“As to whether the long-eared British public may take to it, all think it more than doubt”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1612.]

To his Father [Colvin 1911, 2, p. 333]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, May 1886]

My dear Father,

The David problem has today been decided.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, First Edition, Cassell, 1886 - Title Page

‘Kidnapped’, First Edition, Cassell, 1886. Want of health preventing RLS at this time from carrying the adventures of David Balfour through to their issue as originally designed, it was resolved to wind them up for the present with the discomfiture of the wicked uncle [www.somerbooks.com]

I am to leave the door open for a sequel if the public take to it, and this will save me from butchering a lot of good material to no purpose.

RLS was then leaving open the possibility of a sequel of ‘Kidnapped’: that was supplied six years later in “Catriona”.



Your letter from Carlisle was pretty like yorself, sir, as I was pleased to see; the hand of Jekyll not the hand of Hyde.

RLS’s parents stayed at Carlisle on their way back home from Matlock Bank Hydropathic (Smedley’s), where RLS had taken care of his father for a week in April [www.andrewsgen.com]

I am for action quite unfit, and even a letter is beyond me; so pray take these scraps at a vast deal more than their intrinsic worth. I am in great spirits about David,

David Balfour in ‘Kidnapped’ 1925 edition, ill. F. Godwin [http://img-fotki.yandex.ru]

Colvin agreeing

Sidney Colvin, c. 1890 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

with Henley,

William Ernest Henley, c. 1890 [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

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

and myself


RLS, 1886 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

in thinking it far the most human of my labours hitherto. As to whether the long-eared British public may take to it, all think it more than doubtful;

Webster Free Circulating Library, NY, c. late 19th century [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I wish they would, for I could do a second volume with ease and pleasure, and Colvin thinks it sin and folly to throw away David and Alan Breck upon so small a field as this one.

Statue of Alan Stewart (left) and the fictional David Balfour (right), from RLS’s ‘Kidnapped, on the N side of Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, near ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ where they parted at the end of the novel [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

– Ever your affectionate son,








Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If only I knew any Latin!”

Written just before a visit to London.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1584.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, pp. 213-214]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, 17 March 1886]

My dear Colvin,


I have been reading the Vth and VIth Aeneid – the latter for the first time – and am overpowered.

Aeneas’s voyage to Sicily (Aeneid, V). Flemish tapestry, Palermo [https://bombacarta.com]

Master of the Aeneid, Aeneas sacrifices to the Gods before the tomb of his father, Anchises, in Sicily (Aeneid, book V) [http://images.metmuseum.org]

Dosso Dossi, The Sicilian Games in honor of Anchises (Aeneid, Book V) [www.webexhibits.org]

The Trojan women burn their own ships (Aeneid, Book V) [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]

W. Turner, Lake Avernus with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl, 1798 (Aeneid, Book VI) [https://blogcamminarenellastoria.files.wordpress.com]

G.M. Crespi, Aeneas, the Sibyl, and Charon, 1695-1705 (Aeneid, Book VI) [http://1.bp.blogspot.com]

John Martin, Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld, 1820 (Aeneid, Book VI) [www.operedarte.nikla.net]

Nicolò dell’Abate, Aeneas descends into the underworld, 1543 (Aeneid, Book VI) [https://blogcamminarenellastoria.files.wordpress.com]


That is one of the most astonishing pieces of literature, or rather it contains the best, I ever met with. We are all damned small fry, and Virgil is one of the tops of human achievement;

A 3rd-century Tunisian mosaic of Virgil seated between Clio and Melpomene [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I never appreciated this; you should have a certain age to feel this; it is no book for boys, who grind under the lack of enterprise and dash, and pass ignorantly over miracles of performance that leave an old hoary-headed practitioner like me stricken down with admiration. Even as a boy, the Sibyl would have bust me;

Michelangelo, The Cumaean Sibyl [www.icsrizzoli.it]

but I never read the VIth till I began it two days ago; it is all fresh and wonderful; do you envy me? If only I knew any Latin! if you had a decent edition with notes – many notes – I should like well to have it; mine is a damned Didot with not the ghost of a note, type that puts my eyes out, and (I suspect) no very splendid text – but there, the carnal feelings of the man who can’t construe are probably parents to the suspicion.

