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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial

Some Characteristics
IN Stevenson we lost one of the most powerful writers of our day, as well as the most
varied in theme and style. When I use the word "powerful," I do not mean merely the
producing of the most striking or sensational results, nor the facility of weaving a
fascinating or blood-curdling plot; I mean the writer who seemed always to have most in
reserve - a secret fund of power and fascination which always pointed beyond the printed
page, and set before the attentive and careful reader a strange but fascinating
PERSONALITY. Other authors have done that in measure. There was Hawthorne,
behind whose writings there is always the wistful, cold, far- withdrawn spectator of
human nature - eerie, inquisitive, and, I had almost said, inquisitorial - a little bloodless,
eerie, weird, and cobwebby. There was Dr Wendell Holmes, with his problems of
heredity, of race-mixture and weird inoculation, as in ELSIE VENNER and THE
GUARDIAN ANGEL, and there were Poe and Charles Whitehead. Stevenson, in a few
of his writings - in one of the MERRY MEN chapters and in DR JEKYLL AND MR
HYDE, and, to some extent, in THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE - showed that he
could enter on the obscure and, in a sense, weird and metaphysical elements in human
life; though always there was, too, a touch at least of gloomy suggestion, from which, as
it seemed, he could not there wholly escape. But always, too, there was a touch that
suggests the universal.
Even in the stories that would be classed as those of incident and adventure merely,
TREASURE ISLAND, KIDNAPPED, and the rest, there is a sense as of some unaffected
but fine symbolism that somehow touches something of possibility in yourself as you
read. The simplest narrative from his hand proclaimed itself a deep study in human nature
- its motives tendencies, and possibilities. In these stories there is promise at once of the
most realistic imagination, the most fantastic romance, keen insights into some sides of
human nature, and weird fancies, as well as the most delicate and dainty pictures of
character. And this is precisely what we have - always with a vein of the finest
autobiography - a kind of select and indirect self-revelation - often with a touch of
quaintness, a subdued humour, and sweet-blooded vagary, if we may be allowed the
word, which make you feel towards the writer as towards a friend. He was too much an
artist to overdo this, and his strength lies there, that generally he suggests and turns away
at the right point, with a smile, as you ask for MORE. Look how he sets, half slyly, these
words into the mouth of David Balfour on his first meeting with Catriona in one of the
steep wynds or closes off the High Street of Edinburgh:
"There is no greater wonder than the way the face of a young woman fits in a man's mind,
and stays there, and he never could tell you why: it just seems it was the thing he
wanted."
Take this alongside of his remark made to his mother while still a youth - "that he did not
care to understand the strain on a bridge" (when he tried to study engineering); what he
wanted was something with human nature in it. His style, in his essays, etc., where he
writes in his own person, is most polished, full of phrases finely drawn; when he speