You know I was a story-teller ingrain; did not that reassure you?


The volume of studies was eventually called Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882), and the one of the essays Virginibus Puerisque (1881).

The essays here mentioned on Benjamin Franklin and William Penn were projects long cherished but in the end abandoned.

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

The Vendetta is RLS’s novel, A Vendetta in the West: the MS was eventually abandoned and apparently destroyed.

The Forest State came to maturity later as Prince Otto (1885). Semiramis was an early tragedy mentioned by RLS in A College Magazine (1887).

Hester Noble is a play begun with Henley the previous winter: nothing more came of it.

Part of a MS On the Art of Literature is at Silverado Museum, St. Helena, CA, while nothing more is heard of The Human Compromise.

The Slate is What Was On The Slate, another novel of RLS’s novel that was probably destroyed.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 684.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 324-326]

608 Bush Street, San Francisco [Late January 1880].

My dear Henley,

Before my work or anything I sit down to answer your long and kind letter. […]

[…] I am well, cheerful, busy, hopeful; I cannot be knocked down; I do not mind about the Emigrant. I never thought it a masterpiece. It was written to sell, and I believe it will sell; and if it does not, the next will. You need not be uneasy about my work; I am only beginning to see my true method.

(1) As to Studies. There are two more already gone to Stephen.

Leslie Stephen, editor of the Cornhill, 1875 []

Yoshida Torajiro, which I think temperate and adequate; and Thoreau, which will want a really Balzacian effort over the proofs.

Yoshida Torajiro (1830–1859), one of the intellectuals of last feudal Japanese military government, Shimoda, Japan []


But I want Benjamin Franklin and the Art of Virtue to follow; and perhaps also William Penn, but this last may be perhaps delayed for another volume – I think not, though.

Benjamin Franklin, the ‘First American’ (1706-1790)[]

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by J.L.G. Ferris: William Penn (1644-1716), holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II []

 The Studies will be an intelligent volume, and in their latter numbers more like what I mean to be my style, or I mean what my style means to be, for I am passive.

(2) The Essays. Good news indeed. I think Ordered South must be thrown in. It always swells the volume, and it will never find a more appropriate place. It was May 1874, Macmillan, I believe.

Macmillan’s Magazine, vol. 30, May-Oct 1874 []

RLS, ‘Ordered South’, Macmillan’s Magazine vol. 30, May 1874, p. 68 []

(3) Plays. I did not understand you meant to try the draft. I shall make you a full scenario as soon as the Emigrant is done.

(4) Emigrant. He shall be sent off next week.

(5) Stories. You need not be alarmed that I am going to imitate Meredith.

George Meredith (1828-1909), English novelist and poet []

You know I was a story-teller ingrain; did not that reassure you? The Vendetta, which falls next to be finished, is not entirely pleasant. But it has points. […] The Forest State or The Greenwood State: A Romance, is another pair of shoes. It is my old Semiramis, our half-seen Duke and Duchess, which suddenly sprang into sunshine clearness as a story the other day. The kind, happy dénouement is unfortunately absolutely undramatic, which will be our only trouble in quarrying out the play. I mean we shall quarry from it. Characters – Otto Frederick John, hereditary Prince of Grünwald; Amelia Seraphina, Princess; Conrad, Baron Gondremarck, Prime Minister; Cancellarius Greisengesang; Killian Gottesacker, Steward of the River Farm; Ottilie, his daughter; the Countess von Rosen. Seven in all. A brave story, I swear; and a brave play too, if we can find the trick to make the end. The play, I fear, will have to end darkly, and that spoils the quality as I now see it of a kind of crockery, eighteenth century, high-life-below-stairs life, breaking up like ice in spring before the nature and the certain modicum of manhood of my poor, clever, feather-headed Prince, whom I love already. I see Seraphina too. Gondremarck is not quite so clear. The Countess von Rosen, I have; I’ll never tell you who she is; it’s a secret; but I have known the countess; well, I will tell you; it’s my old Russian friend, Nadia Zassetsky. Certain scenes are, in conception, the best I have ever made, except for Hester Noble. Those at the end, Von Rosen and the Princess, the Prince and Princess, and the Princess and Gondremarck, as I now see them from here, should be nuts, Henley, nuts. It irks me not to go to them straight.

But the Emigrant stops the way; then a reassured scenario for Hester; then the Vendetta; then two (or three) essays – Benjamin Franklin, Thoughts on Literature as an Art, Dialogue on Character and Destiny between two Puppets, The Human Compromise; and then, at length – come to me, my Prince. O Lord, it’s going to be courtly! And there is not an ugly person nor an ugly scene in it. The Slate both Fanny and I have damned utterly; it is too morbid, ugly, and unkind; better starvation.



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