We were all in a buck basket about halfway between the swing and the gate

RLS’s cousin, Henrietta Traquair (1850-1902), had been reading Penny Whistles (‘family’ edition of “A Child’s Garden of Verses”) and recognised herself and her brother Willie in the poem ‘A Pirate Story’. Henrietta lived in Colinton Road, Edinburgh, and had married James Milne, master brassfounder, in 1873.

William Traquair (1851-1923) was writer to the Signet, and married Cecilia Ross Munro in 1884.

Ramsey is Henrietta’s son, Ramsey Traquair Milne, then aged 4

A MS of the verse beginning ‘The Giant Bunker, great and grim’ is at Yale. It includes the line ‘Will had a crossbow Puss [i.e. Henrietta] a sword’.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1167.]

To Henrietta Milne [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 185-186]

La Solitude, Hyères [? 23 October 1883]

My dear Henrietta,

Certainly; who else would they be? More by token, on that particular occasion, you were sailing under the title of Princess Royal; I, after a furious contest, under that of Prince Alfred; and Willie, still a little sulky, as the Prince of Wales. We were all in a buck basket about halfway between the swing and the gate; and I can still see the Pirate Squadron heave in sight upon the weather bow.

His Royal Highness Prince Albert, The Princess Royal and Eos

Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1902), later German Empress and Queen of Prussia, with her father, Albert, 1841. She married in 1858 Frederick, Crown Prince of Germany and Prussia later Frederick III, German Emperor and King of Prussia [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Prince Alfred (1844–1900) was the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He was known as the Duke of Edinburgh from 1866 until he succeeded his uncle Ernest II as the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the German Empire, in 1893; in 1874 he married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia (1853–1920) [www.tangiergoldhistory.org]


Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1841-1910), later King Edward VII. He married in 1863,Princess Alexandra of Denmark (1844–1925) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Queen Victoria’s family in 1846, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Left to right: Prince Alfred and the Prince of Wales; the Queen and Prince Albert; Princesses Alice, Helena and Victoria [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


‘Pirate Sory’, from ‘A child’s Garden of Verses’, 1895 illustrated edition [www.childrenslibrary.org]




Sir John Falstaff in the buck basket; print after Francis Hayman, 1743 [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]


‘The Swing’, from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’, 1895 illustrated edition [www.childrenslibrary.org]



I wrote a piece besides on Giant Bunker; but I was not happily inspired, and it is condemned. Perhaps I’ll try again; he was a horrid fellow, Giant Bunker! and some of my happiest hours were passed in pursuit of him. You were a capital fellow to play: how few there were who could! None better than yourself. I shall never forget some of the days at Bridge of Allan; they were one golden dream.


When RLS was a child, the Stevensons summered in North Berwick, visiting Bridge of Allan [www.stirling-lhs.org]

See ‘A Good Boy’ in the Penny Whistles, much of the sentiment of which is taken direct from one evening at Bridge of Allan when we had had a great play with the little Glasgow girl.


‘A Good Boy’, from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1895 illustrated edition [www.childrenslibrary.org]



Hallowed be that fat book of fairy tales! Do you remember acting the Fair One with Golden Locks? What a romantic drama!


‘The Fair One with Golden Locks’, Edinburgh 1840 [https://p3.liveauctioneers.com]

Generally speaking, whenever I think of play, it is pretty certain that you will come into my head. I wrote a paper called Child’s Play once, where, I believe, you or Willie would recognise things.


‘Child’s Play ‘, first published for Cornhill (Sept. 1878), was republished in ‘Virginibus Puerisque, 1881 [https://ia700408.us.archive.org]


[…] Surely Willie is just the man to marry; and if his wife wasn’t a happy woman, I think I could tell her who was to blame. Is there no word of it? Well, these things are beyond arrangement; and the wind bloweth where it listeth – which, I observe, is generally towards the west in Scotland.

Here it prefers a south-easterly course, and is called the Mistral – usually with an adjective in front.


But if you will remember my yesterday’s toothache and this morning’s crick, you will be in a position to choose an adjective for yourself. Not that the wind is unhealthy; only when it comes strong, it is both very high and very cold, which makes it the d-v-l. But as I am writing to a lady, I had better avoid this topic; winds requiring a great scope of language.

Please remember me to all at home; give Ramsay a pennyworth of acidulated drops for his good taste. – And believe me, your affectionate cousin,

Robert Louis Stevenson




This entry was posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.