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Rohut Louis Slovenian
F there be a writer of our ers would certainly each have had a turn at language, at the present him. The easels and benches would have moment, who has the ef- bristled, the circle would have been close, and fect of making us forget quick, from the canvas to the sitter, the rising the extinction of the pleas- and falling of heads. It has happened to all ant fashion of the literary of us to have gone into a studio, a studio of portrait, it is certainly the pupils, and seen the thick cluster of bent
bright particular genius backs and the conscious model in the midst. whose name is written at the head of these It has happened to us to be struck, or not to remarks. Mr. Stevenson fairly challenges por- be struck, with the beauty or the symmetry of traiture, as we pass him on the highway of this personage, and to have made some reliterature (if that be the road, rather than some mark which, whether expressing admiration wandering, sun-checkered by-lane that he mayor disappointment, has elicited from one be said to follow), just as the possible model, of the attentive workers the exclamation, in local attire, challenges the painter who wan. "Character - character is what he has!” " ders through the streets of a foreign town look. These words may be applied to Mr. Robert ing for subjects. He gives us new ground to Louis Stevenson: in the language of that art wonder why the effort to fix a face and figure, which depends most on observation, characto seize a literary character and transfer it to ter character is what he has. He is essenthe canvas of the critic, should have fallen into tially a model, in the sense of a sitter; I do not such discredit among us and have given way mean, of course, in the sense of a pattern or a to the mere multiplication of little private judg- guiding light. And if the figures who have a ment-seats, where the scales and the judicial life in literature may also be divided into two wig, both of them considerably awry and not great classes, we may add that he is conspicrendered more august by the company of a uously one of the draped; he would never, if vicious-looking switch, have taken the place, I may be allowed the expression, pose for the as the symbols of office, of the kindly, disin- nude. There are writers who present themterested palette and brush. It has become the selves before the critic with just the amount fashion to be effective at the expense of the of drapery that is necessary for decency, but sitter, to make some little point, or inflict some Mr. Stevenson is not one of these; he makes little dig, with a heated party air, rather than his appearance in an amplitude of costume. to catch a talent in the fact, follow its line, His costume is part of the character of which and put a finger on its essence; so that the ex. I just now spoke; it never occurs to us to ask quisite art of criticism, smothered in grossness, how he would look without it. Before all finds itself turned into a question of “sides.” things he is a writer with a style - a model The critic industriously keeps his score, but it with a complexity of curious and picturesque is seldom to be hoped that the author, crimi- garments. It is by the cut and the color of nal though he may be, will be apprehended this rich and becoming frippery – I use the by justice through the handbills given out in term endearingly, as a painter might — that the case ; for it is of the essence of a happy he arrests the eye and solicits the brush. description that it shall have been preceded That is, frankly, half the charm he has for by a happy observation and a free curiosity; us, that he wears a dress and wears it with and desuetude, as we say, has overtaken courage, with a certain cock of the hat and these amiable, uninvidious faculties, which tinkle of the supererogatory sword; or, in other have not the advantage of organs and chairs. words, that he is curious of expression, and re
I hasten to add that it is not the purpose gards the literary form not simply as a code of these few pages to restore their luster, or of signals, but as the keyboard of a piano and to bring back the more penetrating vision of as so much plastic material. He has that vice which we lament the disappearance. No in- deplored by Mr. Herbert Spencer, a manner dividual can bring it back, for the light that a manner for a manner's sake, it may sometimes we look at things by is, after all, made by all doubtless be said. He is as different as possiof us. It is sufficient to note, in passing, that ble from the sort of writer who regards words if Mr. Stevenson had presented himself in an as numbers and a page as the mere addition age or in a country of portraiture, the paint of them; much more, to carry out our image,
Vol. XXXV.- 118.
