Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial
HIS interest in engineering soon went - his mind full of stories and fancies and human
nature. As he had told his mother: he did not care about finding what was "the strain on a
bridge," he wanted to know something of human beings.
No doubt, much to the disappointment and grief of his father, who wished him as an only
son to carry on the traditions of the family, though he had written two engineering essays
of utmost promise, the engineering was given up, and he consented to study law. He had
already contributed to College Magazines, and had had even a short spell of editing one;
of one of these he has given a racy account. Very soon after his call to the Bar articles
and essays from his pen began to appear in MACMILLAN'S, and later, more regularly in
the CORNHILL. Careful readers soon began to note here the presence of a new force. He
had gone on the INLAND VOYAGE and an account of it was in hand; and had done that
tour in the Cevennes which he has described under the title TRAVELS WITH A
DONKEY IN THE CEVENNES, with Modestine, sometimes doubting which was the
donkey, but on that tour a chill caught either developed a germ of lung disease already
present, or produced it; and the results unfortunately remained.
He never practised at the Bar, though he tells facetiously of his one brief. He had chosen
his own vocation, which was literature, and the years which followed were, despite the
delicacy which showed itself, very busy years. He produced volume on volume. He had
written many stories which had never seen the light, but, as he says, passed through the
ordeal of the fire by more or less circuitous ways.
By this time some trouble and cause for anxiety had arisen about the lungs, and trials of
various places had been made. ORDERED SOUTH suggests the Mediterranean, sunny
Italy, the Riviera. Then a sea-trip to America was recommended and undertaken.
Unfortunately, he got worse there, his original cause of trouble was complicated with
others, and the medical treatment given was stupid, and exaggerated some of the
symptoms instead of removing them, All along - up, at all events, to the time of his
settlement in Samoa - Stevenson was more or less of an invalid.
Indeed, were I ever to write an essay on the art of wisely "laying- to," as the sailors say, I
would point it by a reference to R. L. Stevenson. For there is a wise way of "laying-to"
that does not imply inaction, but discreet, well-directed effort, against contrary winds and
rough seas, that is, amid obstacles and drawbacks, and even ill-health, where passive and
active may balance and give effect to each other. Stevenson was by native instinct and
temperament a rover - a lover of adventure, of strange by-ways, errant tracts (as seen in
his INLAND VOYAGE and TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY THROUGH THE
CEVENNES - seen yet more, perhaps, in a certain account of a voyage to America as a
steerage passenger), lofty mountain-tops, with stronger air, and strange and novel
surroundings. He would fain, like Ulysses, be at home in foreign lands, making
acquaintance with outlying races, with