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wonderfully ; and after some feverish efforts and the fretful
uneasiness of the first few days he falls contentedly in with the
restrictions of his weakness. . . . He feels, if he is to be thus
tenderly weaned from the passion of life, thus gradually in-
ducted into the slumber of death, that when at last the end
comes it will come quietly and fitly. . . . He will pray for
Medea : when she comes let her either rejuvenate or slay."

The second of the short essays I have mentioned
has a taste of mortality only because the purpose of
it is to insist that the only sane behaviour is to
leave death and the accidents that lead to it out of
our calculations. Life "is a honeymoon with us all
through, and none of the longest. Small blame to
us if we give our whole hearts to this glowing bride
of ours." The person who does so " makes a very


different acquaintance with the world, keeps all his
pulses going true and fast, and gathers impetus as he
runs, until if he he running towards anything better
than wildfire, he may shoot up and become a con-
stellation in the end." Nothing can be more deplor-
able than to "forego all the issues of living in a
parlour with a regulated temperature." Mr. Steven-
son adds that as for those whom the gods love
dying young, a man dies too young at whatever
age he parts with life. The testimony of "Aes
Triplex " to the author's own disabilities is after all
very indirect It consists mainly in the general pro-
test not so much against the fact of extinction as
against the theory of it. The reader only asks
himself why the hero of Travels with a Donkey, the
historian of Alan Breck, should think of these things.
His appreciation of the active side of hie has such a
note of its own that we are surprised to find that it
proceeds in a considerable measure from an intimate
acquaintance with the passive. It seems too anom-
alous that the writer who has most cherished the
idea of a certain free exposure should also be the
one who has been reduced most to looking for it
within, and that the figures of adventurers who, at
least in our literature of to-day, are the most vivid,
should be the most vicarious. The truth is, of course,
that as the Travels with a Donkey and An Inland
V&yage abundantly show, the author has a fund of
reminiscences. He did not spend his younger years
"in a parlour with a regulated temperature." A


reader who happens to be aware of how much it has
been his later fate to do so may be excused for find-
ing an added source of interest something indeed
deeply and constantly touching in this association
of peculiarly restrictive conditions with the vision of
high spirits and romantic accidents, of a kind of
honourably picaresque career. Mr. Stevenson is, how-
ever, distinctly, in spite of his occasional practice of
the gruesome, a frank optimist an observer who not
only loves life but does not shrink from the responsi-
bility of recommending it. There is a systematic
brightness in him which testifies to this and which
is after all but one of the innumerable ingenuities
of patience. What is remarkable in his case is that
his productions should constitute an exquisite ex-
pression, a sort of whimsical gospel of enjoyment.
The only difference between An Inland Voyage or
Travels with a Donkey and The New Arabian Nights or
Treasure Island or Kidnapped, is that in the later books
the enjoyment is reflective (though it simulates spon
taneity with singular art), whereas in the first two
it is natural and, as it were, historical

These little histories the first volumes, if I mis-
take not, that introduced Mr. Stevenson to lovers of
good writing abound in charming illustrations of
his disposition to look at the world as a not exactly
refined but glorified, pacified Bohemia. They narrate
the quest of personal adventure, on one occasion in a
canoe on the Sambre and the Oise and on another
at a donkey's tail over the hills and valleys of the


C6vennes. I. well remember that when I read them
in their novelty, upwards of ten years ago, I seemed
to see the author, unknown as yet to fame, jump
before my eyes into a style. His steps in litera-
ture presumably had not been many ; yet he had
mastered his form it had in these cases perhaps
more substance than his matter and a singular air of
literary experience. It partly, though not completely,
explains the phenomenon, that he had already been
able to write the exquisite little story of Will of
the Mill, published previously to An Inland Voyage,
and republished to-day in the volume of The Merry
Men, for in Will of the Mill there is something exceed-
ingly rare, poetical and unexpected, with that most
fascinating quality a work of imagination can have
a dash of alternative mystery as to its meaning, an
air (the air of life itself), of half inviting, half defying
you to interpret. This brief but finished composition
stood in the same relation to the usual "magazine
story " that a glass of Johannisberg occupies to a
draught of table d'h6te vin ordinaire.

