To write a book like this were impossible

A close intimate of J.A. Symonds, and frequent visitor at Davos, was Horatio Robert Forbes Brown (1854-1926), historian of Venice. He took warmly, as did every one, to Stevenson. The following two notes are from a copy of Penn’s Fruits of Solitude, printed at Philadelphia, which Stevenson sent him as a gift after his return to Venice.

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 773.]

To Horatio F. Brown [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 30-31]

Hôtel Belvedere, Davos, [February 1881.]

My dear Brown, Here it is, with the mark of a San Francisco bouquiniste.

William Penn’s ‘FRuits of Solitude’, 1792 []

And if ever in all my ‘ human conduct’ I have done a better thing to any fellow-creature than handing on to you this sweet, dignified, and wholesome book, I know I shall hear of it on the last day. To write a book like this were impossible; at least one can hand it on with a wrench one to another. My wife cries out and my own heart misgives me, but still here it is. I could scarcely better prove myself. Yours affectionately,

R.L. Stevenson

My dear Brown,

I hope, if you get thus far, you will know what an invaluable present I have made you. Even the copy was dear to me, printed in the colony that Penn established, and carried in my pocket all about the San Francisco streets, read in street cars and ferry-boats, when I was sick unto death, and found in all times and places a peaceful and sweet companion.

William Penn (1644-1718), founder of the Province of Pennsylvania []

San Francisco cable car, 1873 []

But I hope, when you shall have reached this note, my gift will not have been in vain; for while just now we are so busy and intelligent, there is not the man living, no, nor recently dead, that could put, with so lovely a spirit, so much honest, kind wisdom into words.


Horatio F. Brown, ‘Life on the Lagoons’, 1884 []

Horatio F. Brown, ‘Venetian Studies’, 1887 []

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