I received only a few days ago your long and interesting letter. I shall give you my perspective on your book. Since then, I have camped in California, where things are greatly simplified by the absence of rain, but at the same time much more difficult due to the dried-up rivers. I remember certain difficulties in finding drinking water; and navigating with a compass through thick "chaparral and chemises" [characteristic shrubbery of a part of California] is not always easy or pleasant. But I was lying down with a fever and spent some very melancholic nights when I couldn't close my eyes and couldn't decide what I disliked more, the glitter of the stars or the piercing cry of the crickets; and cooking became completely impossible.This fever was the beginning of a long illness from which I still suffer. It may take many years before I can go camping again; and even if I regained my health, perhaps I would no longer have the taste for it. In the meantime, the very word is delightful to read or write, and I still cling to this feeling, I indulge in illusions thinking that two or three nights under the stars could work wonders for my health. Many thanks for the kindness you conveyed to me in your mail, believe me, dear Sir, to my sincere greetings. Someone who has not undergone the exercise cannot imagine the effort required to accomplish such a journey alone and the difficulty of constantly keeping the pages of this damn journal up to date [reference to his account "Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes"]. When I arrived in Alais [former name for the city of Alès] and had a hot bath, I almost fainted despite the comfort brought by rest. In August 1879, Stevenson embarked on his journey to California to join his fiancee, Fanny Osbourne, against the advice of his family. He had met this American artist-painter, already married and mother of two children, in Barbizon five years earlier. Waiting for Fanny's divorce, the writer led a bohemian life on the port of San Francisco, living frugally, taking on odd jobs, without ever finding a stable one. Stevenson's long wanderings would be the cause of his frequent illnesses and fragile health. He nearly died in March 1880, saved only by Fanny's care, who devoted six weeks to nursing him. He would never rid himself of this illness, which he refers to in the letter as "the beginning of a long illness from which I still suffer." He knows he is fragile, yet the intoxication of travel and adventure never leaves him. Thus, he indulges in illusions, thinking that two or three nights under the stars could work wonders for his health. The two lovers married on May 19, 1880, and returned to Scotland the following summer. Leading a peaceful life with his wife on his native land, Stevenson was in the midst of writing one of his masterpieces: Treasure Island. In a long postscript, the writer reflects on the decisive episode that was the autumn of 1878 for him. Caught between his unconditional love for Fanny Osbourne and his father's threats to cut him off financially if he persisted in the idea of marrying a married woman, Robert Louis, who was not yet 28 years old and still financially dependent, was plagued by doubt.
He decided to isolate himself in Monastier-sur-Gazeille, in the Auvergne region. This was the starting point of a hike he undertook with a donkey, until exhaustion. The specter of Fanny Osbourne was omnipresent. She was the main motivation for this journey, during which he kept a journal published the following year under the title "Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes." This letter, although written from his Edinburgh residence and most likely on June 5, was sent from Pitlochry, 150 km further north, where Stevenson resided from June 6 to August 2, 1881.
Richard Dury, 2012, 12:3. Bonhams - London, June 19, 2002, then private collection.