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.Aros is Earraid, where I lived lang syne; the Ross of Grisapol is the Ross of Mull; Ben Kyaw, Ben More.
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.
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?
Off topic? the mustery under the dune, Outer Hebrides.