They had at first a human air / In coats and flannel underwear

RLS, Fanny and the 12 year old Lloyd arrived in Liverpool on the City of Chester on August 17, 1880. Accompanied by RLS’s parents, they reached Edinburgh the next day and stayed at the Palace Hotel before leaving for their holiday in the Highlands. The Stevensons treated Fanny with great kindness and affection. They all arrived at Strathpeffer Spa, a popular resort 18 miles from Inverness. The stay at Strathpeffer led to disenchantment, not with out-door nature, but with human nature as there represented.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 714.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1912, pp. 146-147]

Ben Wyvis Hotel, Strathpeffer, [? 26 August 1880].

My dear Cherls,

[…] I am well but have a little over-tired myself which is disgusting. This is a heathenish place near delightful places, but inhabited, alas! by a wholly bestial crowd. […]

RMS City of Chester was a British passenger steamship that sailed on the transatlantic route (NY-Liverpool) from 1873 to 1898 []

The Palace Hotel, Edinburgh, was destroyed by fire in 1991 []

Strathpeffer Railway Station []

The old Victorian Station at Strathpeffer []

Ben Wyvis Hotel, Strathpeffer []

The Pavilion, Strathpeffer Spa []

The Pavilion at Strathpeffer was used as a hospital during WWI []

The Pump House, Strathpeffer Spa []

Looking north from Strathpeffer towards Ben Wyvis []

Strathpeffer from the N-E []

A view of Strathpeffer []

Ben Wyvis []

          On Some Ghostly Companions at a Spa.

I had an evil day when I

To Strathpeffer drew anigh,

For there I found no human soul,

But Ogres occupied the whole.

They had at first a human air

In coats and flannel underwear.

They rose and walked upon their feet

And filled their bellies full of meat.

Then wiped their lips when they had done —

But they were ogres every one.

Each issuing from his secret bower

I marked them in the morning hour.

By limp and totter, lisp and droop

I singled each one from the group.


Detected ogres, from my sight

Depart to your congenial night

From these fair vales: from this fair day

Fleet, spectres, on your downward way.

Like changing figures in a dream

To Muttonhole and Pittenweem!

Or, as by harmony divine

The devils quartered in the swine,

If any baser place exist

In God’s great registration list —

Some den with wallow and a trough —

Find it, ye ogres, and be off!

Yours, R.L.S.

Muttonhole (aka Davidson’s Mains), in the north west of Edinburgh []

Muttonhole (Davidson’s Mains), c. 1910 []

Pittenweem, a small and secluded fishing village and civil parish tucked in the corner of Fife on the east coast of Scotland []



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