The only person who will really understand it

In the course of January 1883, RLS and his wife came safely at Marseilles and Nice, Where the author’s health quickly mended.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1061.]

To Alison Cunningham [Colvin 1911, 2, p.119-120]

Marseilles, 16 February 1883.

My dear Cummy,

You must think, and quite justly, that I am one of the meanest rogues in creation. But though I do not write (which is a thing I hate), it by no means follows that people are out of my mind. It is natural that I should always think more or less about you, and still more natural that I should think of you when I went back to Nice.

RLS’s nurse, Alison Cunningham (‘Cummy’) accompanied the Stevensons on their visit to Nice and Mentone in 1863. Here she is (on the right) with RLS and family, at Peebles, in 1866 [

But the real reason why you have been more in my mind than usual is because of some little verses that I have been writing, and that I mean to make a book of; and the real reason of this letter (although I ought to have written to you anyway) is that I have just seen that the book in question must be dedicated to


the only person who will really understand it. I don’t know when it may be ready, for it has to be illustrated, but I hope in the meantime you may like the idea of what is to be; and when the time comes, I shall try to make the dedication as pretty as I can make it. Of course, this is only a flourish, like taking off one’s hat; but still, a person who has taken the trouble to write things does not dedicate them to any one without meaning it; and you must just try to take this dedication in place of a great many things that I might have said, and that I ought to have done, to prove that I am not altogether unconscious of the great debt of gratitude I owe you. This little book, which is all about my childhood, should indeed go to no other person but you, who did so much to make that childhood happy.

The verses referred to are those of ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’, dedicated (in verse) ‘To Alison Cunningham from her Boy’, 1885 []

RLS in 1852 []

RLS in 1854 []

RLS in 1857 []

Do you know, we came very near sending for you this winter. If we had not had news that you were ill too, I almost believe we should have done so, we were so much in trouble.

I am now very, well; but my wife has had a very, very bad spell, through overwork and anxiety, when I was lost! I suppose you heard of that. She sends you her love, and hopes you will write to her, though she no more than I deserves it. She would add a word herself, but she is too played out. I am, ever your old boy,


Alison Cunningham, ‘Cummy’ (Torryburn, Fife 1822 – Morningside, Edinburgh 1913) []

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