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Title: Prayers written at Vailimia
       and a Lowden Sabbath Morn

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Editor: Mrs. Stevenson

Release Date: August 16, 2019  [eBook #616]
[This file was first posted 20 June 1996]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Prayers Written At Vailima was transcribed from the 1916 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, proofing by Stephen Booth.

A Lowden Sabbath Morn was transcribed from the 1898 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email

Public domain cover


by Robert Louis Stevenson




Decorative Chatto & Windus graphic




In every Samoan household the day is closed with prayer and the singing of hymnsThe omission of this sacred duty would indicate, not only a lack of religious training in the house chief, but a shameless disregard of all that is reputable in Samoan social lifeNo doubt, to many, the evening service is no more than a duty fulfilledThe child who says his prayer at his mother’s knee can have no real conception of the meaning of the words he lisps so readily, yet he goes to his little bed with a sense of heavenly protection that he would miss were the prayer forgottenThe average Samoan is but a larger child in most things, and p. viwould lay an uneasy head on his wooden pillow if he had not joined, even perfunctorily, in the evening serviceWith my husband, prayer, the direct appeal, was a necessityWhen he was happy he felt impelled to offer thanks for that undeserved joy; when in sorrow, or pain, to call for strength to bear what must be borne.

Vailima lay up some three miles of continual rise from Apia, and more than half that distance from the nearest villageIt was a long way for a tired man to walk down every evening with the sole purpose of joining in family worship; and the road through the bush was dark, and, to the Samoan imagination, beset with supernatural terrorsWherefore, p. viias soon as our household had fallen into a regular routine, and the bonds of Samoan family life began to draw us more closely together, Tusitala felt the necessity of including our retainers in our evening devotionsI suppose ours was the only white man’s family in all Samoa, except those of the missionaries, where the day naturally ended with this homely, patriarchal customNot only were the religious scruples of the natives satisfied, but, what we did not foresee, our own respectabilityand incidentally that of our retainersbecame assured, and the influence of Tusitala increased tenfold.

After all work and meals were finished, thepu,’ or war conch, was sounded from the back veranda and p. viiithe front, so that it might be heard by allI don’t think it ever occurred to us that there was any incongruity in the use of the war conch for the peaceful invitation to prayerIn response to its summons the white members of the family took their usual places in one end of the large hall, while the Samoansmen, women, and childrentrooped in through all the open doors, some carrying lanterns if the evening were dark, all moving quietly and dropping with Samoan decorum in a wide semicircle on the floor beneath a great lamp that hung from the ceilingThe service began by my son reading a chapter from the Samoan Bible, Tusitala following with a prayer in English, sometimes impromptu, but more often from the notes in this little p. ixbook, interpolating or changing with the circumstance of the dayThen came the singing of one or more hymns in the native tongue, and the recitation in concert of the Lord’s Prayer, also in SamoanMany of these hymns were set to ancient tunes, very wild and warlike, and strangely at variance with the missionary words.

Sometimes a passing band of hostile warriors, with blackened faces, would peer in at us through the open windows, and often we were forced to pause until the strangely savage, monotonous noise of the native drums had ceased; but no Samoan, nor, I trust, white person, changed his reverent attitudeOnce, I remember a look of surprised dismay crossing p. xthe countenance of Tusitala when my son, contrary to his usual custom of reading the next chapter following that of yesterday, turned back the leaves of his Bible to find a chapter fiercely denunciatory, and only too applicable to the foreign dictators of distracted SamoaOn another occasion the chief himself brought the service to a sudden checkHe had just learned of the treacherous conduct of one in whom he had every reason to trustThat evening the prayer seemed unusually short and formalAs the singing stopped he arose abruptly and left the roomI hastened after him, fearing some sudden illness.  ‘What is it?’ I asked.  ‘It is this,’ was the reply; ‘I am not yet fit to say, “Forgive us our trespasses p. xias we forgive those who trespass against us.”’

It is with natural reluctance that I touch upon the last prayer of my husband’s lifeMany have supposed that he showed, in the wording of this prayer, that he had some premonition of his approaching deathI am sure he had no such premonitionIt was I who told the assembled family that I felt an impending disaster approaching nearer and nearerAny Scot will understand that my statement was received seriouslyIt could not be, we thought, that danger threatened any one within the house; but Mr. Graham Balfour, my husband’s cousin, very near and dear to us, was away on a perilous cruiseOur fears followed the various vessels, more or p. xiiless unseaworthy, in which he was making his way from island to island to the atoll where the exiled king, Mataafa, was at that time imprisonedIn my husband’s last prayer, the night before his death, he asked that we should be given strength to bear the loss of this dear friend, should such a sorrow befall us.




