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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

fellow, and held in a dozen ways a nobler view of life, than
they or their contemporaries.

The next book, in order of time, to influence me, was
the New Testament, and in particular the Gospel according
to St. Matthew. I believe it would startle and move any
one if they could make a certain effort of imagination and
read it freshly like a book, not droningly and dully like a
portion of the Bible. Any one would then be able to see
in it those truths which we are all courteously supposed
to know and all modestly refrain from applying. But
upon this subject it is perhaps better to be silent.

I come next to Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a book of
singular service, a book which tumbled the world upside
down for me, blew into space a thousand cobwebs of
genteel and ethical illusion, and, having thus shaken my
tabernacle of lies, set me back again upon a strong founda-
tion of all the original and manly virtues. But it is, once
more, only a book for those who have the gift of reading.
I will be very frankóI believe it is so with all good books
except, perhaps, fiction. The average man lives, and
must live, so wholly in convention, that gunpowder charges
of the truth are more apt to discompose than to invigo-
rate his creed. Either he cries out upon blasphemy and
indecency, and crouches the closer round that little idol of
part-truths and part-conveniences which is the contem-
porary deity, or he is convinced by what is new, forgets
what is old, and becomes truly blasphemous and indecent
himself. New truth is only useful to supplement the old ;
rough truth is only wanted to expand, not to destroy, our
civil and often elegant conventions. He who cannot
judge had better stick to fiction and the daily papers.
There he will get little harm, and, in the first at least, some
good.

Close upon the back of my discovery of Whitman, I
came under the influence of Herbert Spencer. No more
persuasive rabbi exists, and few better. How much of his
vast structure will bear the touch of time, how much is
clay and how much brass, it were too curious to inquire.
But his words, if dry, are always manly and honest; there
dwells in his pages a spirit of highly abstract joy, plucked