Father Damien
An Open Letter
to the
Reverend Doctor Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson
Goretti Publications 11
Dozenal numeration is a system of thinking of numbers in twelves, rather than
tens. Twelve is much more versatile, having four even divisors—2, 3, 4, and 6—as
opposed to only two for ten. This means that such hatefulness as “0.333.. . for
and “0.1666. . . for
are things of the past, replaced by easy “0;4” (four twelfths)
and “0;2” (two twelfths).
In dozenal, counting goes one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
elv, dozen; dozen one, dozen two, dozen three, dozen four, dozen five, dozen six,
dozen seven, dozen eight, dozen nine, dozen ten, dozen elv, two dozen, two dozen
one. . . It’s written as such: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,
, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19,
, 1
, 20, 21. . .
Dozenal counting is at once much more efficient and much easier than decimal
counting, and takes only a little bit of time to get used to. Further information can
be had from the dozenal societies (http://www.dozenal.org), as well as in many
other places on the Internet.
This text is in the public domain. The cover photograph was taken by William
Brigham in 1115 beside Saint Damien’s parish church, St. Philomena, and is also in
the public domain.
This document may be copied and distributed freely, as its text is in the public domain.
Goretti Publications
Sydney, February 25, 1890.
,—It may probably occur to you that we have met, and visited, and conversed;
on my side, with interest. You may remember that you have done me several
courtesies, for which I was prepared to be grateful. But there are duties
which come before gratitude, and offences which justly divide friends, far more
acquaintances. Your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage is a document which, in my
sight, if you had filled me with bread when I was starving, if you had sat up to
nurse my father when he lay a- dying, would yet absolve me from the bonds of
gratitude. You know enough, doubtless, of the process of canonisation to be aware
that, a hundred years after the death of Damien, there will appear a man charged
with the painful office of the devil’s advocate. After that noble brother of mine,
and of all frail clay, shall have lain a century at rest, one shall accuse, one defend
him. The circumstance is unusual that the devil’s advocate should be a volunteer,
should be a member of a sect immediately rival, and should make haste to take
upon himself his ugly office ere the bones are cold; unusual, and of a taste which I
shall leave my readers free to qualify; unusual, and to me inspiring. If I have at all
learned the trade of using words to convey truth and to arouse emotion, you have
at last furnished me with a subject. For it is in the interest of all mankind, and the
cause of public decency in every quarter of the world, not only that Damien should
be righted, but that you and your letter should be displayed at length, in their true
colours, to the public eye.
To do this properly, I must begin by quoting you at large: I shall then proceed
to criticise your utterance from several points of view, divine and human, in the
course of which I shall attempt to draw again, and with more specification, the
character of the dead saint whom it has pleased you to vilify: so much being done,
I shall say farewell to you for ever.
“HONOLULU, August 2, 1889.
“Rev. H. B. Gage.
ear Brother
,—In answer to your inquires about Father Damien,
I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the
extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philan-
thropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong
and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without
orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one
himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the
island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He
had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which
were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means
4 Father Damien
were provided. He was not a pure man in his relations with women,
and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and
carelessness. Other have done much for the lepers, our own ministers,
the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic
idea of meriting eternal life.—Yours, etc.,
“C. M. HYDE”
To deal fitly with a letter so extraordinary, I must draw at the outset on my
private knowledge of the signatory and his sect. It may offend others; scarcely you,
who have been so busy to collect, so bold to publish, gossip on your rivals. And
this is perhaps the moment when I may best explain to you the character of what
you are to read: I conceive you as a man quite beyond and below the reticences of
civility: with what measure you mete, with that shall it be measured you again;
with you, at last, I rejoice to feel the button off the foil and to plunge home. And if
in aught that I shall say I should offend others, your colleagues, whom I respect
and remember with affection, I can but offer them my regret; I am not free, I am
inspired by the consideration of interests far more large; and such pain as can be
inflicted by anything from me must be indeed trifling when compared with the
pain with which they read your letter. It is not the hangman, but the criminal, that
brings dishonour on the house.
You belong, sir, to a sect—I believe my sect, and that in which my ancestors
laboured—which has enjoyed, and partly failed to utilise, and exceptional advantage
in the islands of Hawaii. The first missionaries came; they found the land already
self-purged of its old and bloody faith; they were embraced, almost on their arrival,
with enthusiasm; what troubles they supported came far more from whites than
from Hawaiians; and to these last they stood (in a rough figure) in the shoes of God.
