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