The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson Volume 1/Chapter I
Letter: SPRING GROVE SCHOOL, 12TH NOVEMBER 1863.
MA CHERE MAMAN, - Jai recu votre lettre Aujourdhui et comme le jour prochaine est mon jour de naisance je vous ecrit ce lettre. Ma grande gatteaux est arrive il leve 12 livres et demi le prix etait 17 shillings. Sur la soiree de Monseigneur Faux il y etait quelques belles feux d'artifice. Mais les polissons entrent dans notre champ et nos feux d'artifice et handkerchiefs disappeared quickly, but we charged them out of the field. Je suis presque driven mad par une bruit terrible tous les garcons kik up comme grand un bruit qu'll est possible. I hope you will find your house at Mentone nice. I have been obliged to stop from writing by the want of a pen, but now I have one, so I will continue.
My dear papa, you told me to tell you whenever I was miserable. I do not feel well, and I wish to get home.
Do take me with you.
Letter: 2 SULYARDE TERRACE, TORQUAY, THURSDAY (APRIL 1866).
RESPECTED PATERNAL RELATIVE, - I write to make a request of the most moderate nature. Every year I have cost you an enormous - nay, elephantine - sum of money for drugs and physician's fees, and the most expensive time of the twelve months was March.
But this year the biting Oriental blasts, the howling tempests, and the general ailments of the human race have been successfully braved by yours truly.
Does not this deserve remuneration?
I appeal to your charity, I appeal to your generosity, I appeal to your justice, I appeal to your accounts, I appeal, in fine, to your purse.
My sense of generosity forbids the receipt of more - my sense of justice forbids the receipt of less - than half-a-crown. - Greeting from, Sir, your most affectionate and needy son,
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
WICK, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 1868.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - . . . Wick lies at the end or elbow of an open triangular bay, hemmed on either side by shores, either cliff or steep earth-bank, of no great height. The grey houses of Pulteney extend along the southerly shore almost to the cape; and it is about half-way down this shore - no, six-sevenths way down - that the new breakwater extends athwart the bay.
Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the S.Y.S. (Stornoway boats) have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was 'a black wind'; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, BLACK southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it.
In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual 'Fine day' or 'Good morning.' Both come shaking their heads, and both say, 'Breezy, breezy!' And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact.
The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall - all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.
To the south, however, is as fine a piece of coast scenery as I ever saw. Great black chasms, huge black cliffs, rugged and over- hung gullies, natural arches, and deep green pools below them, almost too deep to let you see the gleam of sand among the darker weed: there are deep caves too. In one of these lives a tribe of gipsies. The men are ALWAYS drunk, simply and truthfully always. From morning to evening the great villainous-looking fellows are either sleeping off the last debauch, or hulking about the cove 'in the horrors.' The cave is deep, high, and airy, and might be made comfortable enough. But they just live among heaped boulders, damp with continual droppings from above, with no more furniture than two or three tin pans, a truss of rotten straw, and a few ragged cloaks. In winter the surf bursts into the mouth and often forces them to abandon it.
An EMEUTE of disappointed fishers was feared, and two ships of war are in the bay to render assistance to the municipal authorities. This is the ides; and, to all intents and purposes, said ides are passed. Still there is a good deal of disturbance, many drunk men, and a double supply of police. I saw them sent for by some people and enter an inn, in a pretty good hurry: what it was for I do not know.
You would see by papa's letter about the carpenter who fell off the staging: I don't think I was ever so much excited in my life. The man was back at his work, and I asked him how he was; but he was a Highlander, and - need I add it? - dickens a word could I understand of his answer. What is still worse, I find the people here-about - that is to say, the Highlanders, not the northmen - don't understand ME.
I have lost a shilling's worth of postage stamps, which has damped my ardour for buying big lots of 'em: I'll buy them one at a time as I want 'em for the future.
The Free Church minister and I got quite thick. He left last night about two in the morning, when I went to turn in. He gave me the enclosed. - I remain your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
WICK, September 5, 1868. MONDAY.
MY DEAR MAMMA, - This morning I got a delightful haul: your letter of the fourth (surely mis-dated); Papa's of same day; Virgil's BUCOLICS, very thankfully received; and Aikman's ANNALS, a precious and most acceptable donation, for which I tender my most ebullient thanksgivings. I almost forgot to drink my tea and eat mine egg.
It contains more detailed accounts than anything I ever saw, except Wodrow, without being so portentously tiresome and so desperately overborne with footnotes, proclamations, acts of Parliament, and citations as that last history.
I have been reading a good deal of Herbert. He's a clever and a devout cove; but in places awfully twaddley (if I may use the word). Oughtn't this to rejoice Papa's heart -
'Carve or discourse; do not a famine fear. Who carves is kind to two, who talks to all.'
You understand? The 'fearing a famine' is applied to people gulping down solid vivers without a word, as if the ten lean kine began to-morrow.