This is not the place to enter into the degree or causes of their failure, such as it is.
One element alone is pertinent, and must here be plainly dealt with. In the course
of their evangelical calling, they—or too many of them—grew rich. It may be news
to you that the houses of missionaries are a cause of mocking on the streets of
Honolulu. It will at least be news to you, that when I returned your civil visit, the
driver of my cab commented on the size, the taste, and the comfort of your home.
It would have been news certainly to myself, had any one told me that afternoon
that I should live to drag such a matter into print. But you see, sir, how you degrade
better men to your own level; and it is needful that those who are to judge betwixt
you and me, betwixt Damien and the devil’s advocate, should understand your
letter to have been penned in a house which could raise, and that very justly, the
envy and the comments of the passers-by. I think (to employ a phrase of yours
From the Sydney Presbyterian, October 26, 1889.
Robert Louis Stevenson 5
which I admire) it “should be attributed” to you that you have never visited the
scene of Damien’s life and death. If you had, and had recalled it, and looked about
your pleasant rooms, even your pen p erhaps would have be en stayed.
Your sect (and remember, as far as any sect avows me, it is mine) has not done ill
in a worldly sense in the Hawaiian Kingdom. When calamity befell their innocent
parishioners, when leprosy descended and took root in the Eight Islands, a quid
pro quo was to be looked for. To that prosperous mission, and to you, as one of
its adornments, God had sent at last an opportunity. I know I am touching here
upon a nerve acutely sensitive. I know that others of your colleagues look back
on the inertia of your Church, and the intrusive and decisive heroism of Damien,
with something almost to be called remorse. I am sure it is so with yourself; I am
persuaded your letter was inspired by a certain envy, not essentially ignoble, and
the one human trait to be espied in that performance. You were thinking of the
lost chance, the past day; of that which should have been conceived and was not;
of the service due and not rendered. Time was, said the voice in your ear, in your
pleasant room, as you sat raging and writing; and if the words written were base
beyond parallel, the rage, I am happy to repeat—it is the only compliment I shall
pay you—the rage was almost virtuous. But, sir, when we have failed, and another
has succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit
and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant steps into
the battle, under the eyes of God, and succours the afflicted, and consoles the dying,
and is himself afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honour—the battle
cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a lost battle, and
lost for ever. One thing remained to you in your defeat—some rags of common
honour; and these you have made haste to cast away.
Common honour; not the honour of having done anything right, but the honour
of not having done aught conspicuously foul; the honour of the inert: that was
what remained to you. We are not all expected to be Damiens; a man may conceive
his duty more narrowly, he may love his comforts better; and none will cast a
stone at him for that. But will a gentleman of your reverend profession allow
me an example from the fields of gallantry? When two gentlemen compete for
the favour of a lady, and the one succeeds and the other is rejected, and (as will
sometimes happen) matter damaging to the successful rival’s credit reaches the
ear of the defeated, it is held by plain men of no pretensions that his mouth is, in
the circumstance, almost necessarily closed. Your Church and Damien’s were in
Hawaii upon a rivalry to do well: to help, to edify, to set divine examples. You
having (in one huge instance) failed, and Damien succeeded, I marvel it should not
have occurred to you that you were doomed to silence; that when you had been
outstripped in that high rivalry, and sat inglorious in the midst of your well-being,
6 Father Damien
in your pleasant room—and Damien, crowned with glories and horrors, toiled and
rotted in that pigsty of his under the cliffs of Kalawao—you, the elect who would
not, were the last man on earth to collect and propagate gossip on the volunteer
who would and did.
I think I see you—for I try to see you in the flesh as I write these sentences—I
think I see you leap at the word pigsty, a hyperbolical expression at the best. “He
had no hand in the reforms, he was “a coarse, dirty man”; these were your own
words; and you may think it possible that I am come to support you with fresh
evidence. In a sense, it is even so. Damien has b een too much depicted with a
conventional halo and conventional features; so drawn by men who perhaps had
not the eye to remark or the pen to express the individual; or who perhaps were
only blinded and silenced by generous admiration, such as I partly envy for myself—
such as you, if your soul were enlightened, would envy on your bended knees. It
is the least defect of such a method of portraiture that it makes the path easy for
the devil’s advocate, and leaves the misuse of the slanderer a considerable field
of truth. For the truth that is suppressed by friends is the readiest weapon of the
enemy. The world, in your despite, may perhaps owe you something, if your letter
be the means of substituting once for all a credible likeness for a wax abstraction.
