“His body’s under hatches, – his soul, if there is any hell to go to, gone to hell”

 [As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2172.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 142-3]


Honolulu, (about) 20th May ’89

My dear Low,

[…] – The goods have come; many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all […].

[…] I have at length finished The Master; it has been a sore cross to me; but now he is buried, his body’s under hatches, – his soul, if there is any hell to go to, gone to hell;

RLS probably refers to the last two lines of the 18th century song ‘Tom Bowling’, by Charles Dibdin: “For, though his body’s under hatches, / his soul is gone aloft”. It was also one of Henry David Thoreau’s favourite songs.

and I forgive him: it is harder to forgive Burlingame for having induced me to begin the publication, or myself for suffering the induction.

Edward L. Burlingame (1848-1922) was editor-in-chief of Scribner’s Magazine, New York, publishing a serialization of RLS’s novel, ‘The Master of Ballantrae’ [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– Yes, I think Hole has done finely; it will be one of the most adequately illustrated books of our generation; he gets the note, he tells the story – my story:

William Brassey Hole drew 10 illustration for the serialisation of ‘The Master of Ballantrae’ [https://illustratingstevenson.files.wordpress.com]

I know only one failure – the Master standing on the beach.


– You must have a letter for me at Sydney – till further notice. Remember me to Mrs. Will H., the godlike sculptor,

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), generally acknowledged to be the foremost American sculptor of the late 19th century, noted for his evocative memorial statues and for the subtle modeling of his low reliefs. RLS refers to him as the ‘goldlike sculptor’, cfr. R.W. Emerson’s poem ‘Painting and sculpture’ [https://1.bp.blogspot.com]

and any of the faithful. […] If you want to cease to be a republican, see my little Kaiulani, as she goes through – but she is gone already.

Archibald Scott Cleghorn 1835-1910, an Edinburgh-born Scot, originally a merchant in Honolulu and later collector General of Customs, married Princess Miriam Likelike (1851-87), a sister of King Kalakaua. Their daughter, Process Kaiulani, was born in 1875 [https://images.findagrave.com]
Princess Victoria Kaiulani (1875-1899), Crown Princess of Hawaii, in 1889, aged 14. RLS was a frequent visitor to Cleghorn’s in Waikiki, Honolulu and often sat talking to the Pricess under a giant banyan tree. Kaiulani left Honolulu on 10 May 1889, to go to school in England, on the steamer taking RLS’s mother to San Francisco. She became heir-apparent after the king’s death, returned to Hawaii in 1897 and died there of pneumonia in 1899 [https://i.pinimg.com]
Princess Kaiulani (at right) in the branches of her beloved banyan tree, the first one planted by her father, Archibald Scott Cleghorn, in their Ainahau Estate in Waikiki, Honolulu. Ainahau was torn down in 1955 to make room for the Princess Kaiulani Hotel and other real estate properties. At that time cuttings from the Ainahau Banyan Tree were planted at the corner of King Street and Keeaumoku Street and the tree that grew from the cuttings stood at that location until 1967 when it was chopped down after court battles and much controversy. [www.hawaiinewsnow.com]
In 1967, cuttings of Princess Kaiulani’s banyan tree were taken planted at Magic Island in Ala Moana Park, Honolulu: that tree is still standing today. King Kalakaua died in San Francisco in 1891, while Kaiulani was studying in England. His sister Lydia Liliuokalani became queen and Princess Kaiulani became the crown Princess of the Hawaiian Kingdom. But she never became queen because Liliuoklanai was deposed in 1893 [https://i.pinimg.com]

You will die a red: I wear the colours of that little royal maiden, Nous allons chanter à la ronde, si vous voulez!

RLS’s French quoting is from a verse of Fortunio’s Song in Alfred de Musset’s comedy ‘Le Chandelier’, 1835, set to music by Offenbach in 1850. The composer included it in his song cycle ‘Les Voix Mysterieuses’, 1852 and in his one-act operetta ‘La Chanson de Fortunio’, 1861.

only she is not blonde by several chalks, though she is but a half-blood, and the wrong half Edinburgh Scots like mysel’.

Sent to Northamptonshire, England in 1889 at the age of 14, Kaiulani was given a private education at Great Harrowden Hall [www.thekaiulaniproject.com]

But, O Low, I love the Polynesian: this civilisation of ours is a dingy, ungentlemanly business; it drops out too much of man, and too much of that the very beauty of the poor beast; who has his beauties in spite of Zola and Co.

‘Poppies’, an oil on canvas painting by Princess Ka’iulani, 1890 [http://farm5.staticflickr.com]

As usual, here is a whole letter with no news: I am a bloodless, inhuman dog; and no doubt Zola is a better correspondent. – Long live your fine old English admiral – yours, I mean – the U.S.A. one at Samoa; I wept tears and loved myself and mankind when I read of him: he is not too much civilised.

Lewis Ashfield Kimberley (1830-1902), Rear Admiral in the US Navy, whose 3 warships were wrecked in the Samoan hurricane; he led the cheers from his flagship Trenton as the British Calliope steamed to safety [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

And there was Gordon, too;

An illustration from 1885 depicting the death of General Charles Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan [https://i.guim.co.uk]

and there are others, beyond question. But if you could live, the only white folk, in a Polynesian village; and drink that warm, light vin du pays of human affection and enjoy that simple dignity of all about you

P. Gauguin, Three Tahotians, 1899 [www.bl.uk/britishlibrary]

– I will not gush, for I am now in my fortieth year, which seems highly unjust, but there it is, Mr. Low,

RLS with King Kalakaua, Honolulu, 1889 [http://4.bp.blogspot.com]

and the Lord enlighten your affectionate,


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