RLS got one more testimonial for his candidature to the Edinburgh History Chair from his friend Philip Gilbert Hamerton, English artist, art critic and author. Hamerton had been an unsuccessful candidate for the Professorship of Fine Art at Edinburgh University.
The words ‘upon the mountains visitant’ quote Wordsworth’s ‘Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle’.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 821.]
To P.G. Hamerton [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 44-46]
Kinnaird Cottage, Pitlochry [Early July 1881].
My dear Mr. Hammerton, (There goes the second M; it is a certainty.)
Thank you for your prompt and kind answer, little as I deserved it, though I hope to show you I was less undeserving than I seemed. But just might I delete two words in your testimonial? The two words ‘and legal’ were unfortunately winged by chance against my weakest spot, and would go far to damn me.
It was not my bliss that I was interested in when I was married; it was a sort of marriage in extremis; and if I am where I am, it is thanks to the care of that lady who married me when I was a mere complication of cough and bones, much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom. I had a fair experience of that kind of illness when all the women (God bless them!) turn round upon the streets and look after you with a look that is only too kind not to be cruel.
I have had nearly two years of more or less prostration. I have done no work whatever since the February before last until quite of late. To be precise, until the beginning of last month, exactly two essays. All last winter I was at Davos; and indeed I am home here just now against the doctor’s orders, and must soon be back again to that unkindly haunt ‘upon the mountains visitant’ there goes no angel there but the angel of death. The deaths of last winter are still sore spots to me….
So, you see, I am not very likely to go on a ‘wild expedition’, cis-Stygian at least. The truth is, I am scarce justified in standing for the chair, though I hope you will not mention this; and yet my health is one of my reasons, for the class is in summer.
I hope this statement of my case will make my long neglect appear less unkind. It was certainly not because I ever forgot you, or your unwonted kindness; and it was not because I was in any sense rioting in pleasures.
I am glad to hear the catamaran is on her legs again; you have my warmest wishes for a good cruise down the Saône; and yet there comes some envy to that wish, for when shall I go cruising? Here a sheer hulk, alas! lies R.L.S. But I will continue to hope for a better time, canoes that will sail better to the wind, and a river grander than the Saône.
I heard, by the way, in a letter of counsel from a well-wisher, one reason of my town’s absurdity about the chair of Art: I fear it is characteristic of her manners. It was because you did not call upon the electors!
Will you remember me to Mrs. Hamerton and your son? And believe me, etc., etc.,
Robert Louis Stevenson