On the way home from Switzerland to Scotland RLS had stopped for a while at Fontainebleau, and then in Paris; whence, finding himself unpleasantly affected by the climate, he presently took refuge at St. Germain-en-Laye. That was the fifth cholera pandemic of 1881-96, the last serious European cholera outbreak of the century.
The French name for a bird, piasseur, may be a misunderstanding by RLS of the word piaffeur, “boastful, gascon”, while piaf is the French for “sparrow”.
[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 794.]
To his parents [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 33-34]
For place see envelope
[Hôtel du Pavillon Henry IV, St. Germain-en-Laye] Sunday [1 May 1881].
My dear people,
A week in Paris reduced me to the limpness and lack of appetite peculiar to a kid glove, and gave Fanny a jumping sore throat. It’s my belief there is death in the kettle there; a pestilence or the like.
We came out here, pitched on the Star and Garter (they call it Somebody’s pavilion), found the place a bed of lilacs and nightingales (first time I ever heard one), and also of a bird called the piasseur, cheerfulest of sylvan creatures, an ideal comic opera in itself. ‘Come along, what fun, here’s Pan in the next glade at picnic, and this-yer’s Arcadia, and it’s awful fun, and I’ve had a glass, I will not deny, but not to see it on me,’ that is his meaning as near as I can gather.
Well, the place (forest of beeches all new-fledged, grass like velvet, fleets of hyacinth) pleased us and did us good.
We tried all ways to find a cheaper place, but could find nothing safe; cold, damp, brick-floored rooms and sich; we could not leave Paris till your seven days’ sight on draft expired; we dared not go back to be miasmatised in these homes of putridity; so here we are till Tuesday in the Star and Garter. My throat is quite cured, appetite and strength on the mend. Fanny seems also picking up.If we are to come to Scotland, I will have fir-trees, and I want a burn, the firs for my physical, the water for my moral health. – Ever affectionate son,