Dear reader, I deceive you with husks, the real works and all the pleasure are still mine and incommunicable

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1232.]

To William Ernest Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 145-147]

La Solitude, Hyères [c. 13 March 1884]

Dear lad,

I was delighted to hear the good news about Teddy.

Henley’s brother, Edward, had appeared at the Royal Globe Theatre in several plays. The Globe was a Victorian theatre built in 1868 and demolished in 1902, Newcastle Street, London []

Bravo, he goes uphill fast. Let him beware of vanity, and he will go higher; let him be still discontented, and let him (if it might be) see the merits and not the faults of his rivals, and he may swarm at last to the top-gallant. There is no other way. Admiration is the only road to excellence; and the critical spirit kills, but envy and injustice are putrefaction on its feet.

Thus far the moralist. The eager author now begs to know whether you may have got the other Whistles, and whether a fresh proof is to be taken; also whether in that case the dedication should not be printed therewith; Bulk Delights Publishers (original aphorism; to be said sixteen times in succession as a test of sobriety).

‘Whistles’ or ‘Penny Whistles’ was the trial version of A Child’s Garden of Verses, here in its first book edition, 1885 []

Your wild and ravening commands were received; but cannot be obeyed. And anyway, I do assure you I am getting better every day; and if the weather would but turn, I should soon be observed to walk in hornpipes.

Truly I am on the mend. I am still very careful. I have the new dictionary; a joy, a thing of beauty, and — bulk. I shall be raked i’ the mools before it’s finished; that is the only pity; but meanwhile I sing.

The ‘new dictionary’ means of course, the first instalments of the great Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, edited by Dr. J.A.H. Murray. Part I (A-Ant) of A New English Dictionary (later called the OED) was published on 1 Feb 1884. The dictionary was completed in 1928 []

I beg to inform you that I, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Brashiana and other works, am merely beginning to commence to prepare to make a first start at trying to understand my profession.

In Edinburgh university years, Brash & Son, wine and spirit merchants of 44 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, had been a special butt for some of the youthful pranks of RLS and his friends.


O the height and depth of novelty and worth in any art! and O that I am privileged to swim and shoulder through such oceans! Could one get out of sight of land — all in the blue!

The blue sea, between Upolu and Manono, Samoa []

Alas not, being anchored here in flesh, and the bonds of logic being still about us. But what a great space and a great air there is in these small shallows where alone we venture!


and how new each sight, squall,

The Bell Rock lighthouse in a storm []



or sunrise!

Cullen Bay sunrise, Moray Coast, Scotland []

An art is a fine fortune, a palace in a park,

Palais Carnolès, Menton, France []

a band of music,

Kiosque de Musique, Menton, France []

health, and physical beauty;

Konstantin Yegorovich Makovsky (1839-1915), Russian beauty in summer garland []

all but love — to any worthy practiser. I sleep upon my art for a pillow; I waken in my art; I am unready for death, because I hate to leave it. I love my wife, I do not know how much, nor can, nor shall, unless I lost her; but while I can conceive my being widowed, I refuse the offering of life without my art. I am not but in my art; it is me; I am the body of it merely.

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

And yet I produce nothing, am the author of Brashiana and other works: tiddy-iddity — as if the works one wrote were anything but ‘prentice’s experiments. Dear reader, I deceive you with husks, the real works and all the pleasure are still mine and incommunicable. After this break in my work, beginning to return to it, as from light sleep, I wax exclamatory, as you see.


Sursum Corda:

Heave ahead:

Here’s luck.

Art and Blue Heaven,

April and God’s Larks.

Pal Szinyei Merse (1845-1920), The lark []

Green reeds and the sky-scattering river.

The river Clyde []


A stately music.

Enter God.


Ay, but you know, until a man can write that ‘Enter God,’ he has made no art! None! Come, let us take counsel together and make some!

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