“When I say ‘writing’ ― O, believe me, it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind”

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1925.]

To Richard Harding Davis

[Sangree, R.H. Davis, Ainslee’s Magazine 7, 1901, p. 9]

[Saranac Lake, c. 24 October 1887]

Dear Sir,

Why, thank you very much for your frank, agreeable and natural letter. It is certainly very pleasant that all you young fellows should enjoy my work, and get some good out of it; and it was very kind in you to write and tell me so.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916), later to become a highly successful journalist, war correspondent and popular novelist, was at this time a young reporter of the Philadelphia Press. He had written a fan letter to RLS expressing the pleasure RLS’s ‘Markheim’ and ‘A lodging for the Night’ had given him and his fellows in the office [https://static1.squarespace.com]

Facsimile of RLS’s letter to Davis, in A. Sangree, Richard Harding Davis, Ainslee’s Magazine 7, 1901 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


The tale of the suicide is excellently droll; and your letter, you may be sure, will be preserved.

RLS’s story, ‘Markheim’: Davis’s fellow reporters had spent summer reading RLS’s work and one of them in a press report had carried his admiration ‘Markheim’, to the extent of putting into the mouth of a suicide the lines, ‘If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down’ [Cf. Mehew 6, p. 45]

If you are to escape, unhurt out of your present business, you must be very careful, and you must find in your heart much constancy. The swiftly done work of the journalist, and the cheap finish and ready-made methods to which it leads, you must try to counteract in private writing with the most considerate slowness and on the most ambitious models. And when I say “writing” ― O, believe me, it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind. If you will do this, I hope to hear of you some day.

Richard Harding Davis, Stories for Boys, 1891.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916).

Richard Harding Davis, The West from a Car-Window, 1892.


Please excuse this sermon from         Your obliged,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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