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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

6     BOOKS WHICH HAVE INFLUENCED ME

best by those poems and romances where we breathe a
magnanimous atmosphere of thought and meet generous
and pious characters. Shakespeare has served me best.
Few living friends have had upon me an influence so strong
for good as Hamlet or Eosalind. The last character,
already well beloved in the reading, I had the good fortune
to see, I must think, in an impressionable hour, played by
Mrs. Scott Siddons. Nothing has ever more moved, more
delighted, more refreshed me ; nor has the influence quite
passed away. Kent's brief speech over the dying Lear
had a great effect upon my mind, and was the burthen of
my reflections for long, so profoundly, so touchingly
generous did it appear in sense, so overpowering in
expression. Perhaps my dearest and best friend outside
of Shakespeare is D'Artagnanó-the elderly D'Artagnan
of the Vicomte de Bragelonne. I know not a more human
soul, nor, in his way, a finer ; I shall be very sorry for the
man who is so much of a pedant in morals that he cannot
learn from the Captain of Musketeers. Lastly, I must
name the Pilgrim's Progress, a book that breathes of every
beautiful and valuable emotion.

But of works of art little can be said ; their influence
is profound and silent, like the influence of nature ; they
mould by contact; we drink them up like water, and are
bettered, yet know not how. It is in books more specific-
ally didactic that we can follow out the effect, and distin-
guish and weigh and compare. A book which has been very
influential upon me fell early into my hands, and so may
stand first, though I think its influence was only sensible
later on, and perhaps still keeps growing, for it is a book
not easily outlived; the Essais of Montaigne. That
temperate and genial picture of life is a great gift to place
in the hands of persons of to-day ; they will find in these
smiling pages a magazine of heroism and wisdom, all of an
antique strain ; they will have their ' linen decencies *
and excited orthodoxies fluttered, and will (if they have
any gift of reading) perceive that these have not been
fluttered without some excuse and ground of reason ; and
(again if they have any gift of reading) they will end by
seeing that this old gentleman was in a dozen ways a finer