Charlotte Eaton.

Stevenson at Manasquan online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryCharlotte EatonStevenson at Manasquan → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by ellinora, David E. Brown and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)

The Little Bookfellow Series

Stevenson at Manasquan

Other Titles in this series:

ESTRAYS. Poems by Thomas Kennedy, George Seymour, Vincent Starrett,
and Basil Thompson.


LYRICS, by Laura Blackburn.


_Kind permission of Mr. S. S. McClure_]

Stevenson at Manasquan

Charlotte Eaton

With a Note on the Fate of the Yacht
"Casco" by Francis Dickie and Six Portraits
from Stevenson by George Steele Seymour



_Three hundred copies of this book by Charlotte Eaton, Bookfellow No.
550, Francis Dickie, Bookfellow No. 716, and George Steele Seymour,
Bookfellow No. 1, have been printed. Mrs. Eaton's memoir is an
elaboration of one previously published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. of New
York under the title "A Last Memory of Robert Louis Stevenson"; Mr.
Dickie's notes have appeared in the New York World, and Mr. Seymour's
"Portraits" have appeared in "Contemporary Verse" and "The Star" of San

_Copyright, 1921, by
Flora Warren Seymour_



When I came face to face with Robert Louis Stevenson it was the
realization of one of my most cherished dreams.

This was at Manasquan, a village on the New Jersey coast, where he had
come to make a farewell visit to his old friend Will Low, the artist.
Mr. Low had taken a cottage there that summer while working on his
series of Lamia drawings for Lippincott's, and Stevenson, hearing that
we were on the other side of the river, sent word that he would come to
see us on the morrow.

"Stevenson is coming," was announced at the breakfast-table as calmly
as though it were a daily occurrence.

_Stevenson coming to Manasquan!_

I was in my 'teens, was an enthusiastic student of poetry and
mythology, and Stevenson was my hero of romance. Was it any wonder the
intelligence excited me?

My husband, the late Wyatt Eaton, and Stevenson, were friends in their
student days abroad, and it was in honor of those early days that I was
to clasp the hand of my favorite author.

It was in the mazes of a contradance at Barbizon, in the picturesque
setting of a barn lighted by candles, that their first meeting took
place, where Mr. Eaton, though still a student in the schools of
Paris, had taken a studio to be near Jean François Millet, and hither
Stevenson had come, with his cousin, known as "Talking Bob," to take
part in the harvest festivities among the peasants.

These were the halcyon days at Barbizon, when Millet tramped the
fields and the favorite haunts of Rousseau and Corot could be followed
up through the Forest of Fontainebleau, before Barbizon had become
a resort for holiday makers, or the term "Barbizon School" had been
thought of.

Now, of all places in the world, the quaint little Sanborn Cottage on
the river-bank, where we were stopping, seemed to me the spot best
suited for a first meeting with Stevenson. The Sanborns were very
little on the estate and the place had a neglected look. Indeed, more
than that, one might easily have taken it for a haunted or abandoned
place - with its garden choked with weeds, and its window-shutters
flaunting old spider-webs to the breeze.

It was, of course, the fanciful, adventure-loving Stevenson that I
looked forward to seeing, and I was not disappointed; and while others
spoke of the flight of time with its inevitable changes, I felt sure
that, to me, he would be just Stevenson who wrote the things over which
I had burned the midnight oil.

He came promptly at the hour fixed, appearing on the threshold as frail
and distinguished-looking as a portrait by Velasquez. He had walked
across the mile-long bridge connecting Brielle and Manasquan, ahead of
the others, for the bracer he always needed before joining even a small

Shall I ever forget the sensation of delight that thrilled me, as he
entered the room - tall, emaciated, yet radiant, his straight, glossy
hair so long that it lay upon the collar of his coat, throwing into
bold relief his long neck and keenly sensitive face?

His hands were of the psychic order, and were of marble whiteness, save
the thumb and first finger of the right hand, that were stained from
constant cigarette rolling - for he was an inveterate smoker - and he
had the longest fingers I have ever seen on a human being; they were,
in fact, part of his general appearance of lankiness, that would have
been uncanny, but for the geniality and sense of _bien être_ that he
gave off. His voice, low in tone, had an endearing quality in it, that
was almost like a caress. He never made use of vernacularism and was
without the slightest Scotch accent; on the contrary, he spoke his
English like a world citizen, speaking a universal tongue, and always
looked directly at the person spoken to.

