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FOREWORD To be honest, to be kind - to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation-above all, on the same grim condition, to keep friends with himselfhere is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy. He has an ambitious soul who would ask more; he has a hopeful spirit who should look in such an enterprise to be successful. There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted.
Vattene in pace, alma beata e bella.(Go in peace, soul beautiful and blessed.-)
HATEVER new light may
thrown upon the career of the most fascinating personality of this or any other age, it would scarcely seem possible that we could come to know Robert Louis Stevenson more intimately, who in all lovable essentials was known to us twenty years ago. 1
At that time Virginibus Puerisque and other Papers assured the world of a new-risen essayist ranking with Lamb and Hazlitt; and what manner of man that meant has since been “writ large.”
1 The Letters and the Biography are now before the world, and one may make his choice. As for the Henley controversy now raging that, too, will adjust itself in the long run to our widening sense of the fitness of things.
Of the essays constituting this first volume those reprinted here seem in many ways the most purely ex cathedra: in the later Christmas Sermon, - Stevenson employs the same unforgetable language of own familiar friend:
“Life is not designed to minister to a man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is - so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys - this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much :surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed.”
i First published in Scribner's Magazine for December, 1888, and since then issued in book form, (New York, Scribner's, 1900). 12mo. bds. Pp. iv-26. 50 cents.
Again, as he puts it: “no man knows better than I that, as we go on in life we must part from prettiness and the graces.
We but attain qualities to lose them; life is a series of farewells even in art; even our proficiencies are deciduous and evanescent.”ı True, but
I See The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. II, pp. 339-340. Quoted from a letter to Marcel Schwob who had sent Stevenson a copy of his recently published Mimes. See also Mr. Bradford Torrey's article in The Atlantic Monthly for February, 1902, where this letter is cited more fully as “weighty with the subtlest and pithiest criticism, not of M. Schwob's writings alone, but of writings in general, and in particular of Stevenson's.”