RLS, Fanny and her son Lloyd left Edinburgh for London on 7 October 1880: here Dr. Andrew Clark confirmed the advice already given by Dr. George Balfour that he should spend the winter in the High Alps. They travelled by slow stages to Davos, Swizerland where they arrived on 4 November.
Davos-Platz is situated in a broad valley flanked by high mountains in the Graubünden, the most easterly canton of Swizerland. The virtues of its climate for the treatment of pulmonary tubercolosis had been recognised in the 1860s and the place developed into a health resort. On RLS’s day it was catering for about a thousand winter visitors.
On the second day after his arrival, RLS wrote this letter to his step-daughter Isobel (Belle), who lived in San Francisco with her husband Joe Strong.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 737.]
To his step-daughter Isobel Strong [Colvin 1912, pp. 147-148]
Hôtel Belvédère, Davos-Platz, [5 or 6 November 1880].
No my che-ild – not Kamschatka this trip, only the top of the Alps, or thereby; up in a little valley in a wilderness of snowy mountains; the Rhine not far from us, quite a little highland river; eternal snow-peaks on every hand […].
Yes; just this once I should like to go to the Vienna Gardens with the family and hear Tweedle-dee and drink something […] and see Germans – though God knows we have seen Germans enough this while back.
Naturally some in the Customs House on the Alsatian frontier, who would have made one die from laughing in a theatre, and provoked a smile from us even in that dismal juncture. To see them, big blond, sham-Englishmen but with an unqualifiable air of not quite fighting the sham through, diving into old women’s bags and going into paroxysms of arithmetic in white chalk, three or four of them (in full uniform) in full cry upon a single sum, with their brows bent and a kind of arithmetical agony upon their mugs.
Madam, the diversion of cock-fighting has been much commended, but it was not a circumstance to that Custom House. They only opened one of our things: a basket. But when they met from within the intelligent gaze of Woggs, they all lay down and died. Woggs is a fine dog. […]
[…] God bless you! May coins fall into your coffee and the finest wines and wittles lie smilingly about your path, with a kind of dissolving view of fine scenery by way of background; and may all speak well of you – and me too for that matter – and generally all things be ordered unto you totally regardless of expense and with a view to nothing in the world but enjoyment, edification, and a portly and honoured age. – Your dear papa,
The ‘friend’ in the last photo is the painter Frank O’Meara, in love with Belle. The photo shows four people completely confused about their strong feelings and not knowing where to look.