The mere extent of a man’s travels has in it something consolatory

RLS had made friends with the American writer Charles Warren Stoddard, in the manner and amid the scenes faithfully described in The Wrecker, in the chapter called ‘Faces on the City Front.’ Stoddard (1843-1909) had written on 9 November 1880 enclosing a photograph of himself and other members of San Francisco Bohemian Club and asking fot autographed English editions of RLS’s work.

The prospect here alluded to of a cheap edition of RLS’s little travel-books did not get realised.

The “pages in broad Scotch copied by way of enclosure” were a poem dedicated to Stoddard (not posted here).

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 757.]

To Charles Warren Stoddard [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 19-21]

Hôotel Bélvedère, Davos-Platz [December 1880].

Dear Charles Warren Stoddard,

Many thanks to you for the letter and the photograph. Will you think it mean if I ask you to wait till there appears a promised cheap edition? Possibly the canny Scot does feel pleasure in the superior cheapness; but the true reason is this, that I think to put a few words, by way of notes, to each book in its new form, because that will be the Standard Edition, without which no g[entleman]’s l[ibrary] will be complete. The edition, briefly, sine qua non. Before that, I shall hope to send you my essays, which are in the printer’s hands.

The “volume of essays in the printer’s hands” was ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, published next year 1881 []

RLS’s little travel-books: ad printed in ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, 1881 []

 I look to get yours soon. I am sorry to hear that the Custom House has proved fallible, like all other human houses and customs.

German side of the Custom House between France and Alsace, (then annexed to Germany), 1871 [https://thebluelinefro]

Life consists of that sort of business, and I fear that there is a class of man, of which you offer no inapt type, doomed to a kind of mild, general disappointment through life. I do not believe that a man is the more unhappy for that. Disappointment, except with one’s self, is not a very capital affair; and the sham beatitude, ‘Blessed is he that expecteth little,’ one of the truest, and in a sense, the most Christlike things in literature.

Alongside of you, I have been all my days a red cannon ball of dissipated effort; here I am by the heels in this Alpine valley, with just so much of a prospect of future restoration as shall make my present caged estate easily tolerable to me – shall or should, I would not swear to the word before the trial’s done.

I miss all my objects in the meantime; and, thank God, I have enough of my old, and maybe somewhat base philosophy, to keep me on a good understanding with myself and Providence.

The mere extent of a man’s travels has in it something consolatory. That he should have left friends and enemies in many different and distant quarters gives a sort of earthly dignity to his existence. And I think the better of myself for the belief that I have left some in California interested in me and my successes.

Charles Warren Stoddard (1843-1909), San Francisco author and traveller []

Charles Warren Stoddard (1843-1909), San Francisco author and traveller []

Let me assure you, you who have made friends already among such various and distant races, that there is a certain phthisical Scot who will always be pleased to hear good news of you, and would be better pleased by nothing than to learn that you had thrown off your present incubus, largely consisting of letters I believe, and had sailed into some square work by way of change.

And by way of change in itself, let me copy on the other pages some broad Scotch I wrote for you when I was ill last spring in Oakland. It is no muckle worth: but ye should na look a gien horse in the moo’. – Yours ever,

R.L. Stevenson


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