Do you remember condemning something of mine for being too obtrusively didactic. Listen to Herbert -
'Is it not verse except enchanted groves And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines? Must purling streams refresh a lover's loves? MUST ALL BE VEILED, WHILE HE THAT READS DIVINES CATCHING THE SENSE AT TWO REMOVES?'
You see, 'except' was used for 'unless' before 1630.
TUESDAY. - The riots were a hum. No more has been heard; and one of the war-steamers has deserted in disgust.
The MOONSTONE is frightfully interesting: isn't the detective prime? Don't say anything about the plot; for I have only read on to the end of Betteredge's narrative, so don't know anything about it yet.
I thought to have gone on to Thurso to-night, but the coach was full; so I go to-morrow instead.
To-day I had a grouse: great glorification.
There is a drunken brute in the house who disturbed my rest last night. He's a very respectable man in general, but when on the 'spree' a most consummate fool. When he came in he stood on the top of the stairs and preached in the dark with great solemnity and no audience from 12 P.M. to half-past one. At last I opened my door. 'Are we to have no sleep at all for that DRUNKEN BRUTE?' I said. As I hoped, it had the desired effect. 'Drunken brute!' he howled, in much indignation; then after a pause, in a voice of some contrition, 'Well, if I am a drunken brute, it's only once in the twelvemonth!' And that was the end of him; the insult rankled in his mind; and he retired to rest. He is a fish-curer, a man over fifty, and pretty rich too. He's as bad again to-day; but I'll be shot if he keeps me awake, I'll douse him with water if he makes a row. - Ever your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
WICK, SEPTEMBER 1868. SATURDAY, 10 A.M.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - The last two days have been dreadfully hard, and I was so tired in the evenings that I could not write. In fact, last night I went to sleep immediately after dinner, or very nearly so. My hours have been 10-2 and 3-7 out in the lighter or the small boat, in a long, heavy roll from the nor'-east. When the dog was taken out, he got awfully ill; one of the men, Geordie Grant by name and surname, followed SHOOT with considerable ECLAT; but, wonderful to relate! I kept well. My hands are all skinned, blistered, discoloured, and engrained with tar, some of which latter has established itself under my nails in a position of such natural strength that it defies all my efforts to dislodge it. The worst work I had was when David (MacDonald's eldest) and I took the charge ourselves. He remained in the lighter to tighten or slacken the guys as we raised the pole towards the perpendicular, with two men. I was with four men in the boat. We dropped an anchor out a good bit, then tied a cord to the pole, took a turn round the sternmost thwart with it, and pulled on the anchor line. As the great, big, wet hawser came in it soaked you to the skin: I was the sternest (used, by way of variety, for sternmost) of the lot, and had to coil it - a work which involved, from ITS being so stiff and YOUR being busy pulling with all your might, no little trouble and an extra ducking. We got it up; and, just as we were going to sing 'Victory!' one of the guys slipped in, the pole tottered - went over on its side again like a shot, and behold the end of our labour.
You see, I have been roughing it; and though some parts of the letter may be neither very comprehensible nor very interesting to YOU, I think that perhaps it might amuse Willie Traquair, who delights in all such dirty jobs.
The first day, I forgot to mention, was like mid-winter for cold, and rained incessantly so hard that the livid white of our cold- pinched faces wore a sort of inflamed rash on the windward side.
I am not a bit the worse of it, except fore-mentioned state of hands, a slight crick in my neck from the rain running down, and general stiffness from pulling, hauling, and tugging for dear life.
We have got double weights at the guys, and hope to get it up like a shot.
What fun you three must be having! I hope the cold don't disagree with you. - I remain, my dear mother, your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
PULTENEY, WICK, SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1868.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - Another storm: wind higher, rain thicker: the wind still rising as the night closes in and the sea slowly rising along with it; it looks like a three days' gale.
Last week has been a blank one: always too much sea.
I enjoyed myself very much last night at the R.'s. There was a little dancing, much singing and supper.
Are you not well that you do not write? I haven't heard from you for more than a fortnight.
The wind fell yesterday and rose again to-day; it is a dreadful evening; but the wind is keeping the sea down as yet. Of course, nothing more has been done to the poles; and I can't tell when I shall be able to leave, not for a fortnight yet, I fear, at the earliest, for the winds are persistent. Where's Murra? Is Cummie struck dumb about the boots? I wish you would get somebody to write an interesting letter and say how you are, for you're on the broad of your back I see. There hath arrived an inroad of farmers to-night; and I go to avoid them to M- if he's disengaged, to the R.'s if not.
SUNDAY (LATER). - Storm without: wind and rain: a confused mass of wind-driven rain-squalls, wind-ragged mist, foam, spray, and great, grey waves. Of this hereafter; in the meantime let us follow the due course of historic narrative.
Seven P.M. found me at Breadalbane Terrace, clad in spotless blacks, white tie, shirt, et caetera, and finished off below with a pair of navvies' boots. How true that the devil is betrayed by his feet! A message to Cummy at last. Why, O treacherous woman! were my dress boots withheld?
