During the height of the Provençal summer, 1883, RLS went with his wife to the Baths of Royat in Auvergne (travelling necessarily by way of Clermont-Ferrand, Hôtel de la Poste). His parents joined them at Royat for part of their visit.
The news here referred to was that his correspondent Arthur Trevor Haddon had won a scholarship at the Slade School of Fine Art, at the age of 19.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1121.]
To Arthur Trevor Haddon [Colvin 1912, pp. 174-176]
La Solitude, Hyeres. But just now writing from Clermont-Ferrand, July 5, 1883.
Dear Mr. Haddon,
Your note with its piece of excellent news duly reached me. I am delighted to hear of your success: selfishly so; for it is pleasant to see that one whom I suppose I may call an admirer is no fool.
I wish you more and more prosperity, and to be devoted to your art. An art is the very gist of life; it grows with you; you will never weary of an art at which you fervently and superstitiously labour. Superstitiously: I mean, think more of it than it deserves; be blind to its faults, as with a wife or father; forget the world in a technical trifle. The world is very serious; art is the cure of that, and must be taken very lightly; but to take art lightly, you must first be stupidly owlishly in earnest over it.
When I made Casimir say “Tiens” at the end, I made a blunder. I thought it was what Casimir would have said and I put it down. As your question shows, it should have been left out. It was a “patch” of realism, and an anti-climax. Beware of realism; it is the devil; ‘t is one of the means of art, and now they make it the end! And such is the farce of the age in which a man lives, that we all, even those of us who most detest it, sin by realism.
Notes for the student of any art.
- Keep an intelligent eye upon all the others. It is only by doing so that you come to see what Art is: Art is the end common to them all, it is none of the points by which they differ.
- In this age beware of realism.
- In your own art, bow your head over technique. Think of technique when you rise and when you go to bed. Forget purposes in the meanwhile; get to love technical processes; to glory in technical successes; get to see the world entirely through technical spectacles, to see it entirely in terms of what you can do. Then when you have anything to say, the language will be apt and copious.
My health is better.
I have no photograph just now; but when I get one you shall have a copy. It will not be like me; sometimes I turn out a capital, fresh bank clerk;
once I came out the image of Runjeet Singh;
again the treacherous sun has fixed me in the character of a travelling evangelist.
It’s quite a lottery; but whatever the next venture proves to be, soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, you shall have a proof. Reciprocate. The truth is I have no appearance; a certain air of disreputability is the one constant character that my face presents: the rest change like water. But still I am lean, and still disreputable.
Cling to your youth. It is an artistic stock in trade. Don’t give in that you are ageing, and you won’t age. I have exactly the same faults and qualities still; only a little duller, greedier and better tempered; a little less tolerant of pain and more tolerant of tedium. The last is a great thing for life but — query? — a bad endowmentf or art?
Another note for the art student.
- See the good in other people’s work; it will never be yours. See the bad in your own, and don’t cry about it; it will be there always. Try to use your faults; at any rate use your knowledge of them, and don’t run your head against stone walls. Art is not like theology; nothing is forced. You have not to represent the world. You have to represent only what you can represent with pleasure and effect, and the only way to find out what that is is by technical exercise. — Yours sincerely,
Robert Louis Stevenson