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

  1. rdury says:

    Stevenson’s friend of childhood and youth Eve Simpson wrote in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh Days:

    Very early in his career, some of his boon companions lamented that he was somewhat of a cowardly humbug, for he judiciously kept his Jekyl reputation so much before the innocent public that the Hyde in him, which they knew, was never suspected. They said they could not find a passage in any of his books with even a suggestion of Hyde in it. They persisted that he had so cultivated a pure Dr Jekyll style, that he could not abandon it if he wished, and they, though not all penmen, could write a novel with a more than doubtful plot better than he, the rising author. Their scorn of his Jekyll mask, their boast that they could beat him with his own weapons, put him on his mettle. He avoided their company for some weeks, and laboured sedulously at a novel which would out-Herod Herod. He laid it before them, and they were startled with its strength, its terribleness, its outrageous blackness of human depravity. He was radiant: he had surprised them. The MS book was kept by one ‘life-long friend’ of his. He had it bound as the History of Peru [actually ‘History of Mexico’]. The efforts of Louis’s companions, which were school-girl reading in comparison, figured on the same shelf as the History of Mexico [‘History of Peru’]. They looked so sallow and dull, no one, said their possessor, would take them from their place. Comparatively recently they still existed. Louis, though flattered at the time by their favourable criticisms, bitterly regretted he had entered the list on such a foul tournament, and asked for his work back to commit it to the flames, for fear that it should ever become public. But the ‘life- long friend’ being of a speculative, tormenting turn, held to the manuscript. He said he could blackmail the author whenever he wished by threats of publication. Louis, to the end of his days, pled in vain for the reams he had sullied his pen over, and wisely resolved never again to play the part of Hyde with the tell-tale indelibleness of ink.’

    Liked by 1 person

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