Underwoods  (1887) 
by Robert Louis Stevenson

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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Of all my verse, like not a single line;
But like my title, for it is not mine.
That title from a better man I stole:
Ah, how much better, had I stol'n the whole!


There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd: the soldier, the sailor and the shepherd not unfrequently; the artist rarely; rarelier still, the clergyman; the physician almost as a rule. He is the flower (such as it is) of our civilisation; and when that stage of man is done with, and only remembered to be marvelled at in history, he will be thought to have shared as little as any in the defects of the period, and most notably exhibited the virtues of the race. Generosity he has, such as is possible to those who practise an art, never to those who drive a trade; discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and what are more important, Heraclean cheerfulness and courage. So it is that he brings air and cheer into the sickroom, and often enough, though not so often as he wishes, brings healing.

Gratitude is but a lame sentiment; thanks, when they are expressed, are often more embarrassing than welcome; and yet I must set forth mine to a few out of many doctors who have brought me comfort and help: to Dr. Willey of San Francisco, whose kindness to a stranger it must be as grateful to him, as it is touching to me, to remember; to Dr. Karl Ruedi of Davos, the good genius of the English in his frosty mountains; to Dr. Herbert of Paris, whom I knew only for a week, and to Dr. Caissot of Montpellier, whom I knew only for ten days, and who have yet written their names deeply in my memory; to Dr. Brandt of Royat; to Dr. Wakefield of Nice; to Dr. Chepmell, whose visits make it a pleasure to be ill; to Dr. Horace Dobell, so wise in counsel; to Sir Andrew Clark, so unwearied in kindness; and to that wise youth, my uncle, Dr. Balfour.

I forget as many as I remember; and I ask both to pardon me, these for silence, those for inadequate speech. But one name I have kept on purpose to the last, because it is a household word with me, and because if I had not received favours from so many hands and in so many quarters of the world, it should have stood upon this page alone: that of my friend Thomas Bodley Scott of Bournemouth. Will he accept this, although shared among so many, for a dedication to himself? and when next my ill-fortune (which has thus its pleasant side) brings him hurrying to me when he would fain sit down to meat or lie down to rest, will he care to remember that he takes this trouble for one who is not fool enough to be ungrateful?

R. L. S.



The human conscience has fled of late the troublesome domain of conduct for what I should have supposed to be the less congenial field of art: there she may now be said to rage, and with special severity in all that touches dialect; so that in every novel the letters of the alphabet are tortured, and the reader wearied, to commemorate shades of mispronunciation. Now spelling is an art of great difficulty in my eyes, and I am inclined to lean upon the printer, even in common practice, rather than to venture abroad upon new quests. And the Scots tongue has an orthography of its own, lacking neither "authority nor author." Yet the temptation is great to lend a little guidance to the bewildered Englishman. Some simple phonetic artifice might defend your verses from barbarous mishandling, and yet not injure any vested interest. So it seems at first; but there are rocks ahead. Thus, if I wish the diphthong ou to have its proper value, I may write oor instead of our; many have done so and lived, and the pillars of the universe remained unshaken. But if I did so, and came presently to doun, which is the classical Scots spelling of the English down, I should begin to feel uneasy; and if I went on a little farther, and came to a classical Scots word, like stour or dour or clour, I should know precisely where I was—that is to say, that I was out of sight of land on those high seas of spelling reform in which so many strong swimmers have toiled vainly. To some the situation is exhilarating; as for me, I give one bubbling cry and sink. The compromise at which I have arrived is indefensible, and I have no thought of trying to defend it. As I have stuck for the most part to the proper spelling, I append a table of some common vowel sounds which no one need consult; and just to prove that I belong to my age and have in me the stuff of a reformer, I have used modification marks throughout. Thus I can tell myself, not without pride, that I have added a fresh stumbling-block for English readers, and to a page of print in my native tongue, have lent a new uncouthness. Sed non nobis.

