The following is in answer to a letter containing remarks on the proofs of A Child’s Garden of Verses, then going round among some of his friends with the name of Penny Whistles, and on the instalments of Silverado Squatters and the Black Arrow, which were appearing in the Century Magazine and Young Folks respectively.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1174.]
To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 166-168]
La Solitude, Hyères [Early November 1883]
Colvin, Colvin, Colvin,
Yours received; also interesting copy of P[enny] Whistles. ‘In the multitude of councillors the Bible declares there is wisdom,’ said my great-uncle, ‘but I have always found in them distraction.’ It is extraordinary how tastes vary: these proofs have been handed about, it appears, and I have had several letters; and – distraction. Æsop: the Miller and the Ass.
Notes on details: –
1. I love the occasional trochaic line; and so did many excellent writers before me.
2. If you don’t like A Good Boy, I do.
3. In Escape at Bedtime, I found two suggestions. ‘Shove’ for ‘above’ is a correction of the press; it was so written. ‘Twinkled’ is just the error; to the child the stars appear to be there; any word that suggests illusion is a horror.
4. I don’t care; I take a different view of the vocative.
5. Bewildering and childering are good enough for me. These are rhymes, jingles; I don’t go for eternity and the three unities.
I will delete some of those condemned, but not all. I don’t care for the name Penny Whistles; I sent a sheaf to Henley when I sent ‘em. But I’ve forgot the others. I would just as soon call ‘em ‘Rimes for Children’ as anything else. I am not proud nor particular.
Your remarks on the Black Arrow are to the point. I am pleased you liked Crookback; he is a fellow whose hellish energy has always fixed my attention. I wish Shakespeare had written the play after he had learned some of the rudiments of literature and art rather than before. Some day, I will re-tickle the Sable Missile, and shoot it, moyennant finances, once more into the air; I can lighten it of much, and devote some more attention to Dick o’ Gloucester. It’s great sport to write tushery.
By this I reckon you will have heard of my proposed excursiolorum the Isles of Greece, the Isles of Greece, and kindred sites. If the excursiolorum goes on, that is, if moyennant finances comes off, I shall write to beg you to collect introductiolorums for me. […]
Distinguo: 1. Silverado was not written in America, but in Switzerland’s icy mountains.
2. What you read is the bleeding and disembowelled remains of what I wrote. 3. The good stuff is all to come – so I think. ‘The Sea Fogs,’ ‘The Hunter’s Family,’ ‘Toils and Pleasures’ – belles pages.
– Yours ever,
O! – Seeley is […] too clever to live, and the book a gem. But why has he read too much Arnold? Why will he avoid – obviously avoid – fine writing up to which he has led? This is a winking, curled-and-oiled, ultra-cultured, Oxford-don sort of an affectation that infuriates my honest soul. ‘You see’ – they say – ‘how unbombastic we are; we come right up to eloquence, and, when it’s hanging on the pen, dammy, we scorn it!’ It is literary Derondaism. If you don’t want the woman, the image, or the phrase, mortify your vanity and avoid the appearance of wanting them.