My letters should contain appropriate sentiments and humorous nonsense, or nonsense without the humour

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1509.]

To his parents [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 306-307]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth] January 1st, 1886

My dear people,

Many happy returns of the day to you all; I am fairly well and in good spirits; and much and hopefully occupied with dear Jenkin’s life.

Professor Fleeming Jenkin (1833-85) worked (among other things) as a railroad engineer and later a cable engineer, helping to lay cables for the telegraph system in the Mediterranean. RLS was not only one of Jenkin’s students, he also participated in the amateur theatricals that frequently took place in the Jenkin household [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Professor Fleeming Jenkin (1833-85) worked (among other things) as a railroad engineer and later a cable engineer, helping to lay cables for the telegraph system in the Mediterranean. RLS was not only one of Jenkin’s students, he also participated in the amateur theatricals that frequently took place in the Jenkin household [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The inquiry in every detail, every letter that I read, makes me think of him more nobly. I cannot imagine how I got his friendship; I did not deserve it. I believe the notice will be interesting and useful.

RLS's 'Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin' (1st edition, Scribner’s 1887), a tribute to his professor of engineering at Edinburgh University.

RLS’s ‘Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin’ (1st edition, Scribner’s 1887), a tribute to his professor of engineering at Edinburgh University.

 

My father’s last letter, owing to the use of a quill pen and the neglect of blotting paper, was hopelessly illegible. Every one tried, and every one failed to decipher an important word on which the interest of one whole clause (and the letter consisted of two) depended.

Example of letter by Thomas Stevenson, prob. 1886 [http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu]

I find I can make little more of this; but I’ll spare the blots. Dear people, ever your loving son,

R.L.S.

I will try again, being a giant refreshed by the house being empty. The presence of people is the great obstacle to letter-writing. I deny that letters should contain news (I mean mine; those of other people should). But mine should contain appropriate sentiments and humorous nonsense, or nonsense without the humour.

RLS, Bournemouth, 1885, photographed by his stepson Lloyd.

RLS, Bournemouth, 1885, photographed by his stepson Lloyd.

 

When the house is empty, the mind is seized with a desire – no, that is too strong – a willingness to pour forth unmitigated rot, which constitutes (in me) the true spirit of correspondence.

RLS’s writing desk , Vailima, Samoa [https://it.pinterest.com]

When I have no remarks to offer (and nobody to offer them to), my pen flies, and you see the remarkable consequence of a page literally covered with words and genuinely devoid of sense. I can always do that, if quite alone, and I like doing it; but I have yet to learn that it is beloved by correspondents. The deuce of it is, that there is no end possible but the end of the paper […]; and as there is very little left of that […] – if I cannot stop writing – suppose you give up reading. It would all come to the same thing; and I think we should all be happier. […]

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One Response to My letters should contain appropriate sentiments and humorous nonsense, or nonsense without the humour

  1. “Nonsense without the humor” is a direct translation of “Make America Great Again.”

    Like

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