I suppose I shall learn (I begin to think I am learning) to fight this vast, vague feather-bed of an obsession that now overlies and smothers me

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1473.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 287-289]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth, October 22, 1885

My dear Low,

I trust you are not annoyed with me beyond forgiveness; for indeed my silence has been devilish prolonged. I can only tell you that I have been nearly six months (more than six) in a strange condition of collapse, when it was impossible to do any work, and difficult (more difficult than you would suppose) to write the merest note.

RLS in June 1885-

 

I am now better, but not yet my own man in the way of brains, and in health only so-so. […] I suppose I shall learn (I begin to think I am learning) to fight this vast, vague feather-bed of an obsession that now overlies and smothers me; but in the beginnings of these conflicts, the inexperienced wrestler is always worsted, and I own I have been quite extinct. I wish you to know, though it can be no excuse, that you are not the only one of my friends by many whom I have thus neglected;

Will Hicock Low (1853-1933), Self-Portrait at Montigny, 1876. RLS met him in 1875 in France, and they spent time together in Paris, and the artist communities around Fontainebleau [www.artcyclopedia.org]

Will Hicock Low (1853-1933), Self-Portrait at Montigny, 1876. RLS met him in 1875 in France, and they spent time together in the artist communities around Fontainebleau [www.artcyclopedia.org]

and even now, having come so very late into the possession of myself, with a substantial capital of debts, and my work still moving with a desperate slowness – as a child might fill a sandbag with its little handfuls –

[https://lthomason.files.wordpress.com]

[https://lthomason.files.wordpress.com]

and my future deeply pledged, there is almost a touch of virtue in my borrowing these hours to write to you. Why I said ‘hours’ I know not; it would look blue for both of us if I made good the word.

I was writing your address the other day, ordering a copy of my next, Prince Otto, to go your way. I hope you have not seen it in parts; it was not meant to be so read; and only my poverty (dishonourably) consented to the serial evolution.

Prince Otto, 1st edition, Chatto & Windus, 1 Nov 1885 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

Prince Otto, 1st edition, Chatto & Windus, 1 Nov 1885 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

I will send you with this a copy of the English edition of the Child’s Garden.

[www.brickrow.com]

A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1st English edition, 1885 [www.brickrow.com]

I have heard there is some vile rule of the post-office in the States against inscriptions; so I send herewith a piece of doggerel which Mr. Bunner may, if he thinks fit, copy off the fly-leaf.

Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855-96), American author of light verse and short stories, editor of Puck (1878-96), reviewed RLS's 'New Arabian Nights' in the Century for Feb 1883. He had sent RLS a copy of his own poems and asked in return for an English edition of 'A Child’s Garden of Verses' [upload.wikimedia.org]

Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855-96), American author of light verse and short stories, editor of Puck (1878-96), reviewed RLS’s ‘New Arabian Nights’ in the Century for Feb 1883. He had sent RLS a copy of his own poems and asked in return for an English edition of ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ [upload.wikimedia.org]

[…] Sargent was down again and painted a portrait of me walking about in my own dining-room, in my own velveteen jacket, and twisting as I go my own moustache; at one corner a glimpse of my wife, in an Indian dress, and seated in a chair that was once my grandfather’s; but since some months goes by the name of Henry James’s, for it was there the novelist loved to sit – adds a touch of poesy and comicality.

The portrait, painted in Aug 1885, was a gift by Sargent to RLS and remained in the possession of the family until Fanny’s death. In a letter to RLS's mother, Fanny wrote: “It is lovely... It is like an open box of jewels” [http://images.metmuseum.org]

The portrait, painted in Aug 1885, was a gift by Sargent to RLS and remained in the possession of the family until Fanny’s death. In a letter to RLS’s mother, Fanny wrote: “It is lovely… It is like an open box of jewels” [http://images.metmuseum.org]

It is, I think, excellent, but is too eccentric to be exhibited. I am at one extreme corner; my wife, in this wild dress, and looking like a ghost, is at the extreme other end; between us an open door exhibits my palatial entrance hall and a part of my respected staircase. All this is touched in lovely, with that witty touch of Sargent’s; but, of course, it looks dam queer as a whole.

Pray let me hear from you, and give me good news of yourself and your wife, to whom please remember me. Yours most sincerely, my dear Low,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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2 Responses to I suppose I shall learn (I begin to think I am learning) to fight this vast, vague feather-bed of an obsession that now overlies and smothers me

  1. rdury says:

    written while Stevenson was busy writing Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mafalda says:

    Thank you, Richard: I just thought he was talking about his liver and dyspepsia!

    Like

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