Dramatis personae: pere R., amusing, long-winded, in many points like papa; mere R., nice, delicate, likes hymns, knew Aunt Margaret ('t'ould man knew Uncle Alan); fille R., nommee Sara (no h), rather nice, lights up well, good voice, INTERESTED face; Miss L., nice also, washed out a little, and, I think, a trifle sentimental; fils R., in a Leith office, smart, full of happy epithet, amusing. They are very nice and very kind, asked me to come back - 'any night you feel dull; and any night doesn't mean no night: we'll be so glad to see you.' CEST LA MERE QUI PARLE.
I was back there again to-night. There was hymn-singing, and general religious controversy till eight, after which talk was secular. Mrs. S. was deeply distressed about the boot business. She consoled me by saying that many would be glad to have such feet whatever shoes they had on. Unfortunately, fishers and seafaring men are too facile to be compared with! This looks like enjoyment: better speck than Anster.
I have done with frivolity. This morning I was awakened by Mrs. S. at the door. 'There's a ship ashore at Shaltigoe!' As my senses slowly flooded, I heard the whistling and the roaring of wind, and the lashing of gust-blown and uncertain flaws of rain. I got up, dressed, and went out. The mizzled sky and rain blinded you.
C D +------------------- | | +-------------------
\ A\ \ B\
C D is the new pier.
A the schooner ashore. B the salmon house.
She was a Norwegian: coming in she saw our first gauge-pole, standing at point E. Norse skipper thought it was a sunk smack, and dropped his anchor in full drift of sea: chain broke: schooner came ashore. Insured laden with wood: skipper owner of vessel and cargo bottom out.
I was in a great fright at first lest we should be liable; but it seems that's all right.
Some of the waves were twenty feet high. The spray rose eighty feet at the new pier. Some wood has come ashore, and the roadway seems carried away. There is something fishy at the far end where the cross wall is building; but till we are able to get along, all speculation is vain.
I am so sleepy I am writing nonsense.
I stood a long while on the cope watching the sea below me; I hear its dull, monotonous roar at this moment below the shrieking of the wind; and there came ever recurring to my mind the verse I am so fond of:-
'But yet the Lord that is on high Is more of might by far Than noise of many waters is Or great sea-billows are.'
The thunder at the wall when it first struck - the rush along ever growing higher - the great jet of snow-white spray some forty feet above you - and the 'noise of many waters,' the roar, the hiss, the 'shrieking' among the shingle as it fell head over heels at your feet. I watched if it threw the big stones at the wall; but it never moved them.
MONDAY. - The end of the work displays gaps, cairns of ten ton blocks, stones torn from their places and turned right round. The damage above water is comparatively little: what there may be below, ON NE SAIT PAS ENCORE. The roadway is torn away, cross heads, broken planks tossed here and there, planks gnawn and mumbled as if a starved bear had been trying to eat them, planks with spales lifted from them as if they had been dressed with a rugged plane, one pile swaying to and fro clear of the bottom, the rails in one place sunk a foot at least. This was not a great storm, the waves were light and short. Yet when we are standing at the office, I felt the ground beneath me QUAIL as a huge roller thundered on the work at the last year's cross wall.
How could NOSTER AMICUS Q. MAXIMUS appreciate a storm at Wick? It requires a little of the artistic temperament, of which Mr. T. S., C.E., possesses some, whatever he may say. I can't look at it practically however: that will come, I suppose, like grey hair or coffin nails.
Our pole is snapped: a fortnight's work and the loss of the Norse schooner all for nothing! - except experience and dirty clothes. - Your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. CHURCHILL BABINGTON
[SWANSTON COTTAGE, LOTHIANBURN, SUMMER 1871.]
MY DEAR MAUD, - If you have forgotten the hand-writing - as is like enough - you will find the name of a former correspondent (don't know how to spell that word) at the end. I have begun to write to you before now, but always stuck somehow, and left it to drown in a drawerful of like fiascos. This time I am determined to carry through, though I have nothing specially to say.
We look fairly like summer this morning; the trees are blackening out of their spring greens; the warmer suns have melted the hoarfrost of daisies of the paddock; and the blackbird, I fear, already beginning to 'stint his pipe of mellower days' - which is very apposite (I can't spell anything to-day - ONE p or TWO?) and pretty. All the same, we have been having shocking weather - cold winds and grey skies.
I have been reading heaps of nice books; but I can't go back so far. I am reading Clarendon's HIST. REBELL. at present, with which I am more pleased than I expected, which is saying a good deal. It is a pet idea of mine that one gets more real truth out of one avowed partisan than out of a dozen of your sham impartialists - wolves in sheep's clothing - simpering honesty as they suppress documents. After all, what one wants to know is not what people did, but why they did it - or rather, why they THOUGHT they did it; and to learn that, you should go to the men themselves. Their very falsehood is often more than another man's truth.
