A Footnote to History

Robert Louis Stevenson
A Footnote to History

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Louis Stevenson (#25 in our series by Robert Louis Stevenson)
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Title: A Footnote to History
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Release Date: May, 1996 [EBook #536] [Yes, we are more than one
year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on March 20, 1996]
[Most recently updated: August 27, 2002]

Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Transcribed from the 1912 Swanston edition by David Price, email
[email protected]



An affair which might be deemed worthy of a note of a few lines in any
general history has been here expanded to the size of a volume or large
pamphlet. The smallness of the scale, and the singularity of the
manners and events and many of the characters, considered, it is hoped
that, in spite of its outlandish subject, the sketch may find readers. It
has been a task of difficulty. Speed was essential, or it might come too
late to be of any service to a distracted country. Truth, in the midst of
conflicting rumours and in the dearth of printed material, was often
hard to ascertain, and since most of those engaged were of my personal
acquaintance, it was often more than delicate to express. I must
certainly have erred often and much; it is not for want of trouble taken
nor of an impartial temper. And if my plain speaking shall cost me any
of the friends that I still count, I shall be sorry, but I need not be
In one particular the spelling of Samoan words has been altered; and
the characteristic nasal n of the language written throughout ng instead
of g. Thus I put Pango-Pango, instead of Pago-Pago; the sound being
that of soft ng in English, as in singer, not as in finger.



The story I have to tell is still going on as I write; the characters are
alive and active; it is a piece of contemporary history in the most exact
sense. And yet, for all its actuality and the part played in it by mails and
telegraphs and iron war- ships, the ideas and the manners of the native
actors date back before the Roman Empire. They are Christians,
church-goers, singers of hymns at family worship, hardy cricketers;
their books are printed in London by Spottiswoode, Trubner, or the
Tract Society; but in most other points they are the contemporaries of
our tattooed ancestors who drove their chariots on the wrong side of the
Roman wall. We have passed the feudal system; they are not yet clear
of the patriarchal. We are in the thick of the age of finance; they are in
a period of communism. And this makes them hard to understand.
To us, with our feudal ideas, Samoa has the first appearance of a land
of despotism. An elaborate courtliness marks the race alone among
Polynesians; terms of ceremony fly thick as oaths on board a ship;
commoners my-lord each other when they meet--and urchins as they
play marbles. And for the real noble a whole private dialect is set apart.
The common names for an axe, for blood, for bamboo, a bamboo knife,
a pig, food, entrails, and an oven are taboo in his presence, as the
common names for a bug and for many offices and members of the
body are taboo in the drawing-rooms of English ladies. Special words
are set apart for his leg, his face, his hair, his belly, his eyelids, his son,
his daughter, his wife, his wife's pregnancy, his wife's adultery,
adultery with his wife, his dwelling, his spear, his comb, his sleep, his
dreams, his anger, the
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