This is not a gay way to pass Christmas, is it?

Fanny Vandegrift obtained her divorce from Samuel Osbourne in Oakland, Ca., on 12 December 1879.

The Emigrant is of course The Amateur Emigrant, the account of RLS’s journey to California, then still in draft.

The “novel” should be A Vendetta in the West, the MS eventually abandoned and apparently destroyed.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is the American author, poet, philosopher, naturalist and transcendentalist.

Mrs. Mary Carson was RLS’s Irish landlady at San Francisco, 608 Bush Street. You can read the story of their acquaintance at

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 672.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 307-308]

608 Bush Street, San Francisco, 26 December [1879].

My dear Colvin,

am now writing to you in a café waiting for some music to begin. For four days I have spoken to no one but to my landlady or landlord or to restaurant waiters.

608 Bush Street, San Francisco []


San Francisco remembers RLR with a monument in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown, 1897. The inscription is from the RLS’s ‘Christmas Sermon’, 1888 [] []

This is not a gay way to pass Christmas, is it? and I must own the guts are a little knocked out of me. If I could work, I could worry through better. But I have no style at command for the moment, with the second part of the Emigrant, the last of the novel, the essay on Thoreau, and God knows all, waiting for me. But I trust something can be done with the first part, or, by God, I’ll starve here.


O Colvin, you don’t know how much good I have done myself. I feared to think this out by myself. I have made a base use of you, and it comes out so much better than I had dreamed. But I have to stick to work now; and here’s December gone pretty near useless. But, Lord love you, October and November saw a great harvest. It might have affected the price of paper on the Pacific coast. As for ink, they haven’t any, not what I call ink; only stuff to write cookery-books with, or the works of Hayley, or the pallid perambulations of the – I can find nobody to beat Hayley. I like good, knock-me-down black-strap to write with; that makes a mark and done with it.

William Hayley (1745-1820), friend of Blake and Cowper; his poetry was ridiculed by Byron in ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ as ‘ For ever feeble and for ever tame’ []

By the way, I have tried to read the Spectator, which they all say I imitate, and – it’s very wrong of me, I know – but I can’t. It’s all very fine, you know, and all that, but it’s vapid.

‘The Spectator’, a daily publication lasting from 1711 to 1712

They have just played the overture to Norma, and I know it’s a good one, for I bitterly wanted the opera to go on; I had just got thoroughly interested – and then no curtain to rise.

I have written myself into a kind of spirits, bless your dear heart, by your leave. But this is wild work for me, nearly nine and me not back! What will Mrs. Carson think of me! Quite a night-hawk, I do declare.

 You are the worst correspondent in the world – no, not that, Henley is that – well, I don’t know, I leave the pair of you to Him that made you – surely with small attention. […] But here’s my service, and I’ll away home to my den O! much the better for this crack, Professor Colvin.



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1 Response to This is not a gay way to pass Christmas, is it?

  1. Maria Finzi says:

    ….and God knows all, waiting for me…Best whishes for Christmas and a very happy new year to all the fans of R.L.S.! Date: Sun, 7 Dec 2014 10:03:39 +0000 To:


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