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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

92                  THE  LANTERN-BEARERS

surrounded, all of which they were ; and their talk as
silly and indecent, which it certainly was. I might upon
these lines, and had I Zola's genius, turn out, in a page
or so, a gem of literary art, render the lantern-light with
the touches of a master, and lay on the indecency with
the ungrudging hand of love ; and when all was done,
what a triumph would my picture be of shallowness and
dullness ! how it would have missed the point! how it
would have belied the boys ! To the ear of the steno-
grapher, the talk is merely silly and indecent; but ask
the boys themselves, and they are discussing (as it is
highly proper they should) the possibilities of existence,
To the eye of the observer they are wet and cold and
drearily surrounded ; but ask themselves, and they are
in the heaven of a recondite pleasure, the ground of which
is an ill-smelling lantern.


For, to repeat, the ground of a man's joy is often
hard to hit. It may hinge at times upon a mere acces-
sory, like the lantern, it may reside, like Dancer's, in the
mysterious inwards of psychology. It may consist with
perpetual failure, and find exercise in the continued chase.
It has so little bond with externals (such as the observer
scribbles in his note-book) that it may even touch them
not; and the man's true life, for which he consents tú
live, He altogether in the field of fancy. The clergyman,
in his spare hours, may be winning battles, the farmer
sailing ships, the banker reaping triumph in the arts :
all leading another life, plying another trade from that
they chose ; hke the poet's housebuilder, who, after all,
is cased in stone,

* By his fireside, as impotent fancy prompts,
Rebuilds it to his liking.5

In such a case the poetry runs underground. The observer
(poor soul, with his documents !) is all abroad. For to
look at the man is but to court deception. We shall see
the trunk from which he draws his nourishment; but h&.