Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson

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ESSAYS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

SELECTED AND EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NOTES BY WILLIAM LYON PHELPS M.A.(HARVARD) PH.D.(YALE)

PREFACE

The text of the following essays is taken from the Thistle Edition of Stevenson's _Works_, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, in New York. I have refrained from selecting any of Stevenson's formal essays in literary criticism, and have chosen only those that, while ranking among his masterpieces in style, reveal his personality, character, opinions, philosophy, and faith. In the _Introduction_, I have endeavoured to be as brief as possible, merely giving a sketch of his life, and indicating some of the more notable sides of his literary achievement; pointing out also the literary school to which these Essays belong. A lengthy critical Introduction to a book of this kind would be an impertinence to the general reader, and a nuisance to a teacher. In the _Notes_, I have aimed at simple explanation and some extended literary comment. It is hoped that the general recognition of Stevenson as an English classic may make this volume useful in school and college courses, while it is not too much like a textbook to repel the average reader. I am indebted to Professor Catterall of Cornell and to Professor Cross of Yale, and to my brother the Rev. Dryden W. Phelps, for some assistance in locating references. W.L.P., YALE UNIVERSITY, _13 February 1906_.

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I ON THE ENJOYMENT OF UNPLEASANT PLACES NOTES

II AN APOLOGY FOR IDLERS NOTES

III AES TRIPLEX NOTES

IV TALK AND TALKERS NOTES

V A GOSSIP ON ROMANCE NOTES

VI THE CHARACTER OF DOGS NOTES

VII A COLLEGE MAGAZINE NOTES

VIII BOOKS WHICH HAVE INFLUENCED ME NOTES

IX PULVIS ET UMBRA NOTES

INTRODUCTION

I

LIFE OF STEVENSON

Robert Louis Stevenson[1] was born at Edinburgh on the 13 November 1850. His father, Thomas, and his grandfather, Robert, were both distinguished light-house engineers; and the maternal grandfather, Balfour, was a Professor of Moral Philosophy, who lived to be ninety years old. There was, therefore, a combination of _Lux et Veritas_ in the blood of young Louis Stevenson, which in _Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_ took the form of a luminous portrayal of a great moral idea.

In the language of Pope, Stevenson's life was a long disease. Even as a child, his weak lungs caused great anxiety to all the family except himself; but although Death loves a shining mark, it took over forty years of continuous practice for the grim archer to send the black arrow home. It is perhaps fortunate for English literature that his health was no better; for the boy craved an active life, and would doubtless have become an engineer. He made a brave attempt to pursue this calling, but it was soon evident that his constitution made it impossible. After desultory schooling, and an immense amount of general reading, he entered the University of Edinburgh, and then tried the study of law. Although the thought of this profession became more and more repugnant, and finally intolerable, he passed his final examinations satisfactorily. This was in 1875.

He had already begun a series of excursions to the south of France and other places, in search of a climate more favorable to his incipient malady; and every return to Edinburgh proved more and more conclusively that he could not live in Scotch mists. He had made the acquaintance of a number of literary men, and he was consumed with a burning ambition to become a writer. Like Ibsen's _Master-Builder_, there was a troll in his blood, which drew him away to the continent on inland voyages with a canoe and lonely tramps with a donkey; these gave him material for books full of brilliant pictures, shrewd observations, and irrepressible humour. He contributed various articles to magazines, which were immediately recognised by critics like Leslie Stephen as bearing the unmistakable mark of literary genius; but they attracted almost no attention from the general reading public, and their author had only the consciousness of good work for his reward.

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