“There is no postal service; and schooners must take it, how they may and when”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2206.]

To E.L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 181-5]

S.S. Lübeck [between Apia and Sydney]

[February] 1890

My dear Burlingame,

I desire nothing better than to continue my relation with the Magazine, to which it pleases me to hear I have been useful.

The editor of Scribner’s Magazine, E.L. Burlingame, had asked RLS for fresh contributions [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

The only thing I have ready is the enclosed barbaric piece. As soon as I have arrived in Sydney I shall send you some photographs, a portrait of Tembinoka, perhaps a view of the palace or of the ‘matted men’ at their singing;

RLS sent the set of verses addressed to Tembinoka, the king at Butaritari: They were published in Scribner-s for July 1890 with two illustrations taken from photograps, and afterwards reprinted in Songs of Travel, XXXVII, 1896 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

also T.’s flag, which my wife designed for him:

Royal flag of the Kingdom of Abemama, Gilbert Islands, created by Fanny Stevenson and adopted by King Tembinoka [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

in a word, what I can do best for you. It will be thus a foretaste of my book of travels. I shall ask you to let me have, if I wish it, the use of the plates made, and to make up a little tract of the verses and illustrations, of which you might send six copies to H.M. Tembinoka, King of Apemama, via Butaritari, Gilbert Islands.

Tembinoka, KIng of Apemama, with the heir-apparent [www.gutenberg.org]

It might be best to send it by Crawford & Co., S.F.

A. Crawford & Co. Ship Chandlery & Ship Stores, San Francisco, late 19th century.

There is no postal service; and schooners must take it, how they may and when.

Perhaps some such note as this might be prefixed:

At my departure from the island of Apemama, for which you will look in vain in most atlases,


the king and I agreed, since we both set up to be in the poetical way, that we should celebrate our separation in verse. Whether or not his majesty has been true to his bargain, the laggard posts of the Pacific may perhaps inform me in six months, perhaps not before a year. The following lines represent my part of the contract, and it is hoped, by their pictures of strange manners, they may entertain a civilized audience. Nothing throughout has been invented or exaggerated; the lady herein referred to as the authors Muse, has confined herself to stringing into rhyme facts and legends that I saw or heard during two months’ residence upon the island.


You will have received from me a letter about The Wrecker. No doubt it is a new experiment for me, being disguised so much as a study of manners, and the interest turning on a mystery of the detective sort. I think there need be no hesitation about beginning it in the fall of the year. Lloyd has nearly finished his part, and I shall hope to send you very soon the MS of about the first four-sevenths.

RLS and Lloyd’s novel, ‘The Wrecker’ began to be serialized in Scribner’s Magazine, August 1891 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

At the same time, I have been employing myself in Samoa, collecting facts about the recent war; and I propose to write almost at once and to publish shortly a small volume, called I know not what – the War in Samoa, the Samoa Trouble, an Island War, the War of the Three Consuls, I know not – perhaps you can suggest.

Men with guns at Fort Samoa, Apia, Samoa, during the civil war in 1888-1889. Photograph taken by Alfred James Tattersall [https://i.pinimg.com]

It was meant to be a part of my travel book; but material has accumulated on my hands until I see myself forced into volume form, and I hope it may be of use, if it come soon. I have a few photographs of the war, which will do for illustrations. It is conceivable you might wish to handle this in the Magazine, although I am inclined to think you won’t, and to agree with you. But if you think otherwise, there it is.

Tamesese surrounded by war-chiefs, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

The travel letters (fifty of them) are already contracted for in papers; these I was quite bound to let M’Clure handle, as the idea was of his suggestion, and I always felt a little sore as to one trick I played him in the matter of the end-papers. The war-volume will contain some very interesting and picturesque details: more I can’t promise for it. Of course the fifty newspaper letters will be simply patches chosen from the travel volume (or volumes) as it gets written.

But you see I have in hand: –

Say half done. 1. The Wrecker.

Lloyd’s copy half done, mine not touched. 2. The Pearl Fisher (a novel promised to the Ledger, and which will form, when it comes in book form, No. 2 of our South Sea Yarns).

Not begun, but all material ready. 3. The War volume.

Ditto. 4. The Big Travel Book, which includes the letters.

You know how they stand. 5. The Ballads.

Excusez du peu! And you see what madness it would be to make any fresh engagement. At the same time, you have The Wrecker and the War Volume, if you like either – or both – to keep my name in the Magazine.

It begins to look as if I should not be able to get any more ballads done this somewhile. I know the book would sell better if it were all ballads; and yet I am growing half tempted to fill up with some other verses. A good few are connected with my voyage, such as the ‘Home of Tembinoka’ sent herewith, and would have a sort of slight affinity to the South Sea Ballads. You might tell me how that strikes a stranger.

In all this, my real interest is with the travel volume, which ought to be of a really extraordinary interest. I am sending you ‘Tembinoka’ as he stands; but there are parts of him that I hope to better, particularly in stanzas III and II. I scarce feel intelligent enough to try just now; and I thought at any rate you had better see it, set it up if you think well, and let me have a proof; so, at least, we shall get the bulk of it straight. I have spared you Teñkoruti, Tembaitake, Tembinatake, and other barbarous names, because I thought the dentists in the States had work enough without my assistance;

RLS’s three Gilbert Island corselets, sold in a 1915 auction and now at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. RLS described the gift and the history of the owners in In the South Seas, Part V, ch. VII. Two of them had belonged to Temkorotu (Tembinoka’s grandfather) and one of his two sons, Tembaiteke Tembinatake and Tembaiteke (Tembinoka’s father) [www.penn.museum]

but my chief’s name is TEMBINOKA, pronounced, according to the present quite modern habit in the Gilberts, Tembinok’. Compare in the margin Tengkorootch; a singular new trick, setting at defiance all South Sea analogy, for nowhere else do they show even the ability, far less the will, to end a word upon a consonant. Loia is Lloyd’s name, ship becomes shipé, teapot tipoté, etc. Our admirable friend Herman Melville, of whom, since I could judge, I have thought more than ever, had no ear for languages whatever: his Hapar tribe should be Hapaa, etc.

Herman Melville (1819-91), 1985. When the future author of ‘Typee’ arrived in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, in 1846, the Happar were one of three tribes that dominated those islands during the 19th century colonization period. Some modern scholars defend Melsille’s ear, suggesting that RLS was mislead by Melville’s habit of spelling Polynesian names that end in a vowel sound, such as “Happa” (Melville spelled it “Happar”), with a terminal “r”[https://upload.wikimedia.org]

But this is of no interest to you: suffice it, you see how I am as usual up to the neck in projects, and really all likely bairns this time. When will this activity cease? Too soon for me, I dare to say.


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