For Success


For Grace


At Morning




Another for Evening


In Time of Rain


Another in Time of Rain


Before a Temporary Separation


For Friends


For the Family




For Self-Blame


For Self-Forgetfulness


For Renewal of Joy



Lord, behold our family here assembled.  We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle.  Let peace abound in our small company.  Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.  Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere.  Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.  Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.  Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.  Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.  Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours.  If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.  As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, as children of their sire, we beseech of Thee this help and mercy for Christ’s sake.


Grant that we here before Thee may be set free from the fear of vicissitude and the fear of death, may finish what remains before us of our course without dishonour to ourselves or hurt to others, and, when the day comes, may die in peace.  Deliver us from fear and favour: from mean hopes and cheap pleasures.  Have mercy on each in his deficiency; let him be not cast down; support the stumbling on the way, and give at last rest to the weary.


The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties.  Help us to play the man, help us to perform them with laughter and kind faces, let cheerfulness abound with industry.  Give us to go blithely on our business all this day, bring us to our resting beds weary and content and undishonoured, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep.


We come before Thee, O Lord, in the end of thy day with thanksgiving.

Our beloved in the far parts of the earth, those who are now beginning the labours of the day what time we end them, and those with whom the sun now stands at the point of noon, bless, help, console, and prosper them.

Our guard is relieved, the service of the day is over, and the hour come to rest.  We resign into thy hands our sleeping bodies, our cold hearths, and open doors.  Give us to awake with smiles, give us to labour smiling.  As the sun returns in the east, so let our patience be renewed with dawn; as the sun lightens the world, so let our loving-kindness make bright this house of our habitation.


Lord, receive our supplications for this house, family, and country.  Protect the innocent, restrain the greedy and the treacherous, lead us out of our tribulation into a quiet land.

Look down upon ourselves and upon our absent dear ones.  Help us and them; prolong our days in peace and honour.  Give us health, food, bright weather, and light hearts.  In what we meditate of evil, frustrate our will; in what of good, further our endeavours.  Cause injuries to be forgot and benefits to be remembered.

Let us lie down without fear and awake and arise with exultation.  For his sake, in whose words we now conclude.


We thank Thee, Lord, for the glory of the late days and the excellent face of thy sun.  We thank Thee for good news received.  We thank Thee for the pleasures we have enjoyed and for those we have been able to confer.  And now, when the clouds gather and the rain impends over the forest and our house, permit us not to be cast down; let us not lose the savour of past mercies and past pleasures; but, like the voice of a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memory survive in the hour of darkness.  If there be in front of us any painful duty, strengthen us with the grace of courage; if any act of mercy, teach us tenderness and patience.


Lord, Thou sendest down rain upon the uncounted millions of the forest, and givest the trees to drink exceedingly.  We are here upon this isle a few handfuls of men, and how many myriads upon myriads of stalwart trees!  Teach us the lesson of the trees.  The sea around us, which this rain recruits, teems with the race of fish; teach us, Lord, the meaning of the fishes.  Let us see ourselves for what we are, one out of the countless number of the clans of thy handiwork.  When we would despair, let us remember that these also please and serve Thee.


To-day we go forth separate, some of us to pleasure, some of us to worship, some upon duty.  Go with us, our guide and angel; hold Thou before us in our divided paths the mark of our low calling, still to be true to what small best we can attain to.  Help us in that, our maker, the dispenser of events—Thou, of the vast designs, in which we blindly labour, suffer us to be so far constant to ourselves and our beloved.


For our absent loved ones we implore thy loving-kindness.  Keep them in life, keep them in growing honour; and for us, grant that we remain worthy of their love.  For Christ’s sake, let not our beloved blush for us, nor we for them.  Grant us but that, and grant us courage to endure lesser ills unshaken, and to accept death, loss, and disappointment as it were straws upon the tide of life.


