This article made its first appearance in the volume _Memories and Portraits_ (1887). It was divided into three parts. The interest of this essay is almost wholly autobiographical, telling us, with more or less seriousness, how its author "learned to write." After Stevenson became famous, this confession attracted universal attention, and is now one of the best-known of all his compositions. Many youthful aspirants for literary fame have been moved by its perusal to adopt a similar method; but while Stevenson's system, if faithfully followed, would doubtless correct many faults, it would not of itself enable a man to write another _Aes Triplex_ or _Treasure Island_. It was genius, not industry, that placed Stevenson in English literature.

[Note 1: _Pattern of an Idler_. See his essay in this volume, _An Apology for Idlers_.]

[Note 2: _A school of posturing_. It is a nice psychological question whether or not it is possible for one to write a diary with absolutely no thought of its being read by some one else.]

[Note 3: _Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Beaudelaire, and to Obermann_. For Hazlitt, see Note 19 of Chapter II above. Charles Lamb (1775-1834), author of the delightful _Essays of Elia_ (1822-24), the _tone_ of which book is often echoed in Stevenson's essays.... Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), regarded by many as the greatest prose writer of the seventeenth century; his best books are _Religio Medici_ (the religion of a physician), 1642, and _Urn Burial_ (1658). The 300th anniversary of his birth was widely celebrated on 19 October 1905.... Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), an enormously prolific writer; his first important novel, _Robinson Crusoe_ (followed by many others) was written when he was 58 years old.... Nathaniel Hawthorne, the greatest literary artist that America has ever produced was born 4 July 1804, and died in 1864. His best novel (the finest in American Literature) was _The Scarlet Letter_ (1850).... Montaigne. Stevenson was heavily indebted to this wonderful genius. See Note 4 of Chapter VI above. ... Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) wrote the brilliant and decadent _Fleurs du Mai_ (1857-61). He translated Poe into French, and was partly responsible for Poe's immense vogue in France. Had Baudelaire's French followers possessed the power of their master, we should be able to forgive them for writing.... Obermann. _Obermann_ is the title of a story by the French writer Etienne Pivert de Senancour (1770-1846). The book, which appeared in 1804, is full of vague melancholy, in the Werther fashion, and is more of a psychological study than a novel. In recent years, _Amiel's Journal_ and Sienkiewicz's _Without Dogma_ belong to the same school of literature. Matthew Arnold was fond of quoting from Senancour's _Obermann_.]

[Note 4: _Ruskin ... Pasticcio ... Bordello ... Morris ... Swinburne ... John Webster ... Congreve_. These names exhibit the astonishing variety of Stevenson's youthful attempts, for they represent nearly every possible style of composition. John Ruskin (1819-1900) exercised a greater influence thirty years ago than he does to-day Stevenson in the words "a passing spell," seems to apologise for having been influenced by him at all.... Pasticcio, an Italian word, meaning "pie": Swinburne uses it in the sense of "medley," which is about the same as its significance here. _Sordello_: Stevenson naturally accompanies this statement with a parenthetical exclamation. _Sordello_, published in 1840, is the most obscure of all Browning's poems, and for many years blinded critics to the poet's genius. Innumerable are the witticisms aimed at this opaque work. See, for example, W. Sharp's _Life of Browning_ ... William Morris (1834-96), author of the _Earthly Paradise_ (1868-70): for his position and influence in XIXth century literature see H.A. Beers, _History of English Romanticism_, Vol. II.... Algernon Charles Swinburne, born 1837, generally regarded (1906) as England's foremost living poet, is famous chiefly for the melodies of his verse.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book