“I like myself better in the woods”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1899.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 14-16]

[Saranac Lake, Oct. 8th 1887]

My dear Gosse,

have just read your article twice, 

A review by Edmund Gosse of RLS’s volume of verse ‘Underwoods’, in Longman’s Magazine, October 1887 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

John Singer Sargent - Edmund Gosse

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) [www.pubhist.com]


with cheers of approving laughter. I do not believe you ever wrote anything so funny: Tyndall’s ‘shell,’

RLS is quoting from the first page of Gosse’s review, ‘In our day the prose writers have either been coy or copious with theit verses …’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


John Tyndall (1820-1893), a prominent 19th-century Irish physicist [www.branchcollective.org]


the passage on the Davos press and its invaluable issues, and that on V. Hugo and Swinburne, are exquisite;


so, I say it more ruefully, is the touch about the doctors.

RLS’s book of verses, ‘Underwoods’, had been published a few weeks previously, and dedicated to a number of physicians who had attended him at sundry times and places.


For the rest, I am very glad you like my verses so well; and the qualities you ascribe to them seem to me well found and well named. I own to that kind of candour you attribute to me: when I am frankly interested, I suppose I fancy the public will be so too; and when I am moved, I am sure of it. It has been my luck hitherto to meet with no staggering disillusion. ‘Before’ and ‘After’ may be two; and yet I believe the habit is now too thoroughly ingrained to be altered. About the doctors, you were right, that dedication has been the subject of some pleasantries that made me grind, and of your happily touched reproof which made me blush. And to miscarry in a dedication is an abominable form of book-wreck; I am a good captain, I would rather lose the tent and save my dedication.

I am at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, I suppose for the winter: it seems a first-rate place; we have a house in the eye of many winds, with a view of a piece of running water – Highland, all but the dear hue of peat – and of many hills – Highland also, but for the lack of heather.

Baker Cottage or RLS Cottage, Saranac Lake, 1912 [http://digitalcollections.archives.nysed.gov]


View of Saranac Lake from Mount Baker [www.bunksplace.com]


Loch Leven, Kinlochleven, Highlands, Scotland [www.visitscotland.com]


Soon the snow will close on us;


Saranac Lake in winter [www.saranaclake.com]


Old Saranac Lake in winter [www.bunksplace.com]


Snow on trail, Saranak Lake, c. 1908 [https://i.ebayimg.com]


we are here some twenty miles – twenty-seven, they say, but this I profoundly disbelieve – in the woods: communication by letter is slow and (let me be consistent) aleatory; by telegram is as near as may be impossible.


Autumn in Saranac Lake [https://odis.homeaway.com]


Winter in Saranac Lake [www.saranaclake.com]


I had some experience of American appreciation; I liked a little of it, but there is too much; a little of that would go a long way to spoil a man; and I like myself better in the woods.

RLS (right), Fanny and Lloyd at Saranac Lake, early winter 1887 [https://localwiki.org]

I am so damned candid and ingenuous (for a cynic), and so much of a ‘cweater’ of impulse – aw’ (if you remember that admirable Leech)


John Leech (1817-64), humorous artist and book illustrator best known for his cartoons in Punch. The reference has not yet been traced [www.19thcenturyphotos.com]

Husband Taming

One of the ‘sketches of life and character’ for ‘Punch’ by John Leech [www.john-leech-archive.org.uk]

that I begin to shirk any more taffy; I think I begin to like it too well. But let us trust the Gods; they have a rod in pickle; reverently I doff my trousers, and with screwed eyes await the amari aliquid of the great God Busby.


Richard Busby (1606-95), the famous headmaster of Westminster School [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I thank you for the article in all ways, and remain yours affectionately,








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