One more letter referring to the candidature of RLS for the Edinburgh History Chair: the chair was being left by Aeneas James George Mackay (1839-1911), Professor of History and Constitutional Law, who later became Advocate-Depute (Scottish law officer with the functions of public prosecutor), and finally Sheriff of Fife and Kinross.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 817.]
To Aeneas Mackay [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 38-39]
Kinnaird Cottage, Pitlochry [Late June 1881].
My dear Mackay,
Thank you very much for your kind letter, and still more for your good opinion. You are not the only one who has regretted my absence from your lectures; but you were to me, then, only a part of a mangle through which I was being slowly and unwillingly dragged – part of a course which I had not chosen – part, in a word, of an organised boredom.
I am glad to have your reasons for giving up the chair; they are partly pleasant, and partly honourable to you. And I think one may say that every man who publicly declines a plurality of offices, makes it perceptibly more difficult for the next man to accept them.
Every one tells me that I come too late upon the field, every one being pledged, which, seeing it is yet too early for any one to come upon the field, I must regard as a polite evasion. Yet all advise me to stand, as it might serve me against the next vacancy. So stand I shall, unless things are changed. […] As it is, with my health this summer class is a great attraction; it is perhaps the only hope I may have of a permanent income.
I had supposed the needs of the chair might be met by choosing every year some period of history in which questions of Constitutional Law were involved; but this is to look too far forward.
I understand (1st) that no overt steps can be taken till your resignation is accepted; and (2nd) that in the meantime I may, without offence, mention my design to stand.
If I am mistaken about these, please correct me, as I do not wish to appear where I should not.
Again thanking you very heartily for your coals of fire I remain yours very sincerely,
Robert Louis Stevenson