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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial

The Vailima Letters
THE Vailima Letters, written to Mr Sidney Colvin and other friends, are in their way
delightful if not inimitable: and this, in spite of the idea having occurred to him, that
some use might hereafter be made of these letters for publication purposes. There is,
indeed, as little trace of any change in the style through this as well could be - the utterly
familiar, easy, almost child-like flow remains, unmarred by self-consciousness or
tendency "to put it on."
In June, 1892, Stevenson says:
"It came over me the other day suddenly that this diary of mine to you would make good
pickings after I am dead, and a man could make some kind of a book out of it, without
much trouble. So for God's sake don't lose them, and they will prove a piece of provision
for 'my floor old family,' as Simele calls it."
But their great charm remains: they are as free and gracious and serious and playful and
informal as before. Stevenson's traits of character are all here: his largeness of heart, his
delicacy, his sympathy, his fun, his pathos, his boylike frolicsomeness, his fine courage,
his love of the sea (for he was by nature a sailor), his passion for action and adventure
despite his ill-health, his great patience with others and fine adaptability to their temper
(he says that he never gets out of temper with those he has to do with), his unbounded,
big-hearted hopefulness, and fine perseverance in face of difficulties. What could be
better than the way in which he tells that in January, 1892, when he had a bout of
influenza and was dictating ST IVES to his stepdaughter, Mrs Strong, he was "reduced to
dictating to her in the deaf-and-dumb alphabet"? - and goes on:
"The amanuensis has her head quite turned, and believes herself to be the author of this
novel [AND IS TO SOME EXTENT. - A.M.] and as the creature (!) has not been wholly
useless in the matter [I TOLD YOU SO! - A.M.] I propose to foster her vanity by a little
commemoration gift! . . . I shall tell you on some other occasion, and when the A.M. is
out of hearing, how VERY much I propose to invest in this testimonial; but I may as well
inform you at once that I intend it to be cheap, sir - damned cheap! My idea of running
amanuenses is by praise, not pudding, flattery, and not coins."
Truly, a rare and rich nature which could thus draw sunshine out of its trials! - which, by
aid of the true philosopher's stone of cheerfulness and courage, could transmute the heavy
dust and clay to gold.
His interests are so wide that he is sometimes pulled in different and conflicting
directions, as in the contest between his desire to aid Mataafa and the other chiefs, and his
literary work - between letters to the TIMES about Samoan politics, and, say, DAVID
BALFOUR. Here is a characteristic bit in that strain:
 
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