“The night was as warm as milk…”

RLS sailed from Hiva-oa in the Marquesas Islands on a dangerous voyage through many coral atolls bound for Fakarava in the Paumotu (or Tuamotu) Archipelago, also known as the Dangerous Archipelago. See RLS’s diary in ‘In the South Seas’, Pt. II, ch. I.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2107.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 77-8]

Yacht Casco, at sea, near the Paumotus,

7 a.m., September 6th, 1888, with a dreadful pen

My dear Charles,

Last night as I lay under my blanket in the cockpit,

RLS had adopted the ‘dangerous practice’ of sleeping ‘on deck upon the cockpit bench’ with the steersman for company [https://kayedacus.files.wordpress.com]
Passengers on deck of steamboat on excursion ‘Doon the Watter’, Glasgow’s Clyde Ferrier, 1880 [www.scotcities.com]

courting sleep, I had a comic seizure. There was nothing visible but the southern stars,

and the steersman there out by the binnacle lamp;

Binnacle [www.marineinsight.com]

we were all looking forward to a most deplorable landfall on the morrow, praying God we should fetch a tuft of palms which are to indicate the Dangerous Archipelago;

RLS’s three cruises in the South Seas.

the night was as warm as milk, and all of a sudden I had a vision of – Drummond Street.

Rutherford’s Bar on 3 Drummond Street was a pub in Advocate’s Close where RLS and friends created the LJR League (Liberty, Justice, Reverence). The club’s tenet was “disregard everything our parents taught us” [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

It came on me like a flash of lightning: I simply returned thither, and into the past. And when I remember all I hoped and feared as I pickled about Rutherford’s

The pub in Drummond Street known as The Pump, frequented by Edinburgh students, is now the Hispaniola, 3 Drummond Street [www.ourtownstories.co.uk]

in the rain and the east wind; how I feared I should make a mere shipwreck, and yet timidly hoped not; how I feared I should never have a friend, far less a wife, and yet passionately hoped I might; how I hoped (if I did not take to drink) I should possibly write one little book, etc. etc.

RLS in advocate’s robes, 1875, aged 25 [www.awesomestories.com]

And then now – what a change! I feel somehow as if I should like the incident set upon a brass plate at the corner of that dreary thoroughfare for all students to read, poor devils, when their hearts are down. And I felt I must write one word to you. Excuse me if I write little: when I am at sea, it gives me a headache; when I am in port, I have my diary crying ‘Give, give.’ I shall have a fine book of travels, I feel sure;

Beginning of Part II of ‘In the South Seas’, published after RLS’s death, 1896.

and will tell you more of the South Seas after very few months than any other writer has done – except Herman Melville perhaps, who is a howling cheese.

Herman Melville (1819-1891) American poet and storyteller, 1891.
Melville’s novel ‘Typee: a peep at Polynesian life, during a four months’ residence in a valley of the Marquesas’ (1846) takes place in Nuka-Hiva, Marquesas Islands.
Map of the Marquesas Islands, from Melville’s novel ‘Typee’, 1846.

Good luck to you, God bless you. – Your affectionate friend,



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