RLS’s novel, Prince Otto, was published in October 1885. The following refers to two reviews of it – one of them by Henley (in the Athenaeum of 21 November) which to the writer’s displeasure had been pruned by the editor before printing; the other by a writer (in the Saturday Review of the same day) who declared that Otto was ‘a fool and a wittol,’ and could see nothing but false style in the story of Seraphina’s flight through the forest.
For Prince Otto’s summary, see: http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/works/prince-otto-1885/
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1496.]
To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 289-291]
[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, c. 23 November 1885]
If there was any more praise in what you wrote, I think [the editor of the Athenaeum] has done us both a service; some of it stops my throat.
What, it would not have been the same if Dumas or Musset had done it, would it not? Well, no, I do not think it would, do you know, now; I am really of opinion it would not; and a dam good job too.
Why, think what Musset would have made of Otto!
Think how gallantly Dumas would have carried his crowd through!
And whatever you do, don’t quarrel with [the Athenaeum]. It gives me much pleasure to see your work there; I think you do yourself great justice in that field; and I would let no annoyance, petty or justifiable, debar me from such a market. I think you do good there. Whether (considering our intimate relations) you would not do better to refrain from reviewing me, I will leave to yourself; were it all on my side, you could foresee my answer; but there is your side also, where you must be the judge.
As for the Saturday. Otto is no ‘fool,’ the reader is left in no doubt as to whether or not Seraphina was a Messalina (though much it would matter, if you come to that); and therefore on both these points the reviewer has been unjust.
Secondly, the romance ties precisely in the freeing of two spirits from these court intrigues; and here I think the reviewer showed himself dull. Lastly, if Otto’s speech is offensive to him, he is one of the large class of unmanly and ungenerous dogs who arrogate and defile the name of manly. As for the passages quoted, I do confess that some of them reek Gongorically; they are excessive, but they are not inelegant after all.
However, had he attacked me only there, he would have scored. Your criticism on Gondremark is, I fancy, right.
I thought all your criticisms were indeed; only your praise – chokes me. Yours ever,