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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

70                                BEGGAES

are inclined in these days to admit) he plainly bracketed
agnosticism with beer and skittles.

Keats—John Keats, sir—and Shelley were his favourite
bards. I cannot remember if I tried him with Rossetti;
but I know Ms taste to a hair, and if ever I did, he must
have doted on that author. What took him was a richness
in the speech ; he loved the exotic, the unexpected word ;
the moving cadence of a phrase ; a vague sense of emotion
(about nothing) in the very letters of the alphabet: the
romance of language. His honest head was very nearly
empty, his intellect like a child's ; and when he read his
favourite authors, he can almost never have understood
what he was reading. Yet the taste was not only genuine,
it was exclusive ; I tried in vain to offer him novels ; he
would none of them, he cared for nothing but romantic
language that he could not understand. The case may
be commoner than we suppose. I am reminded of a lad
who was laid in the next cot to a friend of mine in a public
hospital, and who was no sooner installed than he sent
out (perhaps with his last pence) for a cheap Shakespeare.
My friend pricked up his ears ; fell at once in a talk with
his new neighbour, and was ready, when the book arrived,
to make a singular discovery. For this lover of great
literature understood not one sentence out of twelve, and
his favourite part was that of which he understood the
least—the inimitable, mouth-filling rodomontade of the
ghost in Hamlet. It was a bright day in hospital when my
friend expounded the sense of this beloved jargon : a
task for which I am willing to believe my friend was very
fit, though I can never regard it as an easy one. I know
indeed a point or two, on which I would gladly question
Mr. Shakespeare, that lover of big words, could he revisit
the glimpses of the moon, or could I myself climb backward
to the spacious days of Elizabeth. But in the second case,
I should most likely pretermit these questionings, and
take my place instead in the pit at the Blackfriars, to hear
the actor in his favourite part, playing up to Mr. Burbage,
and rolling out—as I seem to hear him—with a ponderous
gusto—

* UrLhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd,*