“How I wish I had died at Hyères, while all was well with me!”

W.E. Henley’s letter of 9 March to RLS accusing Fanny of plagiarism in publishing under her own name a story based on an earlier one by Katharine de Mattos had precipitated the quarrel and estrangement between them. Baxter acted as mediator.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2062.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, 1956, pp. 205-206, at www.hathitrust.org]

[Envelope marked ‘Private’]

[Saranac Lake, Postmark 12 April 1888]

My dear Charles,

I know you will curse the sight of my hand, but you are to consider I have no one else to pour out my troubles to in the world. And this affair hag-rides me. How I wish I had died at Hyères, while all was well with me!


but now troubles thicken, and griefs.

I lay last night counting up my sins against these friends of mine, and I found some of them heavy enough, and my mouth was closed. But in the course of these self-depreciations, my mind started another hare, which vexes me. Last winter I was disagreeably affected to remember that a number of works in my own hand were in Henley’s possession, that he might die any day, and these highly unprofitable exercises might fall in the hands of his brothers.

Henley had 5 brothers and one sister. RLS had asked him to destroy some “Sculduddry [= Bawdy] Sangs” in his hands [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Therefore I wrote to Henley (it was in the worst of our estrangement) asking him to destroy them, and explaining it was partly in Lloyd’s interest.

Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson, at that time 20 years old.

I am sorry to say he paid no regard to my request. So much he confessed to me when we were reconciled; and as I was bent on reconciliation, I allowed myself no commentary on his conduct, only repeated the request. And now it came in upon me last night that he may just as well have disregarded my second request. And here I am quite stranded. I could never approach him now on the matter, and yet these foolish things are a thorn in my side. It has occurred to me that when next you meet Henley, you might be able to find out if they are destroyed; and if they are not, see that they are. I care damned little for what’s left of my life (unless I could get to sea) but I do not want any who still value me to be pained when I am gone.

Unless I could get to sea! Ah, folk can’t write letters to you there! And maybe I’ll manage it yet; but it’s the money that sticks us.

Talking of money, Teddy, his first communication to me since he has been here, wrote and asked me to support his company for six weeks! I offered in return to pay his and Grace’s passage back to England, and I suppose he won’t be pleased. This young man is quite a hopeless character.

Henley and RLS’s plays were at first only privately printed. ‘Deacon Brodie’ was first produced in Bradford in 1882, then in 1883 inAberdeen, and in 1884 in London. The chief feature of the play was the performance of the Deacon by Henley’s brother, Edward John Henley. In 1887 he had presented the piece in several ciries in America.

Ever yours affectionately,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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