[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]
I was delighted to hear the good news about Teddy.
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).
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.
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.
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!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, calm, or sunrise! An art is a fine fortune, a palace in a park,
a band of music,
health, and physical beauty;
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.
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.
Art and Blue Heaven,
April and God’s Larks.
Green reeds and the sky-scattering river.
A stately music.
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!