Miss Ferrier’s brother, Walter, one of RLS’s oldest and most intimate friends of Edinburgh days, had lately died of alcoholism, at the same age as RLS.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1182.]
To Elizabeth Anne Ferrier [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 186-188]
La Solitude, Hyères [November 22, 1883]
Dear Miss Ferrier,
Many thanks for the photograph. It is – well, it is like most photographs. The sun is an artist of too much renown; and, at any rate, we who knew Walter ‘in the brave days of old’ will be difficult to please.
I was inexpressibly touched to get a letter from some lawyers as to some money. I have never had any account with my friends; some have gained and some lost; and I should feel there was something dishonest in a partial liquidation even if I could recollect the facts, which I cannot. But the fact of his having put aside this memorandum touched me greatly.
[…] The mystery of his life is great. Our chemist in this place, who had been at Malvern, recognised the picture.
You may remember Walter had a romantic affection for all pharmacies? and the bottles in the window were for him a poem? He said once that he knew no pleasure like driving through a lamplit city, waiting for the chemists to go by.
All these things return now.
He had a pretty full translation of Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters, which we read together, as well as the second part of Faust, in Gladstone Terrace, he helping me with the German. There is no keepsake I should more value than the MS of that translation.
They were the best days I ever had with him, little dreaming all would so soon be over. It needs a blow like this to convict a man of mortality and its burthen. I always thought I should go by myself; not to survive. But now I feel as if the earth were undermined, and all my friends have lost one thickness of reality since that one passed. Those are happy who can take it otherwise; with that I found things all beginning to dislimn. Here we have no abiding city, and one felt as though he had – and O too much acted.
But if you tell me, he did not feel my silence. However, he must have done so; and my guilt is irreparable now. I thank God at least heartily that he did not resent it.
Please remember me to Sir Alexander and Lady Grant, to whose care I will address this.
When next I am in Edinburgh I will take flowers, alas! to the West Kirk. Many a long hour we passed in graveyards, the man who has gone and I – or rather not that man – but the beautiful, genial, witty youth who so betrayed him.
– Dear Miss Ferrier, I am yours most sincerely,
Robert Louis Stevenson