In his previous letter, RLS had asked Frederick Locker’s interest on behalf of a friend who had been kind to him at Hyères, in procuring a nomination for her son to the Blue-Coat School, at Christ’s Hospital. His correspondent, apparently misunderstanding the application, had replied with a cheque.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of these letters, see Mehew 5, 1707-1708.]
To Frederick Locker-Lampson [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 352-354]
Skerryvore, Bournemouth, [c. 21] September 1886
My dear Locker,
[…] That I should call myself a man of letters, and land myself in such unfathomable ambiguities! No, my dear Locker, I did not want a cheque; and in my ignorance of business, which is greater even than my ignorance of literature, I have taken the liberty of drawing a pen through the document and returning it; should this be against the laws of God or man, forgive me.
All that I meant by my excessively disgusting reference to your material well-being was the vague notion that a man who is well off was sure to know a Governor of Christ’s Hospital;
though how I quite arrived at this conclusion I do not see. A man with a cold in the head does not necessarily know a ratcatcher; and the connection is equally close – as it now appears to my awakened and somewhat humbled spirit. For all that, let me thank you in the warmest manner for your friendly readiness to contribute. You say you have hopes of becoming a miser: I wish I had; but indeed I believe you deceive yourself, and are as far from it as ever. I wish I had any excuse to keep your cheque, for it is much more elegant to receive than to return; but I have my way of making it up to you, and I do sincerely beg you to write to the two Governors.
This extraordinary outpouring of correspondence would (if you knew my habits) convince you of my great eagerness in this matter. I would promise gratitude; but I have made a promise to myself to make no more promises to anybody else, having broken such a host already, and come near breaking my heart in consequence; and as for gratitude, I am by nature a thankless dog, and was spoiled from a child up. But if you can help this lady in the matter of the Hospital, you will have helped the worthy.
Let me continue to hope that I shall make out my visit in the spring, and believe me, yours very truly,
Robert Louis Stevenson
It may amuse you to know that a very long while ago, I broke my heart to try to imitate your verses, and failed hopelessly. I saw some of the evidences the other day among my papers, and blushed to the heels.
I give up finding out your name in the meantime, and keep to that by which you will be known – Frederick Locker.
[Skerryvore, Bournemouth] 24th September 1886
My dear Locker,
You are simply an angel of light, and your two letters have gone to the post; I trust they will reach the hearts of the recipients – at least, that could not be more handsomely expressed. About the cheque: well now, I am going to keep it; but I assure you Mrs. Burgess has never asked me for money, and I would not dare to offer any till she did. For all that I shall stick to the cheque now, and act to that amount as your almoner. In this way I reward myself for the ambiguity of my epistolary style.
I suppose, if you please, you may say your verses are thin (would you so describe an arrow, by the way, and one that struck the gold? It scarce strikes me as exhaustively descriptive), and, thin or not, they are (and I have found them) inimitably elegant.
I thank you again very sincerely for the generous trouble you have taken in this matter which was so near my heart, and you may be very certain it will be the fault of my health and not my inclination, if I do not see you before very long; for all that has past has made me in more than the official sense sincerely yours,
Robert Louis Stevenson