“Lloyd and I have a mutiny novel on hand – a tremendous work”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2053.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 64-65]

[Saranac Lake] April 9!! 1888

My dear Colvin,

I have been long without writing to you, but am not to blame. I had some little annoyances quite for a private eye, but they ran me so hard that I could not write without lugging them in, which (for several reasons) I did not choose to do. Fanny is off to San Francisco,

San Francisco, 1880s [https://i.ebayimg.com]

and next week I myself flit to New York; address Scribner’s.

Scribner’s & Sons, 743-745 Broadway, New York [http://library.princeton.edu]

Where we shall go I know not, nor (I was going to say) care; so bald and bad is my frame of mind.

On June 27, 1888, RLS and his wife will leave on the yacht ‘Casco’ for a cruise of the Pacific islands, including the Marquesas, the Paumotus and Tahiti. They will arrive in Honolulu on January 24, 1889 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

Do you know our – ahem! – fellow clubman, Colonel Majendie?

Colonel Vivian Dering Majendie (1836-1898) served in the Crimea and in the Indian Mutiny. From 1871 he was Chief Inspector of Explosives, Home Office, with the dangerous task of examining bombs discovered by the police during the Fenian outrages. His advice during the fenian dynamite campaign of 1881-1885 contributed to the saving of lives. In 1886 he visited the US to observe the petroleum industry there [www.wikimedia.org]

I had such an interesting letter from him. Did you see my sermon?

LS’s 4th essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘Pulvis et Umbra’, was issued in April 1888. The title is taken from Horace’s “Pulvis et umbra sumus” (“We are made of dust and shadow”). In the essay, RLS questions the nature of mankind and their place in the universe, also considering evolution and revolutions in science. RLS suggests that we should pity man, who cannot control his innate impulses, and in evolutionary terms does not stand apart from other species [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

It has evoked the worst feeling: I fear people don’t care for the truth, or else I don’t tell it. Suffer me to wander without purpose. I have sent off twenty letters today, and begun and stuck at a twenty-first, and taken a copy of one which was on business, and corrected several galleys of proof, and sorted about a bushel of old letters;

RLS at desk with quill pen, Bournemouth, late 1886 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

so if any one has a right to be romantically stupid it is I – and I am. Really deeply stupid, and at that stage when in old days I used to pour out words without any meaning whatever and with my mind taking no part in the performance. I suspect that is now the case. I am reading with extraordinary pleasure the life of Lord Lawrence:

John Laird Mair Lawrence (1811-1879) 1st Baron Lawrence, Viceroy of India 1863-69. As Chief Comissioner for the Punjab he played a major part in securing the capture of Dheli from the mutineers, 1857 [https://collectionimages.npg.org.uk]
RLS was reading Baron Lawrence’s biography by Bosworth Smith.

Lloyd and I have a mutiny novel –

(Next morning, after twelve other letters) – mutiny novel on hand […] – a tremendous work – so we are all at Indian books. The idea of the novel is Lloyd’s: I call it a novel. ‘Tis a tragic romance, of the most tragic sort: I believe the end will be almost too much for human endurance – when the hero […] is thrown to the ground with one of his own (Sepoy) soldier’s knees upon his chest, and the cries begin in the Beebeeghar. O truly, you know it is a howler! The whole last part is – well the difficulty is that, short of resuscitating Shakespeare, I don’t know who is to write it.

Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson. The project of a mutiny novel was abandoned. All that survives is a 3 pages typescript by Lloyd with a summary of a plot [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

I still keep wonderful. I am a great performer before the Lord on the penny whistle.

Metal penny whistle, 19th century [https://cdn0.rubylane.com]

– Dear sir, sincerely yours,

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), 7th president of the US [www.wikipedia.org]


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