Two-page spread from ‘Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis’, a book containing three works by Virgil, printed by Pierre Didot the Elder, 1798 [https://media1.britannica.com]

My dear fellow, I would tenfold rather come to the Monument;

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), art and literary scholar and museum administrator, had been director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge from 1876 to 1884, and was then keeper of the department of prints and drawings in the British Museum (1884-1912) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Sidney Colvin lived on the grounds of the British Museum (the ‘Monument’) [http://blog.britishmuseum.org]

The Round Reading Room at the British Museum, home of the British Library from 1854 to 1997 [https://ka-perseus-images.s3.amazonaws.com]


but my father is an old man, and if I go to town, it shall be (this time) for his pleasure.

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)[www.nationalgalleries.org]

In a next visit to London, RLS was not Colvin’s guest at the British Museum, but stayed with his father at a hotel, 5 Fitzroy Square.


He has many marks of age, some of childhood; I wish this knighthood business could come off, though even the talk of it has been already something, but the change (to my eyes) is thoroughly begun; and a very beautiful, simple, honourable, high-spirited and childlike (and childish) man is now in process of deserting us piecemeal. Si quis piorum – 

The Quoting is from Tacitus, Agricola, ch. 46: the opening words of his valediction to his father-in-law(The Agricola and Germania of Cornelius Tacitus : with explanatory notes and maps, 1885).


– God knows, not that he was pious, but he did his hand’s darg or tried to do it; and if not, well, it is a melancholy business. – Yours ever.










Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If Mr Shaw is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1575.]

To William Archer [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 48-50]

[Skerryvore, c. 9 March 1886]

My dear Archer,

What am I to say? I have read your friend’s book with singular relish.

George Bernard Shaw’s novel, ‘Cashel Byron’s Profession’ had been sent RLS to read by their common friend Archer [www.williamreesecompany.com]

If he has written any other, I beg you will let me see it; and if he has not, I beg him to lose no time in supplying the deficiency. It is full of promise; but I should like to know his age. There are things in it that are very clever, to which I attach small importance; it is the shape of the age.

George Bernard Shaw was 30 at that time [http://i.telegraph.co.uk]

Archer and Shaw in 1914 on the outdoor set of a test film by J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame). It was western called ‘How Men Love’ [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]


And there are passages, particularly the rally in presence of the Zulu king, that show genuine and remarkable narrative talent – a talent that few will have the wit to understand, a talent of strength, spirit, capacity, sufficient vision, and sufficient self-sacrifice, which last is the chief point in a narrator.

As a whole, it is (of course) a fever dream of the most feverish. Over Bashville the footman I owled with derision and delight; I dote on Bashville – I could read of him for ever; de Bashville je suis le fervent – there is only one Bashville, and I am his devoted slave; Bashville est magnifique, mais il n’est guère possible. He is the note of the book. It is all mad, mad and deliriously delightful;

The Admirable Bashville (1901), a short play By G.B. Shaw based loosely on this novel, was written to protect American copyrights after the novel became unexpectedly successful in the US [http://archiveexhibits.library.tamu.edu]

the author has a taste in chivalry like Walter Scott’s or Dumas’, and then he daubs in little bits of socialism;

Shaw as a socialist stump speaker, 1910 [http://blog.mindlogr.com]



he soars away on the wings of the romantic griffon – even the griffon, as he cleaves air, shouting with laughter at the nature of the quest –


and I believe in his heart he thinks he is labouring in a quarry of solid granite realism.

Men quarrying granite, 19th century [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

It is this that makes me – the most hardened adviser now extant – stand back and hold my peace. If Mr. Shaw is below five-and-twenty, let him go his path; if he is thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue romance with his eyes open; – or perhaps, he knows it;-  God knows! my brain is softened.

It is HORRID FUN. All I ask is more of it. Thank you for the pleasure you gave us, and tell me more of the inimitable author.

(I say, Archer, my God, what women!) – Yours

Robert Louis Stevenson

1 part Charles Reade;

Charles Reade (1814-1884), English novelist and dramatist, best known for his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ [www.amreading.com]


1 part Henry James or some kindred author badly assimilated;

Henry James (1843-1916) [http://static.guim.co.uk]

½ part Disraeli (perhaps unconscious);

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British politician and writer who twice served as Prime Minister of the UK [www.britishempire.co.uk]

1 ½ parts struggling, over-laid original talent; 1 part blooming, gaseous folly. That is the equation as it stands. What it may be, I don’t know, nor any other man. Vixere fortes – O, let him remember that –

Quote from Horace, ‘Odes’, IV, IX, 25 (1811 ed.): “Vixere fortes ante Agamemnon multi” (Many brave men lived before Agamemnon”.


