“The children beat their parents here; it does not make their parents any better”

RLS addressed a part of this letter to William Archer’s son, ‘Tomarcher’, then aged three.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2119]

To William and Thomas Archer [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 85-6]

Taiti, October 17th, 1888

Dear Archer,

Though quite unable to write letters, I nobly send you a line signifying nothing.

William Archer (1856-1924) Scottish dramatic critic, journalist, translator and editor of Ibsen.

The voyage has agreed well with all; it has had its pains, and its extraordinary pleasures; nothing in the world can equal the excitement of the first time you cast anchor in some bay of a tropical island,

and the boats begin to surround you, and the tattooed people swarm aboard.

Three double canoes visiting Capt. James Cook on his third Pacific expedition, 1776-1780 [http://1.bp.blogspot.com]

Tell Tomarcher, with my respex, that hide-and-seek is not equal to it;

German School, Hide-and-seek, 19th century [www.christies.com]

no, nor hidee-in-the-dark; which, for the matter of that, is a game for the unskilful:


the artist prefers daylight, a good-sized garden, some shrubbery, an open paddock, and come on, Macduff.

James Charles (1851-1906), Hide-and-Seek [https://i.pinimg.com]
Thomas Archer (Tomarcher) (1885-1918), the only son of William, aged 3 at the time of this letter, died in Belgium during WW I [https://dulwichcollege1914-18.co.uk]

Tomarcher, I am now a distinguished litterytour, but that was not the real bent of my genius. I was the best player of hide-and-seek going; not a good runner, I was up to every shift and dodge, I could jink very well, I could crawl without any noise through leaves, I could hide under a carrot plant, it used to be my favourite boast that I always walked into the den.

You may care to hear, Tomarcher, about the children in these parts; their parents obey them, they do not obey their parents; and I am sorry to tell you (for I dare say you are already thinking the idea a good one) that it does not pay one halfpenny.

Tahitian children, 19th century [https://i.pinimg.com]
P. Gauguin, Polynesian woman with children, 1901 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

There are three sorts of civilisation, Tomarcher: the real old-fashioned one, in which children either had to find out how to please their dear papas or their dear papas cut their heads off. This style did very well, but is now out of fashion.

N. Poussin, Massacre des Innocents, 1627-1629 [www.tgtourism.tv]

Then the modern European style: in which children have to behave reasonably well, and go to school and say their prayers, or their dear papas will know the reason why.


This does fairly well. Then there is the South Sea Island plan, which does not do one bit. The children beat their parents here; it does not make their parents any better; so do not try it.

Carte de visite portrait of a Maori woman and child from Hawkes Bay, taken probably between 1880 and 1900 by S. Carnell of Napier [https://i.pinimg.com]

Dear Tomarcher, I have forgotten the address of your new house, but will send this to one of your papa’s publishers. Remember us all to all of you, and believe me, yours respectably,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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