' ' One evening he asked the miller where the river went.
... 'It goes out into the lowlands, and waters the great corn
country, and runs through a sight of fine cities (so they say)
where kings live all alone in great palaces, with a sentry walk-
ing up and down before the door. And it goes under bridges,
with stone men upon them, looking down and smiling so curious
at the water, and living folks leaning on their elbows on the wall
and looking over too. And then it goes on and on, and down
through marshes and sands, until at last it falls into the sea,
where the ships are that bring tobacco and parrots from the
Indies. ' "


It is impossible not to open one's eyes at such a
paragraph as that, especially if one has taken a com-
mon texture for granted. Will of the Mill spends his
life in the valley through which the river runs, and
through which, year after year, post-chaises and
waggons and pedestrians, and once an army, " horse
and foot, cannon and tumbrel, drum and standard,"
take their way, in spite of the dreams he once had
of seeing the mysterious world, and it is not till
death comes that he goes on his travels. He ends
by keeping an inn, where he converses with many
more initiated spirits ; and though he is an amiable
man he dies a bachelor, having broken off with more
plainness than he would have used had he been less
untravelled (of course he remains sadly provincial),
his engagement to the parson's daughter. The story
is in the happiest key and suggests all kinds of things :
but what does it in particular represent ? The ad-
vantage of waiting, perhaps the valuable truth that,
one by one, we tide over our impatiences. There
are sagacious people who hold that if one does not
answer a letter it ends by answering itself. So
the sub-title of Mr. Stevenson's tale might be " The
Beauty of Procrastination." If you do not indulge
your curiosities your slackness itself makes at last a
kind of rich element, and it comes to very much the
same thing in the end. When it came to the point
poor Will had not even the curiosity to marry ; and
the author leaves us in stimulating doubt as to whether
he judges him too selfish or only too philosophic.



I find myself speaking of Mr. Stevenson's last
volume (at the moment I write), before I have
spoken, in any detail, of its predecessors : which I
must let pass as a sign that I lack space for a full
enumeration. I may mention two more of his pro-
ductions as completing the list of those that have a
personal reference. The Silverado Squatters describes
a picnicking episode, undertaken on grounds of health,
on a mountain -top in California; but this free
sketch, which contains a hundred humorous touches,
and in the figure of Irvine Lovelands one of Mr.
Stevenson's most veracious portraits, is perhaps less
vivid, as it is certainly less painful, than those other
pages in which, some years ago, he commemorated
the twelvemonth he spent in America the history
of a journey from New York to San Francisco in an
emigrant train, performed as a sequel to a voyage
across- the Atlantic in the same severe conditions.
He has never made his points better than in this
half-humorous, half-tragical recital, nor given a more
striking instance of his talent for reproducing the
feeling of queer situations and contacts. It is much
to be regretted that this little masterpiece had not
been brought to light a second time, as also that he
has not given the world (as I believe he came very
near doing), his observations in the steerage of an
Atlantic liner. If, as I say, our author * has a taste
for the impressions of Bohemia, he has been very
consistent, and has not shrunk from going far afield
in search of them. And as I have already beer


indiscreet, I may add that if it has been his fate to
be converted in fact from the sardonic view of
matrimony, this occurred under an influence which
should have the particular sympathy of American
readers. He went to California for his wife, and
Mrs. Stevenson, as appears moreover by the title-
page of his work, has had a hand evidently a light
and practised one in The Dynamiter, the second
series, characterised by a rich extravagance, of The
New Arabian Nights. The Silverado Squatters is the
history of a honeymoon, prosperous it would seem,
putting Irvine Lovelands aside, save for the death of
dog Chuchu " in his teens, after a life so shadowed
and troubled, continually shaken with alarm and
with the tear of elegant sentiment permanently in
his eye."

