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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

a                A

discarded, finding them a school of posturing and melan-
choly self-deception. And yet this was not the most
efficient part of my training. Good though it was, it only
taught me (so far as I have learned them at all) the lower
and less intellectual elements of the art, the choice of
the essential note and the right word : things that to a
happier constitution had perhaps come by nature. And
regarded as training, it had one grave defect; for it set
me no standard of achievement. So that there was per-
haps more profit, as there was certainly more effort, in'
my secret labours at home. Whenever I read a book or a
passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing
was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which
there was either some conspicuous force or some happy
distinction in the style, I must sit down at once and set
myself to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful, and I
knew it; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful
And always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts,
I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction
and the co-ordination of parts. I have thus played the
sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to
Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Mon-
taigne, to Baudelaire and to Obermann. I remember
one of these monkey tricks which was called The Vanity
of Morals : it was to have had a second part. The Vanity
of Knowledge ; and as I had neither morality nor scholar-
ship, the names were apt; but the second part was never
attempted, and the first part was written (which is my
reason for recalling it, ghostlike, from its ashes) no less
than three times : first in the manner of Hazlitt, second
in the manner of Ruskin, who had cast on me a passing
spell, and third, in a laborious pasticcio of Sir Thomas
Browne. So with my other works : Cain, an epic, wa^
(save the mark !) an imitation of Sordello : Robin Hood,
a tale in verse, took an eclectic middle course among the
fields of Keats, Chaucer and Morris : in Monmouth, a
tragedy, I reclined on the bosom of Mr. Swinburne ; in
my innumerable gouty-footed lyrics, I followed many
masters ; in the first draft of The King's Pardon, a
tragedy, I was on the trail of no lesser man than John