An open letter to the Tusitala
Samoa’s own Tusitala was an incurable romantic. He had so much to say about everything that he could not resist making commentary on everything and everybody that was in his path at the moment.
He was compulsive –a term we hear a lot about in today’s psychobabble to which we are exposed - to explain behavioral patterns of people who are trying their best to cope with the problems of today. In no way am I being critical or defending Louis’s behavior with this explanation.
I am in fact, celebrating his compulsions, trying to in a very small and insignificant way, keep his quirks alive with an annual letter to him. Bear with me then, as I share with you the 2018 open Letter to Tusitala below:
Talofa Lava! I’ve had a whole year to think about you; and I have to admit that as each year passes my respect and admiration for you grows to new heights. I am constantly reminded of your desire and ability to develop and maintain strong and lasting relationships. I have been reviewing just a handful of the brilliant correspondence you either initiated or maintained in your lifetime. I want to tell you – if you don’t already know – that little did the recipients of just one of your letters know how valuable that letter would become over the years.
Did you know that a few of your most devoted followers have made it their life’s work to catalogue your letters? Most notable are Roger Swearingen Ernest Mehew, and Bradford Booth, to whom we owe much gratitude for their work in your behalf.
Louis, I don’t want to flatter you hoping to find favor, but I am sincerely in awe of what they have assembled. What a fantastic collection and resource for any and all who have curiosity about what made you who you are as one of the most unforgettable characters ever.
Your letters prove to the world that YOU are much more interesting than any of the unique characters you ever created for your novels. However, this is a fact that was not really obvious while you were among us.
Your personality was so attractive and compelling that there was scarcely a thought to make the comparison. Now, Tusitala, after all these years have passed and all the aspects of your life that have been studied by scholars, there is consensus.
And, that is saying something when you talk about unforgettable characters like Long John Silver, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, David Balfour or Lord Braxfield to name a few.
So – it’s established that you were a compulsive letter writer for most of your life. You have no idea how valuable those letters are as a historical resource. You probably have been somewhat amused at some of the conclusions others have made from information they first discovered from one of your letters.
Whether their conclusions are accurate or not has little or no consequence other than it has provided so much fodder for keeping your spirit alive and well here into the 21st Century. As for us here in SAMOA, we love to read the letters you wrote from right here in VAILIMA. But that’s not all we have.
We have those marvelous almost daily journals you and Fanny kept, preserved as OUR SAMOAN ADVENTURE and those PRAYERS WRITTEN AT VAILIMA, the language of which is most befitting when talking to our Maker.
We are amused when we come upon entries either of you made wherein you must have written something in your journal entries too controversial or outrageous that the words have been blacked out! We don’t know if you blacken them, or if others who thought they were doing you a favor blacked them out.
We wish now that we could see behind the blackness and get further insight to your thinking at that moment when you and your pen were musing philosophical or dealing with some reality or person as you managed your lives. Not to worry, however; or, as you would understand the commonly heard expression here in SAMOA, ‘Ia popole fua – o le finigalo o le Atua.’
Oh, Tusitala, before I forget, I must also mention that your old pal Harry Moors loved you so much that he penned his recollections about your relationship. And, so did your step-son Lloyd. And, Teuila didn’t want to be left out of describing the life you created for them by bringing them to SAMOA. Their impressions of you are so intimate, vivid and indelible that they are saying in reverse, ‘Oh, we never will forget you.’
I am fascinated by your personal magnetism. During your time here in SAMOA, your life was punctuated with visits of many notables who went out of their way to come to SAMOA to see first-hand what it was that drew you to this wonderful place.
Henry James and John LaFarge, Count Nerli from Italy to name a few. J.M Barrie, the creator of PETER PAN had a plan to visit you personally. He was on his way when he heard of your passing and he returned to his home to grieve with the rest of the literary world.
BTW, some biographers have speculated that Barrie patterned PETER after what he knew about your life and how you lived it – an optimistic, bright fellow who spread happiness and sunshine wherever he went. Don’t be embarrassed about the comparison, Tuisitala.
You WERE the embodiment of those admirable traits. Jack London, a famous American adventure writer said that he was preparing to visit you in SAMOA at the time of your passing and noted that ‘he would not have done that for any other living human being.’ That is an indication of how high you were held by your peers.
I want to tell you of a recent happening here in Vailima that indicates your memory is still alive. A man from overseas came to the Museum and told our staff that he was climbing the Mt. Vaea, to place his personal copy of TREASURE ISLAND on your tomb.
Margaret Silva, one of your most devoted Samoan followers, told him why don’t you leave the book with us as part of our collection. His answer was direct and unchangeable when he replied in words something like this: ‘Oh no. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I left it anywhere but on his tomb.
I don’t care if the wind blows it away or if it is rain soaked or taken by others, my gesture is to let R.L.S. know how much joy that book gave me when I first read it.’ Needless to say, just another current day example of those who are drawn to this magnificent place to remember you and the impact of your thoughts and deeds while you were amongst us.
We have to tell you again how much joy you have given us over the years as we have gone with you on your incredible life’s journey.
So long for now, Tusitala, until we meet again.