I have since heard one who knew him (and they are becoming scarce now)
call him the man of good manners, or "the mannerly Stevenson," and this
is the term needed to complete my first impression, for more than the
traveller, the scholar or the author, it was the _mannerly Stevenson_
that appeared in our midst that day. He moved about the room to a
ripple of repartée that was contagious, putting every one on his
mettle - in fact, his presence was a challenge to a _jeu d'esprit_ on
every hand. How self-possessed he was, how spiritual! his face glowing
with memories of other days.

He had just come from Saranac, Saranac-in-the-Adirondacks, that had
failed to yield him the elixir of life he was seeking, where he had
spent a winter of such solitude as even his courageous wife was unable
to endure.

His good spirits were doubtless on the rebound after good work
accomplished, for there, in "his hat-box on the hill," as he called his
quarters at Baker's, were written his "Christmas Sermons," "The Lantern
Bearer," and the opening chapters of "The Master of Ballantrae." In
this "very decent house" he would talk old Mr. Baker to sleep on stormy
nights, and the good old farmer, never suspecting that Stevenson was
"anybody in particular," snored his responses to those flights in fact
and fancy for which there are those who would have given hundreds of
dollars to have been in the old farmer's place. But it was the very
carelessness of Mr. Baker that helped along the talking spell. This
is often the case with authors; they will pour out their precious
knowledge into the ears of some inconsequential person, a tramp as
likely as not, picked up by the way; the non-critical attitude of the
illiterate seems to help the thinker in forming a sequence of ideas;
this explains, too, why the artist values the lay criticism - it hits
directly at any false note in a picture, thus saving the painter much
unnecessary delay.

Sometimes Dr. Trudeau, also an exile of the mountains, would drop
in professionally on these stormy evenings and would stay until
about midnight, having entirely forgotten the nature of his visit.
Stevenson had this faculty of making friends of those who served him.
To the restaurant keeper of Monterey, Jules Simoneau, who trusted him
when he was penniless and unknown, he presented a set of his books,
leather-bound, each volume autographed, and this worthy man has since
refused a thousand dollars for the set. "Well," he explained, "I do not
need the money, and I value the gift for itself." I think this friend
of Stevenson's must feel like Father Tabb in the library of his friend
when he said:

"To see, when he is dead,
The many books he read,
And then again, to note
The many books he wrote;
How some got in, and some got out.
'Tis very strange to think about."

But to return to our story.

Stevenson's Isle-of-the-blest was calling to him, and hope lay that
way, where life was elementary and where a man with but one lung to his
account might live indefinitely. Not that he feared to die. Oh, no! It
takes more courage sometimes to live, but it was hard to give up at
forty, when one just begins to enter into the knowledge of one's own
powers. A blind lady once said to me, in speaking of a mutual friend,
"When Mr. B. comes, I feel as if there was a _sprite_ in the room," and
this is the way I felt about Stevenson, for during those moments of
serious discussion when most people are tense, he moved actively about,
and his philosophies were humanized by his warm, brown eyes and merry

Another reason for the sprite feeling, was that he was consciously
living in the past that day, and each face was like reseeing a
milestone long passed, on some half-forgotten journey.

It was this sense of detachment that, more than anything else, gave
us the feeling that he was already beyond our mortal ken, that he was
living at once in the visible and in the invisible, one to whom the
passing of time had little significance. I think this is true, more or
less, of all those who are marked for a brief earthly career.

By this time the other members of the family had arrived. His mother,
Lloyd Osbourne, and Mrs. Strong, his step-children; "Fanny," his
wife, was in California, looking after some property interests she
had there, and provisioning the yacht chartered for the voyage to the
South Seas. In all his enterprises she was his major-domo, and her
devotion no doubt helped to prolong his life. Their mutual agreement on
all financial matters reminded me of a remark made by mine host at a
country inn, who, in speaking of his wife, said, "She is my very best
investment," and so was Mrs. Stevenson to her husband, _Lewis_, for so
the family called him, and never Robert Louis. I am inclined to think
that yoking of contrasts is an important part in Nature's economy of
things. Ella Wheeler Wilcox said to me that she owed her success to
Robert - her husband - because in all her undertakings he went before
and smoothed the way; but Mr. Wilcox's version of the case is another
story. "I keep an eye on Ella," said he, "to prevent her from giving
away too much money."

