“The dung-collecting trade of the republisher”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1744.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 362-363]

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth, 24 January 1887]

My dear James,

My […] health has played me it in once more in the absurdest fashion, and the creature who now addresses you is but a stringy and whitefaced bouilli out of the pot of fever, […] with the devil to pay in every corner of his economy. I suppose (to judge by your letter) I need not send you these sheets, which came during my collapse by the rush.

Henry James (1843-1916) had decided to begin his ‘genial tribute’ to RLS’s ‘exceptional powers’ without waiting for publication of ‘The Merry Men’ [https://d27xe58b9ijigq.cloudfront.net]

I am on the start with three volumes, that one of tales, a second one of essays, and one of – ahem – verse.

The volume of tales here mentioned is ‘The Merry Men’, which was to be published as a collection of stories in 1887 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

The volume of essays here mentioned is ‘Memories and Portraits’, which was to be published in 1887.

The volume of verse here mentioned is ‘Underwoods’, which was to be published in 1887.

 

This is a great order, is it not? After that I shall have empty lockers. All new work stands still; I was getting on well with Jenkin

RLS’s ‘Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin’, a tribute to his professor of engineering at Edinburgh University, was to be published that same year.

 

when this blessed malady unhorsed me, and sent me back to the dung-collecting trade of the republisher. I shall re-issue Virginibus Puerisque as vol. I of Essays, and the new vol. as vol. II of ditto; to be sold, however, separately.

RLS’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, second edition in one volume, 1887.

 

This is but a dry maundering; however, I am quite unfit – ‘I am for action quite unfit Either of exercise or wit.’

The quote is from the poem ‘Hudibras’ by Samuel Butler, 1674.

The quote is from the poem ‘Hudibras’ by Samuel Butler, 1674, Part I, Canto III (here in the 1887 edition, last line): ‘I am for action now unfit, Either of fortitude or wit’.

 

My father is in a variable state; many sorrows and perplexities environ the house of Stevenson; my mother shoots north at this hour on business of a distinctly rancid character;

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1897) left for Edinburgh in connection with a dispute between her husband and his nephews David and Charles over their remuneration from the family firm (see Mehew 5, p. 348 n. 1) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

  

my father (under my wife’s tutorage) proceeds to-morrow to Salisbury;

Fanny accompanied Thomas Stevenson to Salisbury for a few days [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

J. Constable, Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden, 1826 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

 

I remain here in my bed and whistle; in no quarter of heaven is anything encouraging apparent, except that the good Colvin comes to the hotel here on a visit.

Sidney Colvinby, litograph by Sir William Rothenstein, 1897 [https://collectionimages.npg.org.uk]

This dreary view of life is somewhat blackened by the fact that my head aches, which I always regard as a liberty on the part of the powers that be. This is also my first letter since my recovery. God speed your laudatory pen!

My wife joins in all warm messages. Yours,

R.L.S.

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

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“We fell out my wife and I” (the Tragic Woman and the Flimsy Man)

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1733.]

To Henry James

[Colvin 1912, pp. 223-224]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth [c. 23 December 1886]

All the salutations!

My dear James,

I send you the first sheets of the new volume, all that has yet reached me, the rest shall follow in course.

This letter is written on the front page of a set of proofs of ‘The Merry Men’. The book was to be published as a collection of stories in 1887 [https://pictures.abebooks.com]

Henry James had written a letter about his preparation for an essay on RLS, asking RLS when ‘The Merry Men’ would be publshed [https://4.bp.blogspot.com]

Henry James’s essay on RLS was eventually published in the Century Magazine for April 1888.

 

I am really a very fair sort of a fellow all things considered, have done some work; a silly Xmas story (with some larks in it) which won’t be out till I don’t know when.

The “silly Xmas story” is ‘The Misadventures of John Nicholson’.

 

I am also considering a volume of verse, much of which will be cast in my native speech, that very dark oracular medium:

The “volume of verse” appeared later in the year as Underwoods.

 

I suppose this is a folly, but what then? As the nurse says in Marryat, “It was only a little one.”

Captain Frederick Marryat (1742-1848) was a British Royal Navy officer, a novelist, and an acquaintance of Charles Dickens [https://aquilaetinfans.files.wordpress.com]

The excuse “It was only a little one” refers to that made by the nurse for her illegitimate baby in ch. 3 of Marryat’s ‘Mr Midshipman Easy’.

 

[…] My wife is peepy and dowie:

Fanny Stevenson, Bournemouth. The Scottish expression stands for ‘sad, mournful, dismal’.

