“As this is like to be our metropolis…”

[For critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2214.]

To his Mother [Colvin 1912, pp. 264-5]

Union Club, Sydney, March 5, 1890.

My dear Mother,

I understand the family keeps you somewhat informed. For myself I am in such a whirl of work and society, I can ill spare a moment. My health is excellent and has been here tried by abominable wet weather, and (what’s waur) dinners and lunches. As this is like to be our metropolis, I have tried to lay myself out to be sociable with an eye to yoursel’.

George St West (Broadway), Sydney, ca 1890 [https://i.pinimg.com]

Several niceish people have turned up: Fanny has an evening, but she is about at the end of the virtuous effort, and shrinks from the approach of any fellow creature.

Have you seen Hyde’s (Dr. not Mr.) letter about Damien?

Father Damien (1840-1889; canonized in 2009), born Jozef De Veuster, the famous Belgian Roman Catholic missionary priest, went to Molokai in 1873 and devoted the rest of his like to caring for the lepers and improving conditions at the settlement. He had died of leprosy on 15 April 1889, just a few weeks before RLS’s arrival [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Revd. Charles McEwen Hyde (1832-99), a Congregationalist missionary who arrived in Hawaii in 1877. He mentored native Hawaiians who wanted to enter the Christian ministry, and he helped provide smallpox vaccinations for the population. After Father Damien’s death there had been controversy in the religious press between Protestants and Catholics about the extent of his contribution to the relief of lepers at Molokai. In a private letter to Revd. H.B. gage, a Californian Presbyterian minister, Dr. Hyde had expressed surprise at ‘the extravagant newspaper laudations as if he (Damien) was a most saintly philantropist’ and proceeded to attack Damien’s character, morals and motives and to depreciate his labours [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

That has been one of my concerns; I have an answer in the press; and have just written a difficult letter to Damon trying to prepare him for what (I fear) must be to him extremely painful.

Revd. Francis (Frank) Williams Damon (Honolulu 1852-1915), one of the missionaries of the American Board of Missions, Honolulu. RLS and Fanny both liked him very much [https://images.findagrave.com]

The answer is to come out as a pamphlet; of which I make of course a present to the publisher.

Dr. Hyde’s letter had been copied in the religious press, and in a white-heat indignation RLS wrote his famous Open Letter to Dr Hyde, dated 25 February 1890 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

I am not a cannibal, I would not eat the flesh of Dr. Hyde, – and it is conceivable it will make a noise in Honolulu. I have struck as hard as I knew how; nor do I think my answer can fail to do away (in the minds of all who see it) with the effect of Hyde’s incredible and really villainous production. What a mercy I wasn’t this man’s guest in the Morning Star!I think it would have broke my heart.

The missionary ship Morning Star IV, 1884-1900. Revd. Damon had consulted his collegue Dr. Hyde about RLS’s request to sail on that ship [www.trussel.com]

Time for me to go! More anon. With love,

R.L.S.

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