The marks of a reader, such as one imagines for oneself in dreams, thoughtful, critical, and kind

An anonymous review of the Child’s Garden of Verses, appearing in the Pall Mall Gazette for March 1885, gave RLS so much pleasure that he wrote (in the four words, ‘Now who are you?’) to inquire the name of its writer, and learned that it was William Archer, with whom he had hitherto had no acquaintance. Archer had replied: “You may perhaps have heard my name from your friend and my valued acquaintance, W.E. Henley”. RLS thereupon entered into friendly correspondence with his critic.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1416.]

To William Archer [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 279-280]

Bournemouth, March 29, 1885

Dear Mr. Archer,Yes, I have heard of you and read some of your work; but I am bound in particular to thank you for the notice of my verses. 


William Archer (1856-1924), Scottish dramatic critic, journalist, translator and editor of Henrik Ibsen’s works.


‘There,’ I said, throwing it over to the friend who was staying with me, ‘it’s worth writing a book to draw an article like that.’ […] Had you been as hard upon me as you were amiable, I try to tell myself I should have been no blinder to the merits of your notice. For I saw there, to admire and to be very grateful for, a most sober, agile pen; an enviable touch; the marks of a reader, such as one imagines for oneself in dreams, thoughtful, critical, and kind; and to put the top on this memorial column, a greater readiness to describe the author criticised than to display the talents of his censor.



Archer’s review of RLS’s ‘Child’s Garden of Verses’, Pall Mall Review 24 Mar 1885.


I am a man blasé to injudicious praise (though I hope some of it may be judicious too), but I have to thank you for THE BEST CRITICISM I EVER HAD; and am therefore, dear Mr. Archer, the most grateful critickee now extant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. – I congratulate you on living in the corner of all London that I like best.


Archer was living at 2 Queen Square Place, Bloomsbury.


2 Queen Square Place, Bloomsbury, London.



À propos, you are very right about my voluntary aversion from the painful sides of life. My childhood was in reality a very mixed experience, full of fever, nightmare, insomnia, painful days and interminable nights; and I can speak with less authority of gardens than of that other ‘land of counterpane.’ 


RLS’s poem ‘The land of counterpane’, in ‘A child’s Garden of Verses’, 1885[]

But to what end should we renew these sorrows? The sufferings of life may be handled by the very greatest in their hours of insight; it is of its pleasures that our common poems should be formed; these are the experiences that we should seek to recall or to provoke; and I say with Thoreau, ‘What right have I to complain, who have not ceased to wonder?’


Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist and naturalist []

and, to add a rider of my own, who have no remedy to offer.



RLS, Bournemouth 1885.

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2 Responses to The marks of a reader, such as one imagines for oneself in dreams, thoughtful, critical, and kind

  1. rdury says:

    Stevenson knew Quen’s Square because Mrs Sitwell lived near there (I think in Cosmo Place) and worked in what is now the Mary Ward Centre at the S end of the square.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rdury says:

    Correction: Fanny Sitwell had a flat at 2 Brunswick Row, a narrow street off the NW side of Queen Square. For full information on Stevenson’s praise of the Square in his writings and letters and his knowledge of the view from 2 Brunswick Row, see Neil REennie’s article at

    Liked by 1 person

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