Bewildering and childering are enough for me

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.

Aesop’s Fables, 1881. The miller and his son, taking the ass to the fair to sell it, get conflicting advice from passers-by and the ass is accidentally killed. ‘By endeavouring to please everybody , one succeeds in pleasing nobody’ []

Notes on details: –

1. I love the occasional trochaic line; and so did many excellent writers before me.

RLS’s poem ‘Looking forward’, here in the 1895 illustrated edition. Colvin had commented: ‘Jerky metre. I don’t think the dropping of a first syllable suddently at the beginning of the line is permissible in a set of poems like this’. Henley disagreed: ‘Don’t matter a bit’ []

 2. If you don’t like A Good Boy, I do.

RLS’s poem ‘A Good Boy’, here in the 1895 illustrated edition: Colvin called it ‘piggish’ and suggested deletion. Henley adreed []


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.

RLS’s poem ‘Escape at Bedtime’: In the 2nd verse, Colvin amended the printed text ‘These above’ to ‘shone above’. RLS had written ‘These shone’. In publihing this letter Colvin himself evidently misread ‘shone’ as ‘shove’. In the next line of the poem Colvin suggested ‘Twinkled half full’ instead of ‘would be half full’ []



4. I don’t care; I take a different view of the vocative.

RLS’s poem ‘The Wind’: Against the last line Colvin commented ‘It won’t do: the vocative demands a second person in the verb: ‘singest; or else the line must be differently turned’ []



5. Bewildering and childering are good enough for me. These are rhymes, jingles; I don’t go for eternity and the three unities.

RLS’s poem ‘Good and Bad Children’: Colvin called the rhyming of ‘bewildering’ with ‘children’ ‘Cockney rhyme’. Henley added ‘Cf. Keats and Mrs Browning’ []



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.


‘The Penny Whistles’ copy annotated by Colvin and Henley, Beinecke Library, Yale. RLS dropped 9 of the 48 poems. Colvin suggested omission of ‘The Lamplighter’, ‘the lamplighter being an extinct animal to the modern child’ and described the Swing as ‘commonplace’ []

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.

Cover of the First Edition, 1888 []

Richard Crookback, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III, makes his appearance in Book 5 of The Black Arrow. He knights Dick on the field of battle and, following their victory, gives him fifty horsemen to pursue Sir Daniel and rescue Joanna. RLS expressed his desire to write about him again []


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. […]

Joshua Ballinger Lippincott (1813-1886): The proposal referred to had reached RLS from that American publisher: a sailing trip among the Greek Islands and made the subject of a book []

Lippincott’s Magazine, Philadelphia, 1882 []

Distinguo: 1. Silverado was not written in America, but in Switzerland’s icy mountains.

The Silverado Squatters, first book edition, 1883 []


Davos, Switzerland []


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,


The Battle of Ramnuggur of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, 1848. The Sikhs repelled a British cavalry attack, and regarded the battle as a victory []

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.

Sir John Robert Seeley, (1834-1895), English essayist and historian. The remarks on Professor Seeley’s literary manner are àpropos of the Expansion of England, which Colvin had lately sent him []


Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), English poet and critic []

Mary Ann Evans (1819–1880), pen name George Eliot []

G. Eliot’s novel, ‘Daniel Deronda’, 1876 []



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: Logo

You are commenting using your 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.