RLS accepted the dedication of Low’s illustrated edition of Keats’s Lamia, and sent him in return the newly published Jekyll and Hyde.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1503.]
To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, 308-311]
[Skerryvore] Jan. 2nd, 1886
My dear Low,
Lamia has come, and I do not know how to thank you, not only for the beautiful art of the designs, but for the handsome and apt words of the dedication.
My favourite is ‘ Bathes unseen,’ which is a masterpiece;
and the next, ‘Into the green recessed woods,’ is perhaps more remarkable, though it does not take my fancy so imperiously.
The night scene at Corinth pleases me also.
The second part offers fewer opportunities.
I own I should like to see both Isabella and the Eve thus illustrated;
and then there’s Hyperion –
O […], yes, and Endymion! I should like to see the lot: beautiful pictures dance before me by hundreds: I believe Endymion would suit you best. It also is in faery-land; and I see a hundred opportunities, cloudy and flowery glories, things as delicate as the cobweb in the bush;
actions, not in themselves of any mighty purport, but made for the pencil: the feast of Pan,
the ‘slabbed margin of a well,’
the chase of the butterfly,
Sleep on his couch,
a farrago of unconnected beauties. But I divagate; and all this sits in the bosom of the publisher. What is more important, I accept the terms of the dedication with a frank heart, and the terms of your Latin legend fairly. The sight of your pictures has once more awakened me to my right mind; something may come of it; yet one more bold push to get free of this prisonyard of the abominably ugly, where I take my daily exercise with my contemporaries. I do not know, I have a feeling in my bones, a sentiment which may take on the forms of imagination, or may not. If it does, I shall owe it to you; and the thing will thus descend from Keats even if on the wrong side of the blanket. If it can be done in prose – that is the puzzle – I divagate again. Thank you again: you can draw and yet you do not love the ugly: what are you doing in this age? Flee, while it is yet time; they will have your four limbs pinned upon a stable door to scare witches. […] The ugly, my unhappy friend, is de rigueur: it is the only wear! What a chance you threw away with the serpent! Why had Apollonius no pimples?
Heavens, my dear Low, you do not know your business […]. I send you herewith a Gothic gnome for your Greek nymph; but the gnome is interesting, I think, and he came out of a deep mine, where he guards the fountain of tears. It is not always the time to rejoice.
The gnome’s name is Jekyll & Hyde; I believe you will find he is likewise quite willing to answer to the name of Low or Stevenson.
Same day. – I have copied out on the other sheet some bad verses, which somehow your picture suggested; as a kind of image of things that I pursue and cannot reach, and that you seem – no, not to have reached – but to have come a thought nearer to than I. This is the life we have chosen: well, the choice was mad, but I should make it again. What occurs to me is this: perhaps they might be printed in (say) the Century for the sake of my name; and if that were possible, they might advertise your book. It might be headed as sent in acknowledgment of your Lamia. Or perhaps it might be introduced by the phrases I have marked above. I dare say they would stick it in: I want no payment, being well paid by Lamia. If they are not, keep them to yourself. […]
To Will H. Low
Damned bad lines in return for a beautiful book
Youth now flees on feathered foot.
Faint and fainter sounds the flute;
Rarer songs of Gods. And still,
Somewhere on the sunny hill,
Or along the winding stream,
Through the willows, flits a dream;
Flits, but shows a smiling face,
Flees, but with so quaint a grace,
None can choose to stay at home,
All must follow – all must roam.This is unborn beauty: she
Now in air floats high and free,
Takes the sun, and breaks the blue; –Late, with stooping pinion flew
Raking hedgerow trees, and wet
Her wing in silver streams, and set
Shining foot on temple roof.Now again she flies aloof,
Coasting mountain clouds, and kissed
By the evening’s amethyst.In wet wood and miry lane
Still we pound and pant in vain;
Still with earthy foot we chase
Waning pinion, fainting face;
Still, with grey hair, we stumble on
Till – behold! – the vision gone!
Where has fleeting beauty led ?
To the doorway of the dead!Life is gone, but life was gay:
We have come the primrose way! […]