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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

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PASTORAL                               51

Count Tolstoi swings the scythe, lift romance Into a near
neighbourhood with epic. These aged things have on
them the dew of man's morning ; they He near, not so
much to us, the semi-artificial flowerets, as to the trunk
and aboriginal taproot of the race. A thousand interests
spring up in the process of the ages, and a thousand perish ;
that Is now an eccentricity or a lost art which was once the
fashion of an empire ; and those only are perennial matters
that rouse us to-day, and that roused men in all epochs of
the past. There Is a certain critic, not indeed of execution
but of matter, whom I dare be known to set before the best :
a certain low-browed, hairy gentleman, at first a percher
In the fork of trees, next (as they relate) a dweller In caves,
and whom I think I see squatting in cave-mouths, of a
pleasant afternoon, to munch his berries—his wife, that
accomplished lady, squatting by his side : his name
I never heard, but he is often described as Probably
Arboreal, which may serve for recognition. Each has his
own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably
Arboreal; in all our veins there run some minims of his
old, wild, tree-top blood ; our civilized nerves still tingle
with his rude terrors and pleasures ; and to that which
would have moved our common ancestor, all must obedi-
ently thrill.

We have not so far to climb to come to shepherds ; and it
may be I had one for an ascendant who has largely moulded
me. But yet I think I owe my taste for that hillside
business rather to the art and interest of John Todd. He
it was that made it live for me, as the artist can make all
things live. It wras through him the simple strategy of
massing sheep upon a snowy evening, with its attendant
scampering of earnest, shaggy aides-de-camp, was an
affair that I never wearied of seeing, and that I never
weary of recalling to mind : the shadow of the night
darkening on the hills, inscrutable black blots of snow
showrer moving here and there like night already come,
huddles of yellow sheep and dartings of black dogs upon
the snow, a bitter air that took you by the throat,
unearthly harpings of the wind along the moors ; and for
centrepiece to all these features and Influences, John