So that hitherto Saranac, if not deliriously delectable, has not been a failure; nay, from the mere point of view of the wicked body, it has proved a success. But I wish I could still get to the woods; alas, NOUS N'IRONS PLUS AU BOIS is my poor song; the paths are buried, the dingles drifted full, a little walk is grown a long one; till spring comes, I fear the burthen will hold good.
I get along with my papers for SCRIBNER not fast, nor so far specially well; only this last, the fourth one (which makes a third part of my whole task), I do believe is pulled off after a fashion. It is a mere sermon: 'Smith opens out'; but it is true, and I find it touching and beneficial, to me at least; and I think there is some fine writing in it, some very apt and pregnant phrases. PULVIS ET UMBRA, I call it; I might have called it a Darwinian Sermon, if I had wanted. Its sentiments, although parsonic, will not offend even you, I believe. The other three papers, I fear, bear many traces of effort, and the ungenuine inspiration of an income at so much per essay, and the honest desire of the incomer to give good measure for his money. Well, I did my damndest anyway.
We have been reading H. James's RODERICK HUDSON, which I eagerly press you to get at once: it is a book of a high order - the last volume in particular. I wish Meredith would read it. It took my breath away.
I am at the seventh book of the AENEID, and quite amazed at its merits (also very often floored by its difficulties). The Circe passage at the beginning, and the sublime business of Amata with the simile of the boy's top - O Lord, what a happy thought! - have specially delighted me. - I am, dear sir, your respected friend,
JOHN GREGG GILLSON, J.P., M.R.I.A., etc
Letter: TO SIDNEY COLVIN
[SARANAC, DECEMBER 24, 1887.]
MY DEAR COLVIN, - Thank you for your explanations. I have done no more Virgil since I finished the seventh book, for I have, first been eaten up with Taine, and next have fallen head over heels into a new tale, THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE. No thought have I now apart from it, and I have got along up to page ninety-two of the draft with great interest. It is to me a most seizing tale: there are some fantastic elements; the most is a dead genuine human problem - human tragedy, I should say rather. It will be about as long, I imagine, as KIDNAPPED.
(1) My old Lord Durrisdeer. (2) The Master of Ballantrae, AND (3) Henry Durie, HIS SONS. (4) Clementina, ENGAGED TO THE FIRST, MARRIED TO THE SECOND. (5) Ephraim Mackellar, LAND STEWARD AT DURRISDEER AND NARRATOR OF THE MOST OF THE BOOK. (6) Francis Burke, Chevalier de St. Louis, ONE OF PRINCE CHARLIE'S IRISHMEN AND NARRATOR OF THE REST.
Besides these, many instant figures, most of them dumb or nearly so: Jessie Brown the whore, Captain Crail, Captain MacCombie, our old friend Alan Breck, our old friend Riach (both only for an instant), Teach the pirate (vulgarly Blackbeard), John Paul and Macconochie, servants at Durrisdeer. The date is from 1745 to '65 (about). The scene, near Kirkcudbright, in the States, and for a little moment in the French East Indies. I have done most of the big work, the quarrel, duel between the brothers, and announcement of the death to Clementina and my Lord - Clementina, Henry, and Mackellar (nicknamed Squaretoes) are really very fine fellows; the Master is all I know of the devil. I have known hints of him, in the world, but always cowards; he is as bold as a lion, but with the same deadly, causeless duplicity I have watched with so much surprise in my two cowards. 'Tis true, I saw a hint of the same nature in another man who was not a coward; but he had other things to attend to; the Master has nothing else but his devilry. Here come my visitors - and have now gone, or the first relay of them; and I hope no more may come. For mark you, sir, this is our 'day' - Saturday, as ever was, and here we sit, my mother and I, before a large wood fire and await the enemy with the most steadfast courage; and without snow and greyness: and the woman Fanny in New York for her health, which is far from good; and the lad Lloyd at the inn in the village because he has a cold; and the handmaid Valentine abroad in a sleigh upon her messages; and to-morrow Christmas and no mistake.