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An Inland Voyage

By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), 1877

Prefatory note

by Mrs. R.L.Stevenson

'WE'RE FAR frae hame,' murmured a dying Scot, when my husband found him lying on the floor of a native hut in one of the islands of the Tukalau group. It seems strange that with a love of home only equalled by the Swiss, the Scot should be the greatest wanderer on the face of the earth, excepting the Jew, who has, at least, the excuse of belonging to a race without a country.

My husband was born with the Scottish longing to get to 'the back of beyond'; in his very nursery he strained at the tether strings, and was never so happy as when allowed to accompany his mother in her journeys to the South of France. There, in Menton, the child acquired an accent and vocabulary that remained with him all the rest of his life. He knew little of the French grammar (or, indeed, of any grammar) but spoke the vernacular with a freedom and accuracy that caused him to be accepted everywhere by the French as one of themselves, though perhaps from another province. Once in Nice, when exhausted by a long walk, he stopped to rest at a low drinking-place. A couple of villainous-looking fellows at the next table ceased speaking, regarded him intently for a few moments, listening to his order, and then resumed their conversation, satisfied that they had nothing to fear. They were discussing their hatred of the English, and the possibility of drugging and robbing the first Englishman who should enter the place.

As the boy grew into manhood the Scottish unrest and his own adventurous spirit made a life of inaction almost unendurable; it was only the knowledge that such a course would break his father's heart that held him back from accepting the advice of Mr. Seed (afterwards premier of New Zealand) to go to the Samoan Islands. How he would have paid his passage I cannot conceive, as the small amount of pocket money allowed him by his father not only would have been insufficient for the purpose, but he had an invalid friend lying in the hospital whose comfort depended on that infinitesimal sum. For a long while he was fain to content himself with inactive roving. To the end of his life he found the keenest pleasure in the study of a map, especially one of roads. Like Branwell Bronté of whom he could never speak without emotion, he would sit poring over maps, making imaginary journeys. Like young Bronté, too, he knew the hours when the railway trains of London and Paris started, and when outgoing passenger ships left English and French ports. "Poor cage bird!" he cries. 'Do I not remember the time when I myself haunted the station, to watch train after train carry its complement of passengers into the night, and read the names of distant places on the time bills with indescribable longing?'

In his early twenties the stern parental discipline relaxed to a degree, and the son, whose uncertain health began to show the hereditary weakness derived from his mother, was allowed more freedom. He was sent to Germany for a vacation with Sir Walter Simpson in 1872, and after an attack of diphtheria in 1873, was ordered to the South of France by Dr Andrew Clarke. The latter excursion was, however, only made possible by the intervention of Mr Sidney Colvin, between whom and the attractive, brilliant boy, a lifelong friendship had already begun.

Sir Walter Simpson, son of the famous physician, was a reticent, cautious man, who came to no decision until the question involved had been carefully examined on all sides. Scrupulously honest himself, he judged others with an extraordinary generosity. Indeed, his leniency towards the faults of others very nearly touched the borders of cynicism. He was a loyal friend and possessed those rare qualities which make a man a desirable companion. The intimacy between him and Louis Stevenson began when both were attending the University of Edinburgh, and was further cemented by their common love of the sea. The two had already made several short cruises along the Scottish coast, in a boat belonging to Sir Walter, when the canoe voyage was planned.

By this time Louis Stevenson had made a slight mark in literature, and a little money, by writing magazine articles, so that he now felt capable of at least paying his way in a very modest fashion on the projected inland voyage; and, besides, he hoped to write an account of the trip which should cover the expenses of a second venture. For this book, The Inland Voyage [sic], he received from Mr Kegan Paul the amount of twenty pounds: but he had gained in health, and had grown to know better the character of the French peasant and villager.

F.V. de G.S.

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