“Times are changed since the Lothian Road”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1942.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 3, p. 24]

[Saranac Lake], 18th November 1887

My dear Charles,

No likely I’m going to waste a sheet of paper. […] I am offered £1600 ($8000) for the American serial rights on my next story!

RLS, ‘The Misadventures of John Nicholson. A Christmas Story’, Dec. 1887.

image of page 697

RLS, ‘The Master of Ballantrae’, Scribner’s Magazine Nov. 1888-Oct. 1889 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

RLS, ‘The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale’. New York/London: Scribner’s/Cassell, 1889.


As you say, times are changed since the Lothian Road.


St Cuthbert’s Church, Lothian Road, Edinburgh, 1882. RLS met Charles Baxter (1848-1919) in 1871 and developed a lifelong friendship: the two young men would often drink in pubs on the Lothian Road [https://2.bp.blogspot.com]


Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh, 19th century. Here, in a pub, RLS and friends like Bob Stevenson and Charles Baxter created the LJR, League Liberty, Justice, Reverence. The club’s tenet was “disregard everything our parents taught us” [https://i.pinimg.com]


Well, the Lothian Road was grand fun too; I could take an afternoon of it with great delight. But I’m awfu’ grand noo, and long may it last!

Remember me to any of the faithful − if there are any left. I wish I could have a crack with you. Yours ever affectionately,


I find I have forgotten more than I remembered of business. […] Please let us know (if you know) for how much Skerryvore is let;


Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth, was a gift from RLS’s father to his daughter-in-law, 1885. It was let till 22 February 1888 at the total sum of £109 [www.awesomestories.com]

you will here detect the female mind; I let it for what I could get; nor shall the possession of this knowledge (which I am happy to have forgot) increase the amount by so much as the shadow of a sixpenny piece;



but my females are agog.


Fanny Stevenson, 1885 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Margaret Isabella Stevenson, 1887 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Yours ever,






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“The harm was in Jekyll, because he was a hypocrite”

John Paul Bocock (1856-1903), American editor and poet, was in the staff of the Philadelphia Press. In an article published in the New York Sun,  Mansfield’s interpretation of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ was contrasted with that of RLS.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Hellman. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1939.]

To John Paul Bocock [Hellman, The True Stevenson, 1925, p. 129-30]

Saranac Lake [? Mid-November 1887]


[…] You are right as to Mansfield;


On September 12th, 1887,the actor Richard Mansfield (1857-1907) gave, at the Madison Square Garden in NYC, the initial performance of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Fanny and MIS were in the audience, but RLS himself was lying ill at Newport, and neither then, nor at any other time, saw the dramatized version of his story [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Poster for ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, Chicago, 1888 [www.awesomestories.com]


Hyde was the younger of the two. He was not good-looking, however; and not, Great Gods! a mere voluptuary. There is no harm in voluptuaries; and none, with my hand on my heart and in the sight of God, none – no harm whatsoever in what prurient fools call “immorality”.


The harm was in Jekyll, because he was a hypocrite – not because he was fond of women; he says so himself; but people are so filled full of folly and inverted lust, that they think of nothing but sexuality.


The Hypocrite let out the beast of Hyde – who is no more sexual than another, but who is the essence of cruelty and malice and selfishness and cowardice, and these are the diabolic in man – not this poor wish to love a woman, that they make such a cry about. I know and I dare say, you know as well as I, that bad and good, even to human eyes, has no more connection with what is called dissipation than it has with flying kites.


But the sexual filed and the business filed are the two best fitted for the display of cruelty and cowardice and selfishness. […]








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“To impress that obdurate dog, your reader”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1938.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 27-28]

[Saranac Lake, c. 15 November 1887]

Dear Mr. Burlingame,

The revise seemed all right, so I did not trouble you with it; indeed, my demand for one was theatrical, to impress that obdurate dog, your reader.

RLS’s first monthly essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘A Chapter on Dreams’, was to be published for January 1888 [www.bl.uk]

E.L. Bulingame (1848-1922), a journalist and editor, joined Scribner’s firm as a literary adviser in 1879. In 1886 he had become first editor of Scribner’s Magazine, where he served until his resignation in 1914 [http://library.princeton.edu]


Herewith a third paper: it has been a cruel long time upon the road, but here it is, and not bad at last, I fondly hope.

RLS’s third monthly essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘Beggars’, was to be published for March 1888.


I was glad you liked the Lantern Bearers; I did, too. I thought it was a good paper, really contained some excellent sense, and was ingeniously put together.

RLS’s secondmonthly essay for Scribner’s Magazine, ‘The Lantern-Bearers’, was to be published for February 1888.

