“Lord, what a silly thing is popularity!”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1881.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 6-7]

[Newport, 18 September 1887]

My dear James,

Here we are at Newport in the house of the good Fairchilds; and a sad burthen we have laid upon their shoulders.


Elizabeth Nelson Fairchild (1845–1924) c. 1887, by J. Singer Sargent. RLS and Fanny found the most hospitable of refuges in the Fairchilds’ house [www.jssgallery.org]


Charles Fairchild (1838-1910) was a lawyer and Boston banker, friend and patron of Sargent [www.harvardartmuseums.org]


The area where the Fairchilds’ holyday house was standing, at 94 Washington Street, Newport, R.I. [https://lh5.googleusercontent.com]

I have been in bed practically ever since I came. I caught a cold on the Banks after having had the finest time conceivable, and enjoyed myself more than I could have hoped on board our strange floating menagerie: stallions

Black-and-white illustration from Harper's Weekly magazine showing horses being loaded onto a ship.

Shipping horses, Harper’s Weekly, November 2, 1861 [www.nysl.nysed.gov]

and monkeys



and matches



made our cargo; and the vast continent of these incongruities rolled the while like a haystack;


and the stallions stood hypnotised by the motion, looking through the ports at our dinner-table, and winked when the crockery was broken;

Steerage dining room of an ocean liner in the late 19th century.

Steerage dining room of an ocean liner in the late 19th century [www.printsoldandrare.com]




and the little monkeys stared at each other in their cages, and were thrown overboard like little bluish babies;



and the big monkey, Jacko, scoured about the ship and rested willingly in my arms, to the ruin of my clothing;



and the man of the stallions made a bower of the black tarpaulin,


Harper’s Weekly, November 2, 1861 [www.nysl.nysed.gov]

and sat therein at the feet of a raddled divinity, like a picture on a box of chocolates;


French Chocolate Box, 19th century [https://cdn0.rubylane.com]

and the other passengers, when they were not sick, looked on and laughed.



Take all this picture, and make it roll till the bell shall sound unexpected notes


and the fittings shall break loose in our state-room, and you have the voyage of the Ludgate Hill.


Antonio Jacobsen (manner), The Steamship Ludgate Hill in Choppy Water [https://media.mutualart.com]

She arrived in the port of New York,

New York, drawing by Berteault, based on a lithograph by Currier and Yves. early 1890s [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]

without beer, porter, soda-water, curaçoa, fresh meat, or fresh water; and yet we lived, and we regret her.

My wife is a good deal run down, and I am no great shakes.         

America is, as I remarked, a fine place to eat in, and a great place for kindness; but, Lord, what a silly thing is popularity! I envy the cool obscurity of Skerryvore.

Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth [www.awesomestories.com]

If it even paid, said Meanness! and was abashed at himself. – Yours most sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson










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