When I feel with what marvellous kindness the wind has been tempered to my frailties…

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1409.]

To Philip Gilbert Hamerton [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 274-276]

Bournemouth, March 16, 1885

My dear Hamerton,

Various things have been reminding me of my misconduct: First, Swan’s application for your address; second, a sight of the sheets of your Landscape book; and last, your note to Swan, which he was so kind as to forward.


P.G. Hamerton (1934-94), English etcher, art critic and art book author [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


The grave of Prof William Swan (1818-94), Scottish mathematician and physicist, and Thomas Stevenson’s cousin. Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Hamterton’s work here noted is the sumptuous volume ‘Landscape’, Seeley & Co., 1885 [https://ia800206.us.archive.org]


I trust you will never suppose me to be guilty of anything more serious than an idleness, partially excusable. My ill-health makes my rate of life heavier than I can well meet, and yet stops me from earning more. My conscience, sometimes perhaps too easily stifled, but still (for my time of life and the public manners of the age) fairly well alive, forces me to perpetual and almost endless transcriptions. On the back of all this, my correspondence hangs like a thundercloud;


G. Courbet, La Vague, 1869 [www.muma-lehavre.fr]

and just when I think I am getting through my troubles, crack, down goes my health, I have a long, costly sickness, and begin the world again. It is fortunate for me I have a father, or I should long ago have died; but the opportunity of the aid makes the necessity none the more welcome. My father has presented me with a beautiful house here – or so I believe, for I have not yet seen it, being a cage bird but for nocturnal sorties in the garden.


Jacob Maris, The bird cage, 1867 [https://1.bp.blogspot.com]

I hope we shall soon move into it, and I tell myself that some day perhaps we may have the pleasure of seeing you as our guest. I trust at least that you will take me as I am, a thoroughly bad correspondent, and a man, a hater, indeed, of rudeness in others, but too often rude in all unconsciousness himself; and that you will never cease to believe the sincere sympathy and admiration that I feel for you and for your work. About the Landscape, which I had a glimpse of while a friend of mine was preparing a review, I was greatly interested, and could write and wrangle for a year on every page; one passage particularly delighted me, the part about Ulysses – jolly. Then, you know, that is just what I fear I have come to think landscape ought to be in literature; so there we should be at odds.


Hamerton, Landscape, chapter VIII [https://ia800206.us.archive.org]

Or perhaps not so much as I suppose, as Montaigne says it is a pot with two handles,


Montaigne, Essais II, 12, ‘Apologie de Raimond Sebond’: “Voilà comment la raison founit d’apparence à divers effets. C’est un pot à deux anses, qu’on peut saisir à gauche et à dextre” [https://ia800209.us.archive.org]

and I own I am wedded to the technical handle, which (I likewise own and freely) you do well to keep for a mistress. I should much like to talk with you about some other points; it is only in talk that one gets to understand. Your delightful Wordsworth trap I have tried on two hardened Wordsworthians, not that I am not one myself. By covering up the context, and asking them to guess what the passage was, both (and both are very clever people, one a writer, one a painter) pronounced it a guide-book. ‘Do you think it an unusually good guide-book?’ I asked, and both said, ‘No, not at all!’ Their grimace was a picture when I showed the original.


In ch. VII, Hamerton printed, with slight modification, the first 15 lines of Book XV of ‘The Prelude’ as prose to illustrate his point that ‘the one great fault of Wordsworth’ was ‘that he often wrote verse when not completely in the poetic mood’ – not poetry. ‘only prose in metre’ [https://ia800206.us.archive.org]


I trust your health and that of Mrs. Hamerton keep better; your last account was a poor one.


Mrs Hamerton will add a memoir to her husband’s autobiography, 1896 [https://ia902205.us.archive.org]

I was unable to make out the visit I had hoped, as (I do not know if you heard of it) I had a very violent and dangerous hemorrhage last spring. I am almost glad to have seen death so close with all my wits about me, and not in the customary lassitude and disenchantment of disease. Even thus clearly beheld I find him not so terrible as we suppose.

Personen / Künstler / Böcklin / Porträts

Arnold Böcklin, Self portrait with Death playing the fiddle, 1872 [http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org]

But, indeed, with the passing of years, the decay of strength, the loss of all my old active and pleasant habits, there grows more and more upon me that belief in the kindness of this scheme of things, and the goodness of our veiled God, which is an excellent and pacifying compensation. I trust, if your health continues to trouble you, you may find some of the same belief. But perhaps my fine discovery is a piece of art, and belongs to a character cowardly, intolerant of certain feelings, and apt to self-deception. I don’t think so, however; and when I feel what a weak and fallible vessel I was thrust into this hurly-burly, and with what marvellous kindness the wind has been tempered to my frailties, I think I should be a strange kind of ass to feel anything but gratitude.



I do not know why I should inflict this talk upon you; but when I summon the rebellious pen, he must go his own way; I am no Michael Scott, to rule the fiend of correspondence.


Michael Scotus (1175-1232) , the medieval Scottish scholar and astrologer, ‘was, once upon a time, much embarassed by a spirit, for whom he was under the necessity of finding constant employment.’ (Walter Scott’s note to The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto II, XIII) [www.wikitree.com]

Most days he will none of me; and when he comes, it is to rape me where he will. Yours very sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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