Sacred Mysteries: Travelling hopefully with a donkey

Great stylist: Stevenson portrayed by John Singer Sargent in 1885 Credit:

I was given for Christmas an edition of the Cevennes Journal of Robert Louis Stevenson, recording his 12-day walk through these strange French highlands in 1878, which he turned into Travels with a Donkey. It was a good present, for I love Stevenson’s style, and there are other points of interest.

For one thing, I had remembered his attitude to religion in the book as sometimes angular, and there are notable differences between the notebook and the published work. Thus, when he watches compline from the gallery of the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of the Snows, the notebook says: “These things have a flavour that cannot be rendered in words.” He follows this remark by declaring himself to be one of those who is “faithful all the world over and finds no form of worship silly”.

In the finished book he tells of a reaction more like panic: “And when I remember, I am not surprised that I made...

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