– let him beware of his damned century; his gifts of insane chivalry and animated narration are just those that might be slain and thrown out like an untimely birth by the Daemon of the epoch. And if he only knew how I have adored the chivalry! Bashville! – O Bashville! j’en chortle (which is fairly polyglot).







Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Happiness is a question of morality – or of immorality, there is no difference – and conviction”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1571.]

To John Addington Symonds [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 322-325]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth [Early March 1886]

My dear Symonds,

If we have lost touch, it is (I think) only in a material sense; a question of letters, not hearts.

RLS’s friend, John Addington Symonds (1840-93), English poet and literary critic, was at that time living at Davos, Switzerland. He had wtitten to RLS after reading ‘Jekyll & Hyde’: ‘It makes me wonder whether a man has the right so to scrutinise “the abysmal deeps of personality”. It is indeed a dreadful book, most dreadful because of a certain moral callousness, a want of sympathy, a shutting out of hope… As a piece of literary work, this seems to me the finest you have done’ [http://rictornorton.co.uk]

You will find a warm welcome at Skerryvore from both the lightkeepers;

The name Skerryvore, given to RLS’s house in Bournemouth, came from the lighthouse built by RLS’s uncle Alan: its scale reproduction was erected in RLS’s garden at Bournemouth [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]

The outline of Skerryvore in a public garden is all that remains in Bournemouth [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]


The true lighthouse of Skerryvore, built by RLS’s uncle Alan in 1844: situated 40 km West of Mull, South of the island of Tiree and the sea of Hebrides [www.jean-guichard.com]


and, indeed, we never tell ourselves one of our financial fairy tales, but a run to Davos is a prime feature.

Sketch of Am Hof, Symonds’s house in Davos, by Catherine Symonds. [http://padraigrooney.com]

I am not changeable in friendship; and I think I can promise you you have a pair of trusty well-wishers and friends in Bournemouth: whether they write or not is but a small thing; the flag may not be waved, but it is there.

Jekyll is a dreadful thing, I own; but the only thing I feel dreadful about is that damned old business of the war in the members.

Jekyll characterizes his inner conflict as one informed by the “perennial war among my members”.


This time it came out; I hope it will stay in, in future.

Raskolnikoff is easily the greatest book I have read in ten years; I am glad you took to it.

Symonds had twice written asking if RLS had read Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’. RLS got the French translation of the novel in 1885.


Many find it dull: Henry James could not finish it:

Henry James (1843-1916), in 1889 [http://thevillager.com]

all I can say is, it nearly finished me. It was like having an illness. James did not care for it because the character of Raskolnikoff was not objective;

Raskolnikov und Marmeladov, illustration for the novel ‘Crime and Punishment’ by F. Dostoevsky, 1874.


and at that I divined a great gulf between us, and, on further reflection, the existence of a certain impotence in many minds of today, which prevents them from living in a book or a character, and keeps them standing afar off, spectators of a puppet show.


To such I suppose the book may seem empty in the centre; to the others it is a room, a house of life, into which they themselves enter, and are tortured and purified. The Juge d’Instruction I thought a wonderful, weird, touching, ingenious creation: the drunken father, and Sonia, and the student friend, and the uncircumscribed, protoplasmic humanity of Raskolnikoff, all upon a level that filled me with wonder: the execution also, superb in places. Another has been translated – Humiliés et Offensés.

