But I got out my wings, and have taken a change of air.
I read your book with great interest, and ought long ago to have told you so. An ordinary man would say that he had been waiting till he could pay his debts. . . . The book is good reading. Your personal notes of those you saw struck me as perhaps most sharp and 'best held.' See as many people as you can, and make a book of them before you die. That will be a living book, upon my word. You have the touch required. I ask you to put hands to it in private already. Think of what Carlyle's caricature of old Coleridge is to us who never saw S. T. C. With that and Kubla Khan, we have the man in the fact. Carlyle's picture, of course, is not of the author of KUBLA, but of the author of that surprising FRIEND which has knocked the breath out of two generations of hopeful youth. Your portraits would be milder, sweeter, more true perhaps, and perhaps not so truth-TELLING - if you will take my meaning.
I have to thank you for an introduction to that beautiful - no, that's not the word - that jolly, with an Arcadian jollity - thing of Vogelweide's. Also for your preface. Some day I want to read a whole book in the same picked dialect as that preface. I think it must be one E. W. Gosse who must write it. He has got himself into a fix with me by writing the preface; I look for a great deal, and will not be easily pleased.
I never thought of it, but my new book, which should soon be out, contains a visit to a murder scene, but not done as we should like to see them, for, of course, I was running another hare.
If you do not answer this in four pages, I shall stop the enclosed fiver at the bank, a step which will lead to your incarceration for life. As my visits to Arcady are somewhat uncertain, you had better address 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, as usual. I shall walk over for the note if I am not yet home. - Believe me, very really yours,
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
I charge extra for a flourish when it is successful; this isn't, so you have it gratis. Is there any news in Babylon the Great? My fellow-creatures are electing school boards here in the midst of the ages. It is very composed of them. I can't think why they do it. Nor why I have written a real letter. If you write a real letter back, damme, I'll try to CORRESPOND with you. A thing unknown in this age. It is a consequence of the decay of faith; we cannot believe that the fellow will be at the pains to read us.
Letter: TO W. E. HENLEY
17 HERIOT ROW, EDINBURGH [APRIL 1879].
MY DEAR HENLEY, - Heavens! have I done the like? 'Clarify and strain,' indeed? 'Make it like Marvell,' no less. I'll tell you what - you may go to the devil; that's what I think. 'Be eloquent' is another of your pregnant suggestions. I cannot sufficiently thank you for that one. Portrait of a person about to be eloquent at the request of a literary friend. You seem to forget sir, that rhyme is rhyme, sir, and - go to the devil.
I'll try to improve it, but I shan't be able to - O go to the devil.
Seriously, you're a cool hand. And then you have the brass to ask me WHY 'my steps went one by one'? Why? Powers of man! to rhyme with sun, to be sure. Why else could it be? And you yourself have been a poet! G-r-r-r-r-r! I'll never be a poet any more. Men are so d-d ungrateful and captious, I declare I could weep.
O Henley, in my hours of ease You may say anything you please, But when I join the Muse's revel, Begad, I wish you at the devil! In vain my verse I plane and bevel, Like Banville's rhyming devotees; In vain by many an artful swivel Lug in my meaning by degrees; I'm sure to hear my Henley cavil; And grovelling prostrate on my knees, Devote his body to the seas, His correspondence to the devil!
I'm going to Shandon Hydropathic CUM PARENTIBUS. Write here. I heard from Lang. Ferrier prayeth to be remembered; he means to write, likes his Tourgenieff greatly. Also likes my 'What was on the Slate,' which, under a new title, yet unfound, and with a new and, on the whole, kindly DENOUEMENT, is going to shoot up and become a star.