“The essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut, the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your fool’s heart, to know you had a bull’s-eye at your belt, and to exult and sing over the knowledge” (RLS, ‘The Lantern-Bearers’) [https://content.artofmanliness.com]

I have not often had more trouble than I have with these papers; thirty or forty pages of foul copy, twenty is the very least I have had. Well, you pay high; it is fit that I should have to work hard, it somewhat quiets my conscience. Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson





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“When I say ‘writing’ ― O, believe me, it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind”

[As usual, for critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1925.]

To Richard Harding Davis

[Sangree, R.H. Davis, Ainslee’s Magazine 7, 1901, p. 9]

[Saranac Lake, c. 24 October 1887]

Dear Sir,

Why, thank you very much for your frank, agreeable and natural letter. It is certainly very pleasant that all you young fellows should enjoy my work, and get some good out of it; and it was very kind in you to write and tell me so.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916), later to become a highly successful journalist, war correspondent and popular novelist, was at this time a young reporter of the Philadelphia Press. He had written a fan letter to RLS expressing the pleasure RLS’s ‘Markheim’ and ‘A lodging for the Night’ had given him and his fellows in the office [https://static1.squarespace.com]

Facsimile of RLS’s letter to Davis, in A. Sangree, Richard Harding Davis, Ainslee’s Magazine 7, 1901 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


The tale of the suicide is excellently droll; and your letter, you may be sure, will be preserved.

RLS’s story, ‘Markheim’: Davis’s fellow reporters had spent summer reading RLS’s work and one of them in a press report had carried his admiration ‘Markheim’, to the extent of putting into the mouth of a suicide the lines, ‘If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down’ [Cf. Mehew 6, p. 45]

If you are to escape, unhurt out of your present business, you must be very careful, and you must find in your heart much constancy. The swiftly done work of the journalist, and the cheap finish and ready-made methods to which it leads, you must try to counteract in private writing with the most considerate slowness and on the most ambitious models. And when I say “writing” ― O, believe me, it is re-writing that I have chiefly in mind. If you will do this, I hope to hear of you some day.

Richard Harding Davis, Stories for Boys, 1891.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916).

Richard Harding Davis, The West from a Car-Window, 1892.


Please excuse this sermon from         Your obliged,

Robert Louis Stevenson


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“… but if a tin of Margarita and a mass of cigarette papers came by post…”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Will H. Low. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1922.]

To Will H. Low [Low, A Chronicle of friendship, 1908, pp. 398-9]

[Saranac Lake, 24 October 1887]


Sir, since 2 p.m. yesterday, a period of nearly eighteen hours, the wretched man who now addresses you has not smoked.


RLS rolling a cigrette 1885 [https://edrls.files.wordpress.com]

The same length of time has elapsed since the high-bred Lloyd Osbourne has Broken Tobacco.


Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson [http://stevensonmuseum.org]

The famine has passed through all the usual stages; tissue paper from between visiting cards



and ’baccy from the bottom of pockets having been consumed;



but now, sir, the last […] ’ope has waltzed into space, and neither Osbourne nor myself can longer blink the conviction that

               H’all is over,


When our memorial notices are written, this will be a shrewd cut at the States, under whose banner we perish.


The 38-Star United States of America Flag of 1887 (adopted 1877) [www.nlm.nih.gov]

Well, I am now done with the passions of mortality — Farewell! but if a tin of Margarita

In ‘Stevenson and Margarita’ (1922) Low will explain that this was RLS’s favourite tobacco, blended by John Blakely, a NY tobacconist – ‘a mixture of good Virginia, a little Turkish, and a trace of Perique [a strong tobacco from Louisiana]’.

and a mass of cigarette papers came by post, without prejudice to another tin in the general packet, it would not find me alive, of course, no, but it might be handy for my executors. Sir, Yours,


I pray God all is well with the Talented. ‘La vie sans Tabac’ (good name for a book) smiles on me but little. Good heavens, Low, what a melancholy fate is mine — still so young, and had I strength left, I might flee from this horrible place; there is help at Plattsburg — the mail goes.

The area of Pittsburg, Missouri, had been a leading producer of tobacco [www.plattsburgmo.com]



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“I have never called my verses poetry: they are verse, the verse of a speaker not a singer”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1909.]

To William Sharp [E. Sharp, W. Sharp: A Memory, 1910, pp. 138-139]

[Saranac Lake, ? Mid-October 1887]

Dear Mr. Sharp,

What is the townsman’s blunder? — though I deny I am a townsman, for I have lived, on the whole, as much or more in the country: well, perhaps not so much.

