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A Letter to J. M. Barrie from Robert Louis Stevenson (Summer 1894)

The following is the complete text of Robert Louis Stevenson's Letter to J. M. Barrie (Summer 1894). Our presentation of this letter comes from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson to his family and friends: Volume II (1909). The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

Visit these other works by Robert Louis Stevenson
"An Apology for Idlers"
"The House of Eld"
Letter to Adelaide Boodle (1889)
Letter to E. L. Burlingame (July 13, 1890)
Letter to Edmund Gosse (January 1886)
Letter to Edmund Gosse (April 1891)
Letter to Edmund Gosse (June 1893)
Letter to Edmund Gosse (December 1894)
Letter to Henry James (June 1893)
Letter to Henry James (July 1894)
Letter to R. A. M. Stevenson (Feb. 1889)

Letter to R. A. M. Stevenson (Sept. 1894)
Letter to Mrs. R. L. Stevenson (May 1889)
A Lodging for the Night
"The Persons of the Tale"
"The Poor Thing"
"Something In It"
"The Song of the Morrow"
"The Touchstone"
"Travel"
"The Yellow Paint"

To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Letter to J. M. Barrie (Summer 1894)

A LETTER TO J. M. BARRIE

VAILIMA, (SAMOA) July 13, 1894


[This journal-letter to Mr. Barrie covers a period of a month. In the interval between two of its parts (August 6th and August 12th) the news of Mr. Barrie's engagement and marriage, which took place soon after his recovery from a serious illness, had reached Stevenson in Samoa.]


MY DEAR BARRIE, -- This is the last effort of an ulcerated conscience. I have been so long owing you a letter, I have heard so much of you, fresh from the press, from my mother and Graham Balfour, that I have to write a letter no later than to-day, or perish in my shame. But the deuce of it is, my dear fellow, that you write such a very good letter that I am ashamed to exhibit myself before my junior (which you are, after all) in the light of the dreary idiot I feel. Understand that there will be nothing funny in the following pages. If I can manage to be rationally coherent, I shall be more than satisfied.

In the first place, I have had the extreme satisfaction to be shown that photograph of your mother. It bears evident traces of the hand of an amateur. How is it that amateurs invariably take better photographs than professionals? I must qualify invariably. My own negatives have always represented a province of chaos and old night in which you might dimly perceive fleecy spots of twilight, representing nothing; so that, if I am right in supposing the portrait of your mother to be yours, I must salute you as my superior. Is that your mother's breakfast? Or is it only afternoon tea? If the first, do let me recommend to Mrs. Barrie to add an egg to her ordinary. Which, if you please, I will ask her to eat to the honour of her son, and I am sure she will live much longer for it, to enjoy his fresh successes. I never in my life saw anything more deliciously characteristic. I declare I can hear her speak. I wonder my mother could resist the temptation of your proposed visit to Kirriemuir, which it was like your kindness to propose. By the way, I was twice in Kirriemuir, I believe in the year '71, when I was going on a visit to Glenogil. It was Kirriemuir, was it not? I have a distinct recollection of an inn at the end -- I think the upper end -- of an irregular open place or square, in which I always see your characters evolve. But, indeed, I did not pay much attention; being all bent upon my visit to a shooting-box, where I should fish a real trout-stream, and I believe preserved. I did, too, and it was a charming stream, clear as crystal, without a trace of peat -- a strange thing in Scotland -- and alive with trout; the name of it I cannot remember, it was something like the Queen's River, and in some hazy way connected with memories of Mary Queen of Scots. It formed an epoch in my life, being the end of all my trout-fishing. I had always been accustomed to pause and very laboriously to kill every fish as I took it. But in the Queen's River I took so good a basket that I forgot these niceties; and when I sat down, in a hard rain shower, under a bank, to take my sandwiches and sherry, lo! and behold, there was the basketful of trouts still kicking in their agony. I had a very unpleasant conversation with my conscience. All that afternoon I persevered in fishing, brought home my basket in triumph, and sometime that night, "in the wee sma' hours ayont the twal," I finally forswore the gentle craft of fishing. I dare say your local knowledge may identify this historic river; I wish it could go farther and identify also that particular Free kirk in which I sat and groaned on Sunday. While my hand is in I must tell you a story. At that antique epoch you must not fall into the vulgar error that I was myself ancient. I was, on the contrary, very young, very green, and (what you will appreciate, Mr. Barrie) very shy. There came one day to lunch at the house two very formidable old ladies -- or one very formidable, and the other what you please -- answering to the honoured and historic name of the Miss C--- A---'s of Balnamoon. At table I was exceedingly funny, and entertained the company with tales of geese and bubbly-jocks. I was great in the expression of my terror for these bipeds, and suddenly this horrid, severe, and eminently matronly old lady put up a pair of gold eye-glasses, looked at me awhile in silence, and pronounced in a clangorous voice her verdict. "You give me very much the effect of a coward, Mr. Stevenson!" I had very nearly left two vices behind me at Glenogil -- fishing and jesting at table. And of one thing you may be very sure, my lips were no more opened at that meal.


