One day at the Savile Club in London, RLS, hearing a certain laugh, cried out that he must know the laugher, who turned out to be a fellow-countryman, John Meiklejohn, the well-known educational authority and professor at St. Andrews University. RLS introduced himself, and the two became friends.
The Scots word ‘gangrel’ means ‘tramp’, ‘vagabond’.
The Latin quote is from Virgil’s Aeneid, II (Aeneas speaking to Dido about the fall of Troy).
The “blood and bones in the name of God” story is The Pavilion on the Links, just then accepted for the Cornhill by its editor, Leslie Stephen.
The ‘Spectator article’ is the ‘slanging review’ of Travels with a Donkey, published in the Spectator of 27 September 1879.
[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 687.]
To John Meiklejohn [Colvin 1912, pp. 135-137]
608 Bush Street, San Francisco, California, Feb. 1st, 1880.
My dear Meiklejohn,
You must think me a thankless fellow by this time; but if you knew how harassed and how sick I had been, and how I have twice begun to write to you already, you might condescend to forgive the puir gangrel body. To tell you what I have been doing, thinking, and coming through these six or seven months would exhilarate nobody: least of all me. Infandum jubes, so I hope you won’t. I have done a great deal of work, but perhaps my health of mind and body should not let me expect much from what I have done. At least I have turned the corner; my feet are on the rock again, I believe, and I shall continue to pour forth pure and wholesome literature for the masses as per invoice.
I am glad you liked Burns; I think it is the best thing I ever did. Did not the national vanity exclaim? Do you know what Shairp thought? I think I let him down gently, did I not?
I have done a Thoreau, which I hope you may like, though I have a feeling that perhaps it might be better.
Please look out for a little paper called Yoshida Torajiro, which, I hope, will appear in Cornhill ere very long; the subject, at least, will interest you.
I am to appear in the same magazine with a real “blood and bones in the name of God” story. Why Stephen took it, is to me a mystery; anyhow, it was fun to write, and if you can interest a person for an hour and a half, you have not been idle.
When I suffer in mind, stories are my refuge; I take them like opium; and I consider one who writes them as a sort of doctor of the mind. And frankly, Meiklejohn, it is not Shakespeare we take to, when we are in a hot corner; nor, certainly, George Eliot – no, nor even Balzac.It is Charles Reade or old Dumas, or the Arabian Nights, or the best of Walter Scott;
it is stories we want, not the high poetic function which represents the world; we are then like the Asiatic with his improvisatore or the middle-agee with his trouvère. We want incident, interest, action: to the devil with your philosophy. When we are well again, and have an easy mind, we shall peruse your important work; but what we want now is a drug. So I, when I am ready to go beside myself, stick my head into a storybook, as the ostrich with her bush; let fate and fortune meantime belabour my posteriors at their will.
I have not seen the Spectator article; nobody sent it to me. If you had an old copy lying by you, you would be very good to despatch it to me. A little abuse from my grandmamma would do me good in health, if not in morals.
This is merely to shake hands with you and give you the top of the morning in 1880. But I look to be answered; and then I shall promise to answer in return. For I am now, so far as that can be in this world, my own man again, and when I have heard from you, I shall be able to write more naturally and at length.
At least, my dear Meiklejohn, I hope you will believe in the sincerely warm and friendly regard in which I hold you, and the pleasure with which I look forward, not only to hearing from you shortly, but to seeing you again in the flesh with another good luncheon and good talk. Tell me when you don’t like my work. – Your friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson