This refers to some dispute which had arisen between Henley and the editor W.H. Pollock concerning the refusal of an article on the great Italian actor Tommaso Salvini, who was appearing in plays in London.
“Fastidious Brisk” was a name coined by Henley for RLS – very inappropriately as Colvin always thought – and taken from a character of Ben Jonson’s ‘Every Man out of His Humour’.
[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1240.]
To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1912, pp. 184-185]
La Solitude, Hyères, [? 17 March 1884]
My dear lad,
You know your own business best; but I wish your honesty were not so warfaring. These conflicts pain Lucretian sitters on the shore; and one wonders — one wonders — wonders and whimpers. I do not say my attitude is noble; but is yours conciliatory? I revere Salvini, but I shall never see him — nor anybody — play again.
That is all a matter of history, heroic history, to me. Were I in London, I should be the liker Tantalus — no more.
But as for these quarrels: in not many years shall we not all be clay-cold and safe below ground, you with your loud-mouthed integrity, I with my fastidious briskness, [Pollock] and — with all their faults and merits, swallowed in silence.
It seems to me, in ignorance of cause, that when the dustman has gone by, these quarrellings will prick the conscience.
Am I wrong? I am a great sinner; so, my brave friend, are you; the others also. Let us a little imitate the divine patience and the divine sense of humour, and smilingly tolerate those faults and virtues that have so brief a period and so intertwined a being.
I fear I was born a parson; but I live very near upon the margin (though, by your leave, I may outlive you all!), and too much rigour in these daily things sounds to me like clatter on the kitchen dishes. If it might be — could it not be smoothed? This very day my father writes me he has gone to see, upon his deathbed, an old friend to whom for years he has not spoken or written. On his deathbed; no picking up of the lost stitches; merely to say: my little fury, my spotted uprightness, after having split our lives, have not a word of quarrel to say more.
And the same post brings me the news of another — War! Things in this troubled medium are not so clear, dear Henley; there are faults upon all hands; and the end comes, and Ferrier’s grave gapes for us all.
The Prosy Preacher
(But written in deep dejection, my dear man). Suppose they are wrong? Well, am I not tolerated, are you not tolerated ? — we and our faults?