I have possessed myself of Mrs. Hutchinson, which, of course, I admire, etc. But is there not an irritating deliberation and correctness about her and everybody connected with her? If she would only write bad grammar, or forget to finish a sentence, or do something or other that looks fallible, it would be a relief. I sometimes wish the old Colonel had got drunk and beaten her, in the bitterness of my spirit. I know I felt a weight taken off my heart when I heard he was extravagant. It is quite possible to be too good for this evil world; and unquestionably, Mrs. Hutchinson was. The way in which she talks of herself makes one's blood run cold. There - I am glad to have got that out - but don't say it to anybody - seal of secrecy.
Please tell Mr. Babington that I have never forgotten one of his drawings - a Rubens, I think - a woman holding up a model ship. That woman had more life in her than ninety per cent. of the lame humans that you see crippling about this earth.
By the way, that is a feature in art which seems to have come in with the Italians. Your old Greek statues have scarce enough vitality in them to keep their monstrous bodies fresh withal. A shrewd country attorney, in a turned white neckcloth and rusty blacks, would just take one of these Agamemnons and Ajaxes quietly by his beautiful, strong arm, trot the unresisting statue down a little gallery of legal shams, and turn the poor fellow out at the other end, 'naked, as from the earth he came.' There is more latent life, more of the coiled spring in the sleeping dog, about a recumbent figure of Michael Angelo's than about the most excited of Greek statues. The very marble seems to wrinkle with a wild energy that we never feel except in dreams.
I think this letter has turned into a sermon, but I had nothing interesting to talk about.
I do wish you and Mr. Babington would think better of it and come north this summer. We should be so glad to see you both. DO reconsider it. - Believe me, my dear Maud, ever your most affectionate cousin,
Letter: TO ALISON CUNNINGHAM
MY DEAR CUMMY, - I was greatly pleased by your letter in many ways. Of course, I was glad to hear from you; you know, you and I have so many old stories between us, that even if there was nothing else, even if there was not a very sincere respect and affection, we should always be glad to pass a nod. I say 'even if there was not.' But you know right well there is. Do not suppose that I shall ever forget those long, bitter nights, when I coughed and coughed and was so unhappy, and you were so patient and loving with a poor, sick child. Indeed, Cummy, I wish I might become a man worth talking of, if it were only that you should not have thrown away your pains.
Happily, it is not the result of our acts that makes them brave and noble, but the acts themselves and the unselfish love that moved us to do them. 'Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these.' My dear old nurse, and you know there is nothing a man can say nearer his heart except his mother or his wife - my dear old nurse, God will make good to you all the good that you have done, and mercifully forgive you all the evil. And next time when the spring comes round, and everything is beginning once again, if you should happen to think that you might have had a child of your own, and that it was hard you should have spent so many years taking care of some one else's prodigal, just you think this - you have been for a great deal in my life; you have made much that there is in me, just as surely as if you had conceived me; and there are sons who are more ungrateful to their own mothers than I am to you. For I am not ungrateful, my dear Cummy, and it is with a very sincere emotion that I write myself your little boy,
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
DUNBLANE, FRIDAY, 5TH MARCH 1872.
MY DEAR BAXTER, - By the date you may perhaps understand the purport of my letter without any words wasted about the matter. I cannot walk with you to-morrow, and you must not expect me. I came yesterday afternoon to Bridge of Allan, and have been very happy ever since, as every place is sanctified by the eighth sense, Memory. I walked up here this morning (three miles, TU-DIEU! a good stretch for me), and passed one of my favourite places in the world, and one that I very much affect in spirit when the body is tied down and brought immovably to anchor on a sickbed. It is a meadow and bank on a corner on the river, and is connected in my mind inseparably with Virgil's ECLOGUES. HIC CORULIS MISTOS INTER CONSEDIMUS ULMOS, or something very like that, the passage begins (only I know my short-winded Latinity must have come to grief over even this much of quotation); and here, to a wish, is just such a cavern as Menalcas might shelter himself withal from the bright noon, and, with his lips curled backward, pipe himself blue in the face, while MESSIEURS LES ARCADIENS would roll out those cloying hexameters that sing themselves in one's mouth to such a curious lifting chant.
In such weather one has the bird's need to whistle; and I, who am specially incompetent in this art, must content myself by chattering away to you on this bit of paper. All the way along I was thanking God that he had made me and the birds and everything just as they are and not otherwise; for although there was no sun, the air was so thrilled with robins and blackbirds that it made the heart tremble with joy, and the leaves are far enough forward on the underwood to give a fine promise for the future. Even myself, as I say, I would not have had changed in one IOTA this forenoon, in spite of all my idleness and Guthrie's lost paper, which is ever present with me - a horrible phantom.
