“I think it needful to warn you not to be in a hurry to suppose us dead”

The reference in the first paragraph is to the publication in the press, which Baxter had permitted, of one of RLS’s letters written during the earlier part of his voyage. RLS had remonstrated, always greatly disliking the publication of private letters during the writer’s lifetime; and now wrote to soften the effect of his remonstrance.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Charles Baxter. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2165.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, pp. 247-8: http://www.hathitrust.org]

[Honolulu, 9 May 1889]

My dear Charles,

I am appalled to gather from your last just to hand that you have felt so much concern about the letter. Pray dismiss it from your mind. But I think you scarce appreciate how disagreeable it is to have your private affairs and private unguarded expressions getting into print. It would soon sicken any one of writing letters. I have no doubt that letter was very wisely selected, but it just shows how things crop up. There was a raging jealousy between the two yachts; our captain was nearly in a fight over it.

On 31 Aug 1888, while the yacht Casco was in harbour on Hiva-oa in the Marquesas, there had been great excitement at the arrival of the British yacht Nyanza on a round-the-world voyage. Friendly meetings had taken place. The Nyanza was at Honolulu when the Casco arrived and the frienship was renewed. A letter to Baxter from Lloyd postmarked Tahiti 6 Oct 1888 had been published in the Scotsman of 8 Dec 1888 and reprinted in the Honolulu Bulletin of 30 Jan 1889. Unfortunately, Lloyd had described the Nyanza as a ‘large, lofty, ugly schooner’. In his Voyage of the Nyanza (1892), J. Cumming Dewar, her owner, had his revenge by saying that the Casco appeared to be ‘more suited for sailing about San Francisco Bay than for a cruise across the ocean’ [www.rarebooks.co.nz; Cf.Mehew 6, p. 294 n. 2]
The yacht Casco [https://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca]

However, no more; and whatever you think, my dear fellow, do not suppose me angry with you […]; although I was annoyed at the circumstance – a very different thing. But it is difficult to conduct life by letter, and I continually feel I may be drifting into some matter of offence, in which my heart takes no part. […]

I must now turn to a point of business. This new cruise of ours is somewhat venturesome; and I think it needful to warn you not to be in a hurry to suppose us dead. In these ill-charted seas, it is quite on the cards we might be cast on some unvisited, or very rarely visited, island; that there we might lie for a long time, even years, unheard of; and yet turn up smiling at the hinder end.

RLS’s South Seas cruises [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

So do not let me be ‘rowpit’ [= sold by auction] till you get some certainty we have gone to Davie Jones in a squall,


or graced the feast of some barbarian in the character of Long Pig.

Cannibal feast, Fiji. The expression ‘Long Pig’ was a translation of a term formerly used in some Pacific islands for human flesh as food [www.thesun.co.uk]


I have just been a week away alone on the lee coast of Hawaii,


the only white creature in many miles, riding five and a half hours one day, living with a native, seeing four lepers shipped off to Molokai,

Father Damien (1840-1889) stands with patients outside his church on Molokai Island. He served at the island’s leper colony, eventually contracting the disease himself [https://r.hswstatic.com]

hearing native causes, and giving my opinion as amicus curiae, as to the interpretation of a statute in English; a lovely week among God’s best – at least God’s sweetest works – Polynesians. It has bettered me greatly. If I could only stay there the time that remains, I could get my work done and be happy; but the care of […] my family keeps me in vile Honolulu, where I am always out of sorts,

Main Street, Honolulu [https://themetropoleblog.files.wordpress.com]

amidst heat and cold and cesspools and beastly haoles. What is a haole? You are one; and so, I am sorry to say, am I. After so long a dose of whites, it was a blessing to get among Polynesians again even for a week.

RLS, prob. 1889. The Hawaiian word ‘haole’ originally meant ‘outsider’ and was applied to all foreigners; it gradually came to mean white only.

Well, Charles, there are waur haoles than yoursel’, I’ll say that for ye; and trust before I sail I shall get another letter […] with more about yourself. Ever your affectionate friend,



This entry was posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.