‘English, The: – a dull people, incapable of comprehending the Scottish tongue

Both Gosse’s article (The Poetic Phase in Modern English Art) and Meredith’s Story (The Tale of Chloe) were published in The New Quarterly Magazine for July 1879.

RLS’s book just reviewed was Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes.

This letter is contemporary with the much-debated Cornhill essay, On some Aspects of Burns, afterwards published in Familiar Studies of Men and Books.

Colvin says that the nickname Weg was partly derived from Silas Wegg, the literary gentleman ‘with a wooden leg’ of Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend and was invented by RLS when Gosse was temporarely lame.

Mount Pisgah is the place from where God commanded Moses to view the Promised Land.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 635.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 273-274]

Swanston, Lothianburn, Edinburgh, 24 July 1879.

My dear Gosse,

I have greatly enjoyed your article which seems to me handsome in tone, and written like a fine old English gentleman. But is there not a hitch in the sentence at foot of page 153? I get lost in it. […]

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) [http://berenson.itatti.harvard.edu/]

Chapters VIII and IX of Meredith’s story are very good, I think.

George Meredith (1828-1909) novelist and poet, and a friend of RLS’s, with his son, 1862 [http://www.victorianweb.org/]

G. Meredith, ‘The Tale of Chloe’, 1891 ed. [https://ia700402.us.archive.org/]

G. Meredith, ‘The Tale of Chloe’, beginning of Chapter VIII [https://ia700402.us.archive.org/]

G. Meredith, ‘The Tale of Chloe’, beginning of Chapter IX [https://ia700402.us.archive.org/]

But who wrote the review of my book? […] whoever he was, he cannot write; he is humane, but a duffer; I could weep when I think of him; for surely to be virtuous and incompetent is a hard lot. I should prefer to be a bold pirate, the gay sailor-boy of immorality, and a publisher at once.

RLS, ‘Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes’, first edition, 1879 [http://deriv.nls.uk/]


Queen’s entry into Edinburgh in 1876, frontispiece from ‘Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes’ [http://deriv.nls.uk/]

My mind is extinct; my appetite is expiring; I have fallen altogether into a hollow-eyed, yawning way of life, like the parties in Burne Jones’s pictures.

E. Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris, 1868 [http://test.classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/]

E. Burne-Jones, The Briar Wood, 1885-1890 [http://2.bp.blogspot.com/]

William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones and their families, 1874 [http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/]

[…] Talking of Burns. (Is this not sad, Wegg? I use the term of reproach not because I am angry with you this time, but because I am angry with myself and desire to give pain.) Talking, I say, of Robert Burns, the inspired poet is a very gay subject for study. I made a kind of chronological table of his various loves and lusts, and have been comparatively speechless ever since. I am sorry to say it, but there was something in him of the vulgar, bagmanlike, professional seducer. […] Oblige me by taking down and reading, for the hundredth time I hope, his Twa Dogs and his Address to the Unco Guid. I am only a Scotchman, after all, you see; and when I have beaten Burns, I am driven at once, by my parental feelings, to console him with a sugar-plum. But hang me if I know anything I like so well as the Twa Dogs. Even a common Englishman may have a glimpse, as it were from Pisgah, of its extraordinary merits.

English, The: – a dull people, incapable of comprehending the Scottish tongue. Their history is so intimately connected with that of Scotland, that we must refer our readers to that heading. Their literature is principally the work of venal Scots.’

Stevenson’s Handy Cyclopœdia. Glescow: Blaikie & Bannock.


Remember me in suitable fashion to Mrs. Gosse, the offspring, and the cat. – And believe me ever yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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