William Sharp (1855-1905), Scottish poet, biographer and journalist, who achieved his greatest successes with the Celtic romances published under the pseudonym Fiona Macleod. In his review of RLS’s verse book ‘Underwoods’ in the Academy of 1 Oct 1887, he praised the ‘true and delightful Scottish poetry’ and after quoting from RLS’s poem ‘Ille Terrarum’ referred to ‘the townsman’s slip’ in the line, ‘the sweet-throat mavis tunes her lay’. presumably the ‘slip’ is that it is the male bird that does the singing [Cf. Mehew 6, p. 34] [www.oxforddnb.com]

RLS’s poem in Scots, ‘Ille Terratum’, in ‘Underwoods’, 1887.


Is it that the thrush does not sing at night? That is possible.


I only know most potently the blackbird (his cousin) does: many and many a late evening in the garden of that poem have I listened to one that was our faithful visitor;


and the sweetest song I ever heard was past nine at night in the early spring, from a tree near the N. E. gate of Warriston cemetery.

Map of Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh [https://friendsofwarristoncemetery.files.wordpress.com]


That I called what I believe to have been a merle


by the softer name of mavis (and they are all turdi, I believe)


is the head and front of my offence against literal severity, and I am curious to hear if it has really brought me into some serious error.

Your article is very true and very kindly put: I have never called my verses poetry: they are verse, the verse of a speaker not a singer; but that is a fair business like another. I am of your mind too in preferring much the Scotch verses,

RLS’s poems in Scots, in ‘Underwoods’, 1887.


and in thinking “Requiem” the nearest thing to poetry that I have ever “clerkit.”

RLS, ‘Requiem’, in ‘Underwoods’, 1887.


Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson


R.L.S. Saranac, New York.







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“I am like to be a millionaire if this goes on, and be publicly hanged at the social revolution”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1907.]

To William Archer [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 18-19]

Saranac Lake, [Mid-]October 1887

Dear Archer,

Many thanks for the Wondrous Tale.


The Wondrous Tale referred to is RLS’s novel ‘The Black Arrow’, which had been through Archer’s hands in proof. Cover of the First Edition published in 1888 by Cassel [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


‘The Black Arrow’, first Scribner Brothers’ American edition, 1888 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


It is scarcely a work of genius, as I believe you felt. Thanks also for your pencilings; though I defend ‘shrew,’ or at least many of the shrews.

We are here (I suppose) for the winter in the Adirondacks, a hill and forest country on the Canadian border of New York State, very unsettled and primitive and cold, and healthful, or we are the more bitterly deceived.


Homer Dodge Martin, In the Adirondacks, 1881 [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, A Tight Fix: Bear Hunting in Early Winter, 1856 [http://collection.crystalbridges.org]

A Home in the Wilderness, Currier & Ives (American, active New York, 1857–1907), Colored lithograph

Currier and Ives, A home in the wilderness, 1870 [https://images.metmuseum.org]


I believe it will do well for me; but must not boast.

My wife is away to Indiana to see her family;


East-side Public Square, Danville, Indiana. Fanny had left Saranac Lake on October 6th, 1887, to visit there her mother and sister Josephine (a banker’s wife) [http://pix.epodunk.com]

my mother, Lloyd, and I remain here in the cold, which has been exceeding sharp, and the hill air, which is inimitably fine.


Autumn in the Adirondacks [https://i.pinimg.com]


We all eat bravely, and sleep well, and make great fires, and get along like one o’clock.

The expression ‘like one o’clock’ is taken from Dickens’s ‘Bleak House’, 1853, see next picture.

‘Like one o’clock’: “that is to say, breathing stertorously with his chin upon his breast, and quite insensible to any external sounds, or even to gentle shaking”.


I am now a salaried party; I am a bourgeois now; I am to write a weekly paper for Scribner’s, at a scale of payment which makes my teeth ache for shame and diffidence. The editor is, I believe, to apply to you; for we were talking over likely men, and when I instanced you, he said he had had his eye upon you from the first.


William Archer (1856-1924), Scottish writer, a leading drama critic of his day and the foremost translator and supporter of Ibsen [www.buscabiografias.com]

It is worth while, perhaps, to get in tow with the Scribners; they are such thorough gentlefolk in all ways that it is always a pleasure to deal with them.


Charles Scribner II (1854-1930), president of Charles Scribner’s Sons [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Arthur Hawley Scribner (1859-1932), Charles II’s younger brother [https://images.findagrave.com]


I am like to be a millionaire if this goes on, and be publicly hanged at the social revolution: well, I would prefer that to dying in my bed; and it would be a godsend to my biographer, if ever I have one. What are you about? […] I hope you are all well and in good case and spirits, as I am now, after a most nefast experience of despondency before I left; but indeed I was quite run down.

Remember me to Mrs. Archer, and give my respects to Tom.

Archer, T Profile Picture

Archer’s only child, Thomas (1885-1918), who called himself ‘Tomarcher’, was then a highly imaginative boy. He was killed in the World War I [https://dulwichcollege1914-18.co.uk]

– Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson







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