“I so well that I do not know myself”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2133.]

To Charles Baxter

[Baxter Letters, pp. 240-1: http://www.hathitrust.org]

[Honolulu,] 8 February 1889

My dear Charles,

Here we are at Honolulu,

RLS and family around a table in the evening playing cards, Waikiki, Honolulu. From left: probably Henry Poor (the landlord), Belle, RLS, Lloyd, and Fanny.

and have dismissed the yacht, and lie here till April anyway, in a fine state of haze, which I am yet in hopes some letter of yours (still on the way) may dissipate. No money,  and not one word as to money! However, I have got the yacht paid off in triumph, I think; and though we stay here impignorate, it should not be for long, even if you bring us no extra help from home. The cruise has been a great success, both as to matter, fun, and health; and yet, Lord, man! we’re pleased to be ashore! Yon was a very fine voyage from Tahiti up here, but – the dry land’s a fine place too, and we don’t mind squalls any longer, and eh, man, that’s a great thing.

The schooner Casco became a ‘celebrity ship’. After leaving Honolulu, she partecipated in hunting fur seals. In 1919 her hull was ground to pieces by the waves of the Bering Sea and the crew and passengers rescued [www.nauticapedia.ca]

Blow, blow, thou wintry wind, thou hast done me no appreciable harm beyond a few grey hairs!

Altogether, this foolhardy venture is achieved; and if I have but nine months of life and any kind of health, I shall have both eaten my cake and got it back again with usury. But, man, there have been days when I felt guilty, and thought I was in no position for the head of a house.

Your letter and accounts are doubtless at S. F. and will reach me in course. My wife is no great shakes; she is the one who has suffered most. My mother has had a Huge Old Time; Lloyd is first chop; I so well that I do not know myself – sea bathing, if you please, and what is far more dangerous, entertaining and being entertained by His Majesty here, who is a very fine intelligent fellow,

Lloyd, Fanny, RLS, King Kalakaua and RLS’s mother, on board of the Casco, 1 February 1889 [https://kriscindaleeeveritt.files.wordpress.com]

but O, Charles! what a crop for the drink! He carries it, too, like a mountain with a sparrow on its shoulders. We calculated five bottles of champagne in three hours and a half (afternoon), and the sovereign quite presentable, although perceptibly more dignified at the end.

Valentine leaves us here, to mutual glee. Stop her private wages, and be ready (when she applies) to give her her little stock.  It has been the usual tale of the maid on board the yacht.

From l. to r. seated: the maid Valentine Roche, Margaret Stevenson, Fanny Stevenson. Second row: Lloyd Osbourne, Captain Albert H. Otis, RLS (?). Standing behind: Dr Samuel Merrit owner of the Casco [https://2.bp.blogspot.com]

– This reminds me, I believe I poured forth my sorrows over my captain in your ear. Patience and time have quite healed these conflicts; we do what we want now, and the captain is a trusted friend. It did require patience in the beginning; but the seed has borne a most plentiful cup, and we feel quite proud of our tame captain, and (as I say) really like the man.


Musical evening at Waikiki, Honolulu: RLS (seated, playing flageolet), Prof. M.M. Scott (flute), Fanny, Belle, Lloyd and Captain Otis (violins), Margaret Stevenson, Henry Poor (flute) [www.scran.ac.uk]

I have very little time by this mail, so hurry all I can. I was overjoyed at the news of the Henley Baby: it should go far to heal that household.

Margaret Emma Henley (1888–1894) was the only child of William E. Henley and his wife Anna. Margaret’s friendship with J.M. Barrie, whom she called “fwendy” (i.e., “friendy”), was the inspiration for the character of Wendy in Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904). She may also have served as the inspiration for Margaret Dearth, the protagonist’s “dream-child” in Barrie’s 1917 play Dear Brutus. She died at the age of five of cerebral meningitis [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I have no word for him, and shall not try to write in the midst of my scurry. He little understands the harm he did me; but I am sure, upon all our cruise, the number of time we – all of us – longed for his presence would show it was no change of liking for him that we feel. For all that, time has not diminished my fear of him, and I doubt if I ever desire to correspond again.

William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) [http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk]

As for Katharine, I had an answer to my appeal, which settled that matter; I do not wish to see her.

Katharine Elizabeth Alan Stevenson (1851-1939), RLS’s cousin. RLS dedicated ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ to her. 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 [www.cityofliterature.com]

All these clouds, and the extraordinary health I enjoy and variety of interests I find among these islands, would tempt me to remain here – only for Lloyd, who is not well placed in such countries for a permanency, and a little for Colvin, to whom I feel I owe a sort of filial duty.

“Mr Lloyd Osbourne in Marquessas chief’s full dress”, Hawaii, 1888 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

And these two considerations will no doubt bring me back to go to bed again in England. I will write again soon, and beg for all news of the Henleys and all friends and beloved enemies. Yours ever affectionately,

R.L.S.

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