I spy a little bright cafe in one corner of the port, in front of which I now propose we should sit down

There is no certain clue to the date of the following; neither has it been possible to make sure what was the enclosure mentioned. The special illness referred to seems to be that of the beginning of May 1884.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1287.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 235-238]

[? Royat, ? June 1884]

Dear boy,

I trust this finds you well; it leaves me so-so. The weather is so cold that I must stick to bed, which is rotten and tedious, but can’t be helped.

I find in the blotting book the enclosed, which I wrote to you the eve of my blood. Is it not strange? That night, when I naturally thought I was coopered, the thought of it was much in my mind; I thought it had gone; and I thought what a strange prophecy I had made in jest, and how it was indeed like to be the end of many letters. But I have written a good few since, and the spell is broken. I am just as pleased, for I earnestly desire to live. This pleasant middle age into whose port we are steering is quite to my fancy. I would cast anchor here, and go ashore for twenty years, and see the manners of the place.


Cl. Monet, Hauling a Boat Ashore, Honfleur 1864 [http://uploads4.wikiart.org]

Youth was a great time, but somewhat fussy. Now in middle age (bar lucre) all seems mighty placid. It likes me; I spy a little bright cafe in one corner of the port, in front of which I now propose we should sit down.


P. Cezanne, The card players, 1892-1895 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

There is just enough of the bustle of the harbour and no more; and the ships are close in, regarding us with stern-windows –



– the ships that bring deals from Norway


Schooner being loaded with ice in Norway, late 19th century [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and parrots from the Indies.


Let us sit down here for twenty years, with a packet of tobacco and a drink, and talk of art and women. By-and-by, the whole city will sink, and the ships too, and the table, and we also; but we shall have sat for twenty years and had a fine talk; and by that time, who knows? exhausted the subject.

I send you a book which (or I am mistook) will please you; it pleased me. But I do desire a book of adventure – a romance – and no man will get or write me one. Dumas I have read and re-read too often;


Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870), by Nadar [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Scott, too, and I am short.


Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) [http://bookfans.net]

I want to hear swords clash.

I want a book to begin in a good way; a book, I guess, like Treasure Island, alas! which I have never read, and cannot though I live to ninety. I would God that some one else had written it!


The map which has appeared in every edition of ‘Treasure Island’ since its first appearance in book form in 1883 [http://digital.nls.uk]

By all that I can learn, it is the very book for my complaint. I like the way I hear it opens; and they tell me John Silver is good fun.

And to me it is, and must ever be, a dream unrealised, a book unwritten. O my sighings after romance, or even Skeltery, and O! the weary age which will produce me neither! […]


Skelt’s Toy Theatre: Robinson Crusoe [www.toytheatregallery.com]



The night was damp and cloudy, the ways foul. The single horseman, cloaked and booted, who pursued his way across Willesden Common, had not met a traveller, when the sound of wheels ―


J. Quidor (1801-1881), The Headless Horseman pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1858 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Willesden, north west London, forms part of the London Borough of Brent[http://3.bp.blogspot.com]


Willesden from 1822 to 1914 [www.british-history.ac.uk]


‘Yes, sir,’ said the old pilot, ‘she must have dropped into the bay a little afore dawn. A queer craft she looks.’

‘She shows no colours,’ returned the young gentleman musingly.

‘They’re a-lowering of a quarter-boat, Mr. Mark,’ resumed the old salt. ‘ We shall soon know more of her.’

‘Ay,’ replied the young gentleman called Mark, ‘and here, Mr. Seadrift, comes your sweet daughter Nancy tripping down the cliff.’

‘God bless her kind heart, sir,’ ejaculated old Seadrift. ―


C.D. Friedrich, Two men by the sea, 1817 [http://hoocher.com]


C.D. Friedrich, View of a harbour, 1815-16 [http://hoocher.com]


C.D. Friedrich, Woman before the rising sun, 1818-20 [http://hoocher.com]


The notary, Jean Rossignol, had been summoned to the top of a great house in the Isle St. Louis to make a will; and now, his duties finished, wrapped in a warm roquelaure and with a lantern swinging from one hand, he issued from the mansion on his homeward way. Little did he think what strange adventures were to befall him! ―


Île Saint-Louis, Paris [http://parisdansmonoeilen.weebly.com]


The roquelaure was a cloak reaching to the knees, worn by men during the 18th century [http://i.ebayimg.com]

That is how stories should begin. And I am offered HUSKS instead.


What should be:

The Filibuster’s Cache.


What is:

Aunt Anne’s Tea Cosy.


[What should be:]

Jerry Abershaw.

Jerry Abershaw was an English notorious highwayman who terrorised travellers along the road between London and Portsmouth, and tried and sentenced to death for murder in 1795 [https://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com]

[What is:]

Mrs. Brierly’s Niece.

‘A summer beauty’, English school, 19th century [http://67.media.tumblr.com]

[What should be:]

Blood Money: A Tale.


[What is:]

Society: A Novel

J. Ritchie, A Summer’s Day in Hyde Park, 1858 [www.fashion-era.com]






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1 Response to I spy a little bright cafe in one corner of the port, in front of which I now propose we should sit down

  1. rdury says:

    I love these story beginnings that promise interesting developments. Also the admirable and constant inventiveness of Stevenson in these letters.

    Liked by 1 person

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