“The funeral… would have pleased him”

Within a fortnight after the date of the previous letter RLS went himself, and for the last time, to Scotland; not, indeed, to visit his old haunts among the Pentlands, but to be present, too late for recognition, at the death of his father (May 8, 1887). Business detained him for some weeks, and the following was written just before his return to Bournemouth.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1820.]

To Sidney Colvin

[Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 378-379]

[Edinburgh, Late May 1887]

My dear S.C.,

At last I can write a word to you. Your little note in the P[all] M[all] G[azette], was charming.


RLS, aged 9, and his father, 1859. In his letter of condolence of 10 May Sidney Colvin mentioned the paragraph he had written in memory of Thomas Stevenson for the Pall Mall Gazette of that date [www.ourtownstories.co.uk]


I have written four pages in the Contemporary, which Bunting found room for:

Obituary of Thomas Stevenson, by RLS, in Contemporary Review, June 1887, editedby Percy Willian Bunting.

they are not very good, but I shall do more for his memory in time.

About the death, I have long hesitated, I was long before I could tell my mind; and now I know it, and can but say that I am glad.


Thomas Stevenson with family and dog Coolin, at Callendar, Stirling [Thanks to Neil Macara Brown for the right information], 1866 [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]

If we could have had my father, that would have been a different thing.


RLS with his father at Callendar, Stirling [Thanks to Neil Macara Brown for the right information], 1866 [https://i.pinimg.com]

But to keep that changeling − suffering changeling − any longer, could better none and nothing.


H. Füssli, The Changeling (Der Wechselbalg), 1781 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Now he rests; it is more significant, it is more like himself. He will begin to return to us in the course of time, as he was and as we loved him.


Thomas Stevenson with family and dog Bogue, Royat, France, 1883 c. [http://stevensonmuseum.org]

My favourite words in literature, my favourite scene − ‘O let him pass,’ Kent and Lear − was played for me here in the first moment of my return. I believe Shakespeare saw it with his own father.


I had no words; but it was shocking to see. He died on his feet, you know; was on his feet the last day, knowing nobody − still he would be up. This was his constant wish; also that he might smoke a pipe on his last day […]. The funeral […] would have pleased him; it was the largest private funeral in man’s memory here.

Sir George Reid, Thomas Stevenson, 1818 - 1887. Lighthouse and harbour engineer

RLS’s mother recorded in her diary that there were more than one hundred people at the funeral and 40 to 50 carriages [www.nationalgalleries.org]

We have no plans, and it is possible we may go home without going through town. I do not know; have no views yet whatever; nor can have any at this stage of my cold and my business. − Ever yours







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