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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

8      BOOKS WHICH HAVE INFLUENCED ME

naked like an algebraic symbol but still joyful: and the
reader will find there a caput mortuum of piety, with little
indeed of its loveliness, but with most of its essentials ;
and these two qualities make him a wholesome, as his
intellectual vigour makes him a bracing, writer. I should
be much of a hound if I lost my gratitude to Herbert
Spencer.

Goethe's Life, by Lewes, had a great importance for me
when it first fell into my hands—a strange instance of the
partiality of man's good and man's evil. I know no one
whom I less admire than Goethe ; he seems a very epitome
of the sins of genius, breaking open the doors of private
life, and wantonly wounding friends, in that crowning
offence of WertJier, and in his own character a mere pen-
and-ink Napoleon, conscious of the rights and duties of
superior talents as a Spanish inquisitor was conscious of
the rights and duties of his office. And yet in his fine
devotion to Ms art, in his honest and serviceable friendship
for Schiller, what lessons are contained! Biography,
usually so false to its office, does here for once perform for
us some of the work of fiction, reminding us, that is, of the
truly mingled tissue of man's nature, and how huge faults
and shining virtues cohabit and persevere in the same
character. History serves us well to this effect, but in
the originals, not in the pages of the popular epitomizer,
who is bound, by the very nature of his task, to make us
feel the difference of epochs instead of the essential identity
of man, and even in the originals only to those who can
recognize their own human virtues and defects in strange
forms, often inverted and under strange names, often
interchanged. Martial is a poet of no good repute, and it
gives a man new thoughts to read his works dispassionately,
and find in this unseemly jester's serious passages the
image of a kind, wise, and self-respecting gentleman. It
is customary, I suppose, in reading Martial, to leave out
these pleasant verses ; I never heard of them, at least,
until I found them for myself ; and this partiality is one
among a thousand things that help to build up our dis-
torted and hysterical conception of the great Bonian
Empire.