 

two Scotch expressions with which I will leave you to wrestle unaided, as a preparation for my poetical works. She is a woman (as you know) not without art: the art of extracting the gloom of the eclipse from sunshine; and she has recently laboured in this field not without success or (as we used to say) not without a blessing. It is strange: “we fell out my wife and I” the other night;

The quote is from Tennyson’s ‘The Princess’, a serio-comic blank verse narrative poem, 1847.

  

she tackled me savagely for being a canary-bird;

Joseph Caraud (1821-1905), The Yellow Canaries [https://i.pinimg.com]

I replied (bleatingly) protesting that there was no use in turning life into King Lear; presently it was discovered that there were two dead combatants upon the field, each slain by an arrow of the truth, and we tenderly carried off each other’s corpses.

James Barry (1786–1788), King Lear mourns Cordelia’s death. Sidney Colvin asked for James’s advice before publihing this letter in 1911, see Mehew 5, p. 340 n. 6 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Here is a little comedy for Henry James to write! the beauty was each thought the other quite unscathed at first. But we had dealt shrewd stabs.

You say nothing of yourself, which I shall take to be good news. Archer’s note has gone.

William Archer (1856–1924), Scottish critic and writer. Henry James had asked RLS to forward a note from him to Archer asking for information about his article on RLS.

He is, in truth, a very clever fellow that Archer, and I believe a good one. It is a pleasant thing to see a man who can use a pen; he can: really says what he means, and says it with a manner; comes into print like one at his ease, not shame-faced and wrong-foot-foremost like’ the bulk of us. Well, here is luck, and here are the kindest recollections from the canary-bird and from King Lear, from the Tragic Woman and the Flimsy Man.

Robert Ramsay Fergusson Stevenson

[…]

Allan Ramsay (1686–1758), Scottish ‘makar’, playwright, publisher, librarian, and impresario of early Enlightenment Edinburgh [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Bronze statue of the Scottish poet Robert Fergusson (1750-1774), by David Annand, 2004, outside Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirk where the poet is buried [www.cityofliterature.com]

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

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“The tales are like the fox, the goose, and the cabbage of the ferryman”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1732.]

To Lady Taylor [Colvin 1912, pp. 220-222]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth [23 December 1886]

My dear Lady Taylor,

This is to wish you all the salutations of the year, with some regret that I cannot offer them in person; yet less than I had supposed. For hitherto your flight to London seems to have worked well;

RLS’s neighbourghs, the Taylors, while retaining the house in Bournemouth, had moved to London in November, 53 Onslow Square.

Sir Henry Taylor (1800-86), civil servant in the Colonial Office and author of verse dramas, had married in 1839 Theodosia Alice Spring Rice (1817-91), daughter of the 1st Lord Monteagle. They had wo unmarried daughters: Ida Alice Ashworth (1850-1929) and Una Mary Ashworth (1857-1922) authors of a few minor novels; Ida was also a biographer [https://commons.wikimedia.org]

and time flies and will soon bring you back again. Though time is ironical, too; and it would be like his irony if the same tide that brought you back carried me away. That would not be, at least, without some meeting.

I feel very sorry to think the book to which I have put your name will be no better, and I can make it no better.

RLS’s volume of tales ‘The Merry Men’, so called from the story which heads the collection, was about to appear with a dedication to Lady Taylor.

 

The tales are of all dates and places; they are like the fox, the goose, and the cabbage of the ferryman;

Visualisation of the old old (9th century) poser of how a ferryman could get all three across the river without the fox eating the cabbage (here: beans) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and must go floating down time together as best they can. But I am after all a (superior) penny-a-liner; I must do, in the Scotch phrase, as it will do with me; and I cannot always choose what my books are to be, only seize the chance they offer to link my name to a friend’s. I hope the lot of them (the tales) will look fairly disciplined when they are clapped in binding; but I fear they will be but an awkward squad. I have a mild wish that you at least would read them no further than the dedication.

Contents of ‘The Merry Men’.

 

I suppose we have all been reading Dowden.

Dowden’s Shelley had lately come out, and had naturally been read with eager interest in a circle where Sir Percy (the poet’s son) and Lady Shelley were intimate friends and neighbours.

 

It seems to me a really first-rate book, full of justice, and humour without which there can be no justice; and of fine intelligence besides. Here and there, perhaps a trifle precious, but this is to spy flaws in a fine work. I was weary at my resemblances to Shelley; I seem but a Shelley with less oil, and no genius; though I have had the fortune to live longer and (partly) to grow up. He was growing up. There is a manlier note in the last days; in spite of such really sickening aberrations as the Emillia Viviani business […].

RLS in Bournemouth, 1886. The Bookman Extra Number, 1913, p. 57.