It is even more incoherent than Le Crime et le Châtiment, but breathes much of the same lovely goodness, and has passages of power. Dostoieffsky is a devil of a swell, to be sure. Have you heard that he became a stout, imperialist conservative? It is interesting to know.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) [www.artspecialday.com]

To something of that side, the balance leans with me also in view of the incoherency and incapacity of all. The old boyish idea of the march on Paradise being now out of season, and all plans and ideas that I hear debated being built on a superb indifference to the first principles of human character, a helpless desire to acquiesce in anything of which I know the worst assails me. Fundamental errors in human nature of two sorts stand on the skyline of all this modern world of aspirations. First, that it is happiness that men want; and second, that happiness consists of anything but an internal harmony. Men do not want, and I do not think they would accept, happiness; what they live for is rivalry, effort, success – the elements our friends wish to eliminate. And, on the other hand, happiness is a question of morality – or of immorality, there is no difference – and conviction. Gordon was happy in Khartoum, in his worst hours of danger and fatigue;

G.W. Joy, Gordon’s death at the fall of Khartum in 1885, the conquest of Egyptian held Khartoum by the Mahdist forces led by Muhammad Ahmad. There was a great public outcry and much bitter criticism of Gladstone and his government. Votes of censure were moved in both Houses of Parliament. For hours the best part of the town was the scene of a merciless massacre. Even the women and children were not spared. After a ten-month siege, when the Mahdists finally broke into the city, the entire garrison of Egyptian soldiers was killed along with 4,000 Sudanese civilians [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Marat was happy, I suppose, in his ugliest frenzy;

Luc Etienne Melingue, Marat, 1879 [www.storiain.net]


Marcus Aurelius was happy in the detested camp;


Pepys was pretty happy,

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) [www.magd.cam.ac.uk]

and I am pretty happy on the whole,

Charcoal portrait of RLS by John Singer Sargent, 1885. Beinecke Collection, Yale University [http://rogers99.users.sonic.net]

because we both somewhat crowingly accepted a via media, both liked to attend to our affairs, and both had some success in managing the same. It is quite an open question whether Pepys and I ought to be happy; on the other hand, there is no doubt that Marat had better be unhappy. He was right (if he said it) that he was la misère humaine, cureless misery – unless perhaps by the gallows. Death is a great and gentle solvent; it has never had justice done it, no, not by Whitman.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), in 1887 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

As for those crockery chimney-piece ornaments, the bourgeois (quorum pars), and their cowardly dislike of dying and killing, it is merely one symptom of a thousand how utterly they have got out of touch of life. Their dislike of capital punishment and their treatment of their domestic servants are for me the two flaunting emblems of their hollowness.

God knows where I am driving to. But here comes my lunch.

Which interruption, happily for you, seems to have stayed the issue. I have now nothing to say, that had formerly such a pressure of twaddle. Pray don’t fail to come this summer. It will be a great disappointment, now it has been spoken of, if you do. Yours ever,

Robert Louis Stevenson











Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I write this from bed, snow pouring without, and no circumstance of pleasure except your letter”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1569.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 326-328]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, 5 March 1886]

My dear Low,

This is the most enchanting picture.

Will H. Low (1853-1933). The editor of the Century Magazine suggested, like he had done nearly 3 years previously, that RLS and his friend Low should make a joint excursion down the Saône and Rhone; the result should be a book written by RLS and illustrated by Low. Considerations of health caused the plan to be abandoned for the second time [https://nicholshousemuseum.files.wordpress.com]

Now understand my state: I am really an invalid, but of a mysterious order. I might be a malade imaginaire, but for one too tangible symptom, my tendency to bleed from the lungs.

RLS in 1885, Sketches by John Singer Sargent.


If we could go (1st) We must have money enough to travel with leisure and comfort – especially the first. (2nd) You must be prepared for a comrade who would go to bed some part of every day and often stay silent. (3rd) You would have to play the part of a thoughtful courier, sparing me fatigue, looking out that my bed was warmed, etc. (4th) If you are very nervous, you must recollect a bad hemorrhage is always on the cards, with its concomitants of anxiety and horror for those who are beside me.

Do you blench? If so, let us say no more about it. If you are still unafraid, and the money were forth-coming, I believe the trip might do me good, and I feel sure that, working together, we might produce a fine book.

RLS’s first travelogue, An Inland Voyage (1878), recounted a canoe trip he and his friend Sir Walter G. Simpson made in 1876. Setting out from Antwerp, they paddled through Belgium and France along canals and the Oise River.


The Rhône is the river of Angels.


I adore it: have adored it since I was twelve, and first saw it from the train.

Lastly, it would depend on how I keep from now on. I have stood the winter hitherto with some credit, but the dreadful weather still continues, and I cannot holloa till I am through the wood. Subject to these numerous and gloomy provisos, I embrace the prospect with glorious feelings. I write this from bed, snow pouring without, and no circumstance of pleasure except your letter.

