Underwoods is a volume of miscellaneous verse by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), first published in London by Chatto and Windus in 1887, the month that he left Europe for the South Seas. The title is from Ben Jonson who dedicated his own book of minor verses to the reader with the words "As the multitude call Timber Trees promiscuously growing a Wood or Forest; so am I bold to entitle these lesser poems, of late growth, by this of Underwood..."
Stevenson acknowledges this in the modest lines that open Underwoods:
- Of all my verse, like not a single line;
- But like my title, for it is not mine.
- That title from a better man I stole:
- Ah, how much better, had I stol'n the whole!"
The volume is dedicated to Stevenson's friend Thomas Bodley Scott of Bournemouth, and addressed from Stevenson's Bournemouth home 'Skerryvore', named after the lighthouse built by his uncle. The dedication acknowledges eleven doctors in three countries, a reminder that many of the poems were written during Stevenson's recurrent illness. Stevenson was convalescing in Bournmouth at the time, and in his dedication he acknowledges his debt to the medical profession:
"THERE are men and classes of men that stand above the
common herd: the soldier, the sailor and the shepherd not unfrequently; the artist rarely; rarely still, the clergyman; the physician almost as a rule. He is the flower (such as it is) of our civilisation; and when that stage of man is done with, and only remembered to be marvelled at in history, he will be thought to have shared as little as any in the defects of the period, and most notably exhibited the virtues of the race. Generosity he has, such as is possible to those who practise an art, never to those who drive a trade; discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and what are more important, Heraclean cheerfulness and courage. So it is that he brings air and cheer into the sickroom, and often enough, though not so oftenas he wishes, brings healing."
The volume includes verses in English and in Scots:
- "Far `yont amang the years to be
- When a' we think, an' a' we see,
- An' a' we luve, `s been dung ajee
- By time's rouch shouther,
- An' what was richt and wrang for me
- Lies mangled throu'ther,
from 'THE MAKER TO POSTERITY'
- Underwoods full text online. The Project Gutenberg Etext of 'Underwoods'. Scanned and proofed by David Price