Mr. Stevenson has a theory of composition in
regard to the novel on which he is to be congratu-
lated, as any positive and genuine conviction of this
kind is vivifying so long as it is not narrow. The
breath of the novelist's being is his liberty, and the
incomparable virtue of the form he uses is that it
lends itself to views innumerable and diverse, to
every variety of illustration. There is certainly no
other mould of so large a capacity. The doctrine of
M. Zola himself, so jejune if literally taken, is fruit-
ful, inasmuch as in practice he romantically departs
from it. Mr. Stevenson does not need to depart, his
individual taste being as much to pursue the roman-
tic as his principle is to defend it. Fortunately, in


England to-day, it is not much attacked. The
triumphs that are to be won in the portrayal of the
strange, the improbable, the heroic, especially as
these things shine from afar in the credulous eye of
youth, are his strongest, most constant incentive.
On one happy occasion, in relating the history of
Doctor Jekyll, he has seen them as they present them-
selves to a maturer vision. Doctor Jekyll is not a
"boy's book," nor yet is Prince Otto; the latter,
however, is not, like the former, an experiment in
mystification it is, I think, more than anything
else, an experiment in style, conceived one summer's
day when the author had given the reins to his high
appreciation of Mr. George Meredith. It is perhaps
the most literary of his works, but it is not the most
natural. It is one of those coquetries, as we may
call them for want of a better word, which may be
observed in Mr. Stevenson's activity a kind of artful
inconsequence. It is easy to believe that if his
strength permitted him to be a more abundant writer
he would still more frequently play this eminently
literary trick that of dodging off in a new direction
upon those who might have fancied they knew all
about him. I made the reflection, in speaking of
Will of the Mill, that there is a kind of anticipatory
malice in the subject of that fine story : as if the
writer had intended to say to his reader " You will
never guess, from the unction with which I describe
the life of a man who never stirred five miles from
home, that I am destined to make my greatest hits


in treating of the rovers of the deep." Even here,
however, the author's characteristic irony would have
come in ; for the rare chances of life being what he
most keeps his eye on the uncommon belongs as
much to the way the inquiring Will sticks to his
door-sill as to the incident, say, of John Silver and
his men, when they are dragging Jim Hawkins to his
doom, hearing in the still woods of Treasure Island
the strange hoot of the maroon.

The novelist who leaves the extraordinary out of
his account is liable to awkward confrontations, as
we are compelled to reflect in this age of newspapers
and of universal publicity. The next report of the
next divorce case (to give an instance) shall offer us
a picture of astounding combinations of circumstance
and behaviour, and the annals of any energetic race
are rich in curious anecdote and startling example.
That interesting compilation Vicissitudes of Families
is but a superficial record of strange accidents : the
family (taken of course in the long piece), is as a
general thing a catalogue of odd specimens and
tangled situations, and we must remember that the
most singular products are those which are not ex-
hibited. Mr. Stevenson leaves so wide a margin for
the wonderful it impinges with easy assurance
upon the text that he escapes the danger of being
brought up by cases he has not allowed for. When
he allows for Mr. Hyde he allows for everything, and
one feels moreover that even if he did not wave so
gallantly the flag of the imaginative and contend


that the improbable is what has most character, he
would still insist that we ought to make believe.
He would say we ought to make believe that the
extraordinary is the best part of life even if it were
not, and to do so because the finest feelings sus-
pense, daring, decision, passion, curiosity, gallantry,
eloquence, friendship -are involved in it, and it is of
infinite importance that the tradition of these pre-
cious things should not perish. He would prefer, in
a word, any day in the week, Alexandre Dumas to
Honore de Balzac, and it is indeed my impression
that he prefers the author of The Three Musketeers to
any novelist except Mr. George Meredith. I should
go so far as to suspect that his ideal of the delightful
work of fiction would be the adventures of Monte
Cristo related by the author of Richard Fcverel.
There is some magnanimity in his esteem for Alex-
andre Dumas, inasmuch as in Kidnapped he has put
into a fable worthy of that inventor a closeness of
notation with which Dumas never had anything to
do. He makes us say, Let the tradition live, by all
means, since it was delightful ; but at the same time
he is the cause of our perceiving afresh that a tra-
dition is kept alive only by something being added
to it. In this particular case in Doctor Jekyll and
Kidnapped Mr. Stevenson has added psychology.

