“Do you remember my strong, old and entrenched belief that I would drown to death?” I don’t want this to happen although it is an easy death; but it comes to me strangely, with these long chances ahead. I can’t say why I love the sea; no man is more cynically and constantly aware of his perils; I consider it the highest form of play. Fine and clean emotions; a whole and always beautiful world; air is better than wine; unwavering interest, by and large there is no better life.
– Robert Louis Stevenson to Sidney Colvin, Honolulu, June 1889
Sidney Colvin has played an important role in the life and career of Robert Louis Stevenson, especially his career. He would also become the second of four British representatives of the Stevenson Society of America at Saranac Lake in 1920, following the death of Lord Charles Guthrie, an RLS companion while studying law at the University of Edinburgh. When Colvin began to write his memoirs, he had a lot to say about his famous protégé, whom he had met through a close friend, Mrs. Fanny Sitwell. It was 1873, when Colvin, essayist and art critic, was a professor of fine arts at Cambridge, then curator of prints at the British Museum. RLS was 22 years old at the time:
“If you want to realize the kind of effect he had, at least in the first few years that I knew him best, imagine this subdued but extraordinarily vivid and vital presence, with something that felt like at first sight weird, rare, fantastic, a touch of elf and supernatural, a sprite, an Ariel. And imagine that as you get to know him, this goblin, this visitor from another sphere, turned out to be different from humanity in general not by being less human but by being much more human. than them; with richer blood, larger heart; more human in every sense of the word, for it contained within him, and enlightened you in the course of a single afternoon, all the different ages and half of the different characters of man, the unchanging freshness of a child , the fiery outlook and adventurous daydreams of a boy, the unwavering courage of manhood, the quick and sympathetic tenderness of a woman and already, by her mid-twenties of her life, an almost strange part of the ripe wisdom of old age.
“He was a man of infinite and unrestrained jokes and yet infinitely serious, one very often a mask for the other; a poet, an artist, an adventurer; a man beset with carnal frailties, and despite his crippled health, strong appetites and uncontrolled curiosities; and yet a deeply sincere moralist and preacher and a son of the Covenanters in his own way, deeply aware of the war within its members, and deeply determined to act to the best of his knowledge… ”
Mr. Basil Champneys, a friend of Colvin’s, said that “Colvin was the very friend Stevenson needed at this point, as he had already cut his teeth in artistic and literary criticism, had a deep knowledge of publishers, and was both competent and endowed with judgment particularly adept at preside over the start of a literary career. . “
It was through Colvin that Stevenson made the friends and connections that would shape his future and he acknowledged the debt of his last home in Samoa: “This most faithful and noble-minded man … has made my way in the letters … has stood before me, kept in front of me, and yet, as I write, keep in front of me, a level of different accomplishment… had the tact and wisdom to allow me to be completely myself; accept and cherish what was good in me; tolerate much of what was wrong; and while still standing in front of me a standard to which I could never quite reach, neither to humiliate myself nor to disgust myself with the ordeal!
When Robert Louis Stevenson set out on his dangerous quest to the New World in 1879, to find and somehow marry Mrs Fanny Osbourne, Colvin was instructed to deliver the letter to his parents to inform them of this new development. only after their only, sickly child was hopelessly at sea
Several months later, after Stevenson’s close encounter with the Grim Reaper in the California Coast Ranges, RLS was inside his crucible watching when he wrote another letter to Colvin.
For some reason, Sidney chiseled the end of this letter to send to Saranac Lake, where it can be found today behind glass inside Stevenson Cottage on Stevenson Lane. From 608 Bush St., San Francisco, California, March 1880:
The house is the sailor, the house of the sea
And the hunter was coming back from the hill.
You, who pass this grave, put aside
hatred; love goodness; be all services
remember in your heart and all
pardoned offenses; and going down
still among the living, may this be your
question: can i make someone happier
that day before I lay down to sleep?
So the dead man talks to you about
dust: you won’t hear from him again.
“Who knows, Colvin, but maybe I’ll be more useful when I’m buried than ever in my lifetime?” The more I think about it, the more I sincerely desire it. Maybe I’ll try to write it better one day; but that’s what i want in the sense. The verses are from a beautiful poem by me. RLS.
The poem is Requiem, first published in a book of poetry called Underwoods in 1887. It is Stevenson’s epitaph:
“Under the wide starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie
Happy to have lived and to die with pleasure,
And I went to bed with a will.
This is the verse that you engrave for me:
Here he rests where he dreamed of being.
The house is the sailor, the house of the sea,
And the hunter came back from the hill.
The following is taken from Colvin’s last letter to the Stevenson Society of America, dated October 26, 1925:
“The thought of my age (80) makes me realize that Stevenson, had he lived until now, would have been 75. But in mind and heart, he could never have grown old. One cannot think of this spirit as destined to be extinguished by the passage of the years if they had been granted to it. Since childhood, he always struggled with a complication of physical infirmities, but in all the years of our intimacy, I only knew him once to let himself be beaten, and that only for five minutes. In his rich nature, two gifts were preeminent, courage and humor.
I’m really yours
(Sir) Sidney Colvin “