This painting, by Bernard Deubelbeiss, is part of a set celebrating the 140th anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's actual journey with Modestine which he subsequently recorded in his "Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes".
Sir Christopher supplied the following notes on the origin of the dance, Modestine's Romp, and subsequent developments.
The Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary had the most extraordinary effect on my life in 2018. A jokey throw-away line, in an email of mine in January about something else, led to Erika Ritzau devising Modestine's Romp. That in turn, after SCDD had included her dance, led me to a long email exchange with Bernard Deubelbeiss, two of whose sketches were added to SCDD. (I still haven't met him in the flesh.) This led him to do a dozen more sketches on the theme of the 140th anniversary of the famous walk by RLS and Modestine, and of me doing the walk myself in June. Then Erika volunteered to teach SCD to two groups of kids on a "Donkey Caravan" along the route on the exact dates that RLS and Modestine did it. She couldn't make it to the start of these events, so I had to stand in for her and found myself teaching SCD to 55 kids between 3 and 10, surrounded by donkeys! And acting as a sort of curator-cum-art-guide for a travelling exhibition of Bernard's sketches. All utterly surreal, but extremely good fun - and I haven't related the half of it!
This also made 2018 an RLS year for me. I read or re-read many of his works, as well as biographies and books and articles about him and about his adventures with Modestine and had already been booked to give a talk about the subject in September, 2019. You never know where a chance remark may lead you!
Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS), 1850-1894
The Scottish author hardly seemed destined for a writing career. Both his father and grandfather were famous engineers of lighthouses, so it was assumed he would follow suit. Permanently ill from a lung disease, he was educated mainly at home where he was much under the influence of his fiercely Protestant nurse "Cummy". At Edinburgh University, he reluctantly studied engineering for 3 years, before switching to law. But already he wanted to become a writer and never practised at the bar, preferring to hang out with a literary set, first in Edinburgh then in London. This led to several of his essays being published. He also spent some time in Menton on a health cure.
But by the age of 25 he had still not written 'a real book', as he put it. Then in 1876 he embarked on an adventure with a friend: to paddle in kayaks from Antwerp through northern France for several weeks. This provided the raw material for An Inland Voyage, a travelogue published in 1878. It had some modest success. At the end of the trip, he joined his cousin Bob, a minor painter, in Grez-sur-Loing, just south of Paris. There and in nearby Barbizon flourished a somewhat bohemian colony of artists and writers amongst whom RLS felt himself very much at home. And it was here that he met Fanny Osbourne, a married American woman ten years his senior and with two children (a third had just died). RLS and Fanny, who had hitherto been much taken with Bob, fell in love and they lived together in Grez, Paris and London for much of the next two years. RLS's family and friends did not approve...
In August 1878, Fanny decided to go back to California, saying that she would seek a divorce from her husband Sam. RLS was distraught. He travelled with her and the children to Paris, then London, to see her off. Suddenly at a loose end, age 27, RLS set off a month later, for the Massif Central - for what was to become his famous "Voyage with a donkey in the Cévennes". Opinions differ as to his motives. Personally, I believe the main one was money - of which he was chronically short. He aimed to build on the success of his first book to earn enough to follow Fanny to the USA. He also needed time and space to sort out his love life. And he already had an interest in the history of the Camisards, the Protestant uprising in the Cévennes (1702-5) which reminded him of the Covenanters near Edinburgh earlier on.
During his 12-day walk with Modestine, he wrote up his journal each morning. In the next few months, this was transformed into book form, and was published in 1879 to critical acclaim. Although it initially gained RLS only £30, that was enough to help finance his trip to California to woo Fanny. They married in 1880 (their eccentric honeymoon is described in RLS's The Silverado Squatters).
Their life together until RLS died aged 44, was unconventional and colourful. He hit the jackpot in 1883 with the publication of Treasure Island, described as "the most famous 'adventure story' for boys ever written". This was followed by the huge success of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Money was at last less of a problem. They sailed to the Pacific in 1888, and eventually settled in Samoa where they built a house, Vailima. RLS was buried on top of the local mountain; years later Fanny's ashes were brought from California and scattered beside his grave.