Tlie New Arabian Nights offer us, as the title indi-
cates, the wonderful in the frankest, most delectable
form. Partly extravagant and partly very specious,
they are the result of a very happy idea, that of


placing a series of adventures which are pure adven-
tures in the setting of contemporary English life, and
relating them in the placidly ingenuous tone of
Scheherezade. This device is carried to perfection
in The Dynamiter, where the manner takes on more
of a kind of high-flown serenity in proportion as the
incidents are more " steep." In this line The Suicide
Club is Mr. Stevenson's greatest success, and the first
two pages of it, not to mention others, live in the
memory. For reasons which I am conscious of not
being able to represent as sufficient, I find something
ineffaceably impressive something really haunting
in the incident of Prince Florizel and Colonel
Geraldine, who, one evening in March, are "driven
by a sharp fall of sleet into an Oyster Bar in the
immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square," and
there have occasion to observe the entrance of a
young man followed by a couple of commissionaires,
each of whom carries a large dish of cream tarts
under a cover a young man who "pressed these
confections on every one's acceptance with exagger-
ated courtesy." There is no effort at a picture here,
but the imagination makes one of the lighted interior,
the London sleet outside, the company that we guess,
given the locality, and the strange politeness of the
young man, leading on to circumstances stranger
still. This is what may be called putting one in the
mood for a story. But Mr. Stevenson's most
brilliant stroke of that kind is the opening episode of
Treasure Island, the arrival of the brown old seaman


with the sabre-cut at the " Admiral Benbow," and the
advent, not long after, of the blind sailor, with a
green shade over his eyes, who comes tapping down
the road, in quest of him, with his stick. Treasure
Island is a " boy's book " in the sense that it embodies
a boy's vision of the extraordinary, but it is unique
in this, and calculated to fascinate the weary mind of
experience, that what we see in it is not only the
ideal fable but, as part and parcel of that, as it were,
the young reader himself and his state of mind: we
seem to read it over his shoulder, with an arm
around his neck. It is all as perfect as a well-played
boy's game, and nothing can exceed the spirit and
skill, the humour and the open-air feeling with which
the thing is kept at the palpitating pitch. It is
not only a record of queer chances, but a study of
young feelings : there is a moral side in it, and the
figures are not puppets with vague faces. If Jim
Hawkins illustrates successful daring, he does so with
a delightful rosy good-boyishness and a conscious,
modest liability to error. His luck is tremendous,
but it does not make him proud, and his manner is
refreshingly provincial and human. So is that, even
more, of the admirable John Silver, one of the most
picturesque and indeed in every way most genially
presented villains in the whole literature of romance.
He has a singularly distinct and expressive counte-
nance, which of course turns out to be a grimacing
mask. Never was a mask more knowingly, vividly
painted. Treasure Island will surely become it must


already have become and will remain in its way a
classic : thanks to this indescribable mixture of the
prodigious and the human, of surprising coincidences
and familiar feelings. The language in which Mr.
Stevenson has chosen to tell his story is an admirable
vehicle for these feelings : with its humorous braveries
and quaintnesses, its echoes of old ballads and yarns, it
touches all kinds of sympathetic chords.

Is Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a work of high philo-
sophic intention, or simply the most ingenious and
irresponsible of fictions ? It has the stamp of a really
imaginative production, that we may take it in
different ways ; but I suppose it would generally be
called the most serious of the author's tales. It
deals with the relation of the baser parts of man to
his nobler, of the capacity for evil that exists in the
most generous natures ; and it expresses these things
in a fable which is a wonderfully happy invention.
The subject is endlessly interesting, and rich in all
sorts of provocation, and Mr. Stevenson is to be con-
gratulated on having touched the core of it. I may
do him injustice, but it is, however, here, not the
profundity of the idea which strikes me so much as
the art of the presentation the extremely successful
form. There is a genuine feeling for the perpetual
moral question, a fresh sense of the difficulty of being
good and the brutishness of being bad; but what there
is above all is a singular ability in holding the interest.
I confess that that, to my sense, is the most edifying
thing in the short, rapid, concentrated story, which


