In Arabia… me they would denominate the “Father of Bones”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1184.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, pp. 171-172]

[Chalet la Solitude, Hyères, Late November 1883]


The attempt to correspond with you is vain. Well, well, then so be it. I will from time to time write you an insulting letter, brief but monstrous harsh. I regard you in the light of a genteel impostor. Your name figures in the papers but never to a piece of letter-paper: well, well.

News. I am well: Fanny been ill but better: […] Otto about three-quarters done; Silverado proofs a terrible job – it is a most unequal work – new wine in old bottles – large rats, small bottles:

(c) The Royal Hospital Chelsea; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Duke of Wellington (1769–1852). The allusion is to a specimen Colvin had been used to hear quoted of Wellington’s table-talk in his latter years. He had said that musk-rats were sometimes kept alive in bottles in India. Curate, or other meek dependent: “I presume, your Grace, they are small rats and large bottles.” His Grace: “No, large rats, small bottles; large rats, small bottles; large rats, small bottles.” The reference was to an Indian conjuring trick in which rats were sucked into bottles by means of a vacuum created inside []

as usual, penniless – O but penniless: still, with four articles in hand (say £35) and the £100 for Silverado imminent, not hopeless.

Why am I so penniless, ever, ever penniless, ever, ever

penny-penny-penniless and dry?

The birds upon the thorn,

The poppies in the corn,

They surely are more fortunate or prudenter than I!

In Arabia, everybody is called the Father of something or other for convenience or insult’s sake. Thus you are “the Father of Prints,” or of “Bummkopferies,” or “Father of Unanswered Correspondence.”


Sidney Colvin, c. 1890. RLS called “Bummkopfery” laboured pedantry or its flourishing modern counterpart, academic ingenuity []

They would instantly dub Henley “the Father of Wooden Legs”;


William Ernest Henley, c. 1890. From the age of 12, he suffered from tuberculosis of the bone that resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee in 1868–69. The idea for the character of Long John Silver was inspired by him []

me they would denominate the “Father of Bones,”


RLS and his wife, by American painter John Singer Sargent, 1885 []

and Matthew Arnold “the Father of Eyeglasses.”


Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), English poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools []


I have accepted most of the excisions. […] Proposed titles –

The Innocent Muse.

A Child’s Garden of Rhymes.

Songs of the Playroom.

Nursery Songs.

I like the first?



A Child’s Garden of Verses, first American (illustrated) edition, 1895 []

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