RLS’s uncle, Dr. George Balfour, had recommended him to use a specially contrived and hideous respirator for the inhalation of pine-oil.
The ‘pirate doctor’ in the poem is Henley’s doctor, Zebulon Mennell (b. 1820).
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 850.]
To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 65-66]
[Braemar, c. 19 September 1881.]
Dear Henley, with a pig’s snout on
I am starting for London,
Where I likely shall arrive,
On Saturday, if still alive:
Perhaps your pirate doctor might
See me on Sunday? If all’s right,
I should then lunch with you and with she
Who’s dearer to you than you are to me.
I shall remain but little time
In London, as a wretched clime,
But not so wretched (for none are)
As that of beastly old Braemar.
My doctor sends me skipping.
I Have many facts to meet your eye.My pig’s snout’s now upon my face;
And I inhale with fishy grace,
My gills outflapping right and left,
Ol. pin. sylvest. I am bereft
Of a great deal of charm by this –
Not quite the bull’s eye for a kiss –
But like the gnome of olden time
Or bogey in a pantomime.For ladies’ love I once was fit,
But now am rather out of it.
Where’er I go, revolted curs
Snap round my military spurs;
The children all retire in fits
And scream their bellowses to bits.
Little I care: the worst’s been done:
Now let the cold impoverished sun
Drop frozen from his orbit; let
Fury and fire, cold, wind and wet,
And cataclysmal mad reverses
Rage through the federate universes;
Let Lawson triumph, cakes and ale,
Whisky and hock and claret fail; –
Tobacco, love, and letters perish,
With all that any man could cherish:
You it may touch, not me. I dwell
Too deep already – deep in hell;
And nothing can befall, O damn!
To make me uglier than I am.
This yer refers to an ori-nasal respirator for the inhalation of pine-wood oil, oleum pini sylvestris.