I am not sure that my incapacity to work is wholly due to illness

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1322.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1912, p. 197]

Bonallie Towers, Bournemouth, November 11, 1884.

Dear boy,

I have been nearly smashed altogether; fever and chills, with really very considerable suffering; and to my deep gloom and some fear about the future, work has had to stop. There was no way out of it; yesterday and today nothing would come, it was a mere waste of tissue, productive of spoiled paper. I hope it will not last long; for the bum-baily is panting at my rump, and when I turn a scared eye across my shoulder, I behold his talons quivering above my frock-coat tails.


The bum-bailiff outwitted; or the convenience of fashion, 1786. The bum-baily was the sheriff’s officer who caught people by sneaking up behind them [www.britishmuseum.org]

Gosse has writ to offer me £40 for a Christmas number ghost story for the Pall Mall: eight thousand words. I have, with some conditions, accepted; I pray Heaven I may be able to do it.


Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) was lecturing in English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge and making a successful American lecture tour in 1884. He became, in the 1880s, one of the most important art critics dealing with sculpture [http://blog.library.leeds.ac.uk]


Pall Mall Gazette Christmas Extra, 1884, publishing RLS’s short story, ‘The Body Snatcher’ [www.thelancet.com]


But I am not sure that my incapacity to work is wholly due to illness; I believe the morphine I have been taking for my bray may have a hand in it. It moderates the bray, but I think, sews up the donkey.








I think my wife is a little better. If only I could get in trim, and get this work done, I should be quite chipper. […]


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