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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

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54                             THE MANSE

flower-plots lying warm, in sunshine; laurels and the
great yew making elsewhere a pleasing horror of shade ;
the smell of water rising from all round, with an added
tang of paper-mills; the sound of water everywhere, and
the sound of mills—the wheel and the dam singing their
alternate strain ; the birds on every bush and from every
corner of the overhanging woods pealing out their notes
until the air throbbed with them ; and, in the midst of
this, the manse. I see it, by the standard of my childish
stature, as a great and roomy house. In truth, it was not
so large as I supposed, nor yet so convenient, and, stand-
ing where it did, it is difficult to suppose that it was
healthful. Yet a large family of stalwart sons and tall
daughters was housed and reared, and came to man and
womanhood in that nest of little chambers ; so that the
face of the earth was peppered with the children of the
manse, and letters with outlandish stamps became familiar
to the local postman, and the walls of the little chambers
brightened with the wonders of the East. The dullest
could see this was a house that had a pair of hands in
divers foreign places : a well-beloved house—its image
fondly dwelt on by many travellers.

Here lived an ancestor of mine, who was a herd of men.
I read him, judging with older criticism the report of
childish observation, as a man of singular simplicity of
nature; unemotional, and hating the display of what he
felt; standing contented on the old ways ; a lover of his
life and innocent habits to the end. We children admired
him ; partly for his beautiful face and silver hair, for
none more than children are concerned for beauty and,
above all, for beauty in the old; partly for the solemn
light in which we beheld him once a week, the observed
of all observers, in the pulpit. But his strictness and
distance, the effect, I now fancy, of old age, slow blood,
and settled habit, oppressed us with a kind of terror.
When not abroad, he sat much alone, writing sermons or
letters to his scattered family, in a dark and cold room
with a library of bloodless books—or so they seemed in
those days, although I have some of them now on my
own shelves and like well enough to read them; and