JULY 29TH.

No, Barrie, 'tis in vain they try to alarm me with their bulletins. No doubt, you're ill, and unco ill, I believe; but I have been so often in the same case that I know pleurisy and pneumonia are in vain against Scotsmen who can write, (I once could.) You cannot imagine probably how near me this common calamity brings you.
Ce que j'ai tousse dans ma vie! How often and how long have I been on the rack at night and learned to appreciate that noble passage in the Psalms when somebody or other is said to be more set on something than they "who dig for hid treasures -- yea, than those who long for the morning" -- for all the world, as you have been racked and you have longed. Keep your heart up, and you'll do. Tell that to your mother, if you are still in any danger or suffering. And by the way, if you are at all like me -- and I tell myself you are very like me -- be sure there is only one thing good for you, and that is the sea in hot climates. Mount, sir, into "a little frigot" of 5000 tons or so, and steer peremptorily for the tropics; and what if the ancient mariner, who guides your frigot, should startle the silence of the ocean with the cry of land ho! -- say, when the day is dawning -- and you should see the turquoise mountain-tops of Upolu coming hand over fist above the horizon? Mr. Barrie, sir, 'tis then there would be larks! And though I cannot be certain that our climate would suit you (for it does not suit some), I am sure as death the voyage would do you good -- would do you Best -- and if Samoa didn't do, you needn't stay beyond the month, and I should have had another pleasure in my life, which is a serious consideration for me. I take this as the hand of the Lord preparing your way to Vailima -- in the desert, certainly -- in the desert of Cough and by the ghoul-haunted woodland of Fever -- but whither that way points there can be no question -- and there will be a meeting of the twa Hoasting Scots Makers in spite of fate, fortune, and the Devil. Absit omen!

My dear Barrie, I am a little in the dark about this new work of yours:
* what is to become of me afterwards? You say carefully -- methought anxiously -- that I was no longer me when I grew up? I cannot bear this suspense: what is it? It's no forgery? And AM I HANGIT? These are the elements of a very pretty lawsuit which you had better come to Samoa to compromise. I am enjoying a great pleasure that I had long looked forward to, reading Orne's "History of Indostan"; I had been looking out for it everywhere; but at last, in four volumes, large quarto, beautiful type and page, and with a delectable set of maps and plans, and all the names of the places wrongly spelled -- it came to Samoa, little Barrie. I tell you frankly, you had better come soon. I am sair failed a'ready; and what I may be if you continue to dally, I dread to conceive. I may be speechless; already, or at least for a month or so, I'm little better than a teetoller -- I beg pardon, a teetotaller. It is not exactly physical, for I am in good health, working four or five hours a day in my plantation, and intending to ride a paper-chase next Sunday -- ay, man, that's a fact, and I havena had the hert to breathe it to my mother yet -- the obligation's poleetical, for I am trying every means to live well with my German neighbours -- and, O Barrie, but it's no easy! To be sure, there are many exceptions. And the whole of the above must be regarded as private -- strictly private. Breathe it not in Kirriemuir: tell it not to the daughters of Dundee! What a nice extract this would make for the daily papers! and how it would facilitate my position here! . . .


