocate, it seems; which is good.
O I say, will you kindly tell me all about the bust of Clytie.Then I had the wisdom to stop and look over Japanese picture books until lunch time.
Well, tell me about Clytie, how old is it, who did it, what ‘s it about, etc. Send it on a sheet that I can forward without indiscretion to another, as I desire the information for a friend whom I wish to please.Now look here. When I have twelve stories ready – these twelve –
I. The Devil on Cramond Sands (needs copying about half).II. The Curate of Anstruther’s Bottle (needs copying altogether). III. The Two Falconers of Cairnstane (wants a few pages).
IV. Strange Adventures of Mr. Nehemiah Solny (wants reorganisation).
V. King Matthias’s Hunting Horn (all ready).VI. Autolycus at Court (in gremio). VII. The Family of Love (in gremio). VIII. The Barrel Organ (all ready). IX. The Last Sinner (wants copying).
X. Margery Bonthron (wants a few pages).
XI. Martin’s Madonna (in gremio).
XII. Life and Death (all ready).
[…] – when I have these twelve ready, should I not do better to try to get a publisher for them, call them A Book of Stories and put a dedicatory letter at the fore end of them? I should get less coin than by going into magazines perhaps; but I should also get more notice, should I not? and so, do better for myself in the long run. Now, should I not? Besides a book with boards is a book with boards, even if it bain’t a very fat one and has no references to Ammianus Marcellinus and German critics at the foot of the pages. On all this, I shall want your serious advice. I am sure I shall stand or fall by the stories; and you’ll think so too, when you see those poor excrescences the two John Knox and Women games. However, judge for yourself and be prudent on my behalf, like a good soul.
Yes, I’ll come to Cambridge then or thereabout, if God doesn’t put a real tangible spoke in my wheel.
My terms with my parents are admirable; we are a very united family.
Good-bye, mon cher, je ne puis plus écrire. I have not quite got over a damned affecting part in my story this morning. O cussed stories, they will never affect any one but me I fear. – Ever yours,
Robert Louis Stevenson