Robert Louis Stevenson


● Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes
● Virginibus Puerisque, and Other Papers (1881)

  • Virginibus Puerisque
    1. (1876)
    2. (1881)
    3. On Falling in Love (1877)
    4. The Truth of Intercourse (1879)
  • Crabbed Age and Youth (1878)
  • An Apology for Idlers (1877)
  • Ordered South (1874)
  • Aes Triplex (1878)
  • El Dorado (1878)
  • The English Admirals (1878)
  • Some Portraits by Raeburn (1881)
  • Child’s Play (1878)
  • Walking Tours (1876)
  • Pan’s Pipes (1878)
  • A Plea for Gas Lamps (1878)

Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882) read online

  • Preface, by Way of Criticism (1882)
  • Victor Hugo’s Romances (1874)
  • Some Aspects of Robert Burns (1879)
  • The Gospel According to Walt Whitman (1878)
  • Henry David Thoreau: His Character and Opinions (1880) – read online
  • Yoshida-Torajiro (1880)
  • François Villon, Student, Poet, Housebreaker (1877)
  • Charles of Orleans (1876)
  • Samuel Pepys (1881)
  • John Knox and his Relations to Women (1875)

Memories and Portraits (1887) – read online

  1. The Foreigner at Home
  2. Some College Memories
  3. Old Morality
  4. A College Magazine
  5. An Old Scotch Gardener
  6. Pastoral
  7. The Manse
  8. Memories of an Islet
  9. Thomas Stevenson
  10. Talk And Talkers: First Paper
  11. Talk And Talkers: Second Paper
  12. The Character of Dogs
  13. “A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured”
  14. A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas’s
  15. A Gossip on Romance
  16. A Humble Remonstrance

Across The Plains (1892) – read online

  • Across the Plains
  • The Old Pacific Capital
  • Fontainebleu
  • Random Memories
  • Random Memories (continued)
  • The Lantern-Bearers – read online
  • A Chapter on Dreams – read online
  • Beggars – read online
  • Letter to a Young Gentleman who Proposes to Embrace the Career of Art – read online
  • Pulvis et Umbra – read online
  • A Christmas Sermon – read online

Essays of Travel and on the Art of Writing – read online

    3. ROADS (1873)
    5. AN AUTUMN EFFECT (1875)
    7. FOREST NOTES (1876)
    8. A MOUNTAIN TOWN IN FRANCE (1879, a fragment originally intended to serve as the opening chapter of “Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.”)
    10. THE IDEAL HOUSE (1898)
    12. DAVOS IN WINTER (1881)
    13. ALPINE DIVERSIONS (1881)
  • ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING – read online
    2. A NOTE ON REALISM (1883)
    5. BOOKS WHICH HAVE INFLUENCED ME (1887) – read online

Further reading

John Jay Chapman – Robert Louis Stevenson – read online
G.K. Chesterton and W. Robertson Nicoll – Robert Louis Stevenson (1906)

  • The Characteristics of Robert Louis Stevenson – G.K. Chesterton – read online
  • The Personality and Style of Robert Louis Stevenson – W. Robertson Nicoll – read online
  • Biographical Note – read online

G.K. Chesterton – Robert Louis Stevenson (e.g. publ. House of Stratus 2008, 85pp)
Chesterton, in Varied Types

