We walk little cycles, and turn in little abortive spirals, and come out again, hot and weary

Sidney Colvin was at this time revising for the Portfolio the substance of Cambridge lectures on Hogarth.

David Douglas (1823-1916) was an Edinburgh publisher, notable for reprinting American authors in cheap editions.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 386].

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, pp. 108-109]

[Swanston, c. 7 May 1875.]

My dear Colvin,

I am a devil certainly; but write I cannot. Look here, you had better get hold of G.C. Lichtenberg’s Ausfürliche Erklärung der Hogarthischen Kupferstiche: Göttingen, 1794 to 1816 (it was published in numbers seemingly). Douglas the publisher lent it to me: and tho’ I hate the damned tongue too cordially to do more than dip into it, I have seen some shrewd things. If you cannot get it for yourself (it seems scarce), I dare say I could negotiate with Douglas for a loan.

A volume from Georg Christopf Lichtenberg’s ‘Ausfürliche Erklärung der Hogarthischen Kupferstiche’ in which he described the satirical details in William Hogarth’s prints [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Lichtenberg’s monument at the marketplace in Göttingen [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

[…] This adorable spring has made me quite drunken, drunken with green colour and golden sound. We have the best blackbird here that we have had for years; we have two; but the other is but an average performer. Anything so rich and clear as the pipe of our first fiddle, it never entered into the heart of man to fancy.

Springtime in Swanston [ http://www.edinburghspotlight.com/%5D

How the years slip away, Colvin; and we walk little cycles, and turn in little abortive spirals, and come out again, hot and weary, to find the same view before us, the same hill barring the road.


Only, bless God for it, we have still the same eye to see with, and if the scene be not altogether unsightly, we can enjoy it whether or no. I feel quite happy, but curiously inert and passive, something for the winds to blow over, and the sun to glimpse on and go off again, as it might be a tree or a gravestone. All this willing and wishing and striving leads a man nowhere after all.


Here I am back again in my old humour of a sunny equanimity; to see the world fleet about me; and the days chase each other like sun patches, and the nights like cloud-shadows, on a windy day;


content to see them go and nowise reluctant for the cool evening, with its dew and stars and fading strain of tragic red.



And I ask myself why I ever leave this humour? What I have gained? And the winds blow in the trees with a sustained “Pish!” and the birds answer me in a long derisive whistle. So that for health, happiness, and indifferent literature, apply to – Ever yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson




This entry was posted in birds, blackbirds, cloud-shadows, cool, cycles, days, derisive, devil, dew, Douglas, drunken, enjoy, equanimity, evening, eye, fancy, fiddle, Göttingen, German, golden, gravestone, green, happiness, happy, health, hill, Hogarth, hot, humour, indifferent, inert, Letters, Lichtenberg, literature, nights, passive, performer, publisher, red, road, Robert Louis Stevenson, scene, Sidney Colvin, sound, spirals, spring, stars, striving, sun, Swanston, tongue, tragic, tree, view, weary, whistle, willing, winds, wishing, world, years. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to We walk little cycles, and turn in little abortive spirals, and come out again, hot and weary

  1. rdury says:

    Nice to read this to the sound of the blackbird and see the photo of sun patches and shadows!


  2. mafalda says:

    Thank yous, Richard! Not too mawkish?


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