Miniature portrait of P.B. Shelley. The young countess Teresa Emilia Viviani was the young Italian girl with whom Shelley was infatuated [http://3.bp.blogspot.com]

I try to take a humorously-genial view of life; but Emillia Viviani, if I have her detested name aright, is too much for my philosophy. I cannot smile when I see all these grown folk waltzing and piping the eye about an insubordinate and perfectly abominable schoolgirl, as silly and patently as false as Blanche Amory.

Blanche Amory is the selfish little shrew in Thackeray’s ‘Pendennis’, 1848-1850.

 

I really think it is one of those episodes that make the angels weep.

With all kind regards and affectionate good wishes to and for you and yours, believe me, your affectionate friend,

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

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“A dam tale to order, which will be what it will be”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1729.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 356-357]

Skerryvore, Dec. 14, 1886

My dear Colvin,

This is first-rate of you, the Lord love you for it! I am truly much obliged. He – my father – is very changeable; […] at times, he seems only a slow quiet edition of himself; again, he will be very heavy and blank; but never so violent as last spring; and therefore, to my mind, better on the whole.

Sidney Colvin, c. 1890. RLS was referring to some steps that were being taken with Colvin’s help, to obtain recognition in the form of a knighthood for the Thomas Stevenson’s public services [https://media.vam.ac.uk]

RLS’s father will die in May, 1887 [www.nationalgalleries.org]

 

[…]

Fanny is pretty peepy; I am splendid. I have been writing much verse – quite the bard, in fact; and also a dam tale to order, which will be what it will be: I don’t love it, but some of it is passable in its mouldy way, The Misadventures of John Nicholson […].

‘The Misadventures of John Nicholson’ will be published in ‘Yule-Tide’ for Dec 1887. This is the first American edition, 1887.

 

All my bardly exercises are in Scotch; I have struck my somewhat ponderous guitar in that tongue to no small extent: with what success, I know not, but I think it’s better than my English verse; more marrow and fatness, and more ruggedness.

RLS’s poems in Scots will be published in ‘Underwoods’, Book II, 1887.

 

[…]

How goes Keats?

S. Colvin, ‘Keats’, ‘English Men of Letters’, 1887.

 

Pray remark, if he (Keats) hung back from Shelley, it was not to be wondered at, when so many of his friends were Shelley’s pensioners.

P.B. Shelley (1792-1822) [https://media.poetryfoundation.org]

J. Keats (1795-1821) [https://media.poetryfoundation.org]

 

I forget if you have made this point; it has been borne in upon me reading Dowden and the Shelley Papers;

Edwin Dowden’s two-volume biography of Shelley had just appeared.

What RLS calls the ‘Shelley’s papers’ may be the ‘Shelley Memorials’ (1859) or Richard Garnett’s ‘Relics of Shelley’ (1862).

Percy Florence Shelley, the poet’s son (1819-1889). RLS’s friendship with him may well have given him access to the originals [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

and it will do no harm if you have made it. I finished a poem today, and writ 3,000 words of a story, tant bien que mal; and have a right to be sleepy, and (what is far nobler and rarer) am so. – My dear Colvin, ever yours,

The Real Mackay

[…]

Attested in 1856 as “A drappie o’ the real MacKay” (A drop of the real MacKay), the expression was used as advertising slogan of G. MacKay & Co., Ltd., a whisky distiller. Its corruption, ‘The real McCoy’, took the meaning of ‘the genuine article, not an imitation’.

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

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“Ce n’est pas moi qui tiens la plume – c’est l’autre, le bête”

Written after a visit to Colvin in London, in October 1886, which had been cut short by fogs.

Auguste Rodin had sent to RLS a plaster cast of ‘Eternel printemps’, to thank him for his letter defending him against the accusation of being the ‘Zola of sculpture’ in the London Times of September 6, 1886. He also had expressed his warm friendship and admiration for his work.

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1725.]

To Auguste Rodin [Colvin 1912, pp. 219-220]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth [December 1886]

Mon cher ami,

II y a bien longtemps déjà que je vous dois des lettres par dizaines; mais bien que je vais mieux, je ne vais toujours que doucement. Il a fallu faire le voyage à Bournemouth comme une fuite en Egypte, par crainte des brouillards qui me tuaient;

James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Grey and Gold, Piccadilly, 1881-1883 [http://1.bp.blogspot.com]

et j’en ressentais beaucoup de fatigue. Mais maintenant celà commence à aller, et je puis vous donner de mes nouvelles.

Le Printemps est arrivé, mais il avait le bras cassé, et nous l’avons laissé, lors de notre fuite, aux soins d’un médecin-de-statues.

