Robert Louis Stevenson in Montpellier, Marseille and Nice

In early autumn 1882, RLS was “ordered south” again. He had first been ordered south to Menton in 1873 on Dr Andrew Clark’s insistence. Now, Dr Clark recommended that he stay in the South of France again for the winter. Because Fanny was too ill to travel, Bob Stevenson and RLS headed south to find somewhere for RLS to stay. RLS was first in Montpellier, then Marseille, then Nice, and back again to Marseille. In February 1883 he moved to Hyeres, where he would stay until June 1884.

On this page you will find more information about the places RLS stayed in the autumn of 1882 and early winter of 1883: Montpellier, Marseille and Nice.

Montpellier

“I can bear Mount Peeler no more; not that I don’t like it; I do in a way; there is a very friendly bookseller; the doctor does not hate me; one of the waiters is real kind and encouraging; but there are too many raise the heel against me”
(Letter from RLS to his wife, 1 October 1882, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol iv [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], pp. 1-2)

Around the 15th of September 1882, RLS and Bob Stevenson left to find a suitable place for RLS to winter in the south of France. At this time Fanny was too ill to travel – she would join RLS in October in Marseilles.

En route to Marseilles, in early October (roughly from late September to 8 October), RLS stayed in Montpellier. During his stay here he was unwell (he was haemorrhaging) and often consulted with Dr Caisso.

Stevenson was relieved when Dr Caisso said he was well enough to travel on, and he felt much better when he arrived in Marseille: “My health is hugely restored; I feel quite twice the man I was at Montpellier, though I get no sleep whatever – owing to the gay mosquito” (Letter from RLS to his parents, 9 October 1882, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol iv [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 8).

Marseille

“Your kind letter has much flattered Marseille, which I adore myself. But if you saw the hills of St Marcel! They are romance in limestone. You shall see. You know I have been really very seedy. But now, once installed in the Country house of the Flea, I shall write better. Do Send Us Books!”
(Letter from RLS to Sidney Colvin, 20 October 1882, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol iv [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 15)

On 9 October 1882, RLS arrived in Marseille. Fanny, who had been too ill to travel with him earlier now joined him. The two stayed at the Terminus Hotel from 9 – 22 October.

On the 22nd, the Stevensons moved to a rented house, Campagne Defli, in Saint-Marcel (on the outskirts of Marseilles). They stayed here until early January 1883, when RLS went to Nice for most of the month (see below – Fanny stayed in the house and met RLS in Nice later).

He did try to find somewhere more conducive in a different part of Marseille: at the end of January, RLS and Fanny moved to the Hotel du Petit Louvre in Marseille. They stayed here until 24 February, when they moved to Hyeres.


The reason for RLS’s move appears to be that Saint-Marcel was not improving his health. He wrote “if I keep clear of the damp, I hope to do very well at Marseille” (Letter from RLS to his parents, late January 1883, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol iv [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 60).

During his stay in Marseille, RLS was struggling with his health and Fanny often reported on how he was doing to his parents.

After moving to Hyeres, RLS was once more in Marseille. Forced to leave Hyeres because of a cholera outbreak in June 1884, RLS went to Royat, stopping at Marseille en route.

Stevenson had also been to Marseille a couple of times before his lengthy stay from October 1882 – February 1883.

When RLS was 12, he, for example, his mother, father, cousin Elizabeth (Bessie) Stevenson and nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) travelled through Europe from 2 January – 20 May 1863. They stayed in Marseilles on 10 January 1863 at the Hotel des Colonies. Read more information on RLS’s travels through Europe in 1863.

RLS was also in Marseille when he was travelling to Menton (the first time he was “ordered south”) in 1873. He wrote: “You cannot picture to yourself anything more steeped in hard bright sunshine than the view from the hill” (Letter from RLS to his mother, 9 November 1873, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol i [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 361). During this visit, RLS was in Marseilles on 11 and 12 November 1873. He was travelling to Menton via London, Dover, Paris, Sens, Dijon, Lyons, Orange, Avignon and Marseille.

Nice

“Here I am at Nice – Grand Hotel – a little farther up the river than the old Chauvain – now Cosmopolitan. What a change from twenty years ago! The very river is now bridged over, and gardens and casinos and the like occupy its place. The old Chauvain, I looked into: gone was the gardened court, gone, of course, all the travelling carriages I used to play among with the little Italian girl and the little German boy. Only the Place Massena still has its arcades and the identical café still remains where I remember seeing my father and Mr Abbott sitting in the moonlight”
(Letter from RLS to his mother, 5 January 1883, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol iv [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], pp. 43-44)

On 1 January 1883, RLS moved from Campagne Defli, Saint-Marcel to the Grand Hotel, Nice. Fanny stayed at the house and joined him later in the month. It seems that RLS was finding Saint-Marcel less conducive to his health then he had hoped – hence the change to Nice. At the end of January, he returned to Marseille, to the Hotel du Petit Louvre.

When RLS was in Hyeres, he returned to Nice on 1 October 1883, to consult with a doctor.

He was here again in early January 1884. W.E. Henley and Charles Baxter were visiting the Stevensons at Hyeres. 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. On their return to Hyeres, they stayed in Nice (from around 20 January – 16 February 1884).

During this stay at Nice, RLS was at the Pension Rose. An illness which seemed minor at first became frighteningly serious: “Louis fell ill and I hunted Nice over without finding a doctor; at last I got one who came, beckoned to me to follow him and told me that Louis was dying, and that he could not be kept alive until you got here. That was yesterday. I watched every breath Louis drew all night in what sickening apprehension you may guess” (Letter from Fanny Stevenson to her mother-in-law, 22 January 1883, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol iv [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 233).

After a long illness, which deeply concerned his friends and family, his health improved enough for him to travel. He returned to Hyeres around 17 February 1884.

RLS had also been to Nice as a boy. Indeed, the quote which opens the Nice section refers to his visit there in 1863. 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 stayed in Nice from 15 January to probably 4 February 1863 at Hotel Chauvain, on the Quai of St Jean Baptiste.

Cummy’s diary document some of the places they visited during this stay in Nice. For example, on 18 January RLS and Cummy went to church on the Rue Massena. On 29 January they visited Villefranche-sur-Mer, a village three miles from Nice where they walked in the Alps. Read more information on RLS’s travels through Europe in 1863.