I do not love to think of my countrymen these days: nor to remember myself. Why was I silent?

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1399.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 266-267]

Bonallie Towers, Bournemouth, [c. 8 March 1885]

My dear Colvin,

You are indeed a backward correspondent, and much may be said against you. But in this weather, and O dear! in this political scene of degradation, much must be forgiven. I fear England is dead of Burgessry, and only walks about galvanised. I do not love to think of my countrymen these days: nor to remember myself.


Gen. Charles George Gordon (1833-85) was sent to evacuate British citizens from a troubled region and to otherwise abandon Sudan. Once arrived, he decided it was best to crush the Muslim uprising for fear that it would eventually spread to Egypt as well. He began a defense of Khartoum, with 6,000 men. “Under pressure from the public” a relief expedition force was sent, but failed to arrive in time to save Gordon and his men [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


J.L.G. Ferris, death of General Gordon at Khartoum [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Bringing Gordon’s head to captive Maj.-Gen. Slatin. RLS expressed some of the distress and bitterness with which, in common with most Englishmen, he felt the circumstances of Gordon’s abandonment in the Soudan and the failure of the belated attempt to rescue him [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]


Why was I silent? I feel I have no right to blame any one; but I won’t write to the G[rand] O[ld] M[an]. I do really not see my way to any form of signature, unless ‘your fellow criminal in the eyes of God,’ which might disquiet the proprieties.


Otto von Bismarck and Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (the “Grand Old Man”), caricature, 1890.

Gladstone burying reputation, honour and conscience

Gladstone burying reputation, honour and conscience [http://lowres.jantoo.com]

About your book, I have always said: go on.


Sidney Colvin, c. 1890. The advice given to Colvin to go on with his book probably refers to some kind of scheme for the republication in book form of stray magazine work by Colvin of a more or less personal or biographical nature [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

The drawing of character is a different thing from publishing the details of a private career. No one objects to the first, or should object, if his name be not put upon it; at the other, I draw the line. In a preface, if you chose, you might distinguish; it is, besides, a thing for which you are eminently well equipped, and which you would do with taste and incision. I long to see the book. People like themselves (to explain a little more); no one likes his life, which is a misbegotten issue, and a tale of failure. To see these failures either touched upon, or coasted, to get the idea of a spying eye and blabbing tongue about the house, is to lose all privacy in life. To see that thing, which we do love, our character, set forth, is ever gratifying. See how my Talk and Talkers went; every one liked his own portrait, and shrieked about other people’s; so it will be with yours.


RLS’s essay, ‘Talk and Talkers’ had been published in the Cornhill Magazine for April 1882 [https://ia802304.us.archive.org]

If you are the least true to the essential, the sitter will be pleased; very likely not his friends, and that from various motives.


[…] When will your holiday be? I sent your letter to my wife, and forget. Keep us in mind, and I hope we shall be able to receive you.

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