Rodin’s plaster of the ‘Eternel printemps’ was one of the possessions that RLS took with him when he left Europe for Samoa in 1888. It was sold by RLS’s step-daughter by auction in 1914, after Fanny’s death. Frontispice of Anderson’s ‘Sale Catalogue of Autograph Letters, Original Manuscripts, Books, Portraits and Curios from the Library of the late RLS’, Part I, to be sold Nov. 23-25, 1914.

Anderson’s ‘Sale Catalogue of Autograph Letters, Original Manuscripts, Books, Portraits and Curios from the Library of the late RLS’, Part I, to be sold Nov. 23-25, 1914.

 

Je 1’attends de jour en jour; et ma maisonette en resplendira bientôt. Je regrette beaucoup le dédicace; peut-être, quand vous viendrez nous voir, ne serait-il pas trop tard de l’ajouter? Je n’en sais rien, je l’espère. L’oeuvre c’est pour tout le monde; le dédicace est pour moi.

Plaster cast of Rodin’s ‘Eternal Springtime’, owned by RLS.and now at the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia. The inscription (added later) runs: ‘À R.L. Stevenson, au sympathique artiste, fidèle ami, et cher poète, Rodin.’ [https://i2.wp.com/philatravelgirl.com]

L’oeuvre est un cadeau, trop beau même; c’est le mot d’amitié qui me le donne pour de bon. Je suis si bête que je m’embrouille, et me perds; mais vous me comprendrez, je pense.

Je ne puis même pas m’exprimer en Anglais; comment voudriez vous que je le pourrais en Français? Plus heureux que vous, le Némésis des arts ne me visite pas sous le masque du désenchantement; elle me suce l’intelligence et me laisse bayer aux corneilles, sans capacité mais sans regret; sans éspérance, c’est vrai, mais aussi, Dieu merci, sans désespoir. Un doux étonnement me tient; je ne m’habitue pas à me trouver si bûche, mais je m’y résigne; même si celà durait, ce ne serait pas désagréable – mais comme je mourrais certainement de faim, ce serait tout au moins regrettable pour moi et ma famille.

RLS by W. Strang, 1886-1887.

 

Je voudrais pouvoir vous écrire; mais ce n’est pas moi qui tiens la plume – c’est l’autre, le bête, celui qui ne connait pas le Français, celui qui n’aime pas mes amis comme je les aime, qui ne goûte pas aux choses de l’art comme j’y goûte; celui que je renie, mais auquel je commande toujours assez pour le faire prendre la plume en main et écrire des tristes bavardages. Celui-là, mon cher Rodin, vous ne l’aimez pas; vous ne devez jamais le connaître.

RLS in BOurnemouth, late year 1886.

 

Votre ami, qui dort à present, comme un ours, au plus profond de mon être, se réveillera sous peu. Alors, il vous écrira de sa propre main. Attendez lui. L’autre ne compte pas; ce ne’st qu’un secretaire infidèle et triste, à l’âme gelée, à la tête de bois.

RLS in Bournemouth, late year 1886.

 

Celui qui dort est toujours, mon cher ami, bien à vous; celui qui écrit est chargé de vous en faire part et de signer de la raison sociale.

Robert Louis Stevenson et Triple-Brute

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

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“As for gratitude, I am by nature a thankless dog, and was spoiled from a child up”

In his previous letter, RLS had asked Frederick Locker’s interest on behalf of a friend who had been kind to him at Hyères, in procuring a nomination for her son to the Blue-Coat School, at Christ’s Hospital. His correspondent, apparently misunderstanding the application, had replied with a cheque.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of these letters, see Mehew 5, 1707-1708.]

To Frederick Locker-Lampson [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 352-354]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth, [c. 21] September 1886

My dear Locker,

[…] That I should call myself a man of letters, and land myself in such unfathomable ambiguities! No, my dear Locker, I did not want a cheque; and in my ignorance of business, which is greater even than my ignorance of literature, I have taken the liberty of drawing a pen through the document and returning it; should this be against the laws of God or man, forgive me.

Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821-1895), Civil Servant, poet, anthologist and collector, added his second wife’s surname to his own in 1885. His first wife was Lady Charlotte Bruce, daughter of the Lord Elgin who brought the famous marbles to England [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

All that I meant by my excessively disgusting reference to your material well-being was the vague notion that a man who is well off was sure to know a Governor of Christ’s Hospital;

The earliest known painting of a Christ’s Hospital Boy, c. 1720. Christ’s Hospital, aka the Bluecoat School, is an English co-educational independent day and boarding school located in Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex. It is a charity school whose fees are calculated on a means test [www.chmuseum.org.uk]

[www.chmuseum.org.uk]

 

though how I quite arrived at this  conclusion I do not see. A man with a cold in the head does not necessarily know a ratcatcher; and the connection is equally close – as it now appears to my awakened and somewhat humbled spirit. For all that, let me thank you in the warmest manner for your friendly readiness to contribute. You say you have hopes of becoming a miser: I wish I had; but indeed I believe you deceive yourself, and are as far from it as ever. I wish I had any excuse to keep your cheque, for it is much more elegant to receive than to return; but I have my way of making it up to you, and I do sincerely beg you to write to the two Governors.

