“I could bear to go down myself, but not to have much MS go down with me”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2118.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 82-4]

Taiti, October 16th, 1888

My dear Colvin,

The cruiser for San Francisco departs to-morrow morning bearing you some kind of a scratch.

Royal Mail Steam Ship, 19th century [https://assets.catawiki.nl]

This much more important packet will travel by way of Auckland.


It contains a ballant;

The ballad referred to is ‘The Feast of Famine’, composed on board of the Casco and published with others in the collection of 1890 Ballads.

and I think a better ballant than I expected ever to do. I can imagine how you will wag your pow over it; and how ragged you will find it, etc.,

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge 1873-1895, photographed by F. Hollyer, ca. 1890 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

but has it not spirit all the same? and though the verse is not all your fancy painted it, has it not some life? And surely, as narrative, the thing has considerable merit! Read it, get a typewritten copy taken, and send me that and your opinion to the Sandwiches.


I know I am only courting the most excruciating mortification; but the real cause of my sending the thing is that I could bear to go down myself, but not to have much MS go down with me. To say truth, we are through the most dangerous; but it has left in all minds a strong sense of insecurity, and we are all for putting eggs in various baskets.

We leave here soon, bound for Uahiva, Raiatea, Bora-Bora,

The Leeward Islands. The plan to visit these islands en route for Hawaii was later abandoned [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Raiatea [http://1.bp.blogspot.com]
H.M.S. Collingwood, off Bora Bora, 19th century [https://media.mutualart.com]

and the Sandwiches.

Sandwich Islands, 1825.
Hawaiian Group or Sandwich Islands, 1841 [https://img.raremaps.com]
Sandwiches Men with a mask.
Royal palace, Honolulu, late 19th century [https://imgc.artprintimages.com]

O, how my spirit languishes

To step ashore on the Sanguishes;

For there my letters wait,

There shall I know my fate.

O, how my spirit languidges

To step ashore on the Sanguidges.

Formerly the group of Hawaii was known to Europeans and Americans as the Sandwich Islands, a name chosen by James Cook in honor of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The contemporary name is derived from the name of the largest island [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

18th. – I think we shall leave here if all is well on Monday. I am quite recovered, astonishingly recovered. It must be owned these climates and this voyage have given me more strength than I could have thought possible. And yet the sea is a terrible place, stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper,

the sea, the motion, the lack of space, the cruel publicity, the villainous tinned foods, the sailors, the captain, the passengers –

RLS on board of the Casco.

but you are amply repaid when you sight an island, and drop anchor in a new world.

Much trouble has attended this trip,


but I must confess more pleasure.

Tahiti [www.agoranews.it]
Tahiti [https://static2-viaggi.corriereobjects.it]

Nor should I ever complain, as in the last few weeks, with the curing of my illness indeed, as if that were the bursting of an abscess, the cloud has risen from my spirits and to some degree from my temper.

Tahiti [https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net]

Do you know what they called the Casco at Fakarava? The Silver Ship.

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

Is that not pretty? Pray tell Mrs. Jenkin, die silberne Frau, as I only learned it since I wrote her.

Mrs Jenkin was the widow of RLS’s friend, Henry Charles Fleeming (1833-1885), Professor of Engineering at Edinburgh University [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/]

I think of calling the book by that name: The Cruise of the Silver Ship – so there will be one poetic page at least – the title.

At the Sandwiches we shall say farewell to the S.S. with mingled feelings. She is a lovely creature: the most beautiful thing at this moment in Taiti.

The wharf, Papeete, Tahiti, late 19th century [https://2.bp.blogspot.com]

Well, I will take another sheet, though I know I have nothing to say. You would think I was bursting; but the voyage is all stored up for the book, which is to pay for it, we fondly hope;

The volume was published as ‘In the South Seas’, edited by Sidney Colvin and published in 1896, after RLS’s death.

and the troubles of the time are not worth telling; and our news is little. […]


Here I conclude (Oct. 24th, I think), for we are now stored, and the Blue Peter metaphorically flies.

The Blue Peter, a nautical blue flag with a white square in the center, flown to signal that a ship is ready to sail [www.sailonboard.com]


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