A fantastic sonata about the sea and wrecks

RLS was still getting testimonials from his acquaintances in support of his candidature for the Edinburgh History Chair.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 823.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 48-50]

Kinnaird Cottage, Pitlochry, [c. 3 July 1881].

My dear Henley,

I hope, then, to have a visit from you. If before August, here; if later, at Braemar. Tope!

And now, mon bon, I must babble about The Merry Men, my favourite work. It is a fantastic sonata about the sea and wrecks. Chapter I. ‘Eilean Aros’ – the island, the roost, the ‘merry men,’ the three people there living – sea superstitions.




Chapter II. ‘What the Wreck had brought to Aros.’ Eh, boy? what had it? Silver and clocks and brocades, and what a conscience, what a mad brain! Chapter III. ‘Past and Present in Sandag Bay’ – the new wreck and the old – so old – the Armada treasure-ship, Santissima Trinidad – the grave in the heather – strangers there.


Chapter IV. ‘The Gale’ – the doomed ship – the storm – the drunken madman on the head – cries in the night. Chapter V. ‘A Man out of the Sea.’ But I must not breathe to you my plot. It is, I fancy, my first real shoot at a story; an odd thing, sir, but, I believe, my own, though there is a little of Scott’s Pirate in it, as how should there not? He had the root of romance in such places.

W. Scott’s novel, ‘The Pirate’, 1st edition, 1822 [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Aros is Earraid, where I lived lang syne;

The Isle of Erraid (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Earraid), a tidal island in the Inner Hebrides; RLS visited it in the summer of 1870 (see previous post, 4 Feb 2014 [http://static.panoramio.com/]

Aros Castle, Isle of Mull [http://fc05.deviantart.net/]

the Ross of Grisapol is the Ross of Mull; Ben Kyaw, Ben More.

The Ross of Mull is the largest peninsula of the isle of Mull, about 17 mile long and makes up the south-western part of the island [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

The isle of Mull [//www.isleofmullandiona.com/]

The isle of Mull [www.isleofmullandiona.com/]

The isle of Mull [www.isleofmullandiona.com/]

Ben More [www.weatherjackwx.co.uk/]

I have written to the middle of Chapter IV. Like enough, when it is finished I shall discard all chapterings; for the thing is written straight through. It must, unhappily, be re-written – too well written not to be.

The chair is only three months in summer; that is why I try for it. If I get it, which I shall not, I should be independent at once. Sweet thought. I liked your Byron well; your Berlioz better. No one would remark these cuts; even I, who was looking for it, knew it not at all to be a torso.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903): an unsigned review by him of Matthew Arnold’s edition of ‘The Poetry of Byron’ had been published in the Athenaeum of 25 June 1881 [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Henley’s essay, ‘Hector Berlioz: A Biography’, in the July Cornhill: Henley had complained that his editors had made cuts in the this article [https://ia601406.us.archive.org/]

The paper strengthens me in my recommendation to you to follow Colvin’s hint. Give us an 1830; you will do it well, and the subject smiles widely on the world: –

1830: A Chapter of Artistic History, by William Ernest Henley (or of Social and Artistic History, as the thing might grow to you). Sir, you might be in the Athenaeum yet with that; and, believe me, you might and would be far better, the author of a readable book. […] Yours ever,


The following names have been invented for Wogg by his dear papa: –

Grunty-pig (when he is scratched),

Rose-mouth (when he comes flying up with his rose-leaf tongue depending), and

Hoofen-boots (when he has had his foots wet).

How would Tales for Winter Nights do?

Wogg was a black Skye terrier [www.dogbreedinfo.com/]

Off topic? the mustery under the dune, Outer Hebrides.

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