AUGUST 5TH.

This is Sunday, the Lord's Day. "The hour of attack approaches." And it is a singular consideration what I risk; I may yet be the subject of a tract, and a good tract too -- such as one which I remember reading with recreant awe and rising hair in my youth, of a boy who was a very good boy, and went to Sunday Schule, and one day kipped from it, and went and actually bathed, and was dashed over a waterfall, and he was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A dangerous trade, that, and one that I have to practise. I'll put in a word when I get home again, to tell you whether I'm killed or not. "Accident in the (Paper) Hunting Field: death of a notorious author. We deeply regret to announce the death of the most unpopular man in Samoa, who broke his neck at the descent of Magagi, from the misconduct of his little raving lunatic of an old beast of a pony. It is proposed to commemorate the incident by the erection of a suitable pile. The design (by our local architect, Mr. Walker) is highly artificial, with a rich and voluminous Crockett at each corner, a small but impervious Barrieer at the entrance, an arch at the top, an Archer of a pleasing but solid character at the bottom; the colour will be genuine William-Black; and Lang, lang may the ladies sit wi' their fans in their hands." Well, well, they may sit as they sat for me, and little they'll reck, the ungrateful jauds! Muckle they cared about Tusitala when they had him! But now ye can see the difference; now, leddies, ye can repent, when ower late, o' your former cauldness and what ye'll perhaps allow me to ca' your
tepeedity! He was beautiful as the day, but his day is done! And perhaps, as he was maybe gettin' a wee thing fly-blawn, it's nane too shune.


MONDAY, AUGUST 6TH.

Well, sir, I have escaped the dangerous conjunction of the widow's only son and the Sabbath Day. We had a most enjoyable time, and Lloyd and I were 3 and 4 to arrive; I will not tell here what interval had elapsed between our arrival and the arrival of 1 and 2; the question, sir, is otiose and malign; it deserves, it shall have no answer. And now without further delay to the main purpose of this hasty note. We received and we have already in fact distributed the gorgeous fahbrics of Kirriemuir. Whether from the splendour of the robes themselves, or from the direct nature of the compliments with which you had directed us to accompany the presentations, one young lady blushed as she received the proofs of your munificence. . . . Bad ink, and the dregs of it at that, but the heart in the right place. Still very cordially interested in my Barrie and wishing him well through his sickness, which is of the body, and long defended from mine, which is of the head, and by the impolite might be described as idiocy. The whole head is useless, and the whole sitting part painful: reason, the recent Paper Chase.


There was racing and chasing in Vailile plantation,
And vastly we enjoyed it,
But, alas! for the state of my foundation,
For it wholly has destroyed it.


Come, my mind is looking up. The above is wholly impromptu. -- On oath,

TUSITALA.


AUGUST 12, 1894

And here, Mr. Barrie, is news with a vengeance. Mother Hubbard's dog is well again -- what did I tell you? Pleurisy, pneumonia, and all that kind of truck is quite unavailing against a Scotchman who can write -- and not only that, but it appears the perfidious dog is married. This incident, so far as I remember, is omitted from the original epic --

She went to the graveyard
To see him get him buried,
And when she came back
The Deil had got merried.

It now remains to inform you that I have taken what we call here "German offence" at not receiving cards, and that the only reparation I will accept is that Mrs. Barrie shall incontinently upon the receipt of this Take and Bring you to Vailima in order to apologise and be pardoned for this offence. The commentary of Tamaitai upon the event was brief but pregnant: "Well, it's a comfort our guest-room is furnished for two."

This letter, about nothing, has already endured too long. I shall just present the family to Mrs. Barrie -- Tamaitai, Tamaitai Matua, Teuila, Palema, Loia, and with an extra low bow, Yours,

TUSITALA.



* "Sentimental Tommy" whose chief likeness to R. L. S. was meant to be in the literary temperament and passion for the mot propre.

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