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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

10   BOOKS WHICH HAVE INFLUENCED ME

from first to last with that invisible beam. It is yourself
that is hunted down; these are your own faults that are
dragged into the day and numbered, with lingering relish,
with cruel cunning and precision. A young friend of Mr,
Meredith's (as I have the story) came to him in an agony.
( This is too bad of you/ he cried. ' Willoughby is me ! '
4 No, my dear fellow,' said the author ; c he is all of us.5
I have read The Egoist five or six times myself, and I mean
to read it again; for I am like the young friend of the
anecdote—I think Willoughby an unmanly but a very
serviceable exposure of myself.

I suppose, when I am done, I shall find that I have
forgotten much that was most influential, as I see already
I have forgotten Thoreau, and Hazlitt, whose paper ' On
the Spirit of Obligations ' was a turning-point in my life,
and Penn, whose little book of aphorisms had a brief but
strong effect on me, and Mitford's Tales of Old Japan,
wherein I learned for the first time the proper attitude of
any rational man to his country's laws—a secret found,
and kept, in the Asiatic islands. That I should com-
memorate all is more than I can hope or the Editor could
ask. It will be more to the point, after having said so
much upon improving books, to say a word or two about
the improvable reader. The gift of reading, as • I have
called it, is not very common, nor very generally under-
stood. It consists, first of all, in a vast intellectual
endowment—a free grace, I find I must call it—by which
a man rises to understand that he is not punctually right,
nor those from whom he differs absolutely wrong. He
may hold dogmas ; he may hold them passionately ; and
he may know that others hold them but coldly, or hold
them differently, or hold them not at all. Well, if he
has the gift of reading, these others will be full of meat
for him. They will see the other side of propositions and
the other side of virtues. He need not change his dogma
for that, but he may change his reading of that dogma, and
he must supplement and correct' his deductions from it.
A human truth, which is always very much a lie, hides as
much of life as it displays. It is men who hold another
truth, or as it seems to us, perhaps, a dangerous lie, who