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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

xii      INTRODUCTION:  AN APPRECIATION

Stevenson was totally unsuited for a professional career,
At college, he was the despair of his tutors. As he tells
us himself, he was a pattern of idleness.1 The hours
which should have been devoted to lectures were spent in
omnivorous reading, French and English ; essays, belles-
lettres, history, philosophy and poetry were indiscriminately
devoured. At the same time Stevenson was assiduously
engaged in practising the art of writing, imitating the
models which came to hand with surprising facility.2 In
1875, owing to lung-trouble, he was compelled to spend
the first of many winters abroad. The following year he
made his literary debut in the Cornhill Magazine, then
edited by Leslie Stephen, contributing to its pages from
time to time those delightful papers which afterwards
appeared under the title of Virginibus Puerisque. About
the same time he first made the acquaintance of his fellow-
artist and collaborator, William Ernest Henley. In 1878,
amid a mass of miscellaneous journalism, appeared two
characteristic volumes—An Inland Voyage, recording a
canoe-trip made two years previously in the company of
Sir Walter Simpson, and Travels with a Donkey in the
Cevennes, inspired by a walking tour from Monastier in
Velay through the mountains to Florae.

In 1879 came the great crisis of Stevenson's life. He
had met at Fontainebleau an American lady, Mrs. Osbourne,
with her son and daughter. He now determined to follow
her to California and marry her. Owing to straitened
circumstances, Stevenson was compelled to travel by an
emigrant ship ; for a man of his health and temperament
this decision was little less than heroic. His adventures
on the voyage and subsequently in America are told in
The Amateur Emigrant, Across the Plains, The Silverado
Squatters and other papers. Mrs. Osbourne proved to be
an ideal wife, a friend and companion who shared his
tastes, helped him in his literary pursuits, and nursed him
devotedly in his many illnesses. Hardly less beautiful
was his friendship with his stepson, who became afterwards
his collaborator.

1 CJ. An Apology for Idlers— autobiographical as usual.
3 A College Magazine.