“I promise you the paper-knife shall go to sea with me”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1875.]

To Adelaide Boodle [Colvin 1911, 2, p. 381]

[South Place Hotel, Finsbury, ? 21 August 1887]

My dear Miss Boodle,

I promise you the paper-knife shall go to sea with me; and if it were in my disposal, I should promise it should return with me too.


Adelaide Ann Boodle (1858-1934) had come to Bournemouth, threatened with lung trouble, with her widowed mother and sisters. Adelaide became a devoted friend of the Stevenson: RLS gave her lessons in the art of writing and she joined in his music-making by playing the violin [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

All that you say, I thank you for very much; I thank you for all the pleasantness that you have brought about our house;


Miss Boodle’s book, ‘ RLS and his Sine Qua Non’, 1926, gives an affectionate account of life at Skerryvore [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

and I hope the day may come when I shall see you again in poor old Skerryvore, now left to the natives of Canada, or to worse barbarians, if such exist.

Members of an Inuit band in northern Canada, late 19th century [www2.palomar.edu]

61 Alum Chine Road, (now Alumhurst Road) Westbourne, BOurnemouth, previously known as Sea View which RLS renamed Skerryvore, after the lighthouse designed by his uncle. The house was damaged by a German bomb in 1940 and has been replaced by a memorial garden [https://garydenness.co.uk]


I am afraid my attempt to jest is rather à contre-cœur. ― Good-bye ― au revoir ― and do not forget your friend,

Robert Louis Stevenson






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“I am most anxious to have the proofs with me on the voyage”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1868.]

To Messrs Chatto & Windus

[Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 381-382]

Bournemouth [15 August 1887]

Dear Sirs,

I here enclose the two titles. Had you not better send me the bargains to sign?

The titles and proofs mentioned in the text were those of ‘Memories and Portraitsì and the 2nd edition of ‘Virginibus Puerisqua’, 1887.


I shall be here till Saturday;


The tale of the house that isn’t there: Bournemouth Council’s informative plaque [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]

and shall have an address in London (which I shall send you) till Monday, when I shall sail.


Victoria Embankment, showing Temple Gardens and St Paul's Cathedral, London, 1887. The Victoria Embankment is part of ...

[Victoria Embankment, showing Temple Gardens and St Paul’s Cathedral, London, 1887 [www.afr.com]

Even if the proofs do not reach you till Monday morning, you could send a clerk from Fenchurch Street Station at 10.23 a.m. for Galleons Station,


Fenchurch Street Station, London [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Fenchurch Street Station, London, c. 1905 [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Fenchurch Street Station, London, c. 1905 [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Fenchurch Street Station, London, concourse, c. 1905 [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Fenchurch Street Station, London, concourse, c. 1905 [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Fenchurch Street Station, London, main entrance, 2010 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Galleons Station, London [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Gallions Station in about 1890 shortly after the new station was opened [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Gallions Station seen from the footbridge in February 1974 [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


Gallions Station, 2006 [www.disused-stations.org.uk]


and he would find me embarking on board the Ludgate Hill, Island Berth, Royal Albert Dock.


Antonio Jacobsen (manner), The Steamship Ludgate Hill in Choppy Water [https://media.mutualart.com]




Royal Albert Dock, 1882 (opened in 1880) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Opening of the Royal Albert Dock, 1880 [www.portcities.org.uk]


Royal Albert Dock, 1921 [www.portcities.org.uk]


Pray keep this in case it should be necessary to catch this last chance. I am most anxious to have the proofs with me on the voyage. ― Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson






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“We shall steal incognito into la bonne ville”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1863.]

To Will H. Low [Colvin 1911, 2, p. 380]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, August 6th, 1887]

My dear Low,

We ― my mother,


Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1997) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


my wife,


Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson (1840-1914), 1880 [http://historicindianapolis.com])

my stepson,


Samuel Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947), RLS’s stepson [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

my maidservant,

The French-Swisse maid Valentine Roch had been following the Stevensons since 1883 at Hyères [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/]

and myself,


five souls ― leave, if all is well, Aug. 20th, per Wilson line S.S. Ludgate Hill.

Screw Steamer ‘Ludgate Hill’, built in 1882, tonnage 4063 gr t/ 2703 nrt /, /length 420.3 ft, in use until 1914 [www.clydeships.co.uk]

Shall probably evade N.Y. at first, cutting straight to a watering-place: Newport, I believe, its name.