No one can be alone at home or in a quite new place. Memory and you must go hand in hand with (at least) decent weather if you wish to cook up a proper dish of solitude. It is in these little flights of mine that I get more pleasure than in anything else. Now, at present, I am supremely uneasy and restless - almost to the extent of pain; but O! how I enjoy it, and how I SHALL enjoy it afterwards (please God), if I get years enough allotted to me for the thing to ripen in. When I am a very old and very respectable citizen with white hair and bland manners and a gold watch, I shall hear three crows cawing in my heart, as I heard them this morning: I vote for old age and eighty years of retrospect. Yet, after all, I dare say, a short shrift and a nice green grave are about as desirable.
Poor devil! how I am wearying you! Cheer up. Two pages more, and my letter reaches its term, for I have no more paper. What delightful things inns and waiters and bagmen are! If we didn't travel now and then, we should forget what the feeling of life is. The very cushion of a railway carriage - 'the things restorative to the touch.' I can't write, confound it! That's because I am so tired with my walk. Believe me, ever your affectionate friend,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
DUNBLANE, TUESDAY, 9TH APRIL 1872.
MY DEAR BAXTER, - I don't know what you mean. I know nothing about the Standing Committee of the Spec., did not know that such a body existed, and even if it doth exist, must sadly repudiate all association with such 'goodly fellowship.' I am a 'Rural Voluptuary' at present. THAT is what is the matter with me. The Spec. may go whistle. As for 'C. Baxter, Esq.,' who is he? 'One Baxter, or Bagster, a secretary,' I say to mine acquaintance, 'is at present disquieting my leisure with certain illegal, uncharitable, unchristian, and unconstitutional documents called BUSINESS LETTERS: THE AFFAIR IS IN THE HANDS OF THE POLICE.' Do you hear THAT, you evildoer? Sending business letters is surely a far more hateful and slimy degree of wickedness than sending threatening letters; the man who throws grenades and torpedoes is less malicious; the Devil in red-hot hell rubs his hands with glee as he reckons up the number that go forth spreading pain and anxiety with each delivery of the post.
I have been walking to-day by a colonnade of beeches along the brawling Allan. My character for sanity is quite gone, seeing that I cheered my lonely way with the following, in a triumphant chaunt: 'Thank God for the grass, and the fir-trees, and the crows, and the sheep, and the sunshine, and the shadows of the fir-trees.' I hold that he is a poor mean devil who can walk alone, in such a place and in such weather, and doesn't set up his lungs and cry back to the birds and the river. Follow, follow, follow me. Come hither, come hither, come hither - here shall you see - no enemy - except a very slight remnant of winter and its rough weather. My bedroom, when I awoke this morning, was full of bird-songs, which is the greatest pleasure in life. Come hither, come hither, come hither, and when you come bring the third part of the EARTHLY PARADISE; you can get it for me in Elliot's for two and tenpence (2s. 10d.) (BUSINESS HABITS). Also bring an ounce of honeydew from Wilson's.
R. L. S.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
BRUSSELS, THURSDAY, 25TH JULY 1872.
MY DEAR MOTHER, - I am here at last, sitting in my room, without coat or waistcoat, and with both window and door open, and yet perspiring like a terra-cotta jug or a Gruyere cheese.
We had a very good passage, which we certainly deserved, in compensation for having to sleep on cabin floor, and finding absolutely nothing fit for human food in the whole filthy embarkation. We made up for lost time by sleeping on deck a good part of the forenoon. When I woke, Simpson was still sleeping the sleep of the just, on a coil of ropes and (as appeared afterwards) his own hat; so I got a bottle of Bass and a pipe and laid hold of an old Frenchman of somewhat filthy aspect (FIAT EXPERIMENTUM IN CORPORE VILI) to try my French upon. I made very heavy weather of it. The Frenchman had a very pretty young wife; but my French always deserted me entirely when I had to answer her, and so she soon drew away and left me to her lord, who talked of French politics, Africa, and domestic economy with great vivacity. From Ostend a smoking-hot journey to Brussels. At Brussels we went off after dinner to the Parc. If any person wants to be happy, I should advise the Parc. You sit drinking iced drinks and smoking penny cigars under great old trees. The band place, covered walks, etc., are all lit up. And you can't fancy how beautiful was the contrast of the great masses of lamplit foliage and the dark sapphire night sky with just one blue star set overhead in the middle of the largest patch. In the dark walks, too, there are crowds of people whose faces you cannot see, and here and there a colossal white statue at the corner of an alley that gives the place a nice, ARTIFICIAL, eighteenth century sentiment. There was a good deal of summer lightning blinking overhead, and the black avenues and white statues leapt out every minute into short-lived distinctness.
