The look of his face was a wine to me

RLS was playing the role of Orsino in the rehearsals of The Twelfth Night for amateur theatricals at Professor Fleeming Jenkin’s.

William Ernest Henley, RLS’s new acquaintance, suffered from a tubercolous disease: he had a wooden leg and had been just following treatment of his other foot.

At the end of the letter RLS is parodying St Paul’s Epistles,  Timothy II, 4.19.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 385].

To Fanny Sitwell [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 214-215]

[Edinburgh, 5 May 1875.]

Wednesday. – A moment at last. These last few days have been as jolly as days could be, and by good fortune I leave tomorrow for Swanston, so that I shall not feel the whole fall back to habitual self. The pride of life could scarce go further. To live in splendid clothes, velvet and gold and fur, upon principally champagne and lobster salad, with a company of people nearly all of whom are exceptionally good talkers; when your days began about eleven and ended about four – I have lost that sentence; I give it up; it is very admirable sport, anyway.

W.H. Deverell, ‘Twelfth Night Act II Scene IV’, 1850 []

Then both my afternoons have been so pleasantly occupied – taking Henley drives. I had a business to carry him down the long stair, and more of a business to get him up again, but while he was in the carriage it was splendid.

W.E. Henley (1849-1903) []

It is now just the top of spring with us. The whole country is mad with green. To see the cherry blossom bitten out upon the black firs, and the black firs bitten out of the blue sky, was a sight to set before a king.






You may imagine what it was to a man who has been eighteen months in an hospital ward. The look of his face was a wine to me. He plainly has been little in the country before. Imagine this: I always stopped him on the Bridges to let him enjoy the great cry of green that goes up to Heaven out of the river beds, and he asked (more than once) ‘What noise is that?’ – ‘The water.’ – ‘O!’ almost incredulously; and then quite a long while after; ‘Do you know the noise of the water astonished me very much?’ I was much struck by his putting the question twice; I have lost the sense of wonder of course; but there must be something to wonder at, for Henley has eyes and ears and an immortal soul of his own.


[…]I shall send this off today to let you know of my new address – Swanston Cottage, Lothianburn, Edinburgh. Salute the faithful in my name. Salute Priscilla, salute Barnabas, salute Ebenezer – O no, he’s too much, I withdraw Ebenezer; enough of early Christians. – […] Ever your faithful

Robert Louis Stevenson

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2 Responses to The look of his face was a wine to me

  1. Maria Finzi says:

    che belli gli unici tre giorni senza pioggia dell’anno in scozia! Baci Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2014 17:06:45 +0000 To:


  2. rdury says:

    This outing seems to be femmebered by Henley in his poem ‘Discharged’, which begins:
    Carry me out
    Into the wind and the sunshine,
    Into the beautiful world.

    O, the wonder, the spell of the streets!
    The stature and strength of the horses,
    The rustle and echo of footfalls,
    The flat roar and rattle of wheels!
    A swift tram floats huge on us . . .
    It’s a dream?


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