A man of my peculiar cut… into an Alpine valley shut

Addressed by way of thanks to a friend at Cambridge, Albert George Dew-Smith, who had sent RLS a present of a box of cigarettes. Dew-Smith, a man of fine artistic tastes and mechanical genius, with a silken, somewhat foreign urbanity of bearing, was the original, so far as concerns manner and way of speech, of Attwater in RLS’s Ebb-Tide (published in 1893-94). He was an amateur photographer active in the 1880s and 1890s, and worked as a lens grinder at the Observatory in the University of Cambridge.

In this poem the word ‘sterling’, according to Colvin, means “a series of piles to defend the pier of a bridge”.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 739.]

To Albert George Dew-Smith [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 11-14]

[Hôtel Bélvedère, Davos, November 1880.]

Figure me to yourself, I pray –

A man of my peculiar cut –

Apart from dancing and deray,

Into an Alpine valley shut;

Davos-Platz [http://static1.akpool.de/]

Davos-Platz [http://static1.akpool.de/]


Davos-Platz [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Davos-Platz [http://static1.akpool.de/]

Shut in a kind of damned Hotel,

Discountenanced by God and man;

The food? – Sir, you would do as well

To cram your belly full of bran.

The Hotel Belvedere, 1905 [http://www.pullmangallery.com/]

Dietary scale at Davos, 1881 [https://ia801406.us.archive.org/]

The company? Alas, the day

That I should dwell with such a crew,

With devil anything to say,

Nor any one to say it to!

The place? Although they call it Platz,

I will be bold and state my view;

It’s not a place at all – and that’s

The bottom verity, my Dew.

Albert George Dew-Smith (1848-1903), 19th century lithograph [http://images.npg.org.uk/]

Albert George Dew-Smith (1848-1903), phot. Myers, albumen print, 1888 [http://images.npg.org.uk/]

There are, as I will not deny,

Innumerable inns; a road;

Several Alps indifferent high;

The snow’s inviolable abode;


Eleven English parsons, all

Entirely inoffensive; four

True human beings – what I call

Human – the deuce a cipher more;

A climate of surprising worth;

Innumerable dogs that bark;

Some air, some weather, and some earth;

A native race – God save the mark! –

A race that works, yet cannot work,

Yodels, but cannot yodel right,

Such as, unhelp’d, with rusty dirk,

I vow that I could wholly smite.

A river that from morn to night

Down all the valley plays the fool;

Not once she pauses in her flight,

Nor knows the comfort of a pool;

But still keeps up, by straight or bend,

The selfsame pace she hath begun –

Still hurry, hurry, to the end –

Good God, is that the way to run?

The Landwasser river, near Davos [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

If I a river were, I hope

That I should better realise

The opportunities and scope

Of that romantic enterprise.

I should not ape the merely strange,

But aim besides at the divine;

And continuity and change

I still should labour to combine.

Here should I gallop down the race,

Here charge the sterling like a bull;

There, as a man might wipe his face,

Lie, pleased and panting, in a pool.

But what, my Dew, in idle mood,

What prate I, minding not my debt?

What do I talk of bad or good?

The best is still a cigarette.




Me whether evil fate assault,

Or smiling providences crown –

Whether on high the eternal vault

Be blue, or crash with thunder down –

Luminous arcs stack and shimmer near Davos [http://www.timherd.com/]



I judge the best, whate’er befall,

Is still to sit on one’s behind,

And, having duly moistened all,

Smoke with an unperturbed mind.



Rolling paper, early 20th century [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]



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