I get up to add one thing more. There is in the hotel a boy in whom I take the deepest interest. I cannot tell you his age, but the very first time I saw him (when I was at dinner yesterday) I was very much struck with his appearance. There is something very leonine in his face, with a dash of the negro especially, if I remember aright, in the mouth. He has a great quantity of dark hair, curling in great rolls, not in little corkscrews, and a pair of large, dark, and very steady, bold, bright eyes. His manners are those of a prince. I felt like an overgrown ploughboy beside him. He speaks English perfectly, but with, I think, sufficient foreign accent to stamp him as a Russian, especially when his manners are taken into account. I don't think I ever saw any one who looked like a hero before. After breakfast this morning I was talking to him in the court, when he mentioned casually that he had caught a snake in the Riesengebirge. 'I have it here,' he said; 'would you like to see it?' I said yes; and putting his hand into his breast-pocket, he drew forth not a dried serpent skin, but the head and neck of the reptile writhing and shooting out its horrible tongue in my face. You may conceive what a fright I got. I send off this single sheet just now in order to let you know I am safe across; but you must not expect letters often.
R. L. STEVENSON.
P.S. - The snake was about a yard long, but harmless, and now, he says, quite tame.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
HOTEL LANDSBERG, FRANKFURT, MONDAY, 29TH JULY 1872.
... LAST night I met with rather an amusing adventurette. Seeing a church door open, I went in, and was led by most importunate finger-bills up a long stair to the top of the tower. The father smoking at the door, the mother and the three daughters received me as if I was a friend of the family and had come in for an evening visit. The youngest daughter (about thirteen, I suppose, and a pretty little girl) had been learning English at the school, and was anxious to play it off upon a real, veritable Englander; so we had a long talk, and I was shown photographs, etc., Marie and I talking, and the others looking on with evident delight at having such a linguist in the family. As all my remarks were duly translated and communicated to the rest, it was quite a good German lesson. There was only one contretemps during the whole interview - the arrival of another visitor, in the shape (surely) the last of God's creatures, a wood-worm of the most unnatural and hideous appearance, with one great striped horn sticking out of his nose like a boltsprit. If there are many wood-worms in Germany, I shall come home. The most courageous men in the world must be entomologists. I had rather be a lion-tamer.
To-day I got rather a curiosity - LIEDER UND BALLADEN VON ROBERT BURNS, translated by one Silbergleit, and not so ill done either. Armed with which, I had a swim in the Main, and then bread and cheese and Bavarian beer in a sort of cafe, or at least the German substitute for a cafe; but what a falling off after the heavenly forenoons in Brussels!
I have bought a meerschaum out of local sentiment, and am now very low and nervous about the bargain, having paid dearer than I should in England, and got a worse article, if I can form a judgment.
Do write some more, somebody. To-morrow I expect I shall go into lodgings, as this hotel work makes the money disappear like butter in a furnace. - Meanwhile believe me, ever your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
HOTEL LANDSBERG, THURSDAY, 1ST AUGUST 1872.
... YESTERDAY I walked to Eckenheim, a village a little way out of Frankfurt, and turned into the alehouse. In the room, which was just such as it would have been in Scotland, were the landlady, two neighbours, and an old peasant eating raw sausage at the far end. I soon got into conversation; and was astonished when the landlady, having asked whether I were an Englishman, and received an answer in the affirmative, proceeded to inquire further whether I were not also a Scotchman. It turned out that a Scotch doctor - a professor - a poet - who wrote books - GROSS WIE DAS - had come nearly every day out of Frankfurt to the ECKENHEIMER WIRTHSCHAFT, and had left behind him a most savoury memory in the hearts of all its customers. One man ran out to find his name for me, and returned with the news that it was COBIE (Scobie, I suspect); and during his absence the rest were pouring into my ears the fame and acquirements of my countryman. He was, in some undecipherable manner, connected with the Queen of England and one of the Princesses. He had been in Turkey, and had there married a wife of immense wealth. They could find apparently no measure adequate to express the size of his books. In one way or another, he had amassed a princely fortune, and had apparently only one sorrow, his daughter to wit, who had absconded into a KLOSTER, with a considerable slice of the mother's GELD. I told them we had no klosters in Scotland, with a certain feeling of superiority. No more had they, I was told - 'HIER IST UNSER KLOSTER!' and the speaker motioned with both arms round the taproom. Although the first torrent was exhausted, yet the Doctor came up again in all sorts of ways, and with or without occasion, throughout the whole interview; as, for example, when one man, taking his pipe out of his mouth and shaking his head, remarked APROPOS of nothing and with almost defiant conviction, 'ER WAR EIN FEINER MANN, DER HERR DOCTOR,' and was answered by another with 'YAW, YAW, UND TRANK IMMER ROTHEN WEIN.'
Setting aside the Doctor, who had evidently turned the brains of the entire village, they were intelligent people. One thing in particular struck me, their honesty in admitting that here they spoke bad German, and advising me to go to Coburg or Leipsic for German. - 'SIE SPRECHEN DA REIN' (clean), said one; and they all nodded their heads together like as many mandarins, and repeated REIN, SO REIN in chorus.
