James Walter Ferrier (1850-1883) was one of RLS’s friends from his days at Edinburgh University; he died of alcoholism as a young man.
Somerset is possibly a reference to RLS’s cousin, Bob, who figured as the original of some characters of the same name in two works of RLS’s.
Forester was an autobiographical paper by Ferrier on his own boyhood.
[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 696.]
To J. W. Ferrier [Colvin 1912, pp. 140-141]
P.O. San Francisco [East Oakland], April 8th .
My dear Ferrier,
Many thanks for your letter, and the instalment of Forester which accompanied it, and which I read with amusement and pleasure. I fear Somerset’s letter must wait; for my dear boy, I have been very nearly on a longer voyage than usual; I am fresh from giving Charon a quid instead of an obolus: but he, having accepted the payment, scorned me, and I had to make the best of my way backward through the mallow-wood, with nothing to show for this displacement but the fatigue of the journey.
As soon as I feel fit, you shall have the letter, trust me. But just now even a note such as I am now writing takes it out of me. I have, truly, been very sick; I fear I am a vain man, for I thought it a pity I should die. I could not help thinking that a good many would be disappointed; but for myself, although I still think life a business full of agreeable features, I was not entirely unwilling to give it up. It is so difficult to behave well; and in that matter, I get more dissatisfied with myself, because more exigent, every day. I shall be pleased to hear again from you soon. I shall be married early in May and then go to the mountains, a very withered bridegroom. I think your MS Bible, if that were a specimen, would be a credit to humanity. Between whiles, collect such thoughts both from yourself and others: I somehow believe every man should leave a Bible behind him, – if he is unable to leave a jest book.
I feel fit to leave nothing but my benediction. It is a strange thing how, do what you will, nothing seems accomplished. I feel as far from having paid humanity my board and lodging as I did six years ago when I was sick at Mentone. But I dare say the devil would keep telling me so, if I had moved mountains, and at least I have been very happy on many different occasions, and that is always something. I can read nothing, write nothing; but a little while ago and I could eat nothing either; but now that is changed. This is a long letter for me; rub your hands, boy, for ‘t is an honour. – Yours, from Charon’s strand,