Map of Newport, Rhode Island, 1777 [/www.loc.gov]

Afterwards we shall steal incognito into la bonne ville,



and see no one but you


Will H. Low, self-portrait at Montigny, 1876 [https://nicholshousemuseum.files.wordpress.com]

and the Scribners, if it may be so managed.

Ernest Flagg, Scribner Building 597 5th Ave., New York, New York, 1912-1913.

Ernest Flagg, Scribner Building, 597 5th Ave, New York, 1912-1913. [https://mathewse.wordpress.com]


The interior of Scribner’s bookstore, 1913 [http://art-nerd.com]


You must understand I have been very seedy indeed, quite a dead body; and unless the voyage does miracles, I shall have to draw it dam fine. Alas, ‘The Canoe Speaks’ is now out of date; it will figure in my volume of verses now imminent.

RLS’s poem ‘The Canoe Speaks’ was being published in ‘Underwoods’, 1887.



However, I may find some inspiration some day. ― Till very soon, yours ever,











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“I almost begin to feel as if I should care to live”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1860.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 379-380]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, ? 2] August 1887

Dear lad,


I write to inform you […] that Mr. Stevenson’s well-known work, Virginibus Puerisque, is about to be reprinted.

First edition of RLS’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, 1881.

Second edition if RLS’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, 1887.


At the same time a second volume called Memories and Portraits will issue from the roaring loom.

First edition of RLS’s ‘Memories and Portraits’, 1887.


Its interest will be largely autobiographical, Mr. S. having sketched there the lineaments of many departed friends, and dwelt fondly, and with a m’istened eye, upon by-gone pleasures.

‘Memories and Portraits’, Contents.


The two will be issued under the common title of Familiar Essays, but the volumes will be vended separately to those who are mean enough not to hawk at both.

The blood is at last stopped: only yesterday. I began to think I should not get away.

RLS and his family were deciding to go to the US.


However, I hope ― I hope ― remark the word ― no boasting ― I hope I may luff up a bit now. Dobell, whom I saw, gave as usual a good account of my lungs, and expressed himself, like his neighbours, hopefully about the trip. He says,


Dr Horace Benge Dobell (1828-1917), brother of the poet Sidney Dobell, was Physician to the Royal Hospital for Deseases of the Chest, and had moved from London to Bournemouth in 1882. RLS dedicated him Underwoods [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

H.B. Dobell, ‘On Loss of Weight, Blood-spitting and Lung Disease’, 2nd ed., 1880. RLS received the book from Dobell in 1884.


my uncle says,


RLS’s uncle, Dr George William Balfour (1823–1903), Scottish physician, known as a heart specialist, from 1867 was physician to the Royal Infirmary, being appointed consulting physician in 1882. He will become appointed physician in ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1900 and honorary physician to King Edward VII in 1901 [https://holeousia.files.wordpress.comg]

Scott says,


Dr Thomas Bodley Scott (1851-192), at Bournemouth since 1876. In his dedication of Underwoods to many doctors, RLS paid a special tribute to ‘one name I have kept on purpose to the last, because it is a household word with me…’ [https://s3.amazonaws.com]

Brown says ― they all say ― You ought not to be in such a state of health; you should recover. Well, then, I mean to. My spirits are rising again after three months of black depression: I almost begin to feel as if I should care to live: I would, by God! And so I believe I shall. ― Yours,

Bulletin M’Gurder












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“I shall have it on my tomb ― ‘He ran a butler'”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1830.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 332-333]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, ? 3 June 1887]

My dear Colvin,

This is to announce to you, what I believe should have been done sooner, that we are at Skerryvore.


Skerryvore Cottage, Bournemouth [www.awesomestories.com]

We were both tired, and I was fighting my second cold, so we came straight through by the west.

We have a butler […]!


We know from the diary of RLS’s mother that he and Fanny, accompanied by Thomas Stevenson’s valet, John, had left Edinburgh on 31 May [https://i.pinimg.com]

He doesn’t buttle, but the point of the thing is the style. When Fanny gardens, he stands over her and looks genteel.



He opens the door, and I am told waits at table. Well, what’s the odds; I shall have it on my tomb ― ‘He ran a butler.’