Of course we got upon Scotland. The hostess said, 'DIE SCHOTTLANDER TRINKEN GERN SCHNAPPS,' which may be freely translated, 'Scotchmen are horrid fond of whisky.' It was impossible, of course, to combat such a truism; and so I proceeded to explain the construction of toddy, interrupted by a cry of horror when I mentioned the HOT water; and thence, as I find is always the case, to the most ghastly romancing about Scottish scenery and manners, the Highland dress, and everything national or local that I could lay my hands upon. Now that I have got my German Burns, I lean a good deal upon him for opening a conversation, and read a few translations to every yawning audience that I can gather. I am grown most insufferably national, you see. I fancy it is a punishment for my want of it at ordinary times. Now, what do you think, there was a waiter in this very hotel, but, alas! he is now gone, who sang (from morning to night, as my informant said with a shrug at the recollection) what but 'S IST LANGE HER, the German version of Auld Lang Syne; so you see, madame, the finest lyric ever written will make its way out of whatsoever corner of patois it found its birth in.
'MEITZ HERZ IST IM HOCHLAND, MEAN HERZ IST NICHT HIER, MEIN HERZ IST IM HOCHLAND IM GRUNEN REVIER. IM GRUNEN REVIERE ZU JAGEN DAS REH; MEIN HERZ IST IM HOCHLAND, WO IMMER ICH GEH.'
I don't think I need translate that for you.
There is one thing that burthens me a good deal in my patriotic garrulage, and that is the black ignorance in which I grope about everything, as, for example, when I gave yesterday a full and, I fancy, a startlingly incorrect account of Scotch education to a very stolid German on a garden bench: he sat and perspired under it, however with much composure. I am generally glad enough to fall back again, after these political interludes, upon Burns, toddy, and the Highlands.
I go every night to the theatre, except when there is no opera. I cannot stand a play yet; but I am already very much improved, and can understand a good deal of what goes on.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, 1872. - In the evening, at the theatre, I had a great laugh. Lord Allcash in FRA DIAVOLO, with his white hat, red guide-books, and bad German, was the PIECE-DE-RESISTANCE from a humorous point of view; and I had the satisfaction of knowing that in my own small way I could minister the same amusement whenever I chose to open my mouth.
I am just going off to do some German with Simpson. - Your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO THOMAS STEVENSON
FRANKFURT, ROSENGASSE 13, AUGUST 4, 1872.
MY DEAR FATHER, - You will perceive by the head of this page that we have at last got into lodgings, and powerfully mean ones too. If I were to call the street anything but SHADY, I should be boasting. The people sit at their doors in shirt-sleeves, smoking as they do in Seven Dials of a Sunday.
Last night we went to bed about ten, for the first time HOUSEHOLDERS in Germany - real Teutons, with no deception, spring, or false bottom. About half-past one there began such a trumpeting, shouting, pealing of bells, and scurrying hither and thither of feet as woke every person in Frankfurt out of their first sleep with a vague sort of apprehension that the last day was at hand. The whole street was alive, and we could hear people talking in their rooms, or crying to passers-by from their windows, all around us. At last I made out what a man was saying in the next room. It was a fire in Sachsenhausen, he said (Sachsenhausen is the suburb on the other side of the Main), and he wound up with one of the most tremendous falsehoods on record, 'HIER ALLES RUHT - here all is still.' If it can be said to be still in an engine factory, or in the stomach of a volcano when it is meditating an eruption, he might have been justified in what he said, but not otherwise. The tumult continued unabated for near an hour; but as one grew used to it, it gradually resolved itself into three bells, answering each other at short intervals across the town, a man shouting, at ever shorter intervals and with superhuman energy, 'FEUER, - IM SACHSENHAUSEN, and the almost continuous winding of all manner of bugles and trumpets, sometimes in stirring flourishes, and sometimes in mere tuneless wails. Occasionally there was another rush of feet past the window, and once there was a mighty drumming, down between us and the river, as though the soldiery were turning out to keep the peace. This was all we had of the fire, except a great cloud, all flushed red with the glare, above the roofs on the other side of the Gasse; but it was quite enough to put me entirely off my sleep and make me keenly alive to three or four gentlemen who were strolling leisurely about my person, and every here and there leaving me somewhat as a keepsake. . . . However, everything has its compensation, and when day came at last, and the sparrows awoke with trills and CAROL-ETS, the dawn seemed to fall on me like a sleeping draught. I went to the window and saw the sparrows about the eaves, and a great troop of doves go strolling up the paven Gasse, seeking what they may devour. And so to sleep, despite fleas and fire-alarms and clocks chiming the hours out of neighbouring houses at all sorts of odd times and with the most charming want of unanimity.
We have got settled down in Frankfurt, and like the place very much. Simpson and I seem to get on very well together. We suit each other capitally; and it is an awful joke to be living (two would-be advocates, and one a baronet) in this supremely mean abode.
