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.
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.
The Merry Men I mean to make much longer, with a whole new dénouement, not yet quite clear to me.
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 […]?
When they are all on their legs this will make an excellent collection.
Has Davie never read Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, or The Antiquary?
All of which are worth three Waverleys.
I think Kenilworth better than Waverley;
and Quentin Durward about as good.
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.
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.
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!
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.