The ‘Buckinghamshire affair’ refers to RLS’s essay ‘An Autumn Effect’, published in the Portfolio, April and May 1875.
Maurice de Guérin (1810-1839) was a French poet and mystic who won recognition after his death with the publication of his Journal (1860).
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 343].
To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1911, pp. 198-200]
[Edinburgh], 21 December, 1874.
Monday. – I have come from a concert, and the concert was rather a disappointment. Not so my afternoon skating – Duddingston, our big loch, is bearing; and I wish you could have seen it this afternoon, covered with people, in thin driving snow flurries, the big hill grim and white and alpine overhead in the thick air, and the road up the gorge, as it were into the heart of it, dotted black with traffic. Moreover, I can skate a little bit; and what one can do is always pleasant to do. […]
Tuesday. – […] I got your letter today, and was so glad thereof. It was of good omen to me also. I worked from ten to one (my classes are suspended now for Xmas holidays), and wrote four or five Portfolio pages of my Buckinghamshire affair […]. Then I went to Duddingston and skated all afternoon. If you had seen the moon rising, a perfect sphere of smoky gold, in the dark air above the trees, and the white loch thick with skaters, and the great hill, snow-sprinkled, overhead! It was a sight for a king. […]
Wednesday. – I stayed on Duddingston today till after nightfall. The little booths that hucksters set up round the edge were marked each one by its little lamp. There were some fires too; and the light, and the shadows of the people who stood round them to warm themselves, made a strange pattern all round on the snow-covered ice. A few people with torches began to travel up and down the ice, a lit circle travelling along with them over the snow. A gigantic moon rose, meanwhile, over the trees and the kirk on the promontory, among perturbed and vacillating clouds.
The walk home was very solemn and strange. Once, through a broken gorge, we had a glimpse of a little space of mackerel sky, moon-litten, on the other side of the hill; the broken ridges standing grey and spectral between; and the hilltop over all, snow-white, and strangely magnified in size.
This must go to you […] tomorrow, so that you may read it on Christmas Day, for company. I hope it may be good company to you. […]
Thursday. – Outside, it snows thick and steadily. The gardens before our house are now a wonderful fairy forest. And O, this whiteness of things, how I love it, how it sends the blood about my body! Maurice de Guérin hated snow; what a fool he must have been! Somebody tried to put me out of conceit with it by saying that people were lost in it. As if people don’t get lost in love, too, and die of devotion to art; as if everything worth were not an occasion to some people’s end.
What a wintry letter this is! Only I think it is winter seen from the inside of a warm greatcoat. And there is, at least, a warm heart about it somewhere. Do you know, what they say in Xmas stories is true? I think one loves their friends more dearly at this season. […] – Ever your faithful friend […],
Robert Louis Stevenson