That, however, counts for much. I am glad you liked the doggerel:

RLS’s poem ‘To Will H. Low’ (see previous letter, Mehew 5, 1503), was published in The century Magazine for May 1886.


I have already had a liberal cheque, over which I licked my fingers with a sound conscience. I had not meant to make money by these stumbling feet, but if it comes, it is only too welcome in my handsome but impecunious house.


Let me know soon what is to be expected – as far as it does not hang by that inconstant quantity, my want of health. Remember me to Madame with the best thanks and wishes;

In the 1970s, while living in France, Low met and married Berthe Julienne. In 1890 she will publish the French translation of Jekyll and Hyde [http://gallica.bnf.fr]

and believe me your friend,

Robert Louis Stevenson

[Fanny continues]










Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jekyll was conceived, written, re-written, re-rewritten, and printed inside ten weeks”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1567.]

To F.W.H. Myers [Colvin 1912, pp. 212-213]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth, March 1st, 1886

My dear Sir,

I know not how to thank you: this is as handsome as it is clever. 

Frederic William Henry Myers (1843-1901) poet, essayist and classical scolar, was one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. He had written an enthusiastic letter in praise of ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, and listed a number of points at which RLS might ‘expand or alter with advantage’ [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

With almost every word I agree – much of it I even knew before – much of it, I must confess, would never have been, if I had been able to do what I like, and lay the thing by for the matter of a year.

First edition of ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, 1886.


But the wheels of Byles the Butcher drive exceeding swiftly, and Jekyll was conceived, written, re-written, re-rewritten, and printed inside ten weeks.

In George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, Mrs Dollop, landlady of the pub, gossiping about Lydgate’s possible involvement in the sudden death of Raffles, comments that the previously very poor doctor is ‘so flushed o’ money as he can pay off Mr Byles the butcher as his bill has been running on for the best o’ joints since last Michaelmas was a twelvemonth.’


Nothing but this white-hot haste would explain the gross error of Hyde’s speech at Lanyon’s.

RLS is commenting the first of four points made by Myers: Hyde’s speech to Dr Lanyon, in a style ‘too elevated for Hyde’.


Your point about the specialised fiend is more subtle, but not less just: I had not seen it.

Referring to the Carew murder, Myers thought that Hyde was ‘not a generalized but a specialized fiend’.


– About the picture, I rather meant that Hyde had brought it himself; and Utterson’s hypothesis of the gift (p. 42) an error.

Referring to Hyde’s house and to RLS’s reference to ‘a good picture’ which Utterson supposed was a gift from Jekyll, Myers wrote: ‘Would Jekyll have sent a picture there? Would he not have concealed the house from his servants?’


– The tidiness of the room, I thought, but I dare say my psychology is here too ingenious to be sound, was due to the dread weariness and horror of the imprisonment. Something has to be done: he would tidy the room. But I dare say it is false.

Myers thought that the tidiness of the room in which Jekyll and Hyde had spent their last hours was ‘not a true point’.


I shall keep your paper; and if ever my works come to be collected, I will put my back into these suggestions. In the meanwhile, I do truly lack words in which to express my sense of gratitude for the trouble you have taken. The receipt of such a paper is more than a reward for my labours. I have read it with pleasure, and as I say, I hope to use it with profit. – Believe me, your most obliged,

Robert Louis Stevenson





Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A set of shambling lines that don’t know whether they’re trochees or what they are”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1557.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 2, p. 322]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, Feb. 17, 1886]

Dear Gosse,

Non, c’est honteux! for a set of shambling lines

Gosse had procured the payment from the Century Magazine (May 1886) for the set of verses addressed by RLS to Low (see previous post of Jan 15 2017, Letter 1503) [http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu]

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928), portraied by John Singer Sargent in 1886 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

that don’t know whether they’re trochees or what they are, that you or any of the crafty ones would blush all over if you had so much as thought upon, all by yourselves, in the water-closet.

Victorian bathroom, 1880s [http://lowres-picturecabinet.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonawa.com]


But God knows, I am glad enough of five pounds;

Gold sovereign, 1880 [www.bullionbypost.co.uk]

and this is almost as honest a way to get it as plain theft, so what should I care? – Ever yours,





Posted in Letters, Robert Louis Stevenson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment