“It is always darkest before dawn”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2153.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 132-4]

[Honolulu, c. 2 April 1889]

My dear Burlingame,

This is to announce the most prodigious change of programme. I have seen so much of the South Seas that I desire to see more, and I get so much health here that I dread a return to our vile climates. I have applied accordingly to the missionary folk to let me go round in the Morning Star;

The fourth Morning Star, missionary ship of the Boston Board, 1884-1990 [http://marshall.csu.edu.au]

and if the Boston Board should refuse, I shall get somehow to Fiji, hire a trading schooner, and see the Fijis and Friendlies and Samoa. He would be a South Seayer, Mr. Burlingame. Of course, if I go in the Morning Star, I see all the eastern (or western?) islands.

Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga (Friendly Island) and Samoa [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Before I sail, I shall make out to let you have the last of The Master: though I tell you it sticks! – and I hope to have had some proofs forbye, of the verses anyway. And now to business.

I want (if you can find them) in the British sixpenny edition, if not, in some equally compact and portable shape – Seaside Library, for instance – the Waverley Novels entire, or as entire as you can get ’em,

No. 3 in Waverley Novels, Sixpenny Issue, Edinburgh, Adam and Charles Black, 1868 [www.davidmasonbooks.com]

and the following of Marryat: Phantom Ship,

F. Marryat, Phantom Ship, 1857.

Peter Simple,

Percival Keene,


F. Marryat, Privateersman, 1880 ed.

Children of the New Forest,

F. Marryat, The Children of the New Forest, 1847.

Frank Mildmay,

Newton Forster,

F. Marryat, Newton Forster or The Merchant Service, 1880 ed.

Dog Fiend (Snarleyyow).

Also Midshipman Easy,

King’s Own,

Carlyle’s French Revolution,

Motley’s Dutch Republic,

J. L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1883 ed.

Lang’s Letters on Literature,

a complete set of my works, Jenkin, in duplicate;

also Familiar Studies, ditto.

I have to thank you for the accounts, which are satisfactory indeed, and for the cheque for $1000. Another account will have come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate in colour.

Another account will have come and gone before I see you. I hope it will be equally roseate in colour. I am quite worked out, and this cursed end of The Master hangs over me like the arm of the gallows;

but it is always darkest before dawn, and no doubt the clouds will soon rise;

Sunrise, Edinburgh [www.bbc.co.uk]

but it is a difficult thing to write, above all in Mackellarese; and I cannot yet see my way clear. If I pull this off, The Master will be a pretty good novel or I am the more deceived; and even if I don’t pull it off, it’ll still have some stuff in it.

We shall remain here until the middle of June anyway; but my mother leaves for Europe early in May.

RLS and his family seated at his house in Honolulu, 1889. On the right, his mother Margaret is sewing a large patterned cloth. [www.capitalcollections. org.uk]

Hence our mail should continue to come here; but not hers. I will let you know my next address, which will probably be Sydney. If we get on the Morning Star, I propose at present to get marooned on Ponape,

Senyavin Islands (Popape plus two neighboring atolls) [https://enacademic.com/]

and take my chance of getting a passage to Australia. It will leave times and seasons mighty vague, and the cruise is risky; but I shall know something of the South Seas when it is done, or else the South Seas will contain all there is of me.


It should give me a fine book of  travels, anyway.

RLS had agreed with S. S. McClure to sell him “letters” from the South Seas to be syndicated in newspapers and magazines. These he hoped to use for materials for the “big book” on the Pacific. The volume was published as ‘In the South Seas’, edited by Sidney Colvin and published after RLS’s death in 1896.

Low will probably come and ask some dollars of you. Pray let him have them, they are for outfit. […]

Will H. Low (1853-1932), American painter and RLS’s friend, 1990.

O, another complete set of my books should go to Captain A.H. Otis, care of Dr. Merritt, Yacht Casco, Oakland, Cal.

The schooner Casco, 1889 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

– In haste,


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