“You should have seen us counting over the ship’s specie today: Treasure Island wasn’t a circumstance”

RLS, his mother, stepson Lloyd and servant Valentine left New York on 2 June 1888 and travelled by train to San Francisco, where Fanny joined them. The agreement to charter the schooner Casco was signed on 21 June with her owner Dr Samuel Merritt (1822-90), former mayor of Oakland, for a cruise to various islands in the Pacific Ocean. Captain A.H. Otis was in command of the yacht, then anchored at Oakland.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2102.]

To Charles Baxter

[Baxter Letters, 1956, pp. 231-3, at http://www.hathitrust.org]

Yacht Casco, Oakland [c. 20 June 1888]

My dear Charles,

Here I am in my berth, and pretty sick.

The schooner Casco [https://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca]

I cannot recover from this affair, though crossing the continent picked me up for the time, and I long to get to sea. Shall I ever return? I have no great mind to see England any more, I must confess, bur time is a great healer.

I wish you would tell Henley how heartily I have enjoyed his verses.

W.E. Henley, A Book of Verses, first edition, 1888 [https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com]

My wife and I were both rejoiced to see him at last do something worthy of myself, as I do think this volume is; some of the pieces are as good as I want to see, both old friends and new. If I write woodenly, it is simply because I have no spirit and am very weary and out of sorts; but I read the book with sincere emotion and am to quote one in an article.

RLS was to reprint Henley’s poem ‘A late lark twitters from the quiet skies’ at the end of ‘A Christmas Sermon’, in Scribner’s Magazine for December 1888 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Henley’s poem ‘A late lark twitters from the quiet skies’.

And now business: First, we are going to build houses on the Oakland property; the money could be raised here on the houses, but this at eight per cent, which is absurd; and I wish you would communicate with Young and send him my other thousand for this purpose. It should be a good investment itself, and besides it will turn what has been an expense into a source of profit. He is to write you himself.

Oakland, 1900. E.B. Young was RLS’s San Francisco lawyer [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

2nd. Please communicate with Colvin as to his insurances: I am to help him (if needful) to keep them up, and this of course is to be done; however I may have to raise the money to do it with. Any step you find necessary, I approve beforehand.

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), RLS’s friend, was keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum. Baxter paid on RLS’s behalf an annual premium on Colvin’s life assurance policy, to provide financial support for his mother in the event of his death [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Good bye, my dear old fellow. We all send you the kindest wishes, and whether or not we never meet again, you stand near in my heart.

It is easy to send a last word to you, but just in case of accidents, I wish to send one to W.E.H. also. These words will do: “Auld Lang Syne”.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

To Katharine, if I come again no more, I send these: “It is never too late to repent and make amends”.

Alan Stevenson’s family tombstone, New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh [https://images.findagrave.com]

But these are of course only testamentary.

Good bye to yourself.

Yours ever affectionately,

Robert Louis Stevenson

I am going to have a job to manage to enjoy myself, but I’ll try!

Second Sheet. [25 June 1888]

Since this (continual wild porridge of affairs delaying us still) your letter to Fanny and yours to me have come. I thank you for both. I agree with you as usual; do no more about this endowment till I have time to be a man again, for I own there is in the proposal an ugly spice of vengeance.

Katharine Elizabeth Alan Stevenson (1851-1939), RLS’s cousin. RLS dedicated ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ to her. In 1874 she married William Sydney de Mattos whose constant infidelities led to their separation in 1881. Katharine moved to London with her two children and supported herself by journalism. In March 1888, she and RLS quarreled after Fanny published the short story “The Nixie”. W.E. Henley accused Fanny of plagiarizing the story from Katharine’s own. RLS took his wife’s side, hurting Katharine’s feelings and alienating himself from Henley. RLS had sought Baxter’s opinion on a possible endowment to Katharine’s little daughter [www.cityofliterature.com]

I have arranged with Young to call on you for as little as possible, preferring to keep some ready money, even if I have to pay dearer in the mortgage. He will write; but I do not fancy he will ask more than £600 or less than £400. Whatever he wants let him have; it is a sound investment, I believe. I was delighted to hear we were out of the shipping business, for which I have less taste than none.

I was rejoiced you agreed with me. I have no natural taste for harshness, and to return an apology cut me to the soul. But I was very certain I was right all the same; and indeed such a letter could not have been shown to my wife – she would never have forgiven it and she would have been right. A strange suspicion which I cannot – or rather will not – write hangs over this affair, and may a little more excuse Henley if it be correct; but I would fain not believe it. When we meet we may speak of it.

You should have seen us counting over the ship’s specie today: Treasure Island wasn’t a circumstance.

Treasure Island, 1915 edition, ill. by Louis Rhead.
Treasure Island, 1915 edition, ill. by Louis Rhead.

My wife and I both owe you very much, dear man, and are not ungrateful. You can imagine what a shatterer it was for her – or perhaps you scarcely can. She had a special fondness for K.; she was indeed stabbed in the house of her friends.

I am a little better; the blood has stopped again, and I hope when I am fairly at sea, I may get rested.

Ever yours affectionately,

R.L.S.

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