“I get some work done every day with a devil of a heave”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1957.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 31-32]

Saranac [c. 5 December 1887]

My dear lad,

I was indeed overjoyed to hear of  the Dumas.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1803) was preparing to write a volume on the elder Dumas, and he proposed to dedicate it to his friend RLS. The book was never written [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

In the matter of the dedication, are not cross dedications a little awkward? Lang and Rider Haggard did it, to be sure.


Andrew Lang (1844-1912), Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, contributor to the field of anthropology, and friend of RLS [www.mainlesson.com]

Anrew Lang dedicated his ‘In the Wrong Paradise’, 1886, to H. Rider Haggard.



H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925), English writer of adventure novels set in exotic locations,and a pioneer of the Lost World literary genre [https://d2kdkfqxnvpuu9.cloudfront.net]

H. Rider Haggard dedicated his “She”, 1887, to Andrew Lang.


Perpend. And if you should conclude against a dedication, there is a passage in Memories and Portraits written at you, when I was most desperate (to stir you up a bit), which might be quoted: something about Dumas still waiting his biographer.

In ‘A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas’s’ RLS wrote: ‘[Dumas] is a figure not yet clearly set before the world; he still awaits a sober and yet genial portrait’.

I have a decent time when the weather is fine;




when it is grey, or windy, or wet (as it too often is), I am merely degraded to the dirt.



I get some work done every day with a devil of a heave; not extra good ever; and I regret my engagement. Whiles I have had the most deplorable business annoyances too; have been threatened with having to refund money; got over that; and found myself in the worst scrape of being a kind of unintentional swindler.


RLS was managing all his publishing arrangements himself. An occasional lapse of memory or attention betrayed him into conflicting agreements with two different publishers, both his friends, Charles Scribner (who was publishing RLS’s monthly es says on his Magazine) and Samuel Sidney McClure. RLSwas the first to denounce the error when he became aware of it, and suffered sharply from the sense of his own unintentional fault.


These have worried me a great deal; also old age with his stealing steps seems to have clawed me in his clutch to some tune.

main.php (420×600)

RLS quotes the First Gravedigger in Hamlet V.i.79-80 [https://i.pinimg.com]

Do you play All Fours? We are trying it; it is still all haze to me. Can the elder hand beg more than once?



The three player setup of All-Fours, before starting play. All Fours, also known as High-Low-Jack or Seven Up, is an English tavern trick-taking card game that was popular as a gambling game until the end of the 19th century [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


The Port Admiral is at Boston mingling with millionaires.

Image result for lloyd osbourne

RLS’s stepson Lloyd Osbourne, at this time nicknamed Port Admiral, was staying with the Fairchilds in Boston.


I am but a weed on Lethe wharf.


G. Doré, Submersion in Lethe. RLS is quoting from Hamlet I.iv.32 [https://uploads3.wikiart.org]


The wife is only so-so.

Fanny between Lloyd and RLS, Saranac Lake, 1887 [https://localwiki.org]

The Lord lead us all: if I can only get off the stage with clean hands, I shall sing Hosanna. ‘Put’ is described quite differently from your version in a book I have; what are your rules?


D. Teniers the Younger (manner of, 1910-1690), Card players in a tavern. ‘Put’ is an English tavern trick-taking card game first recorded in the 16th century and later castigated by 17th century moralists as one of ill repute [www.artnet.com]

The Port Admiral is using a game of Put in a tale of his, the first copy of which was gloriously finished about a fortnight ago, and the revise gallantly begun: The Finsbury Tontine it is named, and might fill two volumes, and is quite incredibly silly, and in parts (it seems to me) pretty humorous.

The story was first called ‘The Finsbury Tontine’, then ‘A Game of Bluff’, and finally became ‘The Wrong Box’, 1889.



– Love to all from


I say, Taine’s Origines de la France Contemporaine is no end;


it would turn the dead body of Charles Fox into a living Tory.


Charles Fox (1749-1806), styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned 38 years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger [https://upload.wikimedia.org]






This entry was posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “I get some work done every day with a devil of a heave”

  1. rdury says:

    Good to see Lang’s dedication to Rider Haggard—an imitation of Stevenson’s own personal letter/dedications, I think (though I know of no history of the dedication genre).


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.