He may have been this and that,

A drunkard or a guttler;

He may have been bald and fat ―

At least he kept a butler.

He may have sprung from ill or well,

From Emperor or sutler;

He may be burning now in Hell ―

On earth he kept a butler.

I want to tell you also that I have suppressed your poem. I shall send it you for yourself, and I hope you will agree with me that it was not good enough in point of view of merit, and a little too intimate as between you and me.

The poem ‘To ―’ beginning ‘I knew thee strong and quiet like the hills’ describing Colvin as ‘the perfect friend’ was eventually published posthumous as Songs of Travel XX, 1895.


I would not say less of you, my friend, but I scarce care to say so much in public while we live. A man may stand on his own head; it is not fair to set his friend on a pedestal.


Sidney Colvin (1845-1927) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


The verses are now at press; I have written a damn fine ballad.

RLS’s book of verses, ‘Underwoods’ was to be published next August, 1887.


― And I am, dear S.C., ever yours,






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“The funeral… would have pleased him”

Within a fortnight after the date of the previous letter RLS went himself, and for the last time, to Scotland; not, indeed, to visit his old haunts among the Pentlands, but to be present, too late for recognition, at the death of his father (May 8, 1887). Business detained him for some weeks, and the following was written just before his return to Bournemouth.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1820.]

To Sidney Colvin

[Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 378-379]

[Edinburgh, Late May 1887]

My dear S.C.,

At last I can write a word to you. Your little note in the P[all] M[all] G[azette], was charming.


RLS, aged 9, and his father, 1859. In his letter of condolence of 10 May Sidney Colvin mentioned the paragraph he had written in memory of Thomas Stevenson for the Pall Mall Gazette of that date [www.ourtownstories.co.uk]


I have written four pages in the Contemporary, which Bunting found room for:

Obituary of Thomas Stevenson, by RLS, in Contemporary Review, June 1887, editedby Percy Willian Bunting.

they are not very good, but I shall do more for his memory in time.

About the death, I have long hesitated, I was long before I could tell my mind; and now I know it, and can but say that I am glad.


Thomas Stevenson with family and dog Coolin, at Callendar, Stirling [Thanks to Neil Macara Brown for the right information], 1866 [https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]

If we could have had my father, that would have been a different thing.


RLS with his father at Callendar, Stirling [Thanks to Neil Macara Brown for the right information], 1866 [https://i.pinimg.com]

But to keep that changeling − suffering changeling − any longer, could better none and nothing.


H. Füssli, The Changeling (Der Wechselbalg), 1781 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Now he rests; it is more significant, it is more like himself. He will begin to return to us in the course of time, as he was and as we loved him.


Thomas Stevenson with family and dog Bogue, Royat, France, 1883 c. [http://stevensonmuseum.org]

My favourite words in literature, my favourite scene − ‘O let him pass,’ Kent and Lear − was played for me here in the first moment of my return. I believe Shakespeare saw it with his own father.


I had no words; but it was shocking to see. He died on his feet, you know; was on his feet the last day, knowing nobody − still he would be up. This was his constant wish; also that he might smoke a pipe on his last day […]. The funeral […] would have pleased him; it was the largest private funeral in man’s memory here.

Sir George Reid, Thomas Stevenson, 1818 - 1887. Lighthouse and harbour engineer

RLS’s mother recorded in her diary that there were more than one hundred people at the funeral and 40 to 50 carriages [www.nationalgalleries.org]

We have no plans, and it is possible we may go home without going through town. I do not know; have no views yet whatever; nor can have any at this stage of my cold and my business. − Ever yours







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“I do not write possibly with all the really somewhat sickened gravity I feel”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1798.]

To Anne Jenkin [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 375-377]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, Late April 1887]

My dear Mrs. Jenkin,

The Book. It is all drafted:

Anne Austin had married Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin in 1859.

The ‘Book’ is RLS’s ‘Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin, published in 1887 with jenkin’s Papers.


I hope soon to send you for comments Chapters III, IV, and V.


Chapter VII is roughly but satisfactorily drafted: a very little work should put that to rights.


