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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial
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THE complete artist should not be mystical-moralist any more than the man who
"perceives only the visible world" - he should not engage himself with problems in the
direct sense any more than he should blind himself to their effect upon others, whom he
should study, and under certain conditions represent, though he should not commit
himself to any form of zealot faith, yet should he not be, as Lord Tennyson puts it in the
Palace of Art:
"As God holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all,"
because his power lies in the broadness of his humanity touched to fine issues whenever
there is the seal at once of truth, reality, and passion, and the tragedy bred of their contact
All these things are to him real and clamant in the measure that they aid appeal to heart
and emotion - in the measure that they may, in his hands, be made to tell for sympathy
and general effect. He creates an atmosphere in which each and all may be seen the more
effectively, but never seen alone or separate, but only in strict relation to each other that
they may heighten the sense of some supreme controlling power in the destinies of men,
which with the ancients was figured as Fate, and for which the moderns have hardly yet
found an enduring and exhaustive name. Character revealed in reference to that, is the
ideal and the aim of all high creative art. Stevenson's narrowness, allied to a quaint and
occasionally just a wee pedantic finickiness, as we may call it - an over- elaborate, almost
tricky play with mere words and phrases, was in so far alien to the very highest - he was
too often like a man magnetised and moving at the dictates of some outside influence
rather than according to his own freewill and as he would.
Action in creative literary art is a SINE QUA NON; keeping all the characters and parts
in unison, that a true DENOUEMENT, determined by their own tendencies and
temperaments, may appear; dialogue and all asides, if we may call them so, being
supererogatory and weak really unless they aid this and are constantly contributory to it.
Egotistical predeterminations, however artfully intruded, are, alien to the full result, the
unity which is finally craved: Stevenson fails, when he does fail, distinctly from excess of
egotistic regards; he is, as Henley has said, in the French sense, too PERSONNEL, and
cannot escape from it. And though these personal regards are exceedingly interesting and
indeed fascinating from the point of view of autobiographical study, they are, and cannot
but be, a drawback on fiction or the disinterested revelation of life and reality. Instead,
therefore, of "the visible world," as the only thing seen, Stevenson's defect is, that
between it and him lies a cloud strictly self-projected, like breath on a mirror, which dims
the lines of reality and confuses the character marks, in fact melting them into each other;
and in his sympathetic regards, causing them all to become too much alike. Scott had
more of the power of healthy self-withdrawal, creating more of a free atmosphere, in
which his characters could freely move - though in this, it must be confessed, he failed far