At Davos, the following experiment in Horatian alcaics was suggested by conversations with Horatio (!) F. Brown (historian specialised in the history of Venice) and J.A. Symonds (historian of the Italian Renaissance), on metrical forms, followed by the despatch of some translations from old Venetian boat-songs by the former after his return to Venice.
RLS invents the word ‘conded’ from the Latin ‘condo’ in the sense of to put by or keep out of sight. According to Horace’s advice a poem should be held back for nine years before being published (Ars Poetica, 388: Nonumque prematur in annum).
The visit to Monte Generoso, on the border between Switzerland and Italy, was given up.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 784.]
To Horatio F. Brown [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 31-32]
Hôtel Bélvedère, Davos, [c. 1 April 1881].
My dear Brown,
Nine years I have conded them.Brave lads in olden musical centuries
Sang, night by night, adorable choruses,
Moon-seen and merry, under the trellises,
Sat late by alehouse doors in April
Chaunting in joy as the moon was rising:
Flush-faced they played with old polysyllables;
Now these, the songs, remain to eternity,
Spring scents inspired, old wine diluted;
Love and Apollo were there to chorus.
Those, only those, the bountiful choristers
Gone – those are gone, those unremembered
Sleep and are silent in earth for ever.
So man himself appears and evanishes,
So smiles and goes; as wanderers halting at
Yet dwells the strain enshrined in the memory
Some green-embowered house, play their music,
Play and are gone on the windy highway;
Long after they departed eternally,
Youth sang the song in years immemorial;
Forth-faring tow’rd far mountain summits,
Cities of men on the sounding Ocean.
Brave chanticleer, he sang and was beautiful;
Youth goes, and leaves behind him a prodigy –
Bird-haunted, green tree-tops in springtime
Heard and were pleased by the voice of singing;
Songs sent by thee afar from Venetian
Sea-grey lagunes, sea-paven highways,
Dear to me here in my Alpine exile.
Please, my dear Brown, forgive my horrid delay. Symonds overworked and knocked up. I off my sleep; my wife gone to Paris. Weather lovely. – Yours ever,
Robert Louis Stevenson
Monte Generoso in May; here, I think, till the end of April; write again, to prove you are forgiving.