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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial

Introduction And First Impressions
MY little effort to make Thoreau better known in England had one result that I am
pleased to think of. It brought me into personal association with R. L. Stevenson, who
had written and published in THE CORNHILL MAGAZINE an essay on Thoreau, in
whom he had for some time taken an interest. He found in Thoreau not only a rare
character for originality, courage, and indefatigable independence, but also a master of
style, to whom, on this account, as much as any, he was inclined to play the part of the
"sedulous ape," as he had acknowledged doing to many others - a later exercise, perhaps
in some ways as fruitful as any that had gone before. A recent poet, having had some
seeds of plants sent to him from Northern Scotland to the South, celebrated his setting of
them beside those native to the Surrey slope on which he dwelt, with the lines -
"And when the Northern seeds are growing,
Another beauty then bestowing,
We shall be fine, and North to South
Be giving kisses, mouth to mouth."
So the Thoreau influence on Stevenson was as if a tart American wild-apple had been
grafted on an English pippin, and produced a wholly new kind with the flavours of both;
and here wild America and England kissed each other mouth to mouth.
The direct result was the essay in THE CORNHILL, but the indirect results were many
and less easily assessed, as Stevenson himself, as we shall see, was ever ready to admit.
The essay on Thoreau was written in America, which further, perhaps, bears out my
point.
One of the authorities, quoted by Mr Hammerton, in STEVENSONIANA says of the
circumstances in which he found our author, when he was busily engaged on that bit of
work:
"I have visited him in a lonely lodging in California, it was previous to his happy
marriage, and found him submerged in billows of bed-clothes; about him floated the
scattered volumes of a complete set of Thoreau; he was preparing an essay on that
worthy, and he looked at the moment like a half-drowned man, yet he was not cast down.
His work, an endless task, was better than a straw to him. It was to become his life-
preserver and to prolong his years. I feel convinced that without it he must have
surrendered long since. I found Stevenson a man of the frailest physique, though most
unaccountably tenacious of life; a man whose pen was indefatigable, whose brain was
never at rest, who, as far as I am able to judge, looked upon everybody and everything
from a supremely intellectual point of view." (1)
 
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