To those who really love reading and have some sympathy with humanity, Montaigne's _Essays_ are a "perpetual refuge and delight," and it is interesting to reflect how far in literary fame this man, who talked about his meals, his horse, and his cat, outshines thousands of scholarly and talented writers, who discussed only the most serious themes in politics and religion. The great English prose writers in the field of the personal essay during the seventeenth century were Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Fuller, and Abraham Cowley, though Walton's _Compleat Angler_ is a kindred work. Browne's _Religio Medici_, and his delightful _Garden of Cyrus_, old Tom Fuller's quaint _Good Thoughts in Bad Times_ and Cowley's charming _Essays_ are admirable examples of this school of composition. Burton's wonderful _Anatomy of Melancholy_ is a colossal personal essay. Some of the papers of Steele and Addison in the _Tatler_, _Guardian,_ and the _Spectator_ are of course notable; but it was not until the appearance of Charles Lamb that the personal essay reached its climax in English literature. Over the pages of the _Essays of Elia_ hovers an immortal charm--the charm of a nature inexhaustible in its humour and kindly sympathy for humanity. Thackeray was another great master of the literary easy-chair, and is to some readers more attractive in this attitude than as a novelist. In America we have had a few writers who have reached eminence in this form, beginning with Washington Irving, and including Donald G. Mitchell, whose _Reveries of a Bachelor_ has been read by thousands of people for over fifty years.
As a personal essayist Stevenson seems already to belong to the first rank. He is both eclectic and individual. He brought to his pen the reminiscences of varied reading, and a wholly original touch of fantasy. He was literally steeped in the gorgeous Gothic diction of the seventeenth century, but he realised that such a prose style as illumines the pages of William Drummond's _Cypress Grove_ and Browne's _Urn Burial_ was a lost art. He attempted to imitate such writing only in his youthful exercises, for his own genius was forced to express itself in an original way. All of his personal essays have that air of distinction which attracts and holds one's attention as powerfully in a book as it does in social intercourse. Everything that he has to say seems immediately worth saying, and worth hearing, for he was one of those rare men who had an interesting mind. There are some literary artists who have style and nothing else, just as there are some great singers who have nothing but a voice. The true test of a book, like that of an individual, is whether or not it improves upon acquaintance. Stevenson's essays reflect a personality that becomes brighter as we draw nearer. This fact makes his essays not merely entertaining reading, but worthy of serious and prolonged study.
[Note 1: His name was originally Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson. He later dropped the "Balfour" and changed the spelling of "Lewis" to "Louis," but the name was always pronounced "Lewis."]
The following information is taken from Col. Prideaux's admirable _Bibliography_ of Stevenson, London, 1903. I have given the titles and dates of only the more important publications in book form; and of the critical works on Stevenson, I have included only a few of those that seem especially useful to the student and general reader. The detailed facts about the separate publications of each essay included in the present volume are fully given in my notes.
1878. An Inland Voyage. 1879. Travels with a Donkey. 1881. Virginibus Puerisque. 1882. Familiar Studies of Men and Books. 1882. New Arabian Nights. 1883. Treasure Island. 1885. Prince Otto. 1885. A Child's Garden of Verses. 1885. More New Arabian Nights. The Dynamiter. 1886. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886. Kidnapped. 1887. The Merry Men. 1887. Memories and Portraits. 1888. The Black Arrow. 1889. The Master of Ballantrae.