Stevenson was now seated before the grate, the flickering light from
the wood fire illuminating his pale face to transparency. Now and then
he relapsed into silence, gazing into the fire with the rapt look of
one who sees visions.

"Are you seeing a Salamander," I asked, "or do the sparks flying upward
make you think of the golden alchemy of Lescaris?"[A]

"A Salamander," he replied, smiling. "Yes, a carnivorous fire-dweller
that eats up man and his dreams forever."

"Gracious! But you are going to worse things than Salamanders, the
Paua,[B] they will get you, if you don't watch out."

And then, suddenly becoming conscious of my temerity in interrupting
the thread of his reflections, to cover my embarrassment, I ran
upstairs for my birthday-book.

An autograph!

Of course. And he wrote it, reading out the quotation that filled in
part of the space. It was one of Emerson's Kantisms, something about
not going abroad, unless you can as readily stay at home (I forget the
exact words). It was decidedly malapropos and called out much merriment.

"Oh, stay at home, dear heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest."

Somebody quoted, to which another replied:

"Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits."

The autograph has long since disappeared, but how often have I
thought with regret of the amused expression in Stevenson's eyes at
the Salamander fancy! What tales of witchery might have been spun
from those themes worthy of the magic of his pen, the fire-dwelling
man-eater, or the discovery of the Greek shepherd!

Stevenson was amused over our enthusiasm, and the eagerness of some of
the younger members of the company to lionize him.

"And what do you consider your brightest failure?" inquired our host.

"'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,'" he replied, without a moment's hesitation,
adding, "that is the worst thing I ever wrote."

"Yet you owe it to your dream-expedition," some one reminded him.

"The dream-expedition?" he repeated. "Yes, that was perhaps a
compensation for the bad things."

Benjamin Franklin has said that success ruins many a man. The success
of "Trilby" killed Du Maurier, and many authors have had their heads
turned for far less than the Jekyll and Hyde furore that swept the
country at that time. But the Mannerly Stevenson carried his honors
lightly. Smiling over the popularity of the "worst thing he ever
wrote," he revealed that quality in his own nature that was finer than
anything he had given to print, the soul whose indomitable courage
could bear the brunt of adverse circumstance, and even contumely, and
hold its own integrity, becoming a law unto itself.

Here was the man who had passed himself off as one of a group of
steerage passengers on that memorable trip across the Atlantic on his
way to Monterey in quest of the woman he loved, the man whose life was
more vital in its _love-motif_ than any of his own romances, the man
who, in spite of ill-health and uncertainty of means, yet paid the
price for his heart's desire.

"See here," said a lusty fellow, lurching up to him one day on deck.
"You are not one of us, you are a gentleman in hard luck."

"But," added Stevenson triumphantly, in telling the
story, "it was not until the end of the voyage that they found me out."

This points the saying that it was the great washed that Stevenson
fought shy of, and not the greater unwashed, with whom he was always on
the friendliest terms.

He talked delightfully, too, on events connected with his journey
across the plains, which he made in an emigrant train, associating with
Chinamen, who cooked their meals on board, and slept on planks let down
from the side of the cars.

"The air was thick," said he, "and an Oriental thickness, at that."

But this period of his life was a painful subject for his mother, who
was present, and some of his best stories were omitted on her account.

He told us, however, about being nearly lynched for throwing away a
lighted match on the prairie. "And all the fuss," said he, "before
I was made aware of the nature of my crime." Both his mother and
Sydney Colvin had done their best to make him accept enough money, as
a loan, to make this trip comfortable. But he had refused. He was,
he explained, "doing that which neither his family nor friends could
approve," and he would therefore accept no financial aid.

"Just before starting," said he, "being in need of money, I called at
the _Century_ office, where I had left some manuscript with the request
for an early decision, but was politely shown the door."

Consternation seized us at this announcement, for all present knew the
editor for a man of sympathy and heart. But Stevenson himself came to
our relief with, "But Mr. Gilder was abroad that year."