the dictionary stands for him as a wardrobe, been indifferent to such a danger constitutes and a proposition as a button for his coat. Mr. in itself an originality. How few they are in William Archer, in an article* so gracefully number and how soon we could name them, and ingeniously turned that the writer may the writers of English prose, at the present almost be accused of imitating even while he moment, the quality of whose prose is perdeprecates, speaks of him as a votary of “light- sonal, expressive, renewed at each attempt! ness of touch” at any cost, and remarks that The state of things that would have been ex“he is not only philosophically content, but pected to be the rule has become the excepdeliberately resolved, that his readers shall tion, and an exception for which, most of the look first to his manner and only in the sec- time, an apology appears to be thought necesond place to his matter." I shall not attempt sary. A mill that grinds with regularity and to gainsay this; I cite it rather, for the pres- with a certain commercial fineness that is ent, because it carries out my own sense. Mr. the image suggested by the manner of a good Stevenson delights in a style, and his own has many of the fraternity. They turn out an arnothing accidental or diffident; it is eminently ticle for which there is a demand, they keep conscious of its responsibilities and meets them a shop for a specialty, and the business is with a kind of gallantry — as if language were carried on in accordance with a useful, well. a pretty woman and a person who proposes tested prescription. It is just because he has to handle it had, of necessity, to be something no specialty that Mr. Stevenson is an indiof a Don Juan. This element of the gallant is vidual, and because his curiosity is the only a noticeable part of his nature, and it is rather receipt by which he produces. Each of his odd that, at the same time, a striking feature books is an independent effort — a window of that nature should be an absence of care opened to a different view. “Dr. Jekyll and for things feminine. His books are for the Mr. Hyde" is as dissimilar as possible from most part books without women, and it is not “ Treasure Island”; “Virginibus Puerisque women who fall most in love with them. But has nothing in common with “The New AraMr. Stevenson does not need, as we may say, bian Nights,” and I should never have supa petticoat to inflame him; a happy colloca- posed “A Child's Garden of Verses" to be tion of words will serve the purpose, or a sin- from the hand of the author of “Prince Otto." gular image, or the bright eye of a passing Though Mr. Stevenson cares greatly for his conceit, and he will carry off a pretty paradox phrase, as every writer should who respects without so much as a scuffle. The tone of himself and his art, it takes no very attentive letters is in him — the tone of letters as dis- reading of his volumes to show that it is not tinct from that of philosophy or of those in- what he cares for most, and that he regards dustries whose uses are supposed to be imme- an expressive style only, after all, as a means. diate. Many readers, no doubt, consider that It seems to me the fault of Mr. Archer's inhe carries it too far; they manifest an impa- teresting paper that it suggests too much that tience for some glimpse of his moral message. the author of these volumes considers the art They may be heard to ask what it is he pro- of expression as an end - a game of words. poses to deduce, to prove, to establish, with He finds that Mr. Stevenson is not serious, such a variety of paces and graces.
that he neglects a whole side of life, that he The main thing that he establishes, to my has no perception, and no consciousness, of own perception, is that it is a delight to read suffering; that he speaks as a happy but heart
a him and that he renews this delight by a less pagan, living only in his senses (which the constant variety of experiment. Of this anon, critic admits to be exquisitely fine), and that, however; and meanwhile it may be noted as in a world full of heaviness, he is not suffia curious characteristic of current fashions ciently aware of the philosophic limitations that the writer whose effort is perceptibly that of mere technical skill. (In sketching these of the artist is very apt to find himself thrown aberrations Mr. Archer himself, by the way, on the defensive. A work of literature is a displays anything but ponderosity of hand.) form, but the author who betrays a conscious- He is not the first reader, and he will not be ness of the responsibilities involved in this the last, who shall have been irritated by Mr. circumstance not rarely perceives himself to Stevenson's jauntiness. That jauntiness is an be regarded as an uncanny personage. The essential part of his genius; but, to my sense, usual judgment is that he may be artistic, but it ceases to be irritating - it indeed becomes that he must not be too much so; that way, positively touching, and constitutes an appeal apparently, lies something worse than mad- to sympathy and even to tenderness - when ness. This queer superstition has so success- once one has perceived what lies beneath the fully imposed itself that the mere fact of having dancing-tune to which he mostly moves. Much
“R. L. Stevenson : his Style and Thought.” as he cares for his phrase he cares more for " The (London) Times,” November, 1885.
