We are here not to make, but to tread predestined pathways; we are the foam of a wave

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1159.]

To his father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 175-177]

La Solitude, Hyères, 12th October 1883

My dear Father,

I have just lunched; the day is exquisite, the air comes through the open window rich with odour, and I am by no means spiritually minded.


Hyères [www.guide-hyeres.com]


Hyères [http://lejardindesel.files.wordpress.com]


Your letter, however, was very much valued, and has been read oftener than once.


Thomas Stevenson responded warmly on 7 Oct with a long letter about his religious views.


What you say about yourself I was glad to hear; a little decent resignation is not only becoming a Christian, but is likely to be excellent for the health of a Stevenson. To fret and fume is undignified, suicidally foolish, and theologically unpardonable; we are here not to make, but to tread predestined, pathways; we are the foam of a wave, and to preserve a proper equanimity is not merely the first part of submission to God, but the chief of possible kindnesses to those about us.


Katsushika Hokusai, Kaijo no Fuji, 1834 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I am lecturing myself, but you also. To do our best is one part, but to wash our hands smilingly of the consequence is the next part, of any sensible virtue. […]

I have come, for the moment, to a pause in my moral works; for I have many irons in the fire, and I wish to finish something to bring coin before I can afford to go on with what I think doubtfully to be a duty. It is a most difficult work; a touch of the parson will drive off those I hope to influence; a touch of overstrained laxity, besides disgusting, like a grimace, may do harm. Nothing that I have ever seen yet speaks directly and efficaciously to young men; and I do hope I may find the art and wisdom to fill up a gap. The great point, as I see it, is to ask as little as possible, and meet, if it may be, every view or absence of view; and it should be, must be, easy. Honesty is the one desideratum; but think how hard a one to meet. I think all the time of Ferrier and myself, these are the pair that I address. Poor Ferrier, so much a better man than I, and such a temporal wreck.


Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Chōshi in Shimosha [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Feminine wave [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


But the thing of which we must divest our minds is to look partially upon others; all is to be viewed; and the creature judged, as he must be by his Creator, not dissected through a prism of morals, but in the unrefracted ray. So seen, and in relation to the almost omnipotent surroundings, who is to distinguish between Ferrier […] and such a man as Dr. Candlish, or between such a man as David Hume and such an one as Robert Burns?


Robert Smith Candlish (1806-1873) famous Free Church leader, minister of Free St George’s, Edinburgh.

Allan Ramsay, David Hume, 1711 - 1776. Historian and philosopher

Portrait of Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), by A. Ramsay [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Robert Burns (1759-1796) [www.smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk]


To compare my poor and good Walter with myself is to make me startle; he, upon all grounds above the merely expedient, was the nobler being. Yet wrecked utterly ere the full age of manhood; and the last skirmishes so well fought, so humanly useless, so pathetically brave, only the leaps of an expiring lamp.


K. Hokusai, Whirlpools at Awa [www.fujiarts.com]


K. Hokusai, Whirlpool and Waves at Naruto [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]


All this is a very pointed instance. It shuts the mouth. I have learned more, in some ways, […] from him than from any other soul I ever met; and he, strange to think, was the best gentleman, in all kinder senses, that I ever knew. – Ever your affectionate son,

Robert Louis Stevenson


Cl. Monet, Waves breaking, 1881 [http://uploads6.wikiart.org]

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