Alicia Isobel Buckle, a daughter of the novelist and editor James Payn married to the editor of the Times, had laughingly remonstrated, through her father, on recognising some features of her own house in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, in the description of that tenanted by the fair Cuban in RLS’s Dynamiter.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1511.]
To James Payn [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 315-316]
Skerryvore, Bournemouth, Jan. 2nd, 1886
Dear James Payn,
Your very kind letter came very welcome;
and still more welcome the news that you see [Powell]’s tale.
I will now tell you (and it was very good and very wise of me not to tell it before) that he is one of the most unlucky men I know, having put all his money into a pharmacy at Hyères, when the cholera (certainly not his fault) swept away his customers in a body.
Thus you can imagine the pleasure I have to announce to him a spark of hope, for he sits to-day in his pharmacy, doing nothing and taking nothing, and watching his debts inexorably mount up. […]
To pass to other matters: your hand, you are perhaps aware, is not one of those that can be read running;and the name of your daughter remains for me undecipherable.
I call her, then, your daughter – and a very good name too – and I beg to explain how it came about that I took her house.
The hospital was a point in my tale; but there is a house on each side. Now the true house is the one before the hospital: is that No. 11?
If not, what do you complain of? If it is, how can I help what is true? Everything in the Dynamiter is not true; but the story of the Brown Box is, in almost every particular; I lay my hand on my heart and swear to it. It took place in that house in 1884; and if your daughter was in that house at the time, all I can say is she must have kept very bad society.
But I see you coming. Perhaps your daughter’s house has not a balcony at the back? I cannot answer for that; I only know that side of Queen Square from the pavement and the back windows of Brunswick Row.
Thence I saw plenty of balconies (terraces rather); and if there is none to the particular house in question, it must have been so arranged to spite me.
I now come to the conclusion of this matter. I address three questions to your daughter:
1st. Has her house the proper terrace?
2nd. Is it on the proper side of the hospital?
3rd. Was she there in the summer of 1884?
You see, I begin to fear that Mrs. Desborough may have deceived me on some trifling points, for she is not a lady of peddling exactitude. If this should prove to be so, I will give your daughter a proper certificate, and her house property will return to its original value.
Can man say more? Yours very truly,
Robert Louis Stevenson
I saw the other day that the Eternal had plagiarised from Lost Sir Massingberd: good again, sir! I wish he would plagiarise the death of Zero.