“All my spare time, is spent in trying to set words to music”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Balfour. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1971.]

To Ida and Una Taylor

[Balfour, The Life of RLS, 2, 1901, pp. 42-43, 211]

[Saranac Lake, c. 18 December 1887]


All my spare time, is spent in trying to set words to music. My last attempt is the divine theme of Beethoven’s six variations faciles.


Beethoven, Sechs Leichte Variationen, W o O 77 [https://sites.google.com]


Beethoven, Sechs Leichte Variationen, W o O 77, theme [https://sites.google.com]

RLS adapted his poem ‘Tempest tossed’ to Beethoven’s theme [https://sites.google.com]


RLS’s poem ‘Tempest tossed’ [https://sites.google.com]


Una will know it; and if she does not like it well, she knows nothing of music, or sorrow, or consolation, or religion.


Una Mary Ashwoth Taylor’s romance ‘The City of Sarras’, 1887 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


Ida Ashworth Taylor, Una’s sister, wrote six novels before turning to historical biography [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


[…] That air has done me more good than all the churches of Christendom.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Saranac Lake, 1879. RLS wanted the song performed there for Christmas, 1887 [https://localwiki.org]


True to my character, I have to preach. But just read the book.


RLS is quoting Taine’s ‘Les Origines de la France Contemporaine”, 1875-1883 [https://pmcdn.priceminister.com]

It is not absolutely fair, for Taine does not feel, with a warm heart, the touching side of their poor soul’s illusions; he does not feel the infinite pathos of the Federations, poor pantomime and orgie, that (to its actors) seemed upon the very margin of heaven; nor the unspeakable, almost unthinkable tragedy of such a poor, virtuous, wooden-headed lot as the methodistic Jacobins.


‘Les trois Jacobins’ (1819), shows the extent to which the meaning of Jacobinism has been confused and diluted over time: here it appears to represent fanaticism, anarchy, and monarchism all at once [https://amymilka.files.wordpress.com]

But he tells, as no one else, the dreadful end of sentimental politics.




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1 Response to “All my spare time, is spent in trying to set words to music”

  1. rdury says:

    wonderful to be able to read the letter and listen to the music at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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