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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

A  COLLEGE  MAGAZINE                    3

Webster; in the second draft of the same piece, with
staggering versatility, I had shifted my allegiance to
Congreve, and of course conceived my fable in a less
serious vein—for it was not Congreve's verse, it was his
exquisite prose, that I admired and sought to copy. Even
at the age of thirteen I had tried to do justice to the
inhabitants of the famous city of Peebles in the style of
the Book of Snobs. So I might go on for ever, through all
my abortive novels, and down to*my later plays, of which
I think more tenderly, for they were not only conceived
at first under the bracing influence of old Dumas, but
have met with resurrections : one, strangely bettered by
another hand, came on the stage itself and was played by
bodily actors ; the other, originally known as Semiramis :
a Tragedy, I have observed on bookstalls under the
alias of Prince Otto. But enough has been said to
show by what arts of impersonation, and in what purely
ventriloquial efforts I first saw my words on paper.

That, like it or not, is the way to learn to write ; whether
I have profited or not, that is the way. It was so Keats
learned, and there was never a finer temperament for
literature than Keats's ; it was so, if we could trace it
out, that all men have learned ; and that is why a revival
of letters is always accompanied or heralded by a cast
back to earlier and fresher models. Perhaps I hear some
one cry out: But this is not the way to be original! It is
not; nor is there any way but to be born so. Nor yet,
if you are born original, is there anything in this training
that shall clip the wings of your originality. There can
be none more original than Montaigne, neither could any
be more unlike Cicero; yet no craftsman can fail to see
how much the one must have tried in his time to imitate
the other. Burns is the very type of a prime force in
letters : he was of all men the most imitative. Shake-
speare himself, the imperial, proceeds directly from a
school. It is only from a school that we can expect to
have good writers ; it is almost invariably from a school
that great writers, these lawless exceptions, issue. Nor
is there anything here that should astonish the considerate.
Before he can tell what cadences he truly prefers, the