RLS and Fanny travelled from Paris to London soon after 18 May, 1881, visiting Fanny’s son, Lloyd, who was studying at York. Then they returned to Scotland, moving (on 6 June) to Pitlochry, Perthshire, and staying at first at Fisher’s Hotel. Pitlochry, on the north bank of the river Tummel and in the centre of the Highland scenery, was becoming popular and was recommended as a healthy resort.
The inquiries about the later life of Jean Cavalier (1681-1740), the Protestant leader in the Cévennes, refer to a literary scheme, whether of romance or history, which had been in RLS’s mind ever since the Travels with a Donkey. Catherine Olympe du Noyer, younger daughter of Mme du Noyer, a French protestant refugee at the Hague, was betrothed to Cavalier in 1706 and later had a love affair with the 19 year old Voltaire. Elie Marion, Durand Fage and Jean Cavalier de Sauve were ‘prophets’ who gained notoriety in London in 1706-7, claiming that military operations in the Cévennes had been conducted through divine intervention. They were disowned by Jean Cavalier, through a vigorous war of pamphlets. John Lacy translated their writings. Jean Lions, a minister of the Leicester Fields church, was suspended by his church for supporting them.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 805.]
To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 34-36]
Pitlochry, Perthshire, June 6, 1881.
My dear Weg,
Here I am in my native land, being gently blown and hailed upon, and sitting nearer and nearer to the fire.
A cottage near a […] moor is soon to receive our human forms; it is also near a burn to which Professor Blackie (no less!) has written some verses in his hot old age, and near a farm from whence we shall draw cream and fatness.
Should I be moved to join Blackie, I shall go upon my knees and pray hard against temptation; although, since the new Version, I do not know the proper form of words. The swollen, childish, and pedantic vanity that moved the said revisers to put ‘bring’ for ‘lead,’ is a sort of literary fault that calls for an eternal hell; it may be quite a small place, a star of the least magnitude, and shabbily furnished; there shall -, -, […] the revisers of the Bible and other absolutely loathsome literary lepers […], dwell among broken pens, bad, groundy ink and ruled blotting-paper made in France – all eagerly burning to write, and all inflicted with incurable aphasia. I should not have thought upon that torture had I not suffered it in moderation myself, but it is too horrid even for a hell; let’s let ‘em off with an eternal toothache.
All this talk is partly to persuade you that I write to you out of good feeling only, which is not the case. I am a beggar: ask Dobson, Saintsbury, yourself, and any other of these cheeses who know something of the eighteenth century, what became of Jean Cavalier between his coming to England and his death in 1740.
Is anything interesting known about him? Whom did he marry? The happy French, smilingly following one another in a long procession headed by the loud and empty Napoleon Peyrat, say, Olympe Dunoyer, Voltaire’s old flame.
Vacquerie even thinks that they were rivals, and is very French and very literary and very silly in his comments.
Now I may almost say it consists with my knowledge that all this has not a shadow to rest upon. It is very odd and very annoying; I have splendid materials for Cavalier till he comes to my own country; and there, though he continues to advance in the service, he becomes entirely invisible to me.
Any information about him will be greatly welcome: I may mention that I know as much as I desire about the other prophets, Marion, Fage, Cavalier (de Sonne [=Sauve]), my Cavalier’s cousin, the unhappy Lions, and the idiotic Mr. Lacy;
so if any erudite starts upon that track, you may choke him off. If you can find aught for me, or if you will but try, count on my undying gratitude. Lang’s ‘Library’ is very pleasant reading. […]
My book will reach you soon, for I write about it to-day. – Yours ever,
Robert Louis Stevenson