Aid us, if it be thy will, in our concerns.  Have mercy on this land and innocent people.  Help them who this day contend in disappointment with their frailties.  Bless our family, bless our forest house, bless our island helpers.  Thou who hast made for us this place of ease and hope, accept and inflame our gratitude; help us to repay, in service one to another, the debt of thine unmerited benefits and mercies, so that, when the period of our stewardship draws to a conclusion, when the windows begin to be darkened, when the bond of the family is to be loosed, there shall be no bitterness of remorse in our farewells.

Help us to look back on the long way that Thou hast brought us, on the long days in which we have been served, not according to our deserts, but our desires; on the pit and the miry clay, the blackness of despair, the horror of misconduct, from which our feet have been plucked out.  For our sins forgiven or prevented, for our shame unpublished, we bless and thank Thee, O God.  Help us yet again and ever.  So order events, so strengthen our frailty, as that day by day we shall come before Thee with this song of gratitude, and in the end we be dismissed with honour.  In their weakness and their fear, the vessels of thy handiwork so pray to Thee, so praise Thee.  Amen.


We beseech Thee, Lord, to behold us with favour, folk of many families and nations gathered together in the peace of this roof, weak men and women subsisting under the covert of thy patience.  Be patient still; suffer us yet awhile longer;—with our broken purposes of good, with our idle endeavours against evil, suffer us awhile longer to endure, and (if it may be) help us to do better.  Bless to us our extraordinary mercies; if the day come when these must be taken, brace us to play the man under affliction.  Be with our friends, be with ourselves.  Go with each of us to rest; if any awake, temper to them the dark hours of watching; and when the day returns, return to us, our sun and comforter, and call us up with morning faces and with morning hearts—eager to labour—eager to be happy, if happiness shall be our portion—and if the day be marked for sorrow, strong to endure it.

We thank Thee and praise Thee; and in the words of him to whom this day is sacred, close our oblation.


Lord, enlighten us to see the beam that is in our own eye, and blind us to the mote that is in our brother’s.  Let us feel our offences with our hands, make them great and bright before us like the sun, make us eat them and drink them for our diet.  Blind us to the offences of our beloved, cleanse them from our memories, take them out of our mouths for ever.  Let all here before Thee carry and measure with the false balances of love, and be in their own eyes and in all conjunctures the most guilty.  Help us at the same time with the grace of courage, that we be none of us cast down when we sit lamenting amid the ruins of our happiness or our integrity: touch us with fire from the altar, that we may be up and doing to rebuild our city: in the name and by the method of him in whose words of prayer we now conclude.


Lord, the creatures of thy hand, thy disinherited children, come before Thee with their incoherent wishes and regrets: Children we are, children we shall be, till our mother the earth hath fed upon our bones.  Accept us, correct us, guide us, thy guilty innocents.  Dry our vain tears, wipe out our vain resentments, help our yet vainer efforts.  If there be any here, sulking as children will, deal with and enlighten him.  Make it day about that person, so that he shall see himself and be ashamed.  Make it heaven about him, Lord, by the only way to heaven, forgetfulness of self, and make it day about his neighbours, so that they shall help, not hinder him.


We are evil, O God, and help us to see it and amend.  We are good, and help us to be better.  Look down upon thy servants with a patient eye, even as Thou sendest sun and rain; look down, call upon the dry bones, quicken, enliven; recreate in us the soul of service, the spirit of peace; renew in us the sense of joy.





The clinkum-clank o’ Sabbath bells
Noo to the hoastin’ rookery swells,
Noo faintin’ laigh in shady dells,
         Sounds far an’ near,
An’ through the simmer kintry tells
         Its tale o’ cheer.


An’ noo, to that melodious play,
A deidly awn the quiet sway—
A’ ken their solemn holiday,
         Bestial an’ human,
The singin’ lintie on the brae,
         The restin’ plou’man.


He, mair than a’ the lave o’ men,
His week completit joys to ken;
Half-dressed, he daunders out an’ in,
         Perplext wi’ leisure;
An’ his raxt limbs he’ll rax again
            Wi’ painfü’ pleesure.


The steerin’ mither strang afit
Noo shoos the bairnies but a bit;
Noo cries them ben, their Sinday shüit
         To scart upon them,
Or sweeties in their pouch to pit,
         Wi’ blessin’s on them.


The lasses, clean frae tap to taes,
Are busked in crunklin’ underclaes;
The gartened hose, the weel-filled stays,
         The nakit shift,
A’ bleached on bonny greens for days,
         An’ white’s the drift.