For, if that world at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall
be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B.
You may ask on what authority I speak. It was my inclement destiny to become
acquainted, not with Damien, but with Dr. Hyde. When I visited the lazaretto,
Damien was already in his resting grave. But such information as I have, I gathered
on the spot in conversation with those who knew him well and long: some indeed
who revered his memory; but others who had sparred and wrangled with him,
who beheld him with no halo, who perhaps regarded him with small respect, and
through whose unprepared and scarcely partial communications the plain, human
features of the man shone on me convincingly. These gave me what knowledge
I possess; and I learnt it in that scene where it could be most completely and
sensitively understood—Kalawao, which you have never visited, about which you
have never so much as endeavoured to inform yourself; for, brief as your letter
is, you have found the means to stumble into that confession. Less than one-half
of the island, you say, “is devoted to the lepers. Molokai—“Molokai ahina, the
“grey, lofty, and most desolate island—along all its northern side plunges a front of
precipice into a sea of unusual profundity. This range of cliff is, from east to west,
the true end and frontier of the island. Only in one spot there projects into the
ocean a certain triangular and rugged down, grassy, stony, windy, and rising in the
midst into a hill with a dead crater: the whole bearing to the cliff that overhangs it
Robert Louis Stevenson 7
somewhat the same relation as a bracket to a wall. With this hint you will now b e
able to pick out the leper station on a map; you will be able to judge how much of
Molokai is thus cut off between the surf and precipice, whether less than a half,
or less than a quarter, or a fifth, or a tenth—or, say a twentieth; and the next time
you burst into print you will be in a position to share with us the issue of your
I imagine you to be one of those persons who talk with cheerfulness of that
place which oxen and wain-ropes could not drag you to behold. You, who do not
even know its situation on the map, probably denounce sensational descriptions,
stretching your limbs the while in your pleasant parlour on Beretania Street. When
I was pulled ashore there one early morning, there sat with me in the boat two
sisters, bidding farewell (in humble imitation of Damien) to the lights and joys of
human life. One of these wept silently; I could not withhold myself from joining
her. Had you been there, it is my belief that nature would have triumphed even in
you; and as the boat drew but a little nearer, and you beheld the stairs crowded
with abominable deformations of our common manho od, and saw yourself landing
in the midst of such a population as only now and then surrounds us in the horror
of a nightmare—what a haggard eye you would have rolled over your reluctant
shoulder towards the house on Beretania Street! Had you gone on; had you found
every fourth face a blot upon the landscape; had you visited the hospital and
seen the butt-ends of human beings lying there almost unrecognisable, but still
breathing, still thinking, still remembering; you would have understood that life in
the lazaretto is an ordeal from which the nerves of a man’s spirit shrink, even as his
eye quails under the brightness of the sun; you would have felt it was (even today)
a pitiful place to visit and a hell to dwell in. It is not the fear of possible infection.
That seems a little thing when compared with the pain, the pity, and the disgust of
the visitor’s surroundings, and the atmosphere of affliction, disease, and physical
disgrace in which he breathes. I do not think I am a man more than usually timid;
but I never recall the days and nights I spent upon that island promontory (eight
days and seven nights), without heartfelt thankfulness that I am somewhere else. I
find in my diary that I speak of my stay as a “grinding experience”: I have once
jotted in the margin, Harrowing is the word”; and when the Mokolii bore me at
last towards the outer world, I kept repeating to myself, with a new conception of
their pregnancy, those simple words of the song—
“’Tis the most distressful country that ever yet was seen.
