‘Vixerunt nonnulli in agris, delectati re sua familiari’

RLS and Fanny were married on 19 May 1880 by the Revd William Anderson Scott, a Scots Presbyterian minister, at his home in Post Street, San Francisco.

After staying 3 days at the Palace Hotel, they left San Francisco. on 22 May and travelled by ferry and rail norhwards, to the small spa-own of Calistoga in the Napa Valley, an area now famous for wine production. The second part of the letter must have been written from the Springs Hotel, Calistoga.

RLS’s diary is his journal which formed the basis for The Silverado Squatters, first published only in 1954.

RLS’s novel A Vendetta in the West was eventually abandoned and apparently destroyed. Prince Otto will be published in 1885.

Silverado. the deserted mining camp on the slopes of Mount Saint Helena was chosen on the advice of a Russian-Jewish storekeeper whom RLS called Kelmar.

The latin motto quotes Cicero, de officiis 1.20: ‘Some of them lived in the country and found their pleasure in the management of their private estates. Such men have had the same aim as kings – to suffer no want, to be subject to no authority, to enjoy their liberty, that is, in its essence, to live just as they please.’

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 703.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 1, 337-340]

[East Oakland, May 1880.]

My dear Colvin,

It is a long while since I have heard from you; nearly a month, I believe; and I begin to grow very uneasy. At first I was tempted to suppose that I had been myself to blame in some way; but now I have grown to fear lest some sickness or trouble among those whom you love may not be the impediment. I believe I shall soon hear; so I wait as best I can. I am, beyond a doubt, greatly stronger, and yet still useless for any work, and, I may say, for any pleasure. My affairs and the bad weather still keep me here unmarried; but not, I earnestly hope, for long. Whenever I get into the mountain, I trust I shall rapidly pick up. Until I get away from these sea fogs and my imprisonment in the house, I do not hope to do much more than keep from active harm. My doctor took a desponding fit about me, and scared Fanny into blue fits; but I have talked her over again. It is the change I want, and the blessed sun, and a gentle air in which I can sit out and see the trees and running water: these mere defensive hygienics cannot advance one, though they may prevent evil. I do nothing now, but try to possess my soul in peace, and continue to possess my body on any terms.

 Calistoga, Napa County, Cala. [Late May 1880]

All which is a fortnight old and not much to the point nowadays. Here we are, Fanny and I, and a certain hound, in a lovely valley under Mount Saint Helena, looking around, or rather wondering when we shall begin to look around, for a house of our own. I have received the first sheets of the Amateur Emigrant; not yet the second bunch, as announced. It is a pretty heavy, emphatic piece of pedantry; but I don’t care; the public, I verily believe, will like it. I have excised all you proposed and more on my own movement. But I have not yet been able to rewrite the two special pieces which, as you said, so badly wanted it; it is hard work to rewrite passages in proof; and the easiest work is still hard to me. But I am certainly recovering fast; a married and convalescent being.

Revd William Anderson Scott (1813-85) [http://image2.findagrave.com/]

St. James Episcopal Church at Post Street near Mason, San Francisco: Rev. Scott’s home [http://stjohnssf.org/]

Rev. Scott had originally been interred at the “Masonic Cemetery” of San Francisco (1864-1901). In 1931, all Scott family remains were transferred into the Foster Mausoleum, Mount Tamalpais Cemetery, San Rafael [http://image2.findagrave.com/]

Rev. Scott’s family urn, 1931 [http://image2.findagrave.com/]


Palace Hotel opening, San Francisco, October, 1875: RLS and Fanny, just married stayed here 3 days [http://foundsf.org/]

Palace Hotel, San Francisco, 1887 [http://foundsf.org/]

Palace Hotel courtyard, 1880s [http://foundsf.org/]


Portion of a diorama of 19th century Calistoga, at Calistoga’s Sharpsteen Museum [http://www.deepcraft.org/]

An original cottage from Calistoga’s early days as a spa resort [http://www.deepcraft.org/]

Hot Springs, Calistoga [http://i.ebayimg.com/]

Received James’s Hawthorne, on which I meditate a blast, Miss Bird, Dixon’s Penn, a wrong Cornhill (like my luck) and Coquelin: for all which, and especially the last, I tender my best thanks.

Henry James, ‘Hawthorne’, 1879 [https://ia600408.us.archive.org/]

Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904), English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Isabella Lucy Bird, ‘A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains’, 1879 [https://ia902604.us.archive.org/]

William Hepworth Dixon (1821-79), English historian and traveller [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

William Hepworth Dixon, ‘History of William Penn’, ed. 1872 [https://ia700504.us.archive.org/]

French actor Benoît Constant Coquelin (1841-1909) [http://www.cardcow.com/]

B.C. Coquelin, L’Art et le Comédien, 1880 [https://ia601400.us.archive.org/]

 I have opened only James; it is very clever, very well written, and out of sight the most inside-out thing in the world; I have dug up the hatchet; a scalp shall flutter at my belt ere long. I think my new book should be good; it will contain our adventures for the summer, so far as these are worth narrating; and I have already a few pages of diary which should make up bright. I am going to repeat my old experiment, after buckling-to a while to write more correctly, lie down and have a wallow. Whether I shall get any of my novels done this summer I do not know; I wish to finish the Vendetta first, for it really could not come after Prince Otto. Lewis Campbell has made some noble work in that Agamemnon; it surprised me.

L. Campbell (1830-1908), Professor of Greek at St Andrews, translated into English verse Scenes from the Agamemnon, for performance by the Jenkin private theatricals, 1880 [https://ia700406.us.archive.org/]

We hope to get a house at Silverado, a deserted mining-camp eight miles up the mountain, now solely inhabited by a mighty hunter answering to the name of Rufe Hansome, who slew last year a hundred and fifty deer.

Silverado canyon [http://www.toquemag.com/]

Silverado canyon [https://farm4.staticflickr.com/]

Silverado canyon [https://farm4.staticflickr.com/]

Silverado library [https://c2.staticflickr.com/]

Seth Kinman, a California hunter who presented an elkhorn chair to President Abraham Lincoln [http://www.everydaynodaysoff.com/]

A. Bierstadt, Moose Hunters’ Camp, ca. 1880 [http://2.bp.blogspot.com/]

This is the motto I propose for the new volume: ‘Vixerunt nonnulli in agris, delectati re sua familiari. His idem propositum fuit quod regibus, ut ne qua re egerent, ne cui parerent, libertate uterentur; cuius prorium est sic vivere ut velis.’ I always have a terror lest the wish should have been father to the translation, when I come to quote; but that seems too plain sailing. I should put regibus in capitals for the pleasantry’s sake. We are in the Coast range, that being so much cheaper to reach; the family, I hope, will soon follow. […] – Love to all, ever yours,




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