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Louis had always had a taste for French literature. Already in 1866 he had written to Bob (L1 112) about Alexandre Dumas’s Le Vicomte de 26 Robert Louis Stevenson: A Literary Life Bragelonne, which he was later to rank as his favourite novel. He had first made its acquaintance (indirectly) in a hotel in Nice in 1863 through his study of ‘certain illustrated dessert plates’ bearing the name d’Artagnan (T29 111). Writing from Mentone in January 1874 Stevenson asked Colvin to send him a copy of Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en Prose (L1 470), which he would later use as a model for his own prose poems;5 that he was already familiar with Baudelaire’s work is shown by his letter, itself almost a prose poem, to Bob Stevenson in March 1870 (L1 192–4).
From late October to December 1878, after his travels with a donkey in the Cévennes, Stevenson stayed in London, splitting his time between the Savile Club and Shepherd’s Bush, with a flying visit to Colvin’s rooms in Trinity College, Cambridge. He and Henley were working closely together at this time, not only on the play Deacon Brodie, but also on the production of London, the short-lived journal edited by Henley. It was in London that Stevenson’s tales subsequently published as New Arabian Nights first appeared in serial form in between June and October 1878.
He even begged The French Connection 27 Colvin to find him a cheap English translation of L’Homme Qui Rit [The Laughing Man] ‘so that I may finish this article while I’m in the vein . . I’m just a thought weary of V. Hugo just now’ (L1 503) – and this from the man who insisted that Dumas should read in the original French rather than any ‘blackguard travesty of a translation’ (T29 114–15). 6 The essay, which appeared unsigned in August 1874, was mistakenly attributed to Stephen himself by an anonymous critic in the Spectator, and, in a case of misplaced sycophancy which Stevenson later recounted with some merriment, was described as ‘masterly’ (S 14).