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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

MY  FIRST  BOOK                        121

books and little essays and short stories ; and had got
patted on the back and paid for them—though not enough

to live upon. I had quite a reputation, I was the successful
man ; I passed ray days in toil, the futility of which would
sometimes make my cheek to burn—that I should spend
a man's energy upon this business, and yet could not earn
a livelihood : and still there shone ahead of me an
unattained ideal : although I had attempted the thing with
vigour not less than ten or twelve times, I had not yet
written a novel. All—all my pretty ones—had gone for
a little, and then stopped inexorably like a schoolboy's
watch. I might be compared to a cricketer of many years'
standing who should never have made a run. Anybody
can write a short story—a bad one, I mean—who has
industry and paper and time enough ; but not every one
may hope to write even a bad novel. It is the length that
kills. The accepted novelist may take his novel up and
put it down, spend days upon it in vain, and write not
any more than he makes haste to blot. Not so the
beginner. Human nature has certain rights ; instinct—
the instinct of self-preservation—forbids that any man
(cheered and supported by the consciousness of no previous
victory) should endure the miseries of unsuccessful literary
toil beyond a period to be measured in weeks. There must
be something for hope to feed upon. The beginner must
have a slant of wind, a lucky vein must be running, he
must be in one of those hours when the words come and
the phrases balance of themselves—even to begin. And
having begun, what a dread looking forward is that until
the book shall be accomplished ! For so long a time, the
slant is to continue unchanged, the vein to keep running,
for so long a time you must keep at command the same
quality of style : for so long a time your puppets are to
be always vital, always consistent, always vigorous ! I
remember I used to look, in those days, upon every three-
volume novel with a sort of veneration, as a feat—not
possibly of literature—but at least of physical and moral
endurance and the courage of Ajax.

In the fated year I came to live with my father and
mother at Kinnaird, above Pitlochry.    Then I walked on