Art is a virtue; and if I were the man I should be, my art would rise in the proportion of my life

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1172.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 170-172]

La Solitude, Hyères [Postmark 27 October 1883]

My dear Low,


Some day or other, in Cassell’s Magazine of Art, you will see a paper which will interest you, and where your name appears. It is called Fontainebleau: Village Communities of Artists, and the signature of R.L. Stevenson will be found annexed.

It appeared in the Magazine of Art for May and June 1884 []

RLS’s signature of ‘Fontainebleau’, in the Magazine of Art 1884 []

Please tell the editor of Manhattan the following secrets for me: 1st, That I am a beast; 2nd, that I owe him a letter; 3rd, that I have lost his, and cannot recall either his name or address; 4th, that I am very deep in engagements, which my absurd health makes it hard for me to overtake; but 5th, that I will bear him in mind; 6th and last, that I am a brute.

The Manhattan, a short-lived New York magazine, the editor of which, W.H. Forman, had asked through Low for a contribution from RLS.

The Manhattan, a short-lived New York magazine, the editor of which, W.H. Forman, had asked through Low for a contribution from RLS.

My address is still the same, and I live in a most sweet corner of the universe, sea and fine hills before me, and a rich variegated plain; and at my back a craggy hill, loaded with vast feudal ruins.

Hyères []

Le Vieux Chaueau, Hyères []

Le Vieux Chateau, Hyères []

I am very quiet; a person passing by my door half startles me; but I enjoy the most aromatic airs, and at night the most wonderful view into a moonlit garden. By day this garden fades into nothing, overpowered by its surroundings and the luminous distance; but at night and when the moon is out, that garden, the arbour, the flight of stairs that mount the artificial hillock, the plumed blue gum-trees that hang trembling, become the very skirts of Paradise. Angels I know frequent it; and it thrills all night with the flutes of silence. Damn that garden; — and by day it is gone.


Hyères []

Blue gum-tree (Eucalyptus) []

Continue to testify boldly against realism. Down with Dagon, the fish god!

Dagon, the “fish-god”, 1875 illustration: a major member of the pantheon of the Philistines (Samuel 5.2–7). John Milton used the Bible tradition in his Paradise Lost []

All art swings down towards imitation, in these days, fatally. But the man who loves art with wisdom sees the joke; it is the lustful that tremble and respect her ladyship; but thehonest and romantic lovers of the Muse can see a joke and sit down to laugh with Apollo.

Gustave Moreau, Apollo and the Muses, 1856 []

W.H. Low, Illustration for Ballade of Horace’s Loves, 1899 []

W.H. Low, An Arcadian Pool, 1891 []

The prospect of your return to Europe is very agreeable; and I was pleased by what you said about your parents. One of my oldest friends died recently, and this has given me new thoughts of death. Up to now I had rather thought of him as a mere personal enemy of my own; but now that I see him hunting after my friends, he looks altogether darker.

Will Hicok Low (1853-1932), American painter and friend to RLS. The author met him in 1875 in France, where Low was studying art []

My own father is not well;

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887) []

and Henley, of whom you must have heard me speak, is in a questionable state of health.

William ernest Henley (1849-1903), English poet and RLS’s friend []

These things are very solenm, and take some of the colour out of life. It is a great thing, after all, to be a man of reasonable honour and kindness. Do you remember once consulting me in Paris whether you had not better sacrifice honesty to art; and how, after much confabulation, we agreed that your art would suffer if you did? We decided better than we knew. In this strange welter where we live, all hangs together by a million filaments; and to do reasonably well by others, is the first pre-requisite of art. […] Art is a virtue; and if I were the man I should be, my art would rise in the proportion of my life. […]

If you were privileged to give some happiness to your parents, I know your art will gain by it. By God it will!Sic subscribitur,



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