“If Mr Shaw is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open”

[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.

George Bernard Shaw’s novel, ‘Cashel Byron’s Profession’ had been sent RLS to read by their common friend Archer [www.williamreesecompany.com]

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.

George Bernard Shaw was 30 at that time [http://i.telegraph.co.uk]

Archer and Shaw in 1914 on the outdoor set of a test film by J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame). It was western called ‘How Men Love’ [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]


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 Admirable Bashville (1901), a short play By G.B. Shaw based loosely on this novel, was written to protect American copyrights after the novel became unexpectedly successful in the US [http://archiveexhibits.library.tamu.edu]

the author has a taste in chivalry like Walter Scott’s or Dumas’, and then he daubs in little bits of socialism;

Shaw as a socialist stump speaker, 1910 [http://blog.mindlogr.com]



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.

Men quarrying granite, 19th century [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

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;

Charles Reade (1814-1884), English novelist and dramatist, best known for his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ [www.amreading.com]


1 part Henry James or some kindred author badly assimilated;

Henry James (1843-1916) [http://static.guim.co.uk]

½ part Disraeli (perhaps unconscious);

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British politician and writer who twice served as Prime Minister of the UK [www.britishempire.co.uk]

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 –

Quote from Horace, ‘Odes’, IV, IX, 25 (1811 ed.): “Vixere fortes ante Agamemnon multi” (Many brave men lived before Agamemnon”.


– 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).







This entry was posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.