[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1693.]
To Theodor Watts-Dunton [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 347-348]
Skerryvore, Bournemouth [Early September 1886]
Dear Mr. Watts,
The sight of the last Athenaeum reminds me of you, and of my debt, now too long due. I wish to thank you for your notice of Kidnapped; and that not because it was kind, though for that also I valued it, but in the same sense as I have thanked you before now for a hundred articles on a hundred different writers.
A critic like you is one who fights the good fight, contending with stupidity, and I would fain hope not all in vain; in my own case, for instance, surely not in vain.
What you say of the two parts in Kidnapped was felt by no one more painfully than by myself.
I began it partly as a lark, partly as a pot-boiler; and suddenly it moved, David and Alan stepped out from the canvas, and I found I was in another world.
But there was the cursed beginning, and a cursed end must be appended;
and our old friend Byles the butcher was plainly audible tapping at the back door.
So it had to go into the world, one part (as it does seem to me) alive, one part merely galvanised: no work, only an essay. For a man of tentative method, and weak health, and a scarcity of private means, and not too much of that frugality which is the artist’s proper virtue, the days of sinecures and patrons look very golden: the days of professional literature very hard.
Yet I do not so far deceive myself as to think I should change my character by changing my epoch; the sum of virtue in our books is in a relation of equality to the sum of virtues in ourselves; and my Kidnapped was doomed, while still in the womb and while I was yet in the cradle, to be the thing it is.
And now to the more genial business of defence. You attack my fight on board the Covenant: I think it literal.
David and Alan had every advantage on their side – position, arms, training, a good conscience; a handful of merchant sailors, not well led in the first attack, not led at all in the second, could only by an accident have taken the round-house by attack; and since the defenders had firearms and food, it is even doubtful if they could have been starved out. The only doubtful point with me is whether the seamen would have ever ventured on the second onslaught; I half believe they would not; still the illusion of numbers and the authority of Hoseason would perhaps stretch far enough to justify the extremity. – I am, dear Mr. Watts, your very sincere admirer,
Robert Louis Stevenson