And observe: that which I saw and suffered from was a settlement purged,
bettered, beautified; the new village built, the hospital and the Bishop-Home ex-
cellently arranged; the sisters, the doctor, and the missionaries, all indefatigable
in their noble tasks. It was a different place when Damien came there and made
8 Father Damien
this great renunciation, and slept that first night under a tree amidst his rotting
brethren: alone with pestilence; and looking forward (with what courage, with
what pitiful sinkings of dread, God only knows) to a lifetime of dressing sores and
You will say, perhaps, I am too sensitive, that sights as painful abound in cancer
hospitals and are confronted daily by doctors and nurses. I have long learned to
admire and envy the do ctors and the nurses. But there is no cancer hospital so large
and populous as Kalawao and Kalaupapa; and in such a matter every fresh case, like
every inch of length in the pip e of an organ, deepens the note of the impression;
for what daunts the onlooker is that monstrous sum of human suffering by which
he stands surrounded. Lastly, no doctor or nurse is called upon to enter once for
all the doors of that gehenna; they do not say farewell, they need not abandon
hope, on its sad threshold; they but go for a time to their high calling, and can look
forward as they go to relief, to recreation, and to rest. But Damien shut-to with his
own hand the doors of his own sepulchre.
I shall now extract three passages from my diary at Kalawao.
A. “Damien is dead and already somewhat ungratefully remembered in the field
of his labours and sufferings. ‘He was a good man, but very officious, says one.
Another tells me he had fallen (as other priests so easily do) into something of the
ways and habits of thought of a Kanaka; but he had the wit to recognise the fact,
and the good sense to laugh at” [over] “it. A plain man it seems he was; I cannot
find he was a popular.
B. After Ragsdale’s death” [Ragsdale was a famous Luna, or overseer, of the
unruly settlement] “there followed a brief term of office by Father Damien which
served only to publish the weakness of that noble man. He was rough in his ways,
and he had no control. Authority was relaxed; Damien’s life was threatened, and
he was soon eager to resign.
C. “Of Damien I begin to have an idea. He seems to have been a man of the
peasant class, certainly of the peasant type: shrewd, ignorant and bigoted, yet with
an open mind, and capable of receiving and digesting a reproof if it were bluntly
administered; superbly generous in the least thing as well as in the greatest, and
as ready to give his last shirt (although not without human grumbling) as he had
been to sacrifice his life; essentially indiscreet and officious, which made him a
troublesome colleague; domineering in all his ways, which made him incurably
unpopular with the Kanakas, but yet destitute of real authority, so that his boys
laughed at him and he must carry out his wishes by the means of bribes. He learne d
to have a mania for doctoring; and set up the Kanakas against the remedies of his
regular rivals: perhaps (if anything matter at all in the treatment of such a disease)
the worst thing that he did, and certainly the easiest. The best and worst of the man
Robert Louis Stevenson 9
appear very plainly in his dealings with Mr. Chapman’s money; he had originally
laid it out” [intended to lay it out] “entirely for the benefit of Catholics, and even
so not wisely; but after a long, plain talk, he admitted his error fully and revised
the list. The sad state of the boys’ home is in part the result of his lack of control;
in part, of his own slovenly ways and false ideas of hygiene. Brother officials used
to call it ‘Damien’s Chinatown. ‘Well, they would say, ‘your Chinatown keeps
growing. And he would laugh with perfect good-nature, and adhere to his errors
with perfect obstinacy. So much I have gathered of truth about this plain, noble
human brother and father of ours; his imperfections are the traits of his face, by
which we know him for our fellow; his martyrdom and his example nothing can
lessen or annul; and only a person here on the spot can properly appreciate their
I have set down these private passages, as you perceive, without correction;
thanks to you, the public has them in their bluntness. They are almost a list of the
man’s faults, for it is rather these that I was seeking: with his virtues, with the
heroic profile of his life, I and the world were already sufficiently acquainted. I
was besides a little suspicious of Catholic testimony; in no ill sense, but merely
because Damien’s admirers and disciples were the least likely to be critical. I know
you will be more suspicious still; and the facts set down above were one and all
collected from the lips of Protestants who had opposed the father in his life. Yet I
am strangely deceived, or they build up the image of a man, with all his weakness,
essentially heroic, and alive with rugged honesty, generosity, and mirth.
Take it for what it is, rough private jottings of the worst sides of Damien’s
character, collected from the lips of those who had laboured with and (in your own
phrase) “knew the man”;—though I question whether Damien would have said
that he knew you. Take it, and observe with wonder how well you were served
by your gossips, how ill by your intelligence and sympathy; in how many points
of fact we are at one, and how widely our appreciations vary. There is something
wrong here; either with you or me. It is possible, for instance, that you, who seem
to have so many ears in Kalawao, had heard of the affair of Mr. Chapman’s money,
and were singly struck by Damien’s intended wrong-doing. I was struck with that
also, and set it fairly down; but I was struck much more by the fact that he had the
honesty of mind to be convinced. I may here tell you that it was a long business;
that one of his colleagues sat with him late into the night, multiplying arguments
and accusations; that the father listened as usual with “perfect good-nature and
perfect obstinacy”; but at the last, when he was persuaded—“Yes, said he, “I am
very much obliged to you; you have done me a service; it would have been a theft.