After the lapse of more than a quarter of a century, it might not come
amiss to recount another little incident at the same office.

I mentioned one day to Mr. Gilder that some notes by Mr. Eaton written
during his last illness had been rejected. "You don't mean to tell me
that anything by Wyatt was rejected at this office," said he, and going
into an inner room, returned in a few minutes with a goodly check.
"There," said he, as he put it in my hand, "Send in the notes at your

Stevenson laughed good-naturedly over the dilemmas the editors of
western papers threw him into, by their tardiness in paying space rates
for the stories and essays that now rank among his finest productions.
Indeed one wonders whether he would have survived the hardships of
those Monterey days, had not the good Jules Simoneau found him "worth
saving," a circumstance for which he is accorded the palm by posterity
rather than for the flavor of his tamales.

In many ways it is given to the humble to minister to the needs of the
great. A distinguished author once said to me: "I could never have
arrived without the help of my poor friends."

As Stevenson went from reminiscence to reminiscence, we felt that from
this period of his vivid obscurity might have been drawn material
for some of his most stirring romances, and we were rewarded as good
listeners by the discovery of that which he thought his best work,
namely, the little story called "Will o' the Mill."

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Sanborn, his eyes beaming, "if you live to be as
old as Methuselah, with all the world's lore at your finger-ends, you
could never improve on that simple little story."

We teased Stevenson a good deal on the hugeness of his royalties
on "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," which, besides having had what the
publishers call a "run," was bringing in a second goodly harvest from
its dramatization, by which his voyage to the South Seas had become a

Remembering his remark that his idea of Purgatory was a perpetual high
wind, I asked him: "Why have you chosen an island for your future
habitat; or, if an island, why not Nevis in the West Indies, where one
is in the perpetual doldrums, so to speak?" "There will be no more
wind on Samoa than just enough to turn the page of the book one is
reading," he replied; and windless Nevis was British, you see, and his
first necessity was to get away where nobody reads. Like Jubal, son of
Lamech, who felt himself hemmed in by hearing his songs repeated in a
land where everybody sang, so he was shadowed by the Jekyll
and Hyde mania in a land where everybody read.

The very essence of his isolation is felt in a playful little fling at
a Mr. Nerli, an artist, who went out there to paint his portrait, as
well as the boredom everyone experiences in sitting to a painter:

"Did ever mortal man hear tell, of sae singular a ferlie,
Of the coming to Apia here, of the painter, Mr. Nerli?
He came; and O for a human found, of a' _he_ was the pearlie,
The pearl of a' the painter folk, was surely Mr. Nerli.
He took a thraw to paint mysel'; he painted late and early;
O now! the mony a yawn I've yawned in the beard of Mr. Nerli.
Whiles I would sleep, an' whiles would wake, an' whiles was mair than
I wondered sair, as I sat there, forninst the eyes of Nerli.
O will he paint me the way I want, as bonnie as a girlie?
Or will he paint me an ugly type, and be damned to Mr. Nerli!
But still and on, and whiche'er it is, he is a Canty Kerlie,
The Lord proteck the back and neck of honest Mr. Nerli."

Which shows that he was not altogether free from bothers even after
reaching his "port o' dreams" in running away from Purgatorial winds,
only to be held up by a paint-brush! Also, as most of us when excited
fall back upon our early idiom, so Stevenson, in jest or lyric mood,
drifted into the dialect of his fathers.

We found, much to our surprise, that Stevenson knew every nook and
cranny of the Sanborn estate, and told us of his trespassings - in their
absence - in search of fresh eggs for his breakfast, having observed
that the hens had formed nomadic habits, laying in the wood-pile and in
odd corners all over the grounds. This was during a former visit when
he stayed at Wainwright's, a landmark that has since been wiped out by

"One day, as I walked by," said he - meaning the Sanborn place - "I heard
a hen cackling in that triumphant way that left no doubt as to her
having performed her duty to the species. I vaulted the fence for that
particular egg and found it, still warm, with others, on its bed of
soft chips. After that, I had an object in my long, solitary walks. New
laid eggs for all occasions! And why not," he asked merrily, "seeing
there was no other proprietor than Chanticleer Peter, who had been the
victim of neglect so long that he would crow me a welcome, and in time
became so tame that he would spring on my knee and eat crumbs from my

The Sanborns were in Europe that year and, all things considered, is it
any wonder that he took the place for being abandoned?

