And now – I find I have only got a pair of walking-shoes and not yet begun to travel

The paper referred to at the beginning of the second paragraph is one on RLS in the Century Magazine, the first seriously critical notice, says Low, which appeared of him in the States. Henry Holt advertised New Arabian Nights as ‘Stephenson’s’ in the Critic of 16 December 1882.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1072.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 177-179]

[La Solitude, Hyères, Oct. 23, 1883]

My dear Low,

C’est d’un bon camarade; and I am much obliged to you for your two letters and the inclosure. Times are a lityle changed with all of us since the ever memorable days of Lavenue: hallowed be his name! hallowed his old Fleury! – of which you did not see – I think – as I did the glorious apotheosis: advanced on a Tuesday to three francs, on the Thursday to six, and on Friday swept off, holus bolus, for the proprietor’s private consumption. Well, we had the start of that proprietor. Many a good bottle came our way, and was, I think, worthily made welcome.

Self-portrait by Will Hicok Low (1853-1932), an American painter and friend to RLS; they met in France in 1875 []

Lavenue's was the expensive Paris restaurant which RLS and his friends patronised when they were in funds; it was on the corner of rue du Départ and the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

Lavenue’s was the expensive Paris restaurant which RLS and his friends patronised when they were in funds; it was on the corner of rue du Départ and the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

Fleurie is one of the best-known of the ten Beaujolais crus []


 I am pleased that Mr. Gilder should like my literature;

Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909), American poet and editor of the Century 1881-1909 []

and I ask you particularly to thank Mr. Bunner (have I the name right?) for his notice, which was of that friendly, headlong sort that really pleases an author like what the French call a ‘shake-hands.’

Henry Culyer Bunner (1855-96), American author of light verse and short stories, editor of Puck 1878-96, had reviewed RLS’s ’New Arabian Nights’ in the February Century []

Bunner’s review of ’New Arabian Nights’ []


 It pleased me the more coming from the States, where I have met not much recognition, save from the buccaneers, and above all from pirates who misspell my name. I saw my book advertised in a number of the Critic as the work of one R.L. Stephenson; and, I own, I boiled. It is so easy to know the name of the man whose book you have stolen; for there it is, at full length, on the title-page of your booty. But no, damn him, not he! He calls me Stephenson. These woes I only refer to by the way, as they set a higher value on the Century notice.

I am now a person with an established ill-health – a wife – a dog possessed with an evil, a Gadarene spirit – a chalet on a hill, looking out over the Mediterranean – a certain reputation – and very obscure finances.

Fanny (standing, left) and her new family in 1883.

RLS with his family and dog Wogg (the ’Gadarene spirit’), 1883.

Christ and the Gadarene demoniac, Luke 8, 28 []

Chalet La Solitude, Hyères []

Otherwise, very much the same, I guess; and were a bottle of Fleury a thing to be obtained, capable of developing theories along with a fit spirit even as of yore. Yet I now draw near to the middle ages; nearly three years ago, that fatal Thirty struck; and yet the great work is not yet done – not yet even conceived. But so, as one goes on, the wood seems to thicken, the footpath to narrow, and the House Beautiful on the hill’s summit to draw further and further away.

In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the House Beautiful, is a palace that serves as a rest stop for pilgrims to the Celestial City, atop the Hill Difficulty, from which one can see forward to the Delectable Mountains []

We learn, indeed, to use our means; but only to learn, along with it, the paralysing knowledge that these means are only applicable to two or three poor commonplace motives. Eight years ago, if I could have slung ink as I can now, I should have thought myself well on the road after Shakespeare; and now – I find I have only got a pair of walking-shoes and not yet begun to travel. And Art is still away there on the mountain summit. But I need not continue; for, of course, this is your story just as much as it is mine; and, strange to think, it was Shakespeare’s too, and Beethoven’s, and Phidias’s. 

William Shakespeare []

Ludwig van Beethoven []

L. Alma-Tadema, Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends, 1868 []

 It is a blessed thing that, in this forest of art, we can pursue our woodlice and sparrows, and not catch them, with almost the same fervour of exhilaration as that with which Sophocles hunted and brought down the Mastodon.



Tell me something of your work, and your wife […]. My dear fellow, I am yours ever,

R.L. Stevenson

My wife begs to be remembered to both of you; I cannot say as much for my dog, who has never seen you, but he would like, on general principles, to bite you.


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1 Response to And now – I find I have only got a pair of walking-shoes and not yet begun to travel

  1. rdury says:

    Thanks for the image of the New York _Century_ — these reactions to an unknown writer are always exciting. The year before Stevenson had received his first critical attention in the French press: two articles by Joseph Knight in _Le Livre_ (10 May 1882; 11 Nov 1882) in which he praises _Familiar Studies_ and _The New Arabian Nights_ and refers to Stevenson’s ‘grâce de style’, ‘vivacité d’expression’, ‘une veine de génie’ and ‘puisance dramatique’.


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