“This harsh, grey, glum, doleful climate has done me good”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2009.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 54-55]

[Saranac Lake, 6 or 7 February 1888]

My dear Colvin,

Fanny has been very unwell […]. She is not long home, has been ill again since her return, but is now better again to a degree. You must not blame her for not writing, as she is not allowed to write at all, not even a letter. To add to our misfortunes, Valentine is quite ill and in bed. Lloyd and I get breakfast;


From left to right, on the veranda at Baker’s Cottage, saranac Lake: Valentine Roch with another servant, Lloyd Osbourne, Fanny and RLS. Fanny did not enjoy Saranac and went to visit her family in Indianapolis [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

I have now, 10.15, just got the dishes washed and the kitchen all clear, and sit down to give you as much news as I have spirit for, after such an engagement. Glass is a thing that really breaks my spirit: I do not like to fail, and with glass I cannot reach the work of my high calling – the artist’s.


Baker’s cottage, now (since 1915) RLS Museum at Saranac Lake. The kitchen is on the left [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The kitchen of Baker’s cottage, Saranac Lake [www.nymews.com]


I am, as you may gather from this, wonderfully better: this harsh, grey, glum, doleful climate has done me good.

RLS in a diorama on Baker’s veranda with a cigarette and skates [www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com]

You cannot fancy how sad a climate it is. When the thermometer stays all day below -10°, it is really cold;

The thermometer at Baker’s Cottage, Saranac Lake [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

and when the wind blows, O commend me to the result. Pleasure in life is all delete; there is no red spot left, fires do not radiate, you burn your hands all the time on what seem to be cold stones. It is odd, zero is like summer heat to us now; and we like, when the thermometer outside is really low, a room at about 48°; 60° we find oppressive. Yet the natives keep their holes at 90° or even 100°.

Saranac Lake, NY: Adirondack Scenic Railroad in the winter

Saranac lake, winter [http://pics4.city-data.com]




[c. 12 February 1888]

This was interrupted days ago by household labours. Since then I have had and (I tremble to write it, but it does seem as if I had) beaten off an influenza. The cold is exquisite. Valentine still in bed. The proofs of the first part of The Master of Ballantrae begin to come in; soon you shall have it in the pamphlet form; and I hope you will like it.



The second part will not be near so good; but there – we can but do as it’ll do with us. I have every reason to believe this winter has done me real good, so far as it has gone; and if I carry out my scheme for next winter, and succeeding years, I should end by being a tower of strength. I want you to save a good holiday for next winter; I hope we shall be able to help you to some larks.

File:Portrait of Sidney Colvin.jpg

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927) was keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Is there any Greek Isle you would like to explore?

Ionian Isles and Greece, by John Tallis & co. / J. Rapkin c. 1851 [www.wellandantiquemaps.co.uk]

or any creek in Asia Minor?


– Yours ever affectionately,










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2 Responses to “This harsh, grey, glum, doleful climate has done me good”

  1. rdury says:

    The photo of RLS with skates I think is a photomontage

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mafalda says:

    Yes, the source said it was a ‘diorama’, meaning it’s not complrtely true.


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