is really a masterpiece of concision. There is some-
thing almost impertinent in the way, as I have
noticed, in which Mr. Stevenson achieves his best
effects without the aid of the ladies, and Doctor Jekyll
is a capital example of his heartless independence.
It is usually supposed that a truly poignant im-
pression cannot be made without them, but in the
drama of Mr. Hyde's fatal ascendency they remain
altogether in the wing. It is very obvious I do not
say it cynically that they must have played an
important part in his development. The gruesome
tone of the tale is, no doubt, deepened by their
absence : it is like the late afternoon light of a foggy
winter Sunday, when even inanimate objects have a
kind of wicked look I remember few situations in
the pages of mystifying fiction more to the pur-
pose than the episode of Mr. Utterson's going to
Doctor JekylPs to confer with the butler when the
Doctor is locked up in his laboratory, and the old
servant, whose sagacity has hitherto encountered
successfully the problems of the sideboard and the
pantry, confesses that this time he is utterly baffled.
The way the two men, at the door of the laboratory,
discuss the identity of the mysterious personage
inside, who has revealed himself in two or three
inhuman glimpses to Poole, has those touches of
which irresistible shudders are made. The butler's
theory is that his master has been murdered, and that
the murderer is in the room, personating him with a
sort of clumsy diabolism. " Well, when that masked


thing like a monkey jumped from among the chemicals
and whipped into the cabinet, it went down my spine
like ice." That is the effect upon the reader of most
of the story. I say of most rather than of all,
because the ice rather melts in the sequel, and I have
some difficulty in accepting the business of the
powders, which seems to me too explicit and ex-
planatory. The powders constitute the machinery
of the transformation, and it will probably have
struck many readers that this uncanny process would
be more conceivable (so far as one may speak of the
conceivable in such a case), if the author had not
made it so definite.

I have left Mr. Stevenson's best book to the last,
as it is also the last he has given (at the present
speaking) to the public the tales comprising The
Merry Men having already appeared ; but I find that
on the way I have anticipated some of the remarks
that I had intended to make about it. That which
is most to the point is that there are parts of it so
fine as to suggest that the author's talent has taken
a fresh start, various as have been the impulses in
which it had already indulged, and serious the
hindrances among which it is condemned to exert
itself. There would have been a kind of perverse
humility in his keeping up the fiction that a produc-
tion so literary as Kidnapped is addressed to imma-
ture minds, and, though it was originally given to
the world, I believe, in a " boy's paper," the story
embraces every occasion that it meets to satisfy the


higher criticism. It has two weak spots, which need
simply to be mentioned. The cruel and miserly
uncle, in the first chapters, is rather in the tone of
superseded tradition, and the tricks he plays upon
his ingenuous nephew are a little like those of
country conjurers. In these pages we feel that Mr.
Stevenson is thinking too much of what a "boy's
paper" is expected to contain. Then the history
stops without ending, as it were ; but I think I may
add that this accident speaks for itself. Mr. Steven-
son has often to lay down his pen for reasons that
have nothing to do with the failure of inspiration,
and the last page of David Balfour's adventures is
an honourable plea for indulgence. The remaining
five- sixths of the book deserve to stand by Henry
Esmond as a fictive autobiography in archaic form.
The author's sense of the English idiom of the last
century, and still more of the Scotch, has enabled
him to give a gallant companion to Thackeray's tour
de force. The life, the humour, the colour of the
central portions of Kidnapped have a singular pic-
torial virtue : these passages read like a series of
inspired footnotes on some historic page. The
charm of the most romantic episode in the world,
though perhaps it would be hard to say why it is
the most romantic, when it was associated with
so much stupidity, is over the whole business, and
the forlorn hope of the Stuarts is revived for us
without evoking satiety. There could be no better
instance of the author's talent for seeing the familiar


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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 10 of 24)