Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version

Some Earlier Letters
CARLYLE was wont to say that, next to a faithful portrait, familiar letters were the best
medium to reveal a man. The letters must have been written with no idea of being used
for this end, however - free, artless, the unstudied self-revealings of mind and heart. Now,
these letters of R. L. Stevenson, written to his friends in England, have a vast value in this
way - they reveal the man - reveal him in his strength and his weakness - his ready gift in
pleasing and adapting himself to those with whom he corresponded, and his great power
at once of adapting himself to his circumstances and of humorously rising superior to
them. When he was ill and almost penniless in San Francisco, he could give Mr Colvin
this account of his daily routine:
"Any time between eight and half-past nine in the morning a slender gentleman in an
ulster, with a volume buttoned into the breast of it, maybe observed leaving No. 608 Bush
and descending Powell with an active step. The gentleman is R. L. Stevenson; the volume
relates to Benjamin Franklin, on whom he meditates one of his charming essays. He
descends Powell, crosses Market, and descends in Sixth on a branch of the original Pine
Street Coffee-House, no less. . . . He seats himself at a table covered with waxcloth, and a
pampered menial of High-Dutch extraction, and, indeed, as yet only partially extracted,
lays before him a cup of coffee, a roll, and a pat of butter, all, to quote the deity, very
good. A while ago, and R. L. Stevenson used to find the supply of butter insufficient; but
he has now learned the art to exactitude, and butter and roll expire at the same moment.
For this rejection he pays ten cents, or fivepence sterling.
"Half an hour later, the inhabitants of Bush Street observed the same slender gentleman
armed, like George Washington, with his little hatchet, splitting kindling, and breaking
coal for his fire. He does this quasi-publicly upon the window-sill; but this is not to be
attributed to any love of notoriety, though he is indeed vain of his prowess with the
hatchet (which he persists in calling an axe), and daily surprised at the perpetuation of his
fingers. The reason is this: That the sill is a strong supporting beam, and that blows of the
same emphasis in other parts of his room might knock the entire shanty into hell.
Thenceforth, for from three hours, he is engaged darkly with an ink-bottle. Yet he is not
blacking his boots, for the only pair that he possesses are innocent of lustre, and wear the
natural hue of the material turned up with caked and venerable slush. The youngest child
of his landlady remarks several times a day, as this strange occupant enters or quits the
house, 'Dere's de author.' Can it be that this bright-haired innocent has found the true clue
to the mystery? The being in question is, at least, poor enough to belong to that
honourable craft."
Here are a few letters belonging to the winter of 1887-88, nearly all written from Saranac
Lake, in the Adirondacks, celebrated by Emerson, and now a most popular holiday resort
in the United States, and were originally published in SCRIBNER'S MAGAZINE. . . "It
should be said that, after his long spell of weakness at Bournemouth, Stevenson had gone
West in search of health among the bleak hill summits - 'on the Canadian border of New
York State, very unsettled and primitive and cold.' He had made the voyage in an ocean