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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

BEGGARS                                69

His Queen Mab, sir, is quite an atheistical work. Scott
sir, is not so poetical a writer. With the works of Shake-
speare I am not so well acquainted, but he was a fine
poet. Keats—John Keats, sir—he was a very fine poet.'
With such references, such trivial criticism, such loving
parade of his own knowledge, he would beguile the road,
striding forward up-hill, his staff now clapped to the
ribs of his deep, resonant chest, now swinging in the air
with the remembered jauntiness of the private soldier ;
and all the while his toes looking out of his boots, and
his shirt looking out of his elbows, and death looking out
of his smile, and his big, crazy frame shaken by accesses
of cough.

He would often go the wfcole way home with me : often
to borrow a book, and that book always a poet. Off he
would march, to continue Ms mendicant rounds, with the
volume slipped into the pocket of his ragged coat; and
although he would sometimes keep it quite a while, yet
it came always back again at last, not much the worse
for its travels into beggardom. And in this way, doubt-
less, his knowledge grew and his glib, random criticism
took a wider range. But my library was not the first he
had drawn upon ; at our first encounter, he was already
brimful of Shelley and the atheistical Queen Mab, and
1 Keats—John Keats, sir.' And I have often wondered
how he came by these acquirements ; just as I often
wondered how he fell to be a beggar. He had served
through the Mutiny—of which (like so many people) he
could tell practically nothing beyond the names of places
and that it was c difficult work, sir/ and very hot, or that
so-and-so was ' a very fine commander, sir.' He was
far too smart a man to have remained a private ; in the
nature of things, he must have won his stripes. And yet
here he was without a pension. When I touched on this
problem, he would content himself with diffidently offering
me advice. ' A man should be very careful when he is
young, sir. If you'll excuse me saying so, a spirited
young gentleman like yourself, sir, should be very careful.
I was perhaps a trifle inclined to atheistical opinions
myself.' For (perhaps with a deeper wisdom than we