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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

INTRODUCTION:  AN  APPRECIATION     xvii

flashing eyes ; his wit, vivacity and sudden outbursts
of quaint, unexpected humour. ' The irresponsible Lewis/
Henley calls him, ' the friend, the comrade, the charmeur
... I shall ever remember him as that. The impression
of his writings disappears: the impression of himself
and his talk is ever a possession. . . . For as much
as he was primarily a talker, Ms printed works, like those
of others after Ms kind, are but a sop for posterity—a last
dying speech and confession (as it were) to show the world
that not for nothing were they held rare fellows in their
day.' But now the glamour of Ms personality has passed
away, and a new generation has arisen that knew not
Stevenson, to whom Ms morality seems a little commonplace,
Ms epigrams a trifle obvious, his style slightly mannered
and artificial. Stevenson essayed every species of writing,
and, as Dr. Johnson remarked of Goldsmith, he touched
none of them without adorning it. Yet he never produced
any supremely original work. Even had he lived, there
is little likelihood that he would have added to Ms reputa-
tion. Weir of Hermiston is only a successful return to an
earlier manner. The great writer writes because he must.
He is constructive, creative : he curbs witMn the bounds
of literary form the teeming product of Ms imagination.
The highest art is unconscious. Stevenson, on the other
hand, is deliberately self-conscious. He is an exquisite
artificer, a skilled worker in mosaic, rather than a great
creative artist. He pours, as some one has said, the
somewhat attenuated matter into exquisitely constructed
moulds. He makes no secret of tMs. In his own frank,
disarming way he tells us how he acquired Ms style, with
notebook and pencil, playing the ' sedulous ape ' to the
great masters of prose. But after all, as Henley remarks,
his style is so perfectly acMeved that the achievement
gets obvious, and when acMevement gets obvious, is it
not by way of becoming uninteresting ?

It is as an essayist that Stevenson will probably live.
He was temperamentally unsuited to constructive effort
on a large scale, and the essay was peculiarly adapted to
Ms genius. Into it he put the bulk of his most character-
istic-and finished writing. The essay is defined by Dr,
2