RLS: Stevenson's Letters to Charles Baxter

RLS: Stevenson's Letters to Charles Baxter

RLS: Stevenson's Letters to Charles Baxter

RLS: Stevenson's Letters to Charles Baxter

Excerpt

To Fanny Sitwell, late in 1874, Stevenson wrote a list:

Desiderata.
1. Good health.
2. 2 to 3 hundred a year.
3. O du lieber Gott, friends!

The first he never attained; the second he ultimately achieved many times over; the third was his in full measure, though marriage and death and division ended some of the relationships before his own demise.

Nearly a decade later he named over to W. E. Henley, in the order in which he had met them, the seven friends who had meant most to him. First of all was his cousin Bob (Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson), whom he "had by nature"; the second was James Walter Ferrier. "Next I found Baxter--well do I remember telling Walter I had unearthed 'a W.S. that I thought would do.'" The fourth and fifth were Sir Walter Simpson and Fleeming Jenkin; the sixth was Sidney Colvin; the seventh and last, Henley himself. Jenkin and Colvin were his seniors; the others his contemporaries. But of the seven friendships thus proudly enumerated, Stevenson carried only two to his grave.

Ferrier's death in 1883--the result of dissipation and tuberculosis--was what prompted the letter to Henley. Two years later death took Jenkin also. Simpson married a woman who disliked Stevenson, and drifted away. In time, too, the brilliant but unstable Bob also drifted away, though without open estrangement. The relationship with Henley ended in the famous quarrel detailed in these letters. Thus, of the seven, only Baxter and Colvin endured to the end, and of these it is Colvin, the later-comer, who has had most of the attention--in part because, as editor of Stevenson's letters, he gave himself the center of the stage.

But it should be noted that in his letters Stevenson always salutes his future editor as "My dear Colvin," whereas Henley is "Dear Boy" or "Dear Lad," and Baxter is usually "My dear . . .

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