Will Low, guest speaker: Part II

Will H. Low performed as guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Stevenson Society of America on Aug. 28, 1923. This continuing segment of the “The Hunter’s Home” is given over to excerpts from the transcript of his address to those gathered around the porch of the museum:

“… He was in and out of the boat every minute he was there. (He refers to R.L.S., who had left Saranac Lake and New York City for Manasquan, New Jersey.)

“He took to yachting with the greatest enthusiasm, and insisted upon learning by himself, although there were present plenty of long, lanky Jersey seamen who could have taught him how to do it. This would not do, and he sent up to New York for a treatise on the subject, and I used to listen to him in his enthusiastic discussions with these seasoned boatmen, and I often used to wonder what they thought, as they watched him setting the jib but fortunately he did not knock his head with the jib boom. And he had a splendid time there — just like a boy.

“At times of course, some days, we would not go out at all. We were very, very comfortable, and very well taken care of, and the Wainrights had found a good handy man who took care of Stevenson. … He had read Dr. Jykell and Mr. Hyde, and: ‘Why,’ he said to me, ‘He ain’t stuck up a bit! He’s just good natured like anybody else. I like it’

“… Well, we were very, very happy there, Stevenson writing a great deal — and what he wrote in the day he would come down in the evening and read, and it was a wonderful performance. He had a very fine, vibrant voice, and enjoyed it so himself and would walk up and down the room reading, with all the manifestation and gesticulations he would really act the character of whom he was reading. And then, perhaps next morning I would find him in bed, as he wrote long after the lights were turned down.

“One day at luncheon a telegram came. He asked me to read it, and I read: ‘Can get the Casco for the South Sea cruise.’

“‘What will you do?’ I asked.

“‘Do?’ he said, ‘Why go of course!’

“…Well, after this telegram came, Stevenson set himself down to write to the man in Scotland who handled his affairs out there (Charles Baxter) — his father had left him about three thousand pounds which he could use, in money — and he wrote for some time, very gravely, and then he read a portion of that to us. Then, drawing down his upper lip in the real Scotch way, he began to mimic the Honorable ——- receiving the letter:

“‘Ah, this is he — spending his patrimony …’ etc., etc., and he kept that up for a minute — then:

“‘You know it is to do good that the good die,’ and he closed the letter and posted it. A few days after that we broke up there and came back to New York. He said to me:

“‘I don’t want you to see us off — we’ll be back in a few months.’

“And so we parted. He went down the steps of University Place, I went up University Place. The last time I ever saw him. He never came back, of course.

“My reminiscences of Stevenson go much further back than the time of which I have spoken, but all that has been told in many ways. His own words, mine, and many others.

“The most interesting thing about Stevenson in many ways, was the man who is rather in his books, I think, and you would get somewhat the impression of a man who was extremely unlike the majority of humanity — a man who was most meticulous about the style of everything he wore; on the contrary, he seemed to have the vocabulary of every man, seemed to meet all sorts and conditions of men on their own grounds and to get something interesting from each one. I remember one in the hotel in New York. I came up there, as I said, one morning about nine o’clock and went along the hall toward the room, and I saw one of the waiters coming out, carrying a tray, and grinning broadly.

“I went in and said: ‘What have you been up to Louis?’

“‘I have had a most delightful conversation with a bright young man,’ was the reply.

“And the same in Sydney. One night Stevenson and Mrs. Stevenson were out walking, and suddenly they saw ejected from a barroom a man, who looked as though he might be a gentleman. He was well dressed and Stevenson also made the remark” ‘Why that fellow looks as if he were a gentleman.’ The man was very much intoxicated, but Stevenson straightened him up, talked with him, finally got his name and called a cab. I think the man had given some address — and Stevenson got the cab and sent him home. In the meanwhile Mrs. Stevenson was waiting in a daze, when another man came up to them, and Mrs. Stevenson said ‘Well?’

“He said: ‘I’m drunk, too.’

“They simply saw that providence was abroad, and he was going to have his share of it.

“… The spectacle of a man who, like Stevenson, was so handicapped by illness, is a thing, I think, that can be held up as a lesson to anyone of us. There were times when he was very ill, but in the intervals of this prostration he rebounded like a rubber ball. He wrote me once, I remember, in answer to a letter of mine:

“‘Yes, you are lucky to have a bag that holds you comfortably. Mine is a strange container. I don’t die, damme, and I can get along on both feet — I have no illness — I am a chronic sickest, and any work cripples along between the bed and the parlour. I like my life all the same, and should like it none the worse if I could have a talk with you, though even my talks, now, are measured.’

“…It is hard to explain to you, but the sense of his being gone is hardly realizable. Of course it is absurd, it is a generation since he died. I suppose there is something from our early association, our intimacy, responsible for and which may have given us that sense (I say ‘us,’ for I have heard others who knew him speak of this also) together with things constantly recurring; an expression, a written word in one of his books, so characteristic that it seems almost that he is personally present. There were a great many letters, of course. I don’t think it has ever happened to me with anyone else, but for weeks, months, years it seemed, and almost today it seems that Stevenson is hardly gone.

“I take up his books, and I suppose that when I read his books I read between the lines rather, but his books carry a message, almost as though he were speaking. Of course there are words that I use, expressions — a flash and I know just where I got them. Stevenson.

“But the existence of a club, of a society like this, the fact that only two or three years has the Stevenson Society in Edinburgh been formed, is proof of this most extraordinary survival, and this is growing. I don’t think Edinburgh supported Stevenson as a young man. They did not. But I tell you they were not proud of him. Gradually there has grown a sense of worth. Probably an understanding by many of things which they did not understand when they — I suppose Edinburgh had a great deal to put up with in those days of Stevenson’s youth; but I suppose there was never and angel there. His father was the most respectable of people. His poor, dear mother — she was a delightful lady, but I don’t think she ever quite got over his becoming a writer.

“… Even during the first five years after his death no one thought of him as they do today. Was it lack of appreciation? He did plenty during his life, but even those who knew him best, and those especially, expected greater things of him — expected him to do a great work. And I think he came very near doing it!

“If Thackery had died at the age of Stevenson, I don’t know if there would have been a Vanity Fair, even!

“But when you come to real comparison, I am not altogether sure but what Stevenson would have had them beaten, but I certainly think that no English writer has ever left a finer unfinished monument — and he died at 44.

“I do not know how long I have taken, or how long you want to hear me, and so I shall now thank you for your attention, and I am glad of the fact that it hasn’t rained.

“At the close of Mr. Low’s address Rev. E. P. Miller pronounced the benediction and the audience sang the customary ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ after which the Reviewers’ Club of Saranac Lake acted as hostesses at the refreshment tables …”

— Livingston Chapman, secretary.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today