“We can do no more than try to do our best”

In December 1887, RLS had sent a copy of his ‘Memories and Portraits’ to one of the most intimate friends of his father, Rev. Archibald Charteris, asking if he could recall something memorable of Thomas Stevenson, to be used in a future written memory (Cf. previous letter:https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/i-know-too-well-how-difficult-it-is-to-put-even-two-sincere-lines-upon-paper/).

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2054.]

To the Rev. Archibald Charteris [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 59-60]

Saranac Lake, Adirondacks,

New York, U.S.A. [9 or 10 April 1888]

My dear Dr. Charteris,

The funeral letter, your notes, and many other things, are reserved for a book, Memorials of a Scottish Family, if ever I can find time and opportunity. I wish I could throw off all else and sit down to it today.

Rev. Archibald Hamilton Charteris (1835-1908) was a Scottish theologian, a Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, professor of biblical criticism at the University of Edinburgh 1868-1898 and a leading voice in Church reforms. He had been one of the most intimate friends of RLS’s father [https://d3d00swyhr67nd.cloudfront.net]

Yes, my father was a ‘distinctly religious man’, but not a pious. The distinction painfully and pleasurably recalls old conflicts; it used to be my great gun – and you, who suffered for the whole Church, know how needful it was to have some reserve artillery! His sentiments were tragic; he was a tragic thinker.

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887) [www.wikipedi.org

Now, granted that life is tragic to the marrow, it seems the proper function of religion to make us accept and serve in that tragedy, as officers in that other and comparable one of war. Service is the word, active service, in the military sense; and the religious man – I beg pardon, the pious man – is he who has a military joy in duty – not he who weeps over the wounded. We can do no more than try to do our best. Really, I am the grandson of the manse –


– I preach you a kind of sermon. Box the brat’s ears!

My mother – to pass to matters more within my competence – finely enjoys herself. The new country, some new friends we have made, the interesting experiment of the climate – which (at least) is tragic – all have done her good.

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1897) [www.wikimedia.org]

I have myself passed a better winter than for years, and now that it is nearly over have some diffident hopes of doing well in the summer and ‘eating a little more air’ than usual.

RLS at Saranac Lake (diorama) [http://s3.amazonaws.com]

I thank you for the trouble you are taking, and my mother joins with me in kindest regards to yourself and Mrs. Charteris.

Rev. Archibald Charteris and his wife Catherine Anderson [http://churchofscotland.org.uk]

– Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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