There are many (not Catholics merely) who require their heroes and saints to be
infallible; to these the story will be painful; not to the true lovers, patrons, and
Father Damien
servants of mankind.
And I take it, this is a type of our division; that you are one of those who have
an eye for faults and failures; that you take a pleasure to find and publish them; and
that, having found them, you make haste to forget the overvailing virtues and the
real success which had alone introduced them to your knowledge. It is a dangerous
frame of mind. That you may understand how dangerous, and into what a situation
it has already brought you, we will (if you please) go hand-in-hand through the
different phrases of your letter, and candidly examine each from the point of view
of its truth, its appositeness, and its charity.
Damien was coarse.
It is very possible. You make us sorry for the lepers, who had only a coarse
old peasant for their friend and father. But you, who were so refined, why were
you not there, to cheer them with the lights of culture? Or may I remind you that
we have some reason to doubt if John the Baptist were genteel; and in the case of
Peter, on whose career your doubtless dwell approvingly in the pulpit, no doubt
at all he was a coarse, headstrong” fisherman! Yet even in our Protestant Bibles
Peter is called Saint.
Damien was dirty.
He was. Think of the poor lepers annoyed with this dirty comrade! But the
clean Dr. Hyde was at his food in a fine house.
Damien was headstrong.
I believe you are right again; and I thank God for his strong head and heart.
Damien was bigoted.
I am not fond of bigots myself, because they are not fond of me. But what
is meant by bigotry, that we should regard it as a blemish in a priest? Damien
believed his own religion with the simplicity of a peasant or a child; as I would I
could suppose that you do. For this, I wonder at him some way off; and had that
been his only character, should have avoided him in life. But the point of interest
in Damien, which has caused him to be so much talked about and made him at
last the subject of your pen and mine, was that, in him, his bigotry, his intense and
narrow faith, wrought potently for good, and strengthened him to be one of the
world’s heroes and exemplars.
Damien was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders.
Is this a misreading? or do you really mean the words for blame? I have heard
Christ, in the pulpits of our Church, held up for imitation on the ground that His
sacrifice was voluntary. Does Dr. Hyde think otherwise?
Damien did not stay at the settlement, etc.
It is true he was allowed many indulgences. Am I to understand that you blame
the father for profiting by these, or the officers for granting them? In either case, it
Robert Louis Stevenson
is a mighty Spartan standard to issue from the house on Beretania Street; and I am
convinced you will find yourself with few supporters.
Damien had no hand in the reforms, etc.
I think even you will admit that I have already been frank in my description
of the man I am defending; but before I take you up upon this head, I will be
franker still, and tell you that perhaps nowhere in the world can a man taste a more
pleasurable sense of contrast than when he passes from Damien’s “Chinatown” at
Kalawao to the beautiful Bishop-Home at Kalaupapa. At this point, in my desire to
make all fair for you, I will break my rule and adduce Catholic testimony. Here is
a passage from my diary about my visit to the Chinatown, from which you will
see how it is (even now) regarded by its own officials: “We went round all the
dormitories, refectories, etc.—dark and dingy enough, with a superficial cleanliness,
which he” [Mr. Dutton, the lay-brother] “did not seek to defend. ‘It is almost decent,
said he; ‘the sisters will make that all right when we get them here. And yet I
gathered it was already better since Damien was dead, and far better than when he
was there alone and had his own (not always excellent) way. I have now come far
enough to meet you on a common ground of fact; and I tell you that, to a mind not
prejudiced by jealousy, all the reforms of the lazaretto, and even those which he
most vigorously opposed, are properly the work of Damien. They are the evidence
of his success; they are what his heroism provoked from the reluctant and the
careless. Many were before him in the field; Mr. Meyer, for instance, of whose
faithful work we hear too little: there have been many since; and some had more
worldly wisdom, though none had more devotion, than our saint. Before his day,
even you will confess, they had effected little. It was his part, by one striking act of
martyrdom, to direct all men’s eyes on that distressful country. At a blow, and with
the price of his life, he made the place illustrious and public. And that, if you will
consider largely, was the one reform needful; pregnant of all that should succeed.