But Chapter VI is no joke;


it is a mare magnum: I swim and drown and come up again; and it is all broken ends and mystification: moreover, I perceive I am in want of more matter. I must have, first of all, a little letter from Mr. Ewing about the phonograph work:


James Alfred Ewing (1855-1935), Scottish engineer; pupil and friend of Fleeming Jenkin and co-editor (with Sidney Colvin) of the Papers to which RLS’s Memoir was prefixed [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]


James Alfred Ewing, third from left [http://3.bp.blogdpot.com]

In Ch. VI of his Memoir, RLS quotes Ewing’s description of how he and Jenkin constructed (from a description of Edison’s invention) the first phonograph to be seen in Britain and exhibited it at a Bazaar in Edinburgh in 1878.



Fleeming Jenkin and Ewing. “The Phonograph and Vowel Sounds”, in Nature 1878 [http://longstreet.typepad.com]




If you think he would understand it is quite a matter of chance whether I use a word or a fact out of it. If you think he would not: I will go without. Also, could I have a look at Ewing’s précis? And lastly, I perceive I must interview you again about a few points; they are very few, and might come to little; and I propose to go on getting things as well together as I can in the meanwhile, and rather have a final time when all is ready and only to be criticised. I do still think it will be good. I wonder if Trélat would let me cut? But no, I think I wouldn’t after all; ’tis so quaint and pretty and clever and simple and French, and gives such a good sight of Fleeming: the plum of the book, I think.

At the end of Ch. VI of his Memoir, RLS prints a long letter from Emile Trélat, whose friendship with Jenkin began when they were fellow-members of the jury of the International Exhibition at Paris in 1878.



You misunderstood me in one point: I always hoped to found such a society; that was the outside of my dream, and would mean entire success. But − I cannot play Peter the Hermit.


Peter the Hermit preaching the first crusade, by J. Archer, 1897.RLA refers to a remark of Mrs Jenkin that a task such as he had proposed to himself in Ireland (his scheme of going to make a stand in his own person against agrarian outrage there) should be undertaken by a society rather than an individual [www.artnet.com]


In these days of the Fleet Street journalist,

Fleet Street, London, c. 1890. It became known for printing and publishing at the start of the 16th century and it became the dominant trade. The term Fleet Street remains a metonym for the British national press [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


Fleet Street, London, late 19th century [http://lowres-picturecabinet.com.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com]

Fleet Street, London [https://upload.wikimedia.org]


I cannot send out better men than myself, with wives or mothers just as good as mine, and sisters (I may at least say) better, to a danger and a long-drawn dreariness that I do not share. My wife says it’s cowardice; what brave men are the leader-writers! Call it cowardice; it is mine. Mind you, I may end by trying to do it by the pen only: I shall not love myself if I do; and is it ever a good thing to do a thing for which you despise yourself? − even in the doing? And if the thing you do is to call upon others to do the thing you neglect? I have never dared to say what I feel about men’s lives, because my own was in the wrong: shall I dare to send them to death? The physician must heal himself; he must honestly try the path he recommends: if he does not even try, should he not be silent?

Actor Richard Mansfield in his dual role depicted in this double exposure: he starred in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in both New York and London. The stage adaptation opened in New York in 1887 and London in 1888 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I thank you very heartily for your letter, and for the seriousness you brought to it. You know, I think when a serious thing is your own, you keep a saner man by laughing at it and yourself as you go. So I do not write possibly with all the really somewhat sickened gravity I feel. And indeed, what with the book, and this business to which I referred, and Ireland, I am scarcely in an enviable state. Well, I ought to be glad, after ten years of the worse training on earth − valetudinarianism − that I can still be troubled by a duty. You shall hear more in time; so far, I am at least decided: I will go and see Balfour when I get to London.


Eustace James Anthony Balfour (1854-1911), architect and surveyor to the Duke of Westminster, was a member of the Savile Club, London. His brother Arthur, the Conservative politician, was then Chief Secretary for Ireland [www.emmasekhon.com]

We have all had a great pleasure: a Mrs. Rawlinson came and brought with her a nineteen-year-old daughter, simple, human, as beautiful as − herself; I never admired a girl before, you know it was my weakness: we are all three dead in love with her.

Mary Margherita Cridland had married in 1867 William George Rawlinson, art collector and writer on Turner. After their visit RLS sent their eldest daughter Mary (May) the poem: ‘Of the many flowers you brought me’ [https://images.findagrave.com]


How nice to be able to do so much good to harassed people by − yourself! Ever yours,













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