On Stevenson

John Jay Chapman:
+++++Writing was to him an art, and almost everything that he has written has a little the air of being a tour de force. Stevenson’s books and essays were generally brilliant imitations of established things, done somewhat in the spirit of an expert in billiards. In short, Stevenson is the most extraordinary mimic that has ever appeared in literature. …
+++++It is no secret that Stevenson in early life spent much time in imitating the styles of various authors, for he has himself described the manner in which he went to work to fit himself for his career as a writer. His boyish ambition led him to employ perfectly phenomenal diligence in cultivating a perfectly phenomenal talent for imitation.
+++++There was probably no fault in Stevenson’s theory as to how a man should learn to write, and as to the discipline he must undergo. Almost all the greatest artists have shown, in their early work, traces of their early masters. These they outgrow. “For as this temple waxes, the inward service of the mind and soul grows wide withal;” and an author’s own style breaks through the coverings of his education, as a hyacinth breaks from the bulb. It is noticeable, too, that the early and imitative work of great men generally belongs to a particular school to which their maturity bears a logical relation. They do not cruise about in search of a style or vehicle, trying all and picking up hints here and there, but they fall incidentally and genuinely under influences which move them and afterwards qualify their original work.
+++++With Stevenson it was different; for he went in search of a style as Coelebs in search of a wife. He was an eclectic by nature. He became a remarkable, if not a unique phenomenon, – for he never grew up. Whether or not there was some obscure connection between his bodily troubles and the arrest of his intellectual development, it is certain that Stevenson remained a boy till the day of his death.
+++++The boy was the creature in the universe whom Stevenson best understood. Let us remember how a boy feels about art, and why he feels so. The intellect is developed in the child with such astonishing rapidity that long before physical maturity its head is filled with ten thousand things learned from books and not drawn directly from real life.
+++++The form and setting in which the boy learns of matters sticks in the mind as a part of the matters themselves. He cannot disentangle what is conventional from what is original, because he has not yet a first-hand acquaintance with life by which to interpret.
+++++Every schoolboy of talent writes essays in the style of Addison, because he is taught that this is the correct way of writing. He has no means of knowing that in writing in this manner he is using his mind in a very peculiar and artificial way, – a way entirely foreign to Addison himself; and that he is really striving not so much to say something himself as to reproduce an effect.
+++++There is one thing which young people do not know, and which they find out during the process of growing up, – and that is that good things in art have been done by men whose entire attention was absorbed in an attempt to tell the truth, and who have been chiefly marked by a deep unconsciousness.
To a boy, the great artists of the world are a lot of necromancers, whose enchantments can perhaps be stolen and used again. To a man, they are a lot of human beings, and their works are parts of them. Their works are their hands and their feet, their organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. To a man, it is as absurd to imitate the manner of Dean Swift in writing as it would be to imitate the manner of Dr. Johnson in eating. But Stevenson was not a man, he was a boy; or, to speak more accurately, the attitude of his mind towards his work remained unaltered from boyhood till death, though his practice and experiment gave him, as he grew older, a greater mastery over his materials. It is in this attitude of Stevenson’s mind toward his own work that we must search for the heart of his mystery.
+++++He conceived of himself as “an artist,” and of his writings as performances. As a consequence, there is an undertone of insincerity in almost everything which he has written. His attention is never wholly absorbed in his work, but is greatly taken up with the notion of how each stroke of it is going to appear.
+++++We have all experienced, while reading his books, a certain undefinable suspicion which interferes with the enjoyment of some people, and enhances that of others. It is not so much the cream-tarts themselves that we suspect, as the motive of the giver.
++++++++++“I am in the habit,” said Prince Florizel, “of looking not so much to the nature of the gift as to the spirit in which it is offered.”
++++++++++“The spirit, sir,” returned the young man, with another bow, “is one of mockery.”
+++++This doubt about Stevenson’s truth and candor is one of the results of the artistic doctrines which he professed and practised. He himself regards his work as a toy; and how can we do otherwise?
+++++It seems to be a law of psychology that the only way in which the truth can be strongly told is in the course of a search for truth. The moment a man strives after some “effect,” he disqualifies himself from making that effect; for he draws the interest of his audience to the same matters that occupy his own mind; namely, upon his experiment and his efforts. It is only when a man is saying something that he believes is obviously and eternally true, that he can communicate spiritual things.
+++++Ultimately speaking, the vice of Stevenson’s theories about art is that they call for a self-surrender by the artist of his own mind to the pleasure of others, for a subordination of himself to the production of this “effect” in the mind of another. They degrade and belittle him. Let Stevenson speak for himself; the thought contained in the following passage is found in a hundred places in his writings and dominated his artistic life.
+++++“The French have a romantic evasion for one employment, and call its practitioners the Daughters of Joy. The artist is of the same family, he is of the Sons of Joy, chose his trade to please himself, gains his livelihood by pleasing others, and has parted with something of the sterner dignity of men. The poor Daughter of Joy carrying her smiles and her finery quite unregarded through the crowd, makes a figure which it is impossible to recall without a wounding pity. She is the type of the unsuccessful artist.”
These are the doctrines and beliefs which, time out of mind, have brought the arts into contempt. They are as injurious as they are false, and they will checkmate the progress of any man or of any people that believes them. They corrupt and menace not merely the fine arts, but every other form of human expression in an equal degree. They are as insulting to the comic actor as they are to Michael Angelo, for the truth and beauty of low comedy are as dignified, and require of the artist the same primary passion for life for its own sake, as the truth and beauty of The Divine Comedy. The doctrines are the outcome of an Alexandrine age. After art has once learnt to draw its inspiration directly from life and has produced some masterpieces, then imitations begin to creep in. That Stevenson’s doctrines tend to produce imitative work is obvious. If the artist is a fisher of men, then we must examine the works of those who have known how to bait their hooks: in fiction, – De Foe, Fielding, Walter Scott, Dumas, Balzac. To a study of these men, Stevenson had, as we have seen, devoted the most plastic years of his life. The style and even the mannerisms of each of them, he had trained himself to reproduce. One can almost write their names across his pages and assign each as a presiding genius over a share of his work. Not that Stevenson purloined or adopted in a mean spirit, and out of vanity. His enthusiasm was at the bottom of all he did. He was well read in the belles lettres of England and the romanticists of France. These books were his bible. He was steeped in the stage-land and cloud-land of sentimental literature. From time to time, he emerged, trailing clouds of glory and showering sparkles from his hands.
+++++A close inspection shows his clouds and sparkles to be stage properties; but Stevenson did not know it. The public not only does not know it, but does not care whether it be so or not. The doughty old novel readers who knew their Scott and Ainsworth and Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade, their Dumas and their Cooper, were the very people whose hearts were warmed by Stevenson. If you cross-question one of these, he will admit that Stevenson is after all a revival, an echo, an after-glow of the romantic movement, and that he brought nothing new. – JJ Chapman, Robert Louis Stevenson

