The following is in reply to a letter RLS had received on some questions connected with his proposed Life of Hazlitt from the Scottish critic and bibliographer, Alexander Ireland (1810–1894).
[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 932.]
To Alexander Ireland [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 83-85]
[Chalet am Stein, Davos, Late March 1882]
My dear Sir,
This formidable paper need not alarm you; it argues nothing beyond penury of other sorts, and is not at all likely to lead me into a long letter. If I were at all grateful it would, for yours has just passed for me a considerable part of a stormy evening.
And speaking of gratitude, let me at once and with becoming eagerness accept your kind invitation to Bowdon. I shall hope, if we can agree as to dates when I am nearer hand, to come to you sometime in the month of May. I was pleased to hear you were a Scot; I feel more at home with my compatriots always; perhaps the more we are away, the stronger we feel that bond.
You ask about Davos; I have discoursed about it already, rather sillily I think, in the Pall Mall, and I mean to say no more, but the ways of the Muse are dubious and obscure, and who knows? I may be wiled again.
[Read and listen to RLS’s essay, “Davos in Winter”,
in Pall Mall Gazette, 21 Feb. 1881:]
As a place of residence, beyond a splendid climate, it has to my eyes but one advantage – the neighbourhood of J.A. Symonds – I dare say you know his work, but the man is far more interesting. It has done me, in my two winters’ Alpine exile, much good; so much, that I hope to leave it now for ever, but would not be understood to boast. In my present unpardonably crazy state, any cold might send me skipping, either back to Davos, or further off. Let us hope not. It is dear; a little dreary; very far from many things that both my taste and my needs prompt me to seek; and altogether not the place that I should choose of my free will.
I am chilled by your description of the man in question, though I had almost argued so much from his cold and undigested volume. If the republication does not interfere with my publisher, it will not interfere with me; but there, of course, comes the hitch. I do not know Mr. Bentley, and I fear all publishers like the devil from legend and experience both. However, when I come to town, we shall, I hope, meet and understand each other as well as author and publisher ever do. I liked his letters; they seemed hearty, kind, and personal. Still – I am notedly suspicious of the trade – your news of this republication alarms me.
The best of the present French novelists seems to me, incomparably, Daudet. Les Rois en Exil comes very near being a masterpiece.
For Zola I have no toleration, though the curious, eminently bourgeois, and eminently French creature has power of a kind. But I would he were deleted. I would not give a chapter of old Dumas (meaning himself, not his collaborators) for the whole boiling of the Zolas. Romance with the smallpox – as the great one: diseased anyway and blackhearted and fundamentally at enmity with joy.
I trust that Mrs. Ireland does not object to smoking; and if you are a teetotaller, I beg to you mention it before I come – I have all the vices; some of the virtues also, let us hope – that, at least, of being a Scotchman, and yours very sincerely,
Robert Louis Stevenson
P.S. – My father was in the old High School the last year, and walked in the procession to the new. I blush to own I am an Academy boy; it seems modern, and smacks not of the soil.
P.P.S. – I enclose a good joke – at least, I think so – my first efforts at wood engraving printed by my stepson, a boy of thirteen. I will put in also one of my later attempts. I have been nine days at the art – observe my progress.