[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1575.]
To William Archer [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 48-50]
[Skerryvore, c. 9 March 1886]
My dear Archer,
What am I to say? I have read your friend’s book with singular relish.
If he has written any other, I beg you will let me see it; and if he has not, I beg him to lose no time in supplying the deficiency. It is full of promise; but I should like to know his age. There are things in it that are very clever, to which I attach small importance; it is the shape of the age.
And there are passages, particularly the rally in presence of the Zulu king, that show genuine and remarkable narrative talent – a talent that few will have the wit to understand, a talent of strength, spirit, capacity, sufficient vision, and sufficient self-sacrifice, which last is the chief point in a narrator.
As a whole, it is (of course) a fever dream of the most feverish. Over Bashville the footman I owled with derision and delight; I dote on Bashville – I could read of him for ever; de Bashville je suis le fervent – there is only one Bashville, and I am his devoted slave; Bashville est magnifique, mais il n’est guère possible. He is the note of the book. It is all mad, mad and deliriously delightful;
the author has a taste in chivalry like Walter Scott’s or Dumas’, and then he daubs in little bits of socialism;
he soars away on the wings of the romantic griffon – even the griffon, as he cleaves air, shouting with laughter at the nature of the quest –
and I believe in his heart he thinks he is labouring in a quarry of solid granite realism.
It is this that makes me – the most hardened adviser now extant – stand back and hold my peace. If Mr. Shaw is below five-and-twenty, let him go his path; if he is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open; – or perhaps, he knows it;- God knows! my brain is softened.
It is HORRID FUN. All I ask is more of it. Thank you for the pleasure you gave us, and tell me more of the inimitable author.
(I say, Archer, my God, what women!) – Yours
Robert Louis Stevenson
1 part Charles Reade;
1 part Henry James or some kindred author badly assimilated;
½ part Disraeli (perhaps unconscious);
1 ½ parts struggling, over-laid original talent; 1 part blooming, gaseous folly. That is the equation as it stands. What it may be, I don’t know, nor any other man. Vixere fortes – O, let him remember that –
– let him beware of his damned century; his gifts of insane chivalry and animated narration are just those that might be slain and thrown out like an untimely birth by the Daemon of the epoch. And if he only knew how I have adored the chivalry! Bashville! – O Bashville! j’en chortle (which is fairly polyglot).