I think of giving ’em literature without words; and I believe if you were to try invisible illustration, it would enjoy a considerable vogue

Will Hicock Low was at that time teacher of drawing in the Cooper Institute, NY.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1327.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 240-242]

Bonallie Towers, Branksome Park, Bournemouth, Hants, England

First week in November, I guess, [c. 12 Nov.] 1884

My dear Low,

[…] Now, look here, the above is my address for three months, I hope; continue, on your part, if you please, to write to Edinburgh, which is safe, but if Mrs. Low thinks of coming to England, she might take a run down from London (four hours from Waterloo, main line) and stay a day or two with us among the pines. If not, I hope it will be only a pleasure deferred till you can join her. 


Waterloo Station, London, late 19th century.


Nancy Bell, Pine trees on the Westcliff seafront, Bournemouth, 1916 [www.south-coast-central.co.uk]


The pines of Bournemouth: pine forest cover remains on hillsides too steep for building [http://www.south-coast-central.co.uk]



My Children’s Verses will be published here in a volume called A Child’s Garden. The sheets are in hand;


RLS’s manuscript of ‘Farewell to the Farm’, a poem to be published in ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ [http://digital.nls.uk]

I will see if I cannot send you the lot, so that you might have a bit of a start. In that case I would do nothing to publish in the States, and you might try an illustrated edition there; which, if the book went fairly over here, might, when ready, be imported.


It was some 20 months since the plan of publishing the ‘Child’s Garden’ in the first instance as a picture-book had been mooted. But it had never taken effect, and in 1885 the volume appeared without illustrations in England and, in 1889, also in America [https://ia802604.us.archive.org]


First American edition of ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’, 1889 [https://ia800304.us.archive.org]


First (and posthumous) illustrated edition of ‘A Child’s garden’, 1895 [https://ia800208.us.archive.org]

But of this more fully ere long. You will see some verses of mine in the last Magazine of Art, with pictures by a young lady; rather pretty, I think.

a visit from the sea 1

RLS’s poem ‘A Visit from the Sea’, in Magazine of Art, Nov 1884 p. 21, with the ‘rather pretty’ pictures by Alice Haven [Thanks, Richard Dury!]

a visit from the sea 2

The ‘rustic printing’ of the poem (see next sentence)


If we find a market for Phasellulus loquitur, we can try another.


RLS’s poem ‘The Canoe Speaks’ (Latin: ‘Phasellulus loquitur’), published in ‘Underwoods’, 1887 [http://ia600200.us.archive.org]




Catullus, Carmina IV, “Phaselus ille”, Latin edition, 1881 [https://ia601002.us.archive.org]



Catullus 4, Eng. transl., 1882 [https://ia902706.us.archive.org]

I hope it isn’t necessary to put the verse into that rustic printing. I am Philistine enough to prefer clean printer’s type; indeed, I can form no idea of the verses thus transcribed by the incult and tottering hand of the draughtsman, nor gather any impression beyond one of weariness to the eyes. Yet the other day, in the Century, I saw it imputed as a crime to Vedder that he had not thus travestied Omar Khayyàm.


Elihu Vedder (1836–1923), American symbolist painter, book illustrator, and poet, best known for his fifty-five illustrations for Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of ‘The Rubaiyat’ of Omar Khayyam [https://upload.wikimedia.org]




‘The Awakening’, one of Vedder’s illustrations for Omar Khayyam’s ‘Rubaiyat’, 1870 [http://americanart.si.edu]


We live in a rum age of music without airs, stories without incident, pictures without beauty, American wood engravings that should have been etchings, and dry-point etchings that ought to have been mezzotints. I think of giving ’em literature without words; and I believe if you were to try invisible illustration, it would enjoy a considerable vogue. So long as an artist is on his head, is painting with a flute, or writes with an etcher’s needle, or conducts the orchestra with a meat-axe, all is well; and plaudits shower along with roses. But any plain man who tries to follow the obtrusive canons of his art, is but a commonplace figure. To hell with him is the motto, or at least not that; for he will have his reward, but he will never be thought a person of parts […].  

January 3, 1885. – And here has this been lying near two months. I have failed to get together a preliminary copy of the Child’s Verses for you, in spite of doughty efforts; but yesterday I sent you the first sheet of the definitive edition, and shall continue to send the others as they come.


First poem of ‘A Child’s Garden[https://archive.org]

If you can, and care to, work them – why so, well. If not, I send you fodder. But the time presses; for though I will delay a little over the proofs, and though it is even possible they may delay the English issue until Easter, it will certainly not be later. Therefore perpend, and do not get caught out. Of course, if you can do pictures, it will be a great pleasure to me to see our names joined; and more than that, a great advantage, as I dare say you may be able to make a bargain for some share a little less spectral than the common for the poor author.


Will H. Low in 1990.


W.H. Low, Hermes, 1885 [www.johncoulthart.com]

But this is all as you shall choose; I give you carte blanche to do or not to do. – Yours most sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

O, Sargent has been and painted my portrait; a very nice fellow he is, and is supposed to have done well; it is a poetical but very chicken-boned figure-head, as thus represented.

R.L.S.       Go on.


Another portrait of RLS by John Singer Sargent, 1885. The first one, here mentioned, does not seem to have survived, probably destroyed by Fanny [www.jssgallery.org]

P.P.S. – Your picture came; and let me thank you for it very much. I am so hunted I had near forgotten. I find it very graceful; and I mean to have it framed.


W.H. Low, Montlery sur Loing, 1976 [http://media.mutualart.com]


W.H. Low, On summer shores, 1879[http://media.mutualart.com]


W.H. Low, Chloe, 1883 [http://media.mutualart.com]


W.H. Low, Basket of oranges, c. 1885[http://media.mutualart.com]

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