The first draft of the first part of the Amateur Emigrant, when it reached Colvin about Christmas 1879, had seemed to him, compared to RLS’s previous travel papers, “a somewhat wordy and spiritless record of squalid experiences, little likely to advance his still only half-established reputation”. He had written to RLS to that effect, with a fuller measure even than usual of the frankness which always marked their intercourse.
The Vendetta is RLS’s novel eventually abandoned and apparently destroyed, called A Vendetta in the West.
The Forest State came to maturity later as Prince Otto (1885).
The story called The Pavilion on the Links had just then been accepted for the Cornhill.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 685.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 315-317]
608 Bush Street, San Francisco, California [Late January 1880].
My dear Colvin,I received this morning your long letter from Paris. Well, God’s will be done; if it’s dull, it’s dull; it was a fair fight, and it’s lost, and there’s an end. But, fortunately, dulness is not a fault the public hates; perhaps they may like this vein of dulness. If they don’t, damn them, we’ll try them with another. I sat down on the back of your letter, and wrote twelve Cornhill pages this day as ever was of that same despised Emigrant; so you see my moral courage has not gone down with my intellect. Only, frankly, Colvin, do you think it a good plan to be so eminently descriptive, and even eloquent in dispraise? You rolled such a lot of polysyllables over me that a better man than I might have been disheartened. However, I was not, as you see, and am not. The Emigrant shall be finished and leave in the course of next week. And then, I’ll stick to stories. I am not frightened. I know my mind is changing; I have been telling you so for long; and I suppose I am fumbling for the new vein. Well, I’ll find it.
The Vendetta you will not much like, I dare say: and that must be finished next; but I’ll knock you with The Forest State: A Romance.
I’m vexed about my letters; I know it is painful to get these unsatisfactory things; […] but at least I have written often enough. And not one soul ever gives me any news, about people or things; everybody writes me sermons; it’s good for me, but hardly the food necessary for a man who lives all alone on forty-five cents a day, and sometimes less, with quantities of hard work and many heavy thoughts. If one of you could write me a letter with a jest in it, a letter like what is written to real people in this world – I am still flesh and blood – I should enjoy it. Simpson did, the other day, and it did me as much good as a bottle of wine. A lonely man gets to feel like a pariah after awhile – or no, not that, but like a saint and martyr, or a kind of macerated clergyman with pebbles in his boots, a pillared Simeon, I’m damned if I know what, but, man alive, I want gossip.
My health is better, my spirits steadier, I am not the least cast down. If the Emigrant was a failure, the Pavilion, by your leave, was not: it was a story quite adequately and rightly done, I contend; and when I find Stephen, for whom certainly I did not mean it, taking it in, I am better pleased with it than before.
I know I shall do better work than ever I have done before; but, mind you, it will not be like it. My sympathies and interests are changed. There shall be no more books of travel for me. I care for nothing but the moral and the dramatic, not a jot for the picturesque or the beautiful other than about people. It bored me hellishly to write the Emigrant; well, it’s going to bore others to read it; that’s only fair.
I should also write to others; but indeed I am jack-tired, and must go to bed to a French novel to compose myself for slumber. – Ever your affectionate friend,
R. L. S.