With all his throat and lung troubles actively renewed, RLS fled to Davos (Switzerland) again in October 1881. For this second winter he occupied with his wife and stepson a small chalet called ‘Villa am Stein’ on the hillside just above the Hôtel Buol.
The election to the Edinburgh Professorship was still pending, and RLS thought for a moment of giving the electors a specimen of his qualifications in the shape of a magazine article on the Appin murder – a theme afterwards turned to more vital account in the tales of Kidnapped and Catriona. The Appin murder occurred on May 14th, 1752, near Appin in the west of Scotland, and it resulted in what is often held to be a notorious miscarriage of justice. It occurred in the tumultuous aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Colin Campbell, landowner and government official, also known as the ‘Red Fox’, was killed at Ballachulish, while riding to collect taxes. It has been claimed that his mission included the eviction of members of the Jacobite Stewarts, to be replaced by members of the government-loyal Campbell Clan. Though the hapless James Stewart was hanged as a scapegoat for the crime, the true identity of the murderer remained a mystery for 250 years. In 2001 a descendant of the Stewarts of Appin identified young Donald Stewart of Ballachulish as the real killer, having allegedly kept a secret that was passed on by word of mouth through generations of her family.
[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 865.]
To his father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 66-67]
[Chalet am Stein, Davos, Early November 1881.]
My dear Father,
It occurred to me last night in bed that I could write
The Murder of Red Colin,
A Story of the Forfeited Estates.This, I have all that is necessary for, with the following exceptions:
Trials of the Sons of Rob Roy with Anecdotes: Edinburgh, 1818,
The second volume of Blackwood’s Magazine.
You might also look in Arnot’s Criminal Trials up in my room, and see what observations he has on the case (Trial of James Stewart in Appin for murder of Campbell of Glenure, 1752);
if he has none, perhaps you could see – O yes, see if Burton has it in his two vols. of trial stories. I hope he hasn’t; but care not; do it over again anyway.
The two named authorities I must see. With these, I could soon pull off this article; and it shall be my first for the electors. Ever affectionate son,