“The dung-collecting trade of the republisher”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1744.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 362-363]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, 24 January 1887]

My dear James,

My […] health has played me it in once more in the absurdest fashion, and the creature who now addresses you is but a stringy and whitefaced bouilli out of the pot of fever, […] with the devil to pay in every corner of his economy. I suppose (to judge by your letter) I need not send you these sheets, which came during my collapse by the rush.

Henry James (1843-1916) had decided to begin his ‘genial tribute’ to RLS’s ‘exceptional powers’ without waiting for publication of ‘The Merry Men’ [https://d27xe58b9ijigq.cloudfront.net]

I am on the start with three volumes, that one of tales, a second one of essays, and one of – ahem – verse.

The volume of tales here mentioned is ‘The Merry Men’, which was to be published as a collection of stories in 1887 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

The volume of essays here mentioned is ‘Memories and Portraits’, which was to be published in 1887.

The volume of verse here mentioned is ‘Underwoods’, which was to be published in 1887.


This is a great order, is it not? After that I shall have empty lockers. All new work stands still; I was getting on well with Jenkin

RLS’s ‘Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin’, a tribute to his professor of engineering at Edinburgh University, was to be published that same year.


when this blessed malady unhorsed me, and sent me back to the dung-collecting trade of the republisher. I shall re-issue Virginibus Puerisque as vol. I of Essays, and the new vol. as vol. II of ditto; to be sold, however, separately.

RLS’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, second edition in one volume, 1887.


This is but a dry maundering; however, I am quite unfit – ‘I am for action quite unfit Either of exercise or wit.’

The quote is from the poem ‘Hudibras’ by Samuel Butler, 1674.

The quote is from the poem ‘Hudibras’ by Samuel Butler, 1674, Part I, Canto III (here in the 1887 edition, last line): ‘I am for action now unfit, Either of fortitude or wit’.


My father is in a variable state; many sorrows and perplexities environ the house of Stevenson; my mother shoots north at this hour on business of a distinctly rancid character;

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1897) left for Edinburgh in connection with a dispute between her husband and his nephews David and Charles over their remuneration from the family firm (see Mehew 5, p. 348 n. 1) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


my father (under my wife’s tutorage) proceeds to-morrow to Salisbury;

Fanny accompanied Thomas Stevenson to Salisbury for a few days [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

J. Constable, Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden, 1826 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


I remain here in my bed and whistle; in no quarter of heaven is anything encouraging apparent, except that the good Colvin comes to the hotel here on a visit.

Sidney Colvinby, litograph by Sir William Rothenstein, 1897 [https://collectionimages.npg.org.uk]

This dreary view of life is somewhat blackened by the fact that my head aches, which I always regard as a liberty on the part of the powers that be. This is also my first letter since my recovery. God speed your laudatory pen!

My wife joins in all warm messages. Yours,








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