The life of a bluecoat boy in 1889 [www.chmuseum.org.uk]

This extraordinary outpouring of correspondence would (if you knew my habits) convince you of my great eagerness in this matter. I would promise gratitude; but I have made a promise to myself to make no more promises to anybody else, having broken such a host already, and come near breaking my heart in consequence; and as for gratitude, I am by nature a thankless dog, and was spoiled from a child up. But if you can help this lady in the matter of the Hospital, you will have helped the worthy.

Let me continue to hope that I shall make out my visit in the spring, and believe me, yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

It may amuse you to know that a very long while ago, I broke my heart to try to imitate your verses, and failed hopelessly. I saw some of the evidences the other day among my papers, and blushed to the heels.

R.L.S.

 

 

I give up finding out your name in the meantime, and keep to that by which you will be known – Frederick Locker.

 

 

[Skerryvore, Bournemouth] 24th September 1886

My dear Locker,

You are simply an angel of light, and your two letters have gone to the post; I trust they will reach the hearts of the recipients – at least, that could not be more handsomely expressed. About the cheque: well now, I am going to keep it; but I assure you Mrs. Burgess has never asked me for money, and I would not dare to offer any till she did. For all that I shall stick to the cheque now, and act to that amount as your almoner. In this way I reward myself for the ambiguity of my epistolary style.

I suppose, if you please, you may say your verses are thin (would you so describe an arrow, by the way, and one that struck the gold? It scarce strikes me as exhaustively descriptive), and, thin or not, they are (and I have found them) inimitably elegant.

I thank you again very sincerely for the generous trouble you have taken in this matter which was so near my heart, and you may be very certain it will be the fault of my health and not my inclination, if I do not see you before very long; for all that has past has made me in more than the official sense sincerely yours,

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

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“When I was dangerously ill at Hyères …”

To Locker’s acknowledgment of his verses (see previous post, Letter 1692), RLS replied asking his correspondent’s interest on behalf of a friend who had been kind to him at Hyères, in procuring a nomination for her son to the Blue-Coat School, at Christ’s Hospital.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1698.]

To Frederick Locker-Lampson [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 350-351]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth, [? 14 September 1886]

Dear Locker,

You take my verses too kindly, but you will admit, for such a bluebottle of a versifier to enter the house of Gertrude, where her necklace hangs, was not a little brave.

A reference to Locker’s poem ‘Gertrude’s Necklace’ in ‘London Lyrics’.

Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821-1895), Civil Servant, poet, anthologist and collector, added his second wife’s surname to his own in 1885.

 

Your kind invitation, I fear, must remain unaccepted; and yet if I am very well – perhaps next spring – (for I mean to be very well) – my wife might. . . . But all that is in the clouds with my better health. And now look here: you are a rich man and know many people, therefore perhaps some of the Governors of Christ’s Hospital.

Christ’s Hospital, aka the Bluecoat School, is an English co-educational independent day and boarding school located in Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex. It is a charity school whose fees are calculated on a means test .[www.christs-hospital.org.uk]

If you do, I know a most deserving case, in which I would (if I could) do anything. To approach you, in this way, is not decent; and you may therefore judge by my doing it, how near this matter lies to my heart. I enclose you a list of the Governors which I beg you to return, whether or not you shall be able to do anything to help me.

The composer Constant Lambert (1905-1951) as a pupil of Christ’s Hospital, wearing the traditional uniform [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The boy’s name is [Burgess]; he and his mother are very poor. It may interest you in her cause if I tell you this: that when I was dangerously ill at Hyères, this brave lady, who had then a sick husband of her own (since dead) and a house to keep and a family of four to cook for, all with her own hands, for they could afford no servant, yet took watch-about with my wife, and contributed not only to my comfort, but to my recovery in a degree that I am not able to limit.

RLS and Fanny stayed at the Chalet La Solitude, Hyères, 1883-1884 [http://c7.alamy.com]

You can conceive how much I suffer from my impotence to help her, and indeed I have already shown myself a thankless friend. Let not my cry go up before you in vain!

[…]

Yours in hope,

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Salva

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