The most truculent advertisement I ever saw

RLS had been unable to finish for the Pall Mall Christmas number the tale he had first intended; had tried the publishers with Markheim (afterwards printed in the collection called Merry Men), which proved too short; had then furbished up as well as he could a tale drafted in the Pitlochry days, The Body Snatcher, which was advertised in the streets of London by sandwich-men carrying posters so horrific that they were suppressed, if Colvin remembered right, by the police. Stevenson rightly thought the tale not up to his best mark, and would not take the full payment which had been bargained for.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and criticaledition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1332.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 251-252]

Bonallie Towers, Bournemouth, Nov. 15, 1884

My dear Gosse,

This Mr. Morley of yours is a most desperate fellow.


John Morley, 1st Viscount of Blackburn (1838–1923), writer and editor of the Pall Mall Gazette 1880-1883 before going into politics as a Gladstonian Liberal []

He has sent me (for my opinion) the most truculent advertisement I ever saw, in which the white hairs of Gladstone are dragged round Troy behind my chariot wheels.


William Ewart Gladstone, British Liberal Prime Minister four separate times (1868–74, 1880–85, 1886 and 1892–94). The adverisement published in the Pall Mall Gazette read: “Mr RLS, one of the most powerful imaginative writers of the day…, whose Treasure Island, written for boys, has fascinated a Prime Minister…” []


William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), 1884 []


What can I say? I say nothing to him; and to you, I content myself with remarking that he seems a desperate fellow.

All luck to you on your American adventure; may you find health, wealth, and entertainment!


Portrait of Edmund Gosse, 1886, by J.S. Sargent. RLS’s friend was just about to start on a successful lecture tour to the US []

If you see, as you likely will, Frank R. Stockton, pray greet him from me in words to this effect: –

My Stockton if I failed to like,

It were a sheer depravity,

For I went down with the Thomas Hyke

And up with the Negative Gravity!

 I adore these tales.


Frank R. Stockon (1834-1902) achieved great success with his humorous novels and short sories. ‘The Remarkable Wreck of the Thomas Hyke’ and ‘A Tale of Negative Gravity’ appeared in the ‘Century’ for Aug and Nov 1884 []


Stockon’s short story ‘A Tale of Negative Gravity’ appeared in the ‘Century’ for Nov 1884 []


I hear flourishing accounts of your success at Cambridge, so you leave with a good omen.


From 1884 to 1890, Gosse lectured in English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, despite his own lack of academic qualifications. Cambridge University gave him an honorary MA in 1886, and Trinity College formally admitted him as a member, ‘by order of the Council’, in 1889 []

Remember me to green corn if it is in season;



if not, you had better hang yourself on a sour apple tree, for your voyage has been lost.



[…] Yours affectionately,

Robert Louis Stevenson

This entry was posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The most truculent advertisement I ever saw

  1. rdury says:

    It was good to read the beginning of ‘Negative Gravity’. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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