But the new-made friends did not
forgather again. Instead, Stevenson wrote Tamate a long letter, which the
Rev. Richard Lovett has given to the public in an article on "R. L.
Stevenson in relation to Christian Life and Christian Missions,"
contributed to the Sunday at Home.
In this letter Stevenson confessed
that he had looked forward to his second meeting with Tamate with a
pleasure "hard to exaggerate." The position of his affairs at Vailima
rendered his presence indispensable. He had purchased three hundred acres
of bush land some months previously, and this was now being cleared of its
dense tropical vegetation under his immediate oversight; he was his own
architect, and was planning and re-planning the dwelling-house; in
domestic matters he and Mrs. Stevenson had only the assistance of one
servant, "a feckless, kindly creature," and " the less competent the
servant, the more numerous and miscellaneous were the odd jobs which
devolved upon his master and mistress," as Mr. Graham Balfour tells us;
lastly, and finally, his wife was unwell and would not accompany him, and
he could not leave her to rough it alone—" Fanny has been quite ill with
earache. She won’t go, hating the sea at this wild season; I don’t like to
leave her; so it drones on, steamer after steamer."
And so Stevenson reluctantly
abandoned his project. "Forgive me my failure," he wrote. " I think your
Master would have me break my word. I live in the hope of seeing you
again. I pray God watch over you."
The expressed desire to see Tamate
again was no pious platitude on the part of Tusitala. "I ask you as a
particular favour, send me a note of the most healthy periods in New
Guinea. I am only a looker-on. I have a (rather heavy) charge of souls and
bodies. If I can make out any visit, it must be done sensibly, and with
the least risk. But oh, Tamate, if I had met you when I was a boy and a
bachelor, how different my life would have been.
"Dear Mrs. Chalmers, you say (and
very justly) ‘Tamate is a rowdy ‘—your own excellent expression. I wonder
if even you know what it means, to a man like me—a clever man, no modesty,
observe !—a man fairly critical, a man of the world (in most of the ill
senses), to meet one who represents the essential, and who is so free from
the formal, from the grimace."
To his friend Mr. Sidney Colvin,
Stevenson wrote, about the same time, " I wish you to get Pioneering in
New Guinea, by J. Chalmers. It’s a missionary book, and has less
pretensions to be literature than Spurgeon’s sermons. Yet I think even
through that, you will see some of the traits of the hero that wrote it; a
man that took me fairly by storm for the most attractive, simple, brave,
and, interesting man in the whole Pacific:
He is away now to go up the Fly
River; a desperate venture, it is thought; he is quite a Livingstone
A year later, Stevenson wrote to his
friend Dr. H. Bellyse Bail-don: "Sick and well, I have had a splendid life
of it, grudge nothing, regret very little—and then only some little
corners of misconduct for which I deserve hanging, and must infallibly be
damned—and, take it all over, damnation and all, would hardly change with
any man of my time, unless, perhaps, it were (General) Gordon or our
friend Chalmers: a man I admire for his virtues, love for his faults, and
envy for the really A1 life he has, with everything heart—my heart, I
mean—could wish. . . . I shall look forward to some record of your time
with Chalmers: you can’t weary me of that fellow; he is as big as a house
and far bigger than any church, where no man warms his hands."
In editing the letter from which we
have just now quoted, Mr. Colvin, Stevenson’s literary executor, notes
that Robert Louis Stevenson sometimes expressed a desire to survive Tamate,
for the sake only of writing his life.
Dr. Baildon, who knew both men, has
written since Tamate’s death: "These two men, in many respects such a
contrast, had yet a great deal in common. They were both born adventurers,
both explorers in different ways; and no two men I know of, in fact or
fiction, were more sworn foes of conventionality. Both men had looked
death almost daily between the eyes, without flinching; neither would
perhaps have cared to alter the manner of his departure—the one suddenly
smitten at the zenith of his intellectual powers, the other dying, like
the Master he strove to follow, at the hands of those he sought to save."
Another comparison between Robert
Louis Stevenson and Tamate comes from a different pen: "There was a
remarkable difference in the ways these two men handled the natives. With
all his Christian patience, Chalmers could be firm, and even stern when
necessary, with the natives, and the smartest of them could never ‘pull
his leg.’ Stevenson was imperious with the Samoans, but those wily
humorists were always ‘getting at’ him."