RLS had made friends with the American writer Charles Warren Stoddard (1843-1909), in the manner and amid the scenes faithfully described in The Wrecker, in the chapter called ‘Faces on the City Front.’ It appears from Stoddard’s letter that he had published a magazine article containing letters from his autograph album with short notes about the friends who had written them.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 701.]
To Charles Warren Stoddard [Colvin 1911, 1, pp. 336-337]
c/o Mrs Osbourne, 11th Ave & 18th St, East Oakland [c. 25 April 1880].
My dear Stoddard,
I am guilty in thy sight and the sight of God. However, I swore a great oath that you should see some of my manuscript at last; and though I have long delayed to keep it, yet it was to be. You re-read your story and were disgusted; that is the cold fit following the hot. I don’t say you did wrong to be disgusted, yet I am sure you did wrong to be disgusted altogether. There was, you may depend upon it, some reason for your previous vanity, as well as your present mortification. I shall hear you, years from now, timidly begin to retrim your feathers for a little self-laudation, and trot out this misdespised novelette as not the worst of your performances.
I read the album extracts with sincere interest; but I regret that you spared to give the paper more development; and I conceive that you might do a great deal worse than expand each of its paragraphs into an essay or sketch, the excuse being in each case your personal intercourse; the bulk, when that would not be sufficient, to be made up from their own works and stories. Three at least – Menken, Yelverton, and Keeler – could not fail of a vivid human interest.
Let me press upon you this plan; should any document be wanted from Europe, let me offer my services to procure it. I am persuaded that there is stuff in the idea. Are you coming over again to see me some day soon? I keep returning, and now hand over fist, from the realms of Hades: I saw that gentleman between the eyes, and fear him less after each visit.
Only Charon, and his rough boatmanship, I somewhat fear.
I have a desire to write some verses for your album; so, if you will give me the entry among your gods, goddesses, and godlets, there will be nothing wanting but the Muse. I think of the verses like Mark Twain;
sometimes I wish fulsomely to belaud you; sometimes to insult your city and fellow-citizens; sometimes to sit down quietly, with the slender reed, and troll a few staves of Panic ecstasy – but fy! fy! as my ancestors observed, the last is too easy for a man of my feet and inches.
At least, Stoddard, you now see that, although so costive, when I once begin I am a copious letter-writer. I thank you, and au revoir.
Robert Louis Stevenson
On Jan 30, Robert-Louis Abrahamson has sent me the following information which I am happy to add here:“Stoddard wrote an interesting memoir, A Troubled Heart: And How It Was Comforted at Last (1885), in which he recounts the rigid, ugly, oppressive Protestantism he grew up with and his joyful encounter with Catholicism and its colours, smells, art work, and music. (He and RLS shared the same strict Protestant upbringing – as did Gosse and even Colvin. Hence the opening of the letter to Stoddard with its reference to the Prodigal Son’s being guilty in thy sight and in the sight of God.”RLA