STEVENSON, Ch. 8 of Varied Types by GK Chesterton:
+++++A recent incident has finally convinced us that Stevenson was, as we suspected, a great man. We knew from recent books that we have noticed, from the scorn of “Ephemera Critica” and Mr. George Moore, that Stevenson had the first essential qualification of a great man: that of being misunderstood by his opponents. But from the book which Messrs. Chatto & Windus have issued, in the same binding as Stevenson’s works, “Robert Louis Stevenson,” by Mr. H. Bellyse Baildon, we learn that he has the other essential qualification, that of being misunderstood by his admirers. Mr. Baildon has many interesting things to tell us about Stevenson himself, whom he knew at college. Nor are his criticisms by any means valueless. That upon the plays, especially “Beau Austin,” is remarkably thoughtful and true. But it is a very singular fact, and goes far, as we say, to prove that Stevenson had that unfathomable quality which belongs to the great, that this admiring student of Stevenson can number and marshal all the master’s work and distribute praise and blame with decision and even severity, without ever thinking for a moment of the principles of art and ethics which would have struck us as the very things that Stevenson nearly killed himself to express.
+++++Mr. Baildon, for example, is perpetually lecturing Stevenson for his “pessimism”; surely a strange charge against a man who has done more than any modern artist to make men ashamed of their shame of life. But he complains that, in “The Master of Ballantrae” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Stevenson gives evil a final victory over good. Now if there was one point that Stevenson more constantly and passionately emphasised than any other it was that we must worship good for its own value and beauty, without any reference whatever to victory or failure in space and time. “Whatever we are intended to do,” he said, “we are not intended to succeed.” That the stars in their courses fight against virtue, that humanity is in its nature a forlorn hope, this was the very spirit that through the whole of Stevenson’s work sounded a trumpet to all the brave. The story of Henry Durie is dark enough, but could anyone stand beside the grave of that sodden monomaniac and not respect him? It is strange that men should see sublime inspiration in the ruins of an old church and see none in the ruins of a man.
+++++The author has most extraordinary ideas about Stevenson’s tales of blood and spoil; he appears to think that they prove Stevenson to have had (we use Mr. Baildon’s own phrase) a kind of “homicidal mania.” “He [Stevenson] arrives pretty much at the paradox that one can hardly be better employed than in taking life.” Mr. Baildon might as well say that Dr. Conan Doyle delights in committing inexplicable crimes, that Mr. Clark Russell is a notorious pirate, and that Mr. Wilkie Collins thought that one could hardly be better employed than in stealing moonstones and falsifying marriage registers. But Mr. Baildon is scarcely alone in this error: few people have understood properly the goriness of Stevenson. Stevenson was essentially the robust schoolboy who draws skeletons and gibbets in his Latin grammar. It was not that he took pleasure in death, but that he took pleasure in life, in every muscular and emphatic action of life, even if it were an action that took the life of another.
+++++Let us suppose that one gentleman throws a knife at another gentleman and pins him to the wall. It is scarcely necessary to remark that there are in this transaction two somewhat varying personal points of view. The point of view of the man pinned is the tragic and moral point of view, and this Stevenson showed clearly that he understood in such stories as “The Master of Ballantrae” and “Weir of Hermiston.” But there is another view of the matter—that in which the whole act is an abrupt and brilliant explosion of bodily vitality, like breaking a rock with a blow of a hammer, or just clearing a five-barred gate. This is the standpoint of romance, and it is the soul of “Treasure Island” and “The Wrecker.” It was not, indeed, that Stevenson loved men less, but that he loved clubs and pistols more. He had, in truth, in the devouring universalism of his soul, a positive love for inanimate objects such as has not been known since St. Francis called the sun brother and the well sister. We feel that he was actually in love with the wooden crutch that Silver sent hurtling in the sunlight, with the box that Billy Bones left at the “Admiral Benbow,” with the knife that Wicks drove through his own hand and the table. There is always in his work a certain clean-cut angularity which makes us remember that he was fond of cutting wood with an axe.
