“The fun of the sonnet to me is to find a subject; the workmanship rebuts me”

After having included in his book ‘Sonnets of the Century’ two poems of RLS’s (The Touch of Life and The Arabesque), William Sharp received this reply (see previous post).

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1547.]

To William Sharp [E. Sharp, W. Sharp: A Memory, 1910 p. 118]

[Skerryvore, ? Mid-February 1886]

Dear Mr. Sharp,

It is very good of you, and I should like to be in one of your pleasant and just notes; but the impulse was one of pure imitation and is not like to return, or if it did, to be much blessed.

William Sharp (1855-1905), Scottish writer of poetry and biobraphy [www.comune.maniace.ct.it]

I have done so many things, and cultivated so many fields in literature, that I think I shall let the “scanty plot” lie fallow.

RLS quotes ‘the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground’ form Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room’, 1822.


I forgot to say how much taken I was with Beaconsfield’s lines (scarce a sonnet indeed) on Wellington. I am engaged with the Duke, and I believe I shall use them. 

The title of Earl of Beaconsfield, of Hughenden in the County of Buckingham, was created in 1876 for Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) [http://lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp]

Beaconsfield’s (Disraeli’s) sonnet on Wellington, in Sharp’s book.

Daguerreotype of the Duke of Wellington, then aged 75, by Antoine Claudet, 1844 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I think the “Touch of Life” is the best of my snapshots;

RLS’s sonnet ‘The Touch of Life’, in Sharp’s book.


but the other was the best idea.

RLS’s sonnet ‘The Arabesque’, in Sharp’s book.


The fun of the sonnet to me is to find a subject; the workmanship rebuts me.

Thank you for your kind expressions, and believe me,

Yours truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson








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