The abode is, however, a great improvement on the hotel, and I think we shall grow quite fond of it. - Ever your affectionate son,
R. L. STEVENSON.
Letter: TO MRS. THOMAS STEVENSON
13 ROSENGASSE, FRANKFURT, TUESDAY MORNING, AUGUST 1872.
. . . Last night I was at the theatre and heard DIE JUDIN (LA JUIVE), and was thereby terribly excited. At last, in the middle of the fifth act, which was perfectly beastly, I had to slope. I could stand even seeing the cauldron with the sham fire beneath, and the two hateful executioners in red; but when at last the girl's courage breaks down, and, grasping her father's arm, she cries out - O so shudderfully! - I thought it high time to be out of that GALERE, and so I do not know yet whether it ends well or ill; but if I ever afterwards find that they do carry things to the extremity, I shall think more meanly of my species. It was raining and cold outside, so I went into a BIERHALLE, and sat and brooded over a SCHNITT (half-glass) for nearly an hour. An opera is far more REAL than real life to me. It seems as if stage illusion, and particularly this hardest to swallow and most conventional illusion of them all - an opera - would never stale upon me. I wish that life was an opera. I should like to LIVE in one; but I don't know in what quarter of the globe I shall find a society so constituted. Besides, it would soon pall: imagine asking for three-kreuzer cigars in recitative, or giving the washerwoman the inventory of your dirty clothes in a sustained and FLOURISHOUS aria.
I am in a right good mood this morning to sit here and write to you; but not to give you news. There is a great stir of life, in a quiet, almost country fashion, all about us here. Some one is hammering a beef-steak in the REZ-DE-CHAUSSEE: there is a great clink of pitchers and noise of the pump-handle at the public well in the little square-kin round the corner. The children, all seemingly within a month, and certainly none above five, that always go halting and stumbling up and down the roadway, are ordinarily very quiet, and sit sedately puddling in the gutter, trying, I suppose, poor little devils! to understand their MUTTERSPRACHE; but they, too, make themselves heard from time to time in little incomprehensible antiphonies, about the drift that comes down to them by their rivers from the strange lands higher up the Gasse. Above all, there is here such a twittering of canaries (I can see twelve out of our window), and such continual visitation of grey doves and big-nosed sparrows, as make our little bye-street into a perfect aviary.
I look across the Gasse at our opposite neighbour, as he dandles his baby about, and occasionally takes a spoonful or two of some pale slimy nastiness that looks like DEAD PORRIDGE, if you can take the conception. These two are his only occupations. All day long you can hear him singing over the brat when he is not eating; or see him eating when he is not keeping baby. Besides which, there comes into his house a continual round of visitors that puts me in mind of the luncheon hour at home. As he has thus no ostensible avocation, we have named him 'the W.S.' to give a flavour of respectability to the street.
Enough of the Gasse. The weather is here much colder. It rained a good deal yesterday; and though it is fair and sunshiny again to- day, and we can still sit, of course, with our windows open, yet there is no more excuse for the siesta; and the bathe in the river, except for cleanliness, is no longer a necessity of life. The Main is very swift. In one part of the baths it is next door to impossible to swim against it, and I suspect that, out in the open, it would be quite impossible. - Adieu, my dear mother, and believe me, ever your affectionate son,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Letter: TO CHARLES BAXTER
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1873.
MY DEAR BAXTER, - The thunderbolt has fallen with a vengeance now. On Friday night after leaving you, in the course of conversation, my father put me one or two questions as to beliefs, which I candidly answered. I really hate all lying so much now - a new found honesty that has somehow come out of my late illness - that I could not so much as hesitate at the time; but if I had foreseen the real hell of everything since, I think I should have lied, as I have done so often before. I so far thought of my father, but I had forgotten my mother. And now! they are both ill, both silent, both as down in the mouth as if - I can find no simile. You may fancy how happy it is for me. If it were not too late, I think I could almost find it in my heart to retract, but it is too late; and again, am I to live my whole life as one falsehood? Of course, it is rougher than hell upon my father, but can I help it? They don't see either that my game is not the light-hearted scoffer; that I am not (as they call me) a careless infidel. I believe as much as they do, only generally in the inverse ratio: I am, I think, as honest as they can be in what I hold. I have not come hastily to my views. I reserve (as I told them) many points until I acquire fuller information, and do not think I am thus justly to be called 'horrible atheist.'
Now, what is to take place? What a curse I am to my parents! O Lord, what a pleasant thing it is to have just DAMNED the happiness of (probably) the only two people who care a damn about you in the world.
What is my life to be at this rate? What, you rascal? Answer - I have a pistol at your throat. If all that I hold true and most desire to spread is to be such death, and a worse than death, in the eyes of my father and mother, what the DEVIL am I to do?
Here is a good heavy cross with a vengeance, and all rough with rusty nails that tear your fingers, only it is not I that have to carry it alone; I hold the light end, but the heavy burden falls on these two.
Don't - I don't know what I was going to say. I am an abject idiot, which, all things considered, is not remarkable. - Ever your affectionate and horrible atheist,
R. L. STEVENSON.