The following incident is related in a well-known passage of RLS’s Inland Voyage (chapter ‘The Oise in flood’), his travelogue about a canoeing trip through France and Belgium in 1876, with his friend Sir Walter Simpson. That was also his earliest book. About that incident he wrote: On my tomb, if ever I have one, I mean to get these words inscribed: ‘He clung to his paddle’.
You may read the early edition of the book at http://digital.nls.uk/rlstevenson/browse/pageturner.cfm?id=79805443&mode=fullsize
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 446.]
To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 1, p. 248]
[Chauny, Aisne. 6 September 1876.]
My dear Henley,
Here I am, you see; and if you will take to a map, you will observe I am already more than two doors from Antwerp, whence I started.
I have fought it through under the worst weather I ever saw in France; I have been wet through nearly every day of travel since the second (inclusive); besides this, I have had to fight against pretty mouldy health; so that, on the whole, the essayist and reviewer has shown, I think, some pluck. Four days ago I was not a hundred miles from being miserably drowned, to the immense regret of a large circle of friends and the permanent impoverishment of British Essayism and Reviewery. My boat culbutted me under a fallen tree in a very rapid current; and I was a good while before I got on to the outside of that fallen tree; rather a better while than I cared about. When I got up, I lay some time on my belly, panting, and exuded fluid […].
All my symptoms jusqu’ici are trifling. But I’ve a damned sore throat. […] – Yours ever,