"Nothing but my instinct for the preservation of property kept me from
smashing all the windows for exercise," said he.

"I am glad _thee_ was good to Peter, said Mrs. Sanborn. Her extinct
brood was a pain still rankling in her bosom. She found Peter frozen
stiff on the bough on which he was roosting, after his hens had
disappeared by methods too elemental to explain.

They had left no servants in charge, and neighbors there were none to
restrain the attacks of marauders, and they were prize leghorns, too.
She almost wailed.

What a shame!

Well might all bachelors who are threatened with a wintry solitude take
warning by unhappy Peter.

But he is not without the honor due to martyrdom - is Peter, for Mrs.
Sanborn had him stuffed, and presented him to "Fanny," who took him to
California, where he survived the great San Francisco earthquake.

"He must have been our mascot," said Lloyd Osbourne to me long after,
"for the fire that followed the earthquake came just as far as the gate
and no farther."

Since the cup that cheers is not customary in Quaker homes our hostess
proposed an egg-nog by way of afternoon collation and all entered with
zest into the mixing of the decoction. One brought the eggs, another
the sugar-bowl, while our host went to the cellar for that brand of
John Barleycorn that transmutes every beverage to a toast.

Now, while Stevenson came to regard new-laid eggs as the natural manna
of the desert, he had his doubts as to the feasibility of egg-nog,
seeing that milk is a necessary constituent. He did not know, you see,
that a little White Alderney cow was chewing the end of salt-meadow
grasses in the woods nearby, and, even as he doubted, Mrs. Sanborn and
her Ganymedes had brought in a jug of the white fluid, topped with a
froth like sea-foam.

"It's nectar for the gods on Olympus," said I - meaning the milk.

"True Ambrosia of the meadows," agreed Mrs. Sanborn.

"Well, this is Elysium, and _we_ are the gods to-day."


"To be more exact," said Stevenson, "it should be Argos; it was there
they celebrated the cow, as we are now celebrating - - "

"Tidy," said Mrs. Sanborn.

"Io," corrected Stevenson, waving his fork, for he, too, was helping to
beat the eggs:


He lingered over the name Manasquan as though he enjoyed saying it.

"The first thing that impressed me in travelling in America," said he,
"was your Indian names for towns and rivers. Temiscami, Coghnawaga,
Ticonderoga, the very sound of them thrills one with romantic fancies.
Why do you not revive more of these charming Indian names?"

"We are too young yet to appreciate our legendary wealth," said Mr.
Sanborn, with an emphasis on the "legendary."

"_Qui s'excuse, s'accuse_," reminded Mrs. Low, who was a French woman.

"Quite right," assented Mr. Sanborn, "it is not precedent we lack, but

"To return to Argos," said Mrs. Sanborn - the peace-maker - "I always
feel in the presence of a divine mystery when I milk Tidy. No one could
be guilty of a frivolous thing before the calm eye of that little cow."

Mrs. Sanborn possessed the reverent spirit of the pre-Raphaelites which
burned modestly in its Quaker shrine or flared up like lightning as
occasion required; and she delighted in the deification of her little
cow. And why not? Had not Tidy's worshipped ancestors nourished kings
of antiquity, and given idols to their temples, and stood she not
to-day as perfect a symbol of maternity?

I do not now remember whether it was referring to Samoa as Stevenson's
"port o' dreams" that brought up the discussion of dreams. To some
one who asked him if he believed that dreams came true, he replied,
"Certainly, they are just as real as anything else."

"Well, it's what one believes that counts, isn't it, and one can form
any theory in a world where dreams are as real as other things, and is
it the same with ideals?" somebody ventured.

"Ideals," said Stevenson, "are apt to stay by you when material things
have taken the proverbial wings, and are assets quite as enduring as
stone fences."

"And was it a want of faith in the durability of stone fences, or
ignorance of their dream-assets, that accounts for the way that Cato
and Demosthenes solved their problems?" was the next question, but as
this high strain was interrupted by more frivolity, my thoughts again

1 3

Online LibraryCharlotte EatonStevenson at Manasquan → online text (page 1 of 3)