“I had literally forgotten what happiness was, and the full mind”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1891.]

To Bob Stevenson [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 10-12]

Saranac Lake, Adirondacks,

New York, U.S.A.

[Early October 1887]

My dear Bob,

The cold [of Colorado] was too rigorous for me; I could not risk the long railway voyage, and the season was too late to risk the Eastern, Cape Hatteras side of the steamer one; so here we stuck and stick.


Storm on the Outer Banks [www.outerbanksvacations.com]

Cape Hatteras is a thin, broken strand of islands that arch out into the Atlantic Ocean away from the US mainland, creating a series of sheltered islands between the Outer Banks and the mainland. RLS’s uncle, Dr John Balfour had previously recommended either Colorado or the Hymalayan foothills as a good place for RLS’s lungs.


We have a wooden house on a hill-top, overlooking a river,


Baker’s Cottage, Saranac Lake [https://i.pinimg.com]

and a village about a quarter of a mile away, and very wooded hills;

Saranac Lake, late 19th century [https://localwiki.org]

Saranac Lake [https://en.wikipedia.org]

the whole scene is very Highland, bar want of heather and the wooden houses.



Furnace, Argyll and Bute,on the north shore of Loch Fyne, Scotland [https://2.bp.blogspot.com]

Kenmore, Perth and Kinross, Scotland [https://farm4.staticflickr.com]

I have got one good thing of my sea voyage: it is proved the sea agrees heartily with me, and my mother likes it; so if I get any better, or no worse, my mother will likely hire a yacht for a month or so in summer.

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1897) [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

Good Lord! What fun! Wealth is only useful for two things: a yacht


The yacht Casco, a fore–and–aft teak–hulled schooner (90’ x 25’ x 12’) built c. 1878 in California for Dr. Samuel Merritt of Oakland. It was to be chartered by RLS next year [https://minermark.files.wordpress.com]

and a string quartette.


Vilemina Norman Neruda leading a string quartet, c. 1880 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

For these two I will sell my soul. Except for these I hold that £700 a year is as much as anybody can possibly want; and I have had more, so I know, for the extry coins were for no use, excepting for illness, which damns everything.

I was so happy on board that ship, I could not have believed it possible.


SS Ludgate Hill, on which RLS had sailed from Liverpool to Newport R.I. [www.clydeships.co.uk]

We had the beastliest weather, and many discomforts; but the mere fact of its being a tramp-ship gave us many comforts; we could cut about with the men and officers,



stay in the wheel-house,


Wheelhouse of RMS Olympic, 1908 [www.titanicdiclaudiobossi.com]

discuss all manner of things, and really be a little at sea. And truly there is nothing else. I had literally forgotten what happiness was, and the full mind − full of external and physical things, not full of cares and labours and rot about a fellow’s behaviour. My heart literally sang; I truly care for nothing so much as for that. We took so north a course, that we saw Newfoundland;


Newfoundland [http://www.nfld.com]


Approaching Newfoundland [https://shearmadness72.files.wordpress.com]

no one in the ship had ever seen it before.

It was beyond belief to me how she rolled; in seemingly smooth water, the bell striking, the fittings bounding out of our state-room. It is worth having lived these last years, partly because I have written some better books, which is always pleasant, but chiefly to have had the joy of this voyage. I have been made a lot of here, and it is sometimes pleasant, sometimes the reverse; but I could give it all up, and agree that Gladstone was the author of my works, for a good seventy ton schooner and the coins to keep her on.


William Ewart Gladstone, 1887, and Liberal Prime Minister 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-94 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

And to think there are parties with yachts who would make the change! I know a little about fame now; it is no good compared to a yacht; and anyway there is more fame in a yacht, more genuine fame; to cross the Atlantic and come to anchor in Newport (say) with the Union Jack, and go ashore for your letters and hang about the pier, among the holiday yachtsmen − that’s fame, that’s glory, and nobody can take it away; they can’t say your book is bad; you have crossed the Atlantic.


Newport, Rhode Island, Yacht Dockage [www.destinationnewport.com]

I should do it south by the West Indies, to avoid the damned Banks; and probably come home by steamer, and leave the skipper to bring the yacht home.


The West Indies, 1898 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Well, if all goes well, we shall maybe sail out of Southampton water some of these days


Southampton, Royal Pier railway station (closed in 1921) [www.davidstjohn.co.uk]

and take a run to Havre,


E. Boudin, The Port of Le Havre, 1888 [www.deartibus.it]

and try the Baltic,

The Baltic [https://media.treehugger.com]

or somewhere.


Marquesas Islands [https://beachtraveldestinations.com]

Love to you all − Ever your affectionate

Robert Louis Stevenson














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1 Response to “I had literally forgotten what happiness was, and the full mind”

  1. JB says:

    “I do not say there is no character as well-drawn in Shakespeare,” R.L. Stevenson wrote of d’Artagnan. “I do say there is none that I love so wholly.”


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