For ladies’ love I once was fit, / But now am rather out of it

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.




RLS’s uncle, Dr. George William Balfour (1823-1903) []

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.



Murphy’s hynhaler, 19th century []

Rendle type inhaler. England 1869 []

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.

Sir Wilfrid Lawson (1829-1906), Liberal M.P. for Carlisle, well-known temperance advocate and President of the United Kingdom (Temperance) Alliance; on 14 June 1881 his Resolution for ‘local option’ on licensing of public houses was carried in the House of Commons []

Sir Wilfrid Lawson, Bart., M.P., “Permissive Prohibition”, Vanity Fair []









This yer refers to an ori-nasal respirator for the inhalation of pine-wood oil, oleum pini sylvestris.


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