Skip to main content

Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

See other formats

his young. To touch the heart of his mystery, we find
in him one thought, strange to the point of lunacy : the
thought of duty ; the thought of something owing to
himself, to his neighbour, to his God : an ideal of decency,
to which he would rise if it were possible ; a limit of shame,
below which, if it be possible, he will not stoop. The
design in most men is one of conformity ; here and there,
in picked natures, it transcends itself and soars on the
other side, arming martyrs with independence; but in
ail, in their degrees, it is a bosom thought:óNot in man
alone, for we trace it in dogs and cats whom we know
fairly well, and doubtless some similar point of honour
sways the elephant, the oyster, and the louse, of whom
we know so little :óBut in man, at least, it sways with
so complete an empire that merely selfish things come
second, even with the selfish : that appetites are starved,
fears are conquered, pains supported; that almost the
dullest shrinks from the reproof of a glance, although it
were a child's ; and all but the most cowardly stand amid
the risks of war ; and the more noble, having strongly
conceived an act as due to their ideal, affront and embrace
death. Strange enough if, with their singular origin and
perverted practice, they think they are to be rewarded
in some future life : stranger still, if they are persuaded
of the contrary, and think this blow, which they solicit,
will strike them senseless for eternity. I shall be reminded
wrhat a tragedy of misconception and misconduct man at
large presents : of organized injustice, cowardly violence
and treacherous crime ; and of the damning imperfections
of the best. They cannot be too darkly drawn. Man is
indeed marked for failure in his efforts to do right. But
where the best consistently miscarry, how tenfold more
remarkable that all should continue to strive ; and surely
we should find it both touching and inspiriting, that in a
field from which success is banished, our race should not
cease to labour.

If the first view of this creature, stalking in his rotatory
isle, be a thing to shake the courage of the stoutest, on
this nearer sight, he startles us with an admiring wonder.
It matters not where we look, under what climate we