life, and for a certain transcendently lovable
part of it. He feels, as it seems to us, and that with all the resources of experience, and repis not given to every one; this constitutes a resents a crude stage with infinite ripeness. philosophy which Mr. Archer fails to read be. In a word, he is an artist accomplished even tween his lines — the respectable, desirable to sophistication, whose constant theme is moral which many a reader doubtless finds the unsophisticated. Sometimes, as in "Kidthat he neglects to point. He does not feel napped,” the art is so ripe that it lifts even the everything equally, by any manner of means; subject into the general air; the execution is but his feelings are always his reasons; he so serious that the idea (the idea of a boy's regards them, whatever they may be, as suffi- romantic adventures) becomes a matter of ciently honorable, does not disguise them in universal relations. What he prizes most in other names or colors, and looks at whatever the boy's ideal is the imaginative side of it, the he meets in the brilliant candle-light that they capacity for successful make-believe. The shed. As in his extreme artistic vivacity he general freshness in which this is a part of seems really disposed to try everything, he the gloss seems to him the divinest thing in has tried once, by way of a change, to be life; considerably more divine, for instance, inhuman, and there is a hard glitter about than the passion usually regarded as the su“ Prince Otto" which seems to indicate that premely tender one. The idea of making bein this case, too, he has succeeded, as he has lieve appeals to him much more than the idea done in most of the feats that he has attempted. of making love. That delightful little book of But “ Prince Otto" is even less like his other rhymes, the “Child's Garden," commemorates, productions than his other productions are from beginning to end, the picturing, perlike each other.
sonifying, dramatizing faculty of infancy, the The part of life that he cares for most is view of life from the level of the nursery-fender. youth, and the direct expression of the love The volume is a wonder, for the extraordinary of youth is the beginning and the end of his vividness with which it reproduces early immessage. His appreciation of this delightful pressions; a child might have written it if a period amounts to a passion; and a passion, child could see childhood from the outside, in the age in which we live, strikes us, on the for it would seem that only a child is really whole, as a sufficient philosophy. It ought to near enough to the nursery-floor. And what satisfy Mr. Archer, and there are writers graver is peculiar to Mr. Stevenson is that it is his than Mr. Stevenson on whose behalf no such own childhood he appears to delight in, and moral motive can be alleged. Mingled with not the personal presence of little darlings. his almost equal love of a literary surface it Oddly enough, there is no strong implication represents a real originality. This combina- that he is fond of babies; he does n't speak tion is the key-note of Mr. Stevenson’s faculty as a parent, or an uncle, or an educator - he and the explanation of his perversities. The speaks as a contemporary absorbed in his own feelings of one's teens, and even of an earlier game. That game is almost always a vision period (for the delights of crawling, and al- of dangers and triumphs; and if emotion, with most of the rattle, are embodied in "A Child's him, infallibly resolves itself into memory, so Garden of Verses”), and the feeling for happy memory is an evocation of throbs and thrills turns — these, in the last analysis (and his and suspense. He has given to the world the sense of a happy turn is of the subtlest), are romance of boyhood, as others have produced the corresponding halves of his character. If that of the peerage, the police, and the medi“Prince Otto” and “ Dr. Jekyll” left me a cal profession. clearer field for the assertion, I should say This amounts to saying that what he is that everything he has written is a direct apol- most curious of in life is heroism,- personal ogy for boyhood; or rather (for it must be gallantry, if need be, with a manner, or a confessed that Mr. Stevenson's tone is seldom banner, - though he is also abundantly capaapologetic) a direct rhapsody on the age of lit- ble of enjoying it when it is artless. The detle jackets. Even members of the very numer- lightful exploits of Jim Hawkins, in “Treasure ous class who have held their breath over Island,” are unaffectedly performed; but none “ Treasure Island” may shrug their shoulders the less “the finest action is the better for a at this account of the author's religion; but it piece of purple,” as the author remarks in the is none the less a great pleasure — the highest paper on “The English Admirals,” in “Virreward of observation to put one's hand on ginibus Puerisque"- a paper of which the a rare illustration, and Mr. Stevenson is cer- moral is, largely, that “we learn to desire a tainly rare. What makes him so is the singular grand air in our heroes; and such a knowlmaturity of the expression that he has given edge of the human stage as shall make them to young sentiments; he judges them, meas- put the dots on their own i's and leave us in ures them, sees them from the outside, as well no suspense as to when they mean to be heas entertains them. He describes credulity roic.” The love of brave words as well as
