I think least said is often best, generally best

From about this time until 1885 William E. Henley acted in an informal way as agent for RLS in most of his dealings with publishers in London.

‘Both’ in the second paragraph means Treasure Island and Silverado Squatters.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 950.]


To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 91-93]

[Chalet am Stein, Davos, April 1882]

My dear Henley,

I hope and hope for a long letter – soon I hope to be superseded by long talks – and it comes not. I remember I have never formally thanked you for that hundred quid, nor in general for the introduction to Chatto and Windus, and continue to bury you in copy as if you were my private secretary. Well, I am not unconscious of it all; but I think least said is often best, generally best; gratitude is a tedious sentiment, it’s not ductile, not dramatic.

If Chatto should take both, cui dedicare? […] I am running out of dedikees; if I do, the whole fun of writing is stranded. Treasure Island, if it comes out, and I mean it shall, of course goes to Lloyd.

RLS’s dedication of ‘Treasure Island’ to his stepson Sam Lloyd Osbourne, 1883 [https://ia801409.us.archive.org/]

Lemme see, I have now dedicated to

W[illiam] E[rnest] H[enley]

RLS’s dedication of ‘Virginibus Puerisque’ to his friend William Ernest Henley, 1881 [https://ia600409.us.archive.org/]



S[idney] C[olvin]

RLS’s dedication of ‘Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes’ to fis friend Sidney Colvin, 1879 [https://ia600402.us.archive.org/]

 T[homas] S[tevenson]

RLS’s dedication of ‘Familiar studies of men and books’ to his father Thomas Stevenson, 1882 [https://ia801408.us.archive.org/]

 [Sir Walter] Simp[son]

RLS’s dedication of ‘An inland voyage’ to his friend Sir Walter Simpson, 1878 [https://ia600300.us.archive.org/]

There remain: C[harles] B[axter], the Williamses – you know they were the parties who stuck up for us about our marriage, and Mrs. W. was my guardian angel, and our Best Man and Bridesmaid rolled in one, and the only third of the wedding party – my sister-in-law, […] who is booked for Prince Otto – Jenkin I suppose sometime – George Meredith, the only man of genius of my acquaintance, and then I believe I’ll have to take to the dead, the immortal memory business.

Probable portrait of RLS’s friend and Scottish lawyer Charles Baxter (1848-1919) [http://lowres-picturecabinet.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/]

Virgil Williams (1830-1886), San Francisco landscape, genre, and portrait painter [http://foundsf.org/]

Dora Nortin Williams (1829-1915), ‘best man and bridesmaid rolled in one’ at RLS’s marriage in San Francisco, 1880 [http://foundsf.org/]

RLS’s dedication of ‘The Silverado squatters’ to his San Francisco friends, the Williamses, 1883 [https://ia902702.us.archive.org/]

Nellie van de Grift Sanchez, Fanny’s youngest sister, in 1932 [http://stevensonmuseum.org/]

RLS’s dedication of ‘Prince Otto’ to his sister-in-law Nelly Van de Grift, 1885 [https://ia802308.us.archive.org/]



Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin (1833-1885), professor of Engineering at Edinburgh University and RLS’s friend [https://s.yimg.com/]


George Meredith (1828-1909), novelist, poet and RLS’s firend [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Talking of Meredith, I have just re-read for the third and fourth time The Egoist. When I shall have read it the sixth or seventh, I begin to see I shall know about it. You will be astonished when you come to re-read it; I had no idea of the matter – human, red matter he has contrived to plug and pack into that strange and admirable book. Willoughby is, of course, a pure discovery; a complete set of nerves, not heretofore examined, and yet running all over the human body – a suit of nerves. Clara is the best girl ever I saw anywhere. Vernon is almost as good. The manner and the faults of the book greatly justify themselves on further study. Only Dr. Middleton does not hang together; and Ladies Busshe and Culmer sont des monstruosités. Vernon’s conduct makes a wonderful odd contrast with Daniel Deronda’s. I see more and more that Meredith is built for immortality.

George Meredith, ‘The Egoist’, 1879 [https://ia601409.us.archive.org/]

Talking of which, Heywood, as a small immortal, an immortalet, claims some attention. The Woman killed with Kindness is one of the most striking novels – not plays, though it’s more of a play than anything else of his – I ever read. He had such a sweet, sound soul, the old boy. The death of the two pirates in Fortune by Sea and Land is a document. He had obviously been present and heard Purser and Clinton take death by the beard with similar braggadocios. Purser and Clinton, names of pirates; Scarlet and Bobbington, names of highwaymen. He had the touch of names, I think. No man I ever knew had such a sense, such a tact, for English nomenclature: Rainsforth, Lacy, Audley, Forrest, Acton, Spencer, Frankford – so his names run.

Thomas Heywood (c. 1570-1641), a prominent English playwright, actor, and author [https://theshakespearecode.files.wordpress.com/]

Thomas Heywood, ‘The woman killed with kindness’, first acted in 1603, 1850 ed. [https://ia600304.us.archive.org/]

Byron not only wrote Don Juan; he called Joan of Arc ‘a fanatical strumpet.’ These are his words. I think the double shame, first to a great poet, second to an English noble, passes words.

Lord Byron, in one of his notes to ‘Hints from Horace’, refers to Joan of Arc as ‘a fanatical strumpet, whose title of witch would be correct with the change of the first letter’ [www.canaryzoo.com/]

Here is a strange gossip. – I am yours loquaciously,


My lungs are said to be in a splendid state. A cruel examination, an exanimation I may call it, had this brave result. Taïaut! Hillo! Hey! Stand by! Avast! Hurrah!


An illustration from the 1889 text ‘Exploration of the Chest in Health and Disease’ by Steven Smith Burt [http://joerojasburke.files.wordpress.com/]


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