“Nothing can change the eternal magnificence of form of the naked Alps behind Mentone; nothing, not even the crude curves of the railway, can utterly deform the suavity of contour of one bay after another along the whole reach of the Riviera. And of all this, he has only a cold head-knowledge that is divorced from enjoyment”
(RLS, “Ordered South”, in Virginibus Puerisque, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol ii [London: Chatto and Windus, 1911], p. 347)
On this page you will find information about RLS’s visits to Menton in the south of France.
Note: Throughout his writing, Stevenson uses ‘Mentone’, the Italian form of the town’s name.
4 February – 31 March 1863
“Mentone is not a pretty village. It is, I think, only one street, very narrow, houses very high for a country place, but the villas all around it give a fine appearance”
(Alison Cunningham, Cummy’s Diary, preface and notes by Robert T. Skinner [London: Chatto and Windus, 1926], p. 52)
When RLS was 12, he, his mother, father, cousin Elizabeth (Bessie) Stevenson and nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) travelled through Europe from 2 January – 20 May 1863.
They were in Menton from 4 February to 31 March 1863, staying at the rented Villa Bosano. During their stay the Stevensons visited Italy (20 and 23 February and 5 March) and drove along the Turin Road (21 February). On 25 February RLS and Cummy went walking in the Alps.
On 10 March the people of Menton celebrated the marriage of the Prince of Wales (Prince Albert Edward married Princess Alexandra of Denmark on 10 March 1863 in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle) and the Stevenson party joined in. The festivities were held in the Hotel Victoria, with dinner in the garden.
RLS and Cummy also visited Roquebrune (now Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a commune in France between Menton and Monaco), on 29 March. Read more information on RLS’s travels through Europe in 1863.
24 December 1863 – Late May 1864
“It is raining today which is a sell as we were going on a donkey excursion. I am making experiments on the temperature. I have made two new scents called Quintessence of Assafoedita and Collett bouquet both stooks especially Collett Bouquet. Fancy. I am going to the Prestidigateur. Grilliers showed me some tricks and is teaching me Picquet and he has introduced me to the capitaine of the garrison of Mentone”
(Letter from RLS to his father, 2 March 1864, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol i [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 103)
On 20 December 1863, RLS left Burlington Lodge Academy, Spring Grove, Isleworth, where he had been studying. He would not return to the school (where he was homesick). After leaving, he accompanied his parents to Menton, arriving on 24 December. He stayed until the end of May 1864 (first with both parents, and later, just his mother).
“I am just beginning to recognise how thoroughly all to smash I must have been; the spring has not righted itself at once, as I had hoped. However I eat well and generally sleep well, not quite always; and I can walk fairly, though with much perspiration and subsequent collapse, on even ground. Coming down hills is not my forte”
(Letter from RLS to Sidney Colvin, 14 or 15 November 1873, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol i [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 365)
In 1873, RLS was “ordered south” to Menton for health reasons. Dr Andrew Clark made his recommendation after seeing RLS, who was suffering badly – in part, his health was poor as a result of arguments with his father over RLS’s disavowal of the Christian faith. Fanny Sitwell and Sidney Colvin were very supportive of Stevenson during the time, encouraging him to see the doctor and get away.
You can read about this stay in Menton in RLS’s essay “Ordered South” (first published in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1874 and later included in Virginibus Puerisque ).
RLS arrived in Menton on his birthday – 13 November 1873. He had left London on 6 November, travelling via Dover, Paris, Sens, Dijon, Lyons, Orange, Avignon and Marseille.
In Mentone he stayed in the Hotel Du Pavillon, which had a beautiful view of the town. Stevenson was, however, depressed: his health was bad and the many letters he wrote to Fanny Sitwell and Sidney Colvin showed him to be unhappy. Indeed, “Ordered South” gives an indication of the dark thoughts RLS was harbouring during this period.
All was not so bad, however. While at Menton, RLS met two Russian ladies, Mesdames Garshine and Zessatsky – and with Madame Zessatsky he had a particularly flirtatious relationship. In fact, he wrote about it to Fanny Sitwell, who he was also attracted to. Unsurprisingly, she was not impressed by the news.
Stevenson’s spirits were lifted by the arrival of his friend Sidney Colvin in the winter of 1873. The two visited Monaco and Monte Carlo from 15 December 1873 to 2 January 1874.
When RLS returned to Menton on 2 January, he moved to the Hotel Mirabeau. He stayed here until he left Menton on 31 March 1874. He then stayed in Paris until 23 April, when he was in London. He returned home to Edinburgh on 26 April 1874.
From February 1883 – early June 1884, RLS and his wife were living in Hyeres for Stevenson’s health. In early January 1884, W.E. Henley and Charles Baxter visited. Chalet la Solitude, where the Stevensons were staying, was not suitable for so many guests so on 12 January the party left for Monaco, Monte Carlo and then Menton. They returned to Hyeres on 17 February, via Nice.