The offer is a fair one: I have not sold myself to the devil, for I could never find him

This friend of old Savile Club days was an assistant secretary to the finance department, art-critic, and versifier.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1258.]

To Cosmo Monkhouse [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 216-217]

La Solitude, Hyères [April 24, 1884]

Dear Monkhouse,

If you are in love with repose, here is your occasion: change with me. I am too blind to read, hence no reading; I am too weak to walk, hence no walking; I am not allowed to speak, hence no talking; but the great simplification has yet to be named; for, if this goes on, I shall soon have nothing to eat – and hence, O Hallelujah! hence no eating. The offer is a fair one: I have not sold myself to the devil, for I could never find him.

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‘Les Diableries’, hand-tinted stereocard (detail), c. 1861 [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.om]

I am married, but so are you. 

by William Strang, etching, 1892

William Cosmo Monkhouse (1840-1901). His second wife, married in 1873, was Leonora Eliza, daughter of Commander Blount, R.N. They had 8 children [www.19thc-artworldwide.org]

I sometimes write verses, but so do you.

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C. Monkhouse, A Dream of Idleness, 1865 [https://ia601405.us.archive.org]

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Come! Hic quies! As for the commandments, I have broken them so small that they are the dust of my chambers; you walk upon them, triturate and toothless; and with the Golosh of Philosophy, they shall not bite your heel.

True, the tenement is falling. Ay, friend, but yours also. Take a larger view; what is a year or two? dust in the balance! ‘Tis done, behold you Cosmo Stevenson, and me R.L. Monkhouse; you at Hyères, I in London; you rejoicing in the clammiest repose, me proceeding to tear your tabernacle into rags, as I have already so admirably torn my own.

My place to which I now introduce you – it is yours – is like a London house, high and very narrow;

sargent_-_robert_louis_stevenson_and_his_wife

RLS and his wife, by John Singer Sargent, 1885 [https://adoxoblog.files.wordpress.com]

501583583-19th-century-houses-in-london-near-elephant-gettyimages

19th century houses in London near Elephant and Castle.

 

upon the lungs I will not linger;

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French monaural stethoscope, 1851-1900 [http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk]

the heart is large enough for a ballroom;

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[http://washingtonlife.com]

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[https://earlydance.org]

 

the belly greedy and inefficient;

wenceslas_hollar_-_the_belly_and_the_members

Wenceslas Hollar’s illustration from John Ogilby’s version of Aesop’s Fables: The Belly and the Members, 1668[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

the brain stocked with the most damnable explosives, like a dynamiter’s den.

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RLS and FS, The Dynamiter, 1885 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The whole place is well furnished, though not in a very pure taste; Corinthian much of it; showy and not strong.

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RLS by John Singer Sargent, 1887 [https://c1.staticflickr.com]

About your place I shall try to find my way alone, an interesting exploration. Imagine me, as I go to bed, falling over a blood-stained remorse; opening that cupboard in the cerebellum and being welcomed by the spirit of your murdered uncle.

to-use2

[https://freakyfolktales.files.wordpress.com]

I should probably not like your remorses; I wonder if you will like mine; I have a spirited assortment; they whistle in my ear o’ nights like a north-easter.

I trust yours don’t dine with the family; mine are better mannered; you will hear nought of them till 2 A.M., except one, to be sure, that I have made a pet of, but he is small; I keep him in buttons, so as to avoid commentaries; you will like him much – if you like what is genuine. Must we likewise change religions? Mine is a good article, with a trick of stopping; cathedral bell note;

ornamental dial;

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Sundial, South France [http://new-design-times.com]

supported by Venus and the Graces;

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Venus, the Graces and Mars, by Antonio Canova [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]

quite a summer-parlour piety.

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[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Of yours, since your last, I fear there is little to be said. There is one article I wish to take away with me: my spirits. They suit me. I don’t want yours; I like my own; I have had them a long while in bottle. It is my only reservation. – Yours (as you decide),

R.L. Monkhouse

 

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