RLS returned home from his first visit at Barbizon on 23 April 1875.
The rehearsals were those of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for amateur theatricals at Professor Fleeming Jenkin’s in which Stevenson played the part of Orsino (the leading character of RLS’s Italian story, When the Devil was well, has the same name).
Henley’s poems were published in the July Cornhill as ‘Hospital Outlines: Sketches and Portraits’. A much revised version appeared in A Book of Verses, 1888.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 383 and 384].
To Mrs. Sitwell [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 212-214]
[Edinburgh, 24 April 1875] Saturday.
I am getting on with my rehearsals, […], but I find the part very hard. I rehearsed yesterday from a quarter to seven, and today from four (with interval for dinner) to eleven. You see the sad strait I am in for ink. – À demain.
Sunday. – This is the third ink-bottle I have tried, and still it’s nothing to boast of. My journey went off all right, and I have kept ever in good spirits. Last night, indeed, I did not think my little bit of gaiety was going away down the wind like a whiff of tobacco smoke, but today it has come back to me a little. The influence of this place is assuredly all that can be worst against one; mais il faut lutter, […]. […] I was haunted last night when I was in bed by the most cold, desolate recollections of my past life here; I was glad to try and think of the forest, and warm my hands at the thought of it. O the quiet, grey thickets, and the yellow butterflies, and the woodpeckers, and the outlook over the plain as it were over a sea! O for the good, fleshly stupidity of the woods, the body conscious of itself all over and the mind forgotten, the clean air nestling next your skin as though your clothes were gossamer, the eye filled and content, the whole man HAPPY!
Whereas here it takes a pull to hold yourself together; it needs both hands, and a book of stoical maxims, and a sort of bitterness at the heart by way of armour. […] – Ever your faithfu
Wednesday. – I am so played out with a cold in my eye that I cannot see to write or read without difficulty. It is swollen horrible; so how I shall look as Orsino. God knows! I have my fine clothes tho’. Henley’s sonnets have been taken for the Cornhill. He is out of hospital now, and dressed, but still not too much to brag of in health, poor fellow, I am afraid.
Sunday. – […] So. I have still rather bad eyes, and a nasty sore throat. I play Orsino every day, in all the pomp of Solomon, splendid Francis the First clothes, heavy with gold and stage jewellery. I play it ill enough, I believe; but me and the clothes, and the wadding wherewith the clothes and me are reconciled, produce every night a thrill of admiration. Our cook told my mother (there is a servants’ night, you know) that she and the housemaid were ‘just prood to be able to say it was oor young gentleman.’
To sup afterwards with these clothes on, and a wonderful lot of gaiety and Shakespearean jokes about the table, is something to live for. It is so nice to feel you have been dead three hundred years, and the sound of your laughter is faint and far off in the centuries. […] – Ever your faithful
Robert Louis Stevenson