Doctor Stevenson

RLS had used the phrase ‘family theologian’ to describe his father in Travels with a Donkey, 1879.

In April 1884 Miss Ferrier (born in Edinburgh in 1844) went out to Hyères and stayed with her friends.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1260.]

To his Father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 210-211]

[La Solitude, Hyères, Late April 1884]

My dear Father,

Yesterday I very powerfully stated the Haeresis Stevensoniana, or the complete body of divinity of the family theologian, to Miss Ferrier. She was much impressed; so was I. You are a great heresiarch; and I know no better. Whaur the devil did ye get thon about the soap? Is it altogether your own? I never heard it elsewhere; and yet I suspect it must have been held at some time or other, and if you were to look up you would probably find yourself condemned by some Council.


RLS related the anecdote about the soap in a letter of 1893: Dr Lawrie of Monkton preached about Judas’s sop [John 13:26: ‘Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.’]: “Commentators, my friends, are divided as to whether this sop was a piece of common soap.” “Eh doctor, ye were grand the day,” said one of the elders, “But whaur the deil did ye get yon about the soap?” []

I am glad to hear you are so well. The hear is excellent. The Cornhills came; I made Miss Ferrier read us Thrawn Janet, and was quite bowled over by my own works.


RLS’s tale ‘Thrawn Janet’ was first published in Cornhill Magazine 44 (Oct 1881), and then included  in The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables (1887) []


The Merry Men I mean to make much longer, with a whole new dénouement, not yet quite clear to me.


RLS’s tale ‘The Merry Men’ was first published in Cornhill Magazine 45-46 (June-July 1882), and then included in ‘The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables’ (1887) []






The Story of a Lie I must rewrite entirely also, as it is too weak and ragged, yet is worth saving for the Admiral. Did I ever tell you that the Admiral was recognised in America […]?


‘The Story of a Lie’ was first published in the New Quarterly Magazine 25 (Oct 1879; here the 1920 edition): Dick Naseby falls in love with a young woman, Esther Von Tromp. Unfortunately, her father is Peter Von Tromp, jokingly called “The Admiral”, a terrible painter, a drunkard and a parasite on other people’s goodwill []

When they are all on their legs this will make an excellent collection.


First edition of ‘The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables’, Chatto & Windus 1887 []




Has Davie never read Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, or The Antiquary?


RLS’s cousin, David Alan [Davie] Stevenson (1854-1938), lighthouse engineer []


W. Scott, Guy Mannering, 1878 ed. []


W. Scott, Rob Roy, 1863 ed. []


W. Scott, The Antiquary, first edition, 1816 []


All of which are worth three Waverleys.


Scott’s Waverley Novels, 1873-75 ed.[]

I think Kenilworth better than Waverley;


W. Scott, Kenilworth, first edition, 1821 []

Nigel, too;


W. Scott, The Fortunes of Nigel, first edition, 1822 []

and Quentin Durward about as good.


W. Scott, Quentin Durward, 1827 ed.[]

But it shows a true piece of insight to prefer Waverley, for it is different; and though not quite coherent, better worked in parts than almost any other: surely more carefully.


W. Scott, Waverley, first edition, 1814 []

It is undeniable that the love of the slap-dash and the shoddy grew upon Scott with success. Perhaps it does on many of us, which may be the granite on which D[avie]’s opinion stands.


Sir Walter Scott (1871-1832) []

However, I hold it, in Patrick Walker’s phrase, for an ‘old, condemned, damnable error.’ Dr. Simson was condemned by P[atrick] W[alker] as being ‘a bagful of’ such. One of Patrick’s amenities!


In the Postscript to his Life of Alexander Peden, Walker denounced Professor John Simson, the great Presbyterian heretic, as ‘a hotch-potch or bagful of Arrian, Arminian, Socinian, Pelagian, old condemn’d damnable errors’ []


Postrscript to Walker’s Life of Alexander Peden, 1815.

Another ground there may be to D[avie]’s opinion; those who avoid (or seek to avoid) Scott’s facility are apt to be continually straining and torturing their style to get in more of life. And to many the extra significance does not redeem the strain.

Doctor Stevenson

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