Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson— Volume 2

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Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Letter: To Sidney Colvin, Ss. ’janet Nicoll,’ Off Upolu [Spring 1890]

MY DEAREST COLVIN, - I was sharply ill at Sydney, cut off, right out of bed, in this steamer on a fresh island cruise, and have already reaped the benefit. We are excellently found this time, on a spacious vessel, with an excellent table; the captain, supercargo, our one fellow-passenger, etc., very nice; and the charterer, Mr. Henderson, the very man I could have chosen. The truth is, I fear, this life is the only one that suits me; so long as I cruise in the South Seas, I shall be well and happy - alas, no, I do not mean that, and ABSIT OMEN! - I mean that, so soon as I cease from cruising, the nerves are strained, the decline commences, and I steer slowly but surely back to bedward. We left Sydney, had a cruel rough passage to Auckland, for the JANET is the worst roller I was ever aboard of. I was confined to my cabin, ports closed, self shied out of the berth, stomach (pampered till the day I left on a diet of perpetual egg-nogg) revolted at ship’s food and ship eating, in a frowsy bunk, clinging with one hand to the plate, with the other to the glass, and using the knife and fork (except at intervals) with the eyelid. No matter: I picked up hand over hand. After a day in Auckland, we set sail again; were blown up in the main cabin with calcium fires, as we left the bay. Let no man say I am unscientific: when I ran, on the alert, out of my stateroom, and found the main cabin incarnadined with the glow of the last scene of a pantomime, I stopped dead: ’What is this?’ said I. ’This ship is on fire, I see that; but why a pantomime?’ And I stood and reasoned the point, until my head was so muddled with the fumes that I could not find the companion. A few seconds later, the captain had to enter crawling on his belly, and took days to recover (if he has recovered) from the fumes. By singular good fortune, we got the hose down in time and saved the ship, but Lloyd lost most of his clothes and a great part of our photographs was destroyed. Fanny saw the native sailors tossing overboard a blazing trunk; she stopped them in time, and behold, it contained my manuscripts. Thereafter we had three (or two) days fine weather: then got into a gale of wind, with rain and a vexatious sea. As we drew into our anchorage in a bight of Savage Island, a man ashore told me afterwards the sight of the JANET NICOLL made him sick; and indeed it was rough play, though nothing to the night before. All through this gale I worked four to six hours per diem, spearing the ink-bottle like a flying fish, and holding my papers together as I might. For, of all things, what I was at was history - the Samoan business - and I had to turn from one to another of these piles of manuscript notes, and from one page to another in each, until I should have found employment for the hands of Briareus. All the same, this history is a godsend for a voyage; I can put in time, getting events co-ordinated and the narrative distributed, when my much-heaving numskull would be incapable of finish or fine style. At Savage we met the missionary barque JOHN WILLIAMS. I tell you it was a great day for Savage Island: the path up the cliffs was crowded with gay islandresses (I like that feminine plural) who wrapped me in their embraces, and picked my pockets of all my tobacco, with a manner which a touch would have made revolting, but as it was, was simply charming, like the Golden Age. One pretty, little, stalwart minx, with a red flower behind her ear, had searched me with extraordinary zeal; and when, soon after, I missed my matches, I accused her (she still following us) of being the thief. After some delay, and with a subtle smile, she produced the box, gave me ONE MATCH, and put the rest away again. Too tired to add more. - Your most affectionate,

R. L. S.

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Chicago: Robert Louis Stevenson, "Letter: To Sidney Colvin, Ss. ’janet Nicoll,’ Off Upolu [Spring 1890]," Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson— Volume 2, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906 in Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson—Volume 2 Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZP8NDZHFBCLZJB.

MLA: Stevenson, Robert Louis. "Letter: To Sidney Colvin, Ss. ’janet Nicoll,’ Off Upolu [Spring 1890]." Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson— Volume 2, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906, in Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson—Volume 2, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZP8NDZHFBCLZJB.

Harvard: Stevenson, RL, 'Letter: To Sidney Colvin, Ss. ’janet Nicoll,’ Off Upolu [Spring 1890]' in Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson— Volume 2, ed. and trans. . cited in , Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson—Volume 2. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZP8NDZHFBCLZJB.