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ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
I 'HE day has not yet come perhaps
for an impartial judiciary on Robert Louis Stevenson. Contemporary criticism proverbially walks in Blind Man's Alley. But it is difficult not to speak of Stevenson, because, aside from his being a distinctive writer of his day and generation, he was the best-loved personality among current English writers. It is as impossible not to enter into intimate, affectionate relations with him as it is in the case of Charles Lamb. Hence the chorus of praise, the many confessions of faith, that have followed upon his lamentable takingoff in the prime of his literary powers. Great makers of literature - men who mean much to us and do much for us are by no means of necessity loved in proper person. Wordsworth or Goethe may have long been my literary idols: it
does not imply that I would have given a shilling to meet them in the Aesh; whereas I would have paid blood and treasure for a half hour's chat with Steven
But love for the man and his work may not justify another attempt at appreciation. Some Frenchman has told us that one needs not only to love, but to love gracefully. Yet affection should be a sort of lamp for guidance in the discovery of quality; moreover, the sympathetic author seems to say some special thing to one's self alone, and the admirer can but feel that certain phases of a writer's gift have not been indicated in true proportion or significance.
II The story of Stevenson's life will have a steadfast fascination. There was in it enough of variety and picturesqueness to catch the eye; while, deeper down, one feels the pulse of the hero, the pathos of the struggle of a man bodily frail
, intrepid of spirit, indomitably set upon brave accomplishment. This has all the more of pathetic appeal because of the fine, highbred reserve practised by Stevenson in his
literary work, concerning his physical ail
The only reference I recall in the whole range of his writings intended for publication (even in the Vailima Letters such allusions are curiously absent) is that in the charming paper called The Manse, where, speaking of a clergyman-ancestor who was of a sickly habit of body, the essayist remarks : “Now I often wonder what I have inherited from this old minister. I must suppose indeed that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to hear them. He sought health in his youth in the Isle of Wight, and I have sought it in two hemispheres; but whereas he found and kept it, I am still on the quest.” The delicacy and simplicity of this make it very beautiful. Stevenson had no trace of that unpleasant egoism which makes a man whine over himself.
The typical mood, private or public, is that expressed in the meeting with a friend, who, after a long separation, inquired of him what he had been about. “
“Well, my dear fellow,' quoth Louis gayly, - it was at Bournemouth at a time when, in a phrase of his