So I moralise blandly as we sit together on the devil’s garden-wall

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1328.]

To his father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 243-244]

Bonallie Towers, Bournemouth, [c. 12] November 1884

My dear Father,

I have no hesitation in recommending you to let your name go up; please yourself about an address; though I think, if we could meet, we could arrange something suitable.


About this time RLS’s father was in some hesitation as to letting himself be proposed for the office of President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh []

What you propose would be well enough in a way, but so modest as to suggest a whine. From that point of view it would be better to change a little; but this, whether we meet or not, we must discuss. Tait, Chrystal, the Royal Society, and I, all think you amply deserve this honour and far more;


Peter Guthrie Tait (1831–1901), Scottish mathematical physicist and fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh []


George Chrystal (1851-1911), Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh University 1879-1911 []


it is not the True Blue to call this serious compliment a ‘trial’; you should be glad of this recognition. As for resigning, that is easy enough if found necessary; but to refuse would be husky and unsatisfactory […]. Sic subs.


My cold is still very heavy; but I carry it well. Fanny is very very much out of sorts, principally through perpetual misery with me. I fear I have been a little in the dumps, which, as you know, sir, is a very great sin. I must try to be more cheerful; but my cough is so severe […] that I have sometimes most exhausting nights and very peevish wakenings. However, this shall be remedied, and last night I was distinctly better than the night before. There is, my dear Mr. Stevenson (so I moralise blandly as we sit together on the devil’s garden-wall) no more abominable sin than this gloom, this plaguy peevishness; why (say I) what matters it if we be a little uncomfortable – that is no reason for mangling our unhappy wives.

And then I turn and girn on the unfortunate Cassandra.


Fanny Stevenson at Bournemouth, 1885. ‘Cassandra’ was a nickname of RLS’s father for his daughter-in-law []

– Your fellow culprit,



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