I note again, that among our new dialecticians, the local habitat of every dialect is given to the square mile. I could not emulate this nicety if I desired; for I simply wrote my Scots as well as I was able, not caring if it hailed from Lauderdale or Angus, from the Mearns or Galloway; if I had ever heard a good word, I used it without shame; and when Scots was lacking, or the rhyme jibbed, I was glad (like my betters) to fall back on English. For all that, I own to a friendly feeling for the tongue of Fergusson and of Sir Walter, both Edinburgh men; and I confess that Burns has always sounded in my ear like something partly foreign. And indeed I am from the Lothians myself; it is there I heard the language spoken about my childhood; and it is in the drawling Lothian voice that I repeat it to myself. Let the precisians call my speech that of the Lothians. And if it be not pure, alas! what matters it? The day draws near when this illustrious and malleable tongue shall be quite forgotten; and Burns's Ayrshire, and Dr. Macdonald's Aberdeen-awa', and Scott's brave, metropolitan utterance will be all equally the ghosts of speech. Till then I would love to have my hour as a native Maker, and be read by my own countryfolk in our own dying language: an ambition surely rather of the heart than of the head, so restricted as it is in prospect of endurance, so parochial in bounds of space.


BOOK I.—In English
I. Envoy—Go, little book 1
II. A Song of the Road—The gauger walked 2
III. The Canoe Speaks—On the great streams 4
IV. It is the season 7
V. The House Beautiful—A naked house, a naked moor 9
VI. A Visit from the Sea—Far from the loud sea beaches 12
VII. To a Gardener—Friend, in my mountain-side demesne 14
VIII. To Minnie—A picture frame for you to fill 16
IX. To K. de M.—A lover of the moorland bare 17
X. To N. V. de G. S.—The unfathomable sea 19
XI. To Will. H. Low—Youth now flees 21
XII. To Mrs. Will. H. Low—Even in the bluest noon­day of July 24
XIII. To H. F. Brown—I sit and wait 26
XIV. To Andrew Lang—Dear Andrew 29
XV. Et tu in Arcadia vixisti—In ancient tales, O friend 31
XVI. To W. E. Henley—The year runs through her phases 36
XVII. Henry James—Who comes to-night 38
XVIII. The Mirror Speaks—Where the bells 39
XIX. Katharine—We see you as we see a face 41
XX. To F. J. S.—I read, dear friend 42
XXI. Requiem—Under the wide and starry sky 43
XXII. The Celestial Surgeon—If I have faltered 44
XXIII. Our Lady of the Snows—Out of the sun 45
XXIV. Not yet, my soul 50
XXV. It is not yours, O mother, to complain 53
XXVI. The Sick Child—O mother, lay your hand on my brow 56
XXVII. In Memoriam F. A. S.—Yet, O stricken heart 58
XXVIII. To my Father—Peace and her huge invasion 60
XXIX. In the States—With half a heart 62
XXX. A Portrait—I am a kind of farthing dip 63
XXXI. Sing clearlier, Muse 65
XXXII. A Camp—The bed was made 66
XXXIII. The Country of the Camisards—We travelled in the print of olden wars 67
XXXIV. Skerryvore—For love of lovely words 68
XXXV. Skerryvore: The Parallel—Here all is sunny 69
XXXVI. My house, I say 70
XXXVII. My body which my dungeon is 71
XXXVIII. Say not of me that weakly I declined 73
BOOK II.—In Scots
I. The Maker to Posterity—Far 'yont amang the years to be 77
II. Ille Terrarum—Frae nirly, nippin', Eas'lan' breeze 80
III. When aince Aprile has fairly come 85
IV. A Mile an' a Bittock 87
V. A Lowden Sabbath Morn—The clinkum-clank o' Sabbath bells 89
VI. The Spaewife—O, I wad like to ken 98
VII. The Blast—1875—It's rainin'. Weet's the gairden sod 100
VIII. The Counterblast—1886—My bonny man, the warld, it's true 103
IX. The Counterblast Ironical—It's strange that God should fash to frame 108
X. Their Laureate to an Academy Class Dinner Club—Dear Thamson class, whaure'er I gang 110
XI. Embro Hie Kirk—The Lord Himsel' in former days 114
XII. The Scotsman's Return from Abroad—In mony a foreign pairt I've been 118
XIII. Late in the nicht 125
XIV. My Conscience!—Of a' the ills that flesh can fear 130
XV. To Doctor John Brown—By Lyne and Tyne, by Thames and Tees 133
XVI. It's an owercome sooth for age an' youth 138