I am no cultivator of disappointments… but I get some good crops both of remorse and gratitude

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1211.]

To his parents [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 195-196]

La Solitude Hyères-les-Palmiers, Var, January 1 [1884]

My dear people,

A Good New Year to you. The year closes, leaving me with £50 in the bank, owing no man nothing, £100 more due to me in a week or so, and £150 more in the course of the month; and I can look back on a total receipt of £465, 0s. 6d. for the last twelve months!

And yet I am not happy!

Yet I beg! Here is my beggary: –

1. Sellar’s Trial.


Sellar (1780-1851), factor to the Countess of Sutherland, was acquitted on charges of arson and homicide following the eviction of crofters by force. The Highland Clearances, under which the landowners evicted the peasants to make room for sheep, caused great distress and the Sellar case was remembered with emotion and resentment. The Report of the Trial of Patrick Sellar Esq., 1816, had been reprinted in Sellar’s Sutherland Evictions, 1883 [https://ia600306.us.archive.org]

2. George Borrow’s Book about Wales.


G. Borrow, Wild Wales, 1862 [https://ia600807.us.archive.org]

3. My Grandfather’s Trip to Holland.


Robert Stevenson, Journal of a Trip to Holland Communicated, during a short tour in the year 1817 [https://books.google.it]

4. And (but this is, I fear, impossible) the Bell Rock Book.

Robert Stevenson, An Account of the Bell Rock Light-House, 1824 [https://archive.org]

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), RLS’s grandfather [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk]


When I think of how last year began, after four months of sickness and idleness, all my plans gone to water, myself starting alone, a kind of spectre, for Nice – should I not be grateful? Come, let us sing unto the Lord!

Nor should I forget the expected visit, but I will not believe in that till it befall; I am no cultivator of disappointments, ’tis a herb that does not grow in my garden; but I get some good crops both of remorse and gratitude. The last I can recommend to all gardeners; it grows best in shiny weather, but once well grown, is very hardy; it does not require much labour; only that the husbandman should smoke his pipe about the flowerplots and admire God’s pleasant wonders. Wintergreen (otherwise known as Resignation, or the ‘false gratitude plant’) springs in much the same soil; is little hardier, if at all; and requires to be so dug about and dunged, that there is little margin left for profit. The variety known as the Black Wintergreen (H. V. Stevensoniana) is rather for ornament than profit.


The interpreter and the pilgrims in the garden, from J. Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim Progress [http://c7.alamy.com]

‘John, do you see that bed of resignation?’ – ‘It’s doin’ bravely, sir.’ – ‘John, I will not have it in my garden; it flatters not the eye and comforts not the stomach; root it out.’ – ‘Sir, I ha’e seen o’ them that rase as high as nettles; gran’ plants!’ – ‘What then? Were they as tall as alps, if still unsavoury and bleak, what matters it? Out with it, then; and in its place put Laughter and a Good Conceit (that capital home evergreen), and a bush of Flowering Piety – but see it be the flowering sort – the other species is no ornament to any gentleman’s Back Garden.’

Jno. Bunyan


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