brave deeds — which is simply Mr. Steven- decks and require separate apartments; and, son's essential love of style — is recorded in almost worst of all, have not the highest literthis little paper with a charming, slightly so- ary standard. Why should a person marry, phistical ingenuity. “They served their guns when he might be swinging a cutlass or lookmerrily, when it came to fighting, and they ing for a buried treasure ? Why should he go had the readiest ear for a bold, honorable to the altar when he might be polishing his sentiment of any class of men the world ever prose? It is one of those curious, and, to my produced.” The author goes on to say that sense, fascinating inconsistencies that we enmost men of high destinies have even high- counter in Mr. Stevenson's mind that, though sounding names. Alan Breck, in“ Kidnapped,” he takes such an interest in the childish life, he is a wonderful picture of the union of courage takes no interest in the fireside. He has an inand swagger; the little Jacobite adventurer, dulgent glance for it in the verses of the “Gara figure worthy of Scott at his best, and rep- den,” but to his view the normal child is the resenting the highest point that Mr. Steven- child who absents himself from the family-cirson's talent has reached, shows us that a cle, in fact when he can, in imagination when marked taste for tawdry finery — tarnished he cannot, in the disguise of a buccaneer. Girls and tattered, some of it, indeed, by ticklish don't do this, and women are only grown-up occasions -- is quite compatible with a per- girls, unless it be the delightful 'maiden, fit fectly high mettle. Alan Breck is, at bottom, daughter of an imperial race, whom he coma study of the love of glory, carried out with memorates in "An Inland Voyage.” extreme psychological truth. When the love
A girl at school in France began to describe one of glory is of an inferior order, the reputation of our regiments on parade to her French schoolis cultivated rather than the opportunity; but mates; and as she went on, she told me the recollec. when it is a pure passion, the opportunity is tion grew so vivid, she became so proud to be the cultivated for the sake of the reputation. Mr. countrywoman of such soldiers, and so sorry to be in
another country, that her voice failed her, and she Stevenson's kindness for adventurers extends burst into tears. I have never forgotten that girl, even to the humblest of all, the mountebank and I think she very nearly deserves a statue. To call and the strolling player, or even the peddler her a young lady, with all its niminy associations, would whom he declares that in his foreign travels be to offer her an insult. She may rest assured of one
thing, although she never should marry a heroic genhe is habitually taken for, as we see in the eral, never see any great or immediate result of her whimsical apology for vagabonds which winds life, she will not have lived in vain for her native land. up "An Inland Voyage.” The hungry conjurer, the gymnast whose maillot is loose, have
There is something of that in Mr. Stevenson. something of the glamour of the hero, inas. When he begins to describe a British regiment much as they, too, pay with their person.
on parade (or something of that sort) he, too,
almost breaks down for emotion, which is To be even one of the outskirters of art leaves a why I have been careful to traverse the insinfine stamp on a man's countenance. That is the kind of thing that reconciles me to life; a ragged, tip: If things had gone differently with him (I
uation that he is primarily a chiseler of prose. pling. incompetent old rogue, with the manners of a gentleman and the vanity of an artist, to keep up his must permit myself this allusion to his persell-respect !
sonal situation, and I shall venture to follow What reconciles Mr. Stevenson to life is it with two or three others), he might have the idea that in the first place it offers the been an historian of famous campaigns-a widest field that we know of for odd doings, great painter of battle-pieces. Of course, howand that in the second these odd doings are
ever, in this capacity it would not have done the best of pegs to hang a sketch in three for him to break down for emotion.
Although he remarks that marriage " is a lines or a paradox in three pages.
As it is not odd, but extremely usual, to field of battle, and not a bed of roses,” he marry, he deprecates that course in “ Virgini- points out repeatedly that it is a terrible renunbus Puerisque,” the collection of short essays ible even with honor — the sort of roving, bus Puerisque," the collection of short essays ciation, and somehow, in strictness, incompatwhich is most a record of his opinions- that is, largely, of his likes and dislikes. It all trumpeting honor that appeals most to his comes back to his sympathy with the juvenile, sympathy. After that step and that feeling about life which leads him to there are no more by-path meadows where you may regard women as so many superfluous girls innocently linger, but the road lies long and straight
and dusty to the grave. You may think you had in a boy's game. They are almost wholly ab
a conscience and believed in God; but what is a consent from his pages (the main exception is science to a wife ?. . . . To marry is to domesticate “ Prince Otto," though there is a Clara apiece the Recording Angel. Once you are married, there is in “The Rajah's Diamond” and “The Pavil. nothing left for you, not even suicide, but to be good. ion on the Links"), for they don't like ships to keep honor bright and abstain from base capitula
.. How, then, in such an atmosphere of compromise, and pistols and fights; they encumber the tions ?... The proper qualities of each sex are, in