There is a wonderful callousness in human nature which enables us to live

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 655.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 288-290]

Monterey, 8th October 1879.

My dear Weg,I know I am a rogue and the son of a dog. Yet let me tell you, when I came here I had a week’s misery and a fortnight’s illness, and since then I have been more or less busy in being content. This is a kind of excuse for my laziness. I hope you will not excuse yourself. My plans are still very uncertain, and it is not likely that anything will happen before Christmas. In the meanwhile, I believe I shall live on here ‘between the sandhills and the sea,’ as I think Mr. Swinburne hath it.

RLS misquotes ‘Between the sunset and the sea’, from Swinsburne’s ‘Chastelard, A Tragedy’, I. 2 (1865).

RLS misquotes ‘Between the sunset and the sea’, from Swinsburne’s ‘Chastelard, A Tragedy’, I. 2 (1865).

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) []

I was pretty nearly slain; my spirit lay down and kicked for three days; I was up at an Angora goat-ranche in the Santa Lucia Mountains, nursed by an old frontiersman, a mighty hunter of bears, and I scarcely slept, or ate, or thought for four days.

Charles Partridge Adams (1858-1942), Santa Lucia Mountains []

Location map of the Santa Lucia Mountains []

Santa Lucia Mountains, CA []

Two nights I lay out under a tree in a sort of stupor, doing nothing but fetch water for myself and horse, light a fire and make coffee, and all night awake hearing the goat-bells ringing and the tree-frogs singing when each new noise was enough to set me mad.

Then the bear-hunter came round, pronounced me ‘real sick,’ and ordered me up to the ranche.It was an odd, miserable piece of my life; and according to all rule, it should have been my death; but after a while my spirit got up again in a divine frenzy, and has since kicked and spurred my vile body forward with great emphasis and success.

My new book, The Amateur Emigrant, is about half drafted. I don’t know if it will be good, but I think it ought to sell in spite of the deil and the publishers; for it tells an odd enough experience, and one, I think, never yet told before. Look for my Burns in the Cornhill, and for my Story of a Lie in Paul’s withered babe, the New Quarterly. You may have seen the latter ere this reaches you: tell me if it has any interest, like a good boy, and remember that it was written at sea in great anxiety of mind. […] What is your news? Send me your works, like an angel, au fur et à mesure of their apparition, for I am naturally short of literature, and I do not wish to rust.

I fear this can hardly be called a letter. To say truth, I feel already a difficulty of approach; I do not know if I am the same man I was in Europe, perhaps I can hardly claim acquaintance with you.

Frank O’Meara, Belle Osbourne, Fanny Osbourne and RLS, Fontainebleau, Summer 1877

Irish artist Frank O’Meara, Belle Osbourne, Fanny Osbourne and RLS, Fontainebleau, Summer 1877.

My head went round and looks another way now; for when I found myself over here in a new land, and all the past uprooted in the one tug, and I neither feeling glad nor sorry, I got my last lesson about mankind; I mean my latest lesson, for of course I do not know what surprises there are yet in store for me.

RLS in 1880.

RLS in 1880.

But that I could have so felt astonished me beyond description. There is a wonderful callousness in human nature which enables us to live. I had no feeling one way or another, from New York to California, until, at Dutch Flat, a mining camp in the Sierra, I heard a cock crowing with a home voice; and then I fell to hope and regret both in the same moment.

Dutch Flat, CA, hydraulic gold mining, 1868 []

Is there a boy or a girl […]? and how is your wife? I thought of you more than once, to put it mildly.I live here comfortably enough; but I shall soon be left all alone, perhaps till Christmas. Then you may hope for correspondence – and may not I? – Your friend,


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