It brought money; it brought (best individual addition of them all) the sisters; it
brought supervision, for public opinion and public interest landed with the man
at Kalawao. If ever any man brought reforms, and died to bring them, it was he.
There is not a clean cup or towel in the Bishop-Home, but dirty Damien washed it.
Damien was not a pure man in his relations with women, etc.
How do you know that? Is this the nature of conversation in that house
on Beretania Street which the cabman envied, driving past?—racy details of the
misconduct of the poor peasant priest, toiling under the cliffs of Molokai?
Many have visited the station before me; they se em not to have heard the
rumour. When I was there I heard many shocking tales, for my informants were
men speaking with the plainness of the laity; and I heard plenty of complaints of
Damien. Why was this never mentioned? and how came it to you in the retirement
10 Father Damien
of your clerical parlour?
But I must not even seem to deceive you. This scandal, when I read it in your
letter, was not new to me. I had heard it once before; and I must tell you how.
There came to Samoa a man from Honolulu; he, in a public- house on the beach,
volunteered the statement that Damien had “contracted the disease from having
connection with the female lepers”; and I find a joy in telling you how the report
was welcomed in a public-house. A man sprang to his feet; I am not at liberty to
give his name, but from what I heard I doubt if you would care to have him to
dinner in Beretania Street. “You miserable little ———” (here is a word I dare not
print, it would so shock your ears). “You miserable little ———, he cried, “if the
story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times a lower
——— for daring to repeat it?” I wish it could be told of you that when the report
reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you had found in your
soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that
one which I dare not print; it would not need to have b een blotted away, like Uncle
Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to
you for your brightest righteousness. But you have deliberately chosen the part of
the man from Honolulu, and you have played it with improvements of your own.
The man from Honolulu—miserable, leering creature—communicated the tale to a
rude knot of beach-combing drinkers in a public-house, where (I will so far agree
with your temperance opinions) man is not always at his noblest; and the man
from Honolulu had himself been drinking—drinking, we may charitably fancy, to
excess. It was to your “Dear Brother, the Reverend H. B. Gage, that you chose to
communicate the sickening story; and the blue ribbon which adorns your portly
bosom forbids me to allow you the extenuating plea that you were drunk when it
was done. Your “dear brother”—a brother indeed—made haste to deliver up your
letter (as a means of grace, perhaps) to the religious papers; where, after many
months, I found and read and wondered at it; and whence I have now reproduced
it for the wonder of others. And you and your dear brother have, by this cycle of
operations, built up a contrast very edifying to examine in detail. The man whom
you would not care to have to dinner, on the one side; on the other, the Reverend
Dr. Hyde and the Reverend H. B. Gage: the Apia bar-room, the Honolulu manse.
But I fear you scarce appreciate how you appear to your fellow-men; and to
bring it home to you, I will suppose your story to be true. I will suppose—and
God forgive me for supposing it—that Damien faltered and stumbled in his narrow
path of duty; I will suppose that, in the horror of his isolation, perhaps in the fever
of incipient disease, he, who was doing so much more than he had sworn, failed
in the letter of his priestly oath—he, who was so much a better man than either
you or me, who did what we have never dreamed of daring—he too tasted of our
Robert Louis Stevenson 11
common frailty. “O, Iago, the pity of it!” The least tender should be moved to tears;
the most incredulous to prayer. And all that you could do was to pen your letter to
the Reverend H. B. Gage!
Is it growing at all clear to you what a picture you have drawn of your own
heart? I will try yet once again to make it clearer. You had a father: suppose this
tale were about him, and some informant brought it to you, proof in hand: I am
not making too high an estimate of your emotional nature when I suppose you
would regret the circumstance? that you would feel the tale of frailty the more
keenly since it shamed the author of your days? and that the last thing you would
do would be to publish it in the religious press? Well, the man who tried to do
what Damien did, is my father, and the father of the man in the Apia bar, and the
father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you
grace to see it.
This work was typeset in Linux Libertine 10/12 using the
X 2
document prepa-
ration system. This remarkable defense of the great Father Damien of Molokai is in
the public domain.