+++++Stevenson’s new biographer, however, cannot make any allowance for this deep-rooted poetry of mere sight and touch. He is always imputing something to Stevenson as a crime which Stevenson really professed as an object. He says of that glorious riot of horror, “The Destroying Angel,” in “The Dynamiter,” that it is “highly fantastic and putting a strain on our credulity.” This is rather like describing the travels of Baron Munchausen as “unconvincing.” The whole story of “The Dynamiter” is a kind of humorous nightmare, and even in that story “The Destroying Angel” is supposed to be an extravagant lie made up on the spur of the moment. It is a dream within a dream, and to accuse it of improbability is like accusing the sky of being blue. But Mr. Baildon, whether from hasty reading or natural difference of taste, cannot in the least comprehend that rich and romantic irony of Stevenson’s London stories. He actually says of that portentous monument of humour, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, that, “though evidently admired by his creator, he is to me on the whole rather an irritating presence.” From this we are almost driven to believe (though desperately and against our will) that Mr. Baildon thinks that Prince Florizel is to be taken seriously, as if he were a man in real life. For ourselves. Prince Florizel is almost our favourite character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that if we met him in real life we should kill him.
+++++The fact is, that the whole mass of Stevenson’s spiritual and intellectual virtues have been partly frustrated by one additional virtue—that of artistic dexterity. If he had chalked up his great message on a wall, like Walt Whitman, in large and straggling letters, it would have startled men like a blasphemy. But he wrote his light-headed paradoxes in so flowing a copy-book hand that everyone supposed they must be copy-book sentiments. He suffered from his versatility, not, as is loosely said, by not doing every department well enough, but by doing every department too well. As child, cockney, pirate, or Puritan, his disguises were so good that most people could not see the same man under all. It is an unjust fact that if a man can play the fiddle, give legal opinions, and black boots just tolerably, he is called an Admirable Crichton, but if he does all three thoroughly well, he is apt to be regarded, in the several departments, as a common fiddler, a common lawyer, and a common boot-black. This is what has happened in the case of Stevenson. If “Dr. Jekyll,” “The Master of Ballantrae,” “The Child’s Garden of Verses,” and “Across the Plains” had been each of them one shade less perfectly done than they were, everyone would have seen that they were all parts of the same message; but by succeeding in the proverbial miracle of being in five places at once, he has naturally convinced others that he was five different people. But the real message of Stevenson was as simple as that of Mohamet, as moral as that of Dante, as confident as that of Whitman, and as practical as that of James Watt. The conception which unites the whole varied work of Stevenson was that romance, or the vision of the possibilities of things, was far more important than mere occurrences: that one was the soul of our life, the other the body, and that the soul was the precious thing. The germ of all his stories lies in the idea that every landscape or scrap of scenery has a soul: and that soul is a story. Standing before a stunted orchard with a broken stone wall, we may know as a mere fact that no one has been through it but an elderly female cook. But everything exists in the human soul: that orchard grows in our own brain, and there it is the shrine and theatre of some strange chance between a girl and a ragged poet and a mad farmer. Stevenson stands for the conception that ideas are the real incidents: that our fancies are our adventures. To think of a cow with wings is essentially to have met one. And this is the reason for his wide diversities of narrative: he had to make one story as rich as a ruby sunset, another as grey as a hoary monolith: for the story was the soul, or rather the meaning, of the bodily vision. It is quite inappropriate to judge “The Teller of Tales” (as the Samoans called him) by the particular novels he wrote, as one would judge Mr. George Moore by “Esther Waters.” These novels were only the two or three of his soul’s adventures that he happened to tell. But he died with a thousand stories in his heart.

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