An’ noo to face the kirkward mile
The guidman’s hat o’ dacent style,
The blackit shoon, we noon maun fyle
         As white’s the miller:
A waefü’ peety tae, to spile
         The warth o’ siller.


Our Marg’et, aye sae keen to crack,
Douce-stappin’ in the stoury track,
Her emeralt goun a’ kiltit back
         Frae snawy coats,
White-ankled, leads the kirkward pack
         Wi’ Dauvit Groats.


A thocht ahint, in runkled breeks,
A’ spiled wi’ lyin’ by for weeks,
The guidman follows closs, an’ cleiks
         The sonsie misses;
His sarious face at aince bespeaks
         The day that this is.


And aye an’ while we nearer draw
To whaur the kirkton lies alaw,
Mair neebours, comin’ saft an’ slaw
         Frae here an’ there,
The thicker thrang the gate, an’ caw
         The stour in air.


But hark! the bells frae nearer clang
To rowst the slaw, their sides they bang
An’ see! black coats a’ready thrang
         The green kirkyaird;
And at the yett, the chestnuts spang
         That brocht the laird.


The solemn elders at the plate
Stand drinkin’ deep the pride o’ state:
The practised hands as gash an’ great
         As Lords o’ Session;
The later named, a wee thing blate
         In their expression.


The prentit stanes that mark the deid,
Wi’ lengthened lip, the sarious read;
Syne way a moraleesin’ heid,
         An then an’ there
Their hirplin’ practice an’ their creed
         Try hard to square.


It’s here our Merren lang has lain,
A wee bewast the table-stane;
An’ yon’s the grave o’ Sandy Blane;
         An’ further ower,
The mither’s brithers, dacent men!
         Lie a’ the fower.


Here the guidman sall bide awee
To dwall amang the deid; to see
Auld faces clear in fancy’s e’e;
         Belike to hear
Auld voices fa’in saft an’ slee
         On fancy’s ear.


Thus, on the day o’ solemn things,
The bell that in the steeple swings
To fauld a scaittered faim’ly rings
         Its walcome screed;
An’ just a wee thing nearer brings
         The quick an’ deid.


But noo the bell is ringin’ in;
To tak their places, folk begin;
The minister himsel’ will shüne
         Be up the gate,
Filled fu’ wi’ clavers about sin
         An’ man’s estate.


The tünes are up—French, to be shüre,
The faithfü’ French, an’ twa-three mair;
The auld prezentor, hoastin’ sair,
         Wales out the portions,
An’ yirks the tüne into the air
         Wi’ queer contortions.


Follows the prayer, the readin’ next,
An’ than the fisslin’ for the text—
The twa-three last to find it, vext
         But kind o’ proud;
An’ than the peppermints are raxed,
         An’ southernwood.


For noo’s the time whan pows are seen
Nid-noddin’ like a mandareen;
When tenty mithers stap a preen
         In sleepin’ weans;
An’ nearly half the parochine
         Forget their pains.


There’s just a waukrif’ twa or three:
Thrawn commentautors sweer to ’gree,
Weans glowrin’ at the bumlin’ bee
         On windie-glasses,
Or lads that tak a keek a-glee
         At sonsie lasses.


Himsel’, meanwhile, frae whaur he cocks
An’ bobs belaw the soundin’-box,
The treesures of his words unlocks
         Wi’ prodigality,
An’ deals some unco dingin’ knocks
         To infidality.


Wi’ snappy unction, hoo he burkes
The hopes o’ men that trust in works,
Expounds the fau’ts o’ ither kirks,
         An’ shaws the best o’ them
No muckle better than mere Turks,
         When a’s confessed o’ them.


Bethankit! what a bonny creed!
What mair would ony Christian need?—
The braw words rumm’le ower his heid,
         Nor steer the sleeper;
And in their restin’ graves, the deid
         Sleep aye the deeper.


It may be guessed by some that I had a certain parish in my eye, and this makes it proper I should add a word of disclamation.  In my time there have been two ministers in that parish.  Of the first I have a special reason to speak well, even had there been any to think ill.  The second I have often met in private and long (in the due phrase) “sat under” in his church, and neither here nor there have I heard an unkind or ugly word upon his lips.  The preacher of the text had thus no original in that particular parish; but when I was a boy he might have been observed in many others; he was then (like the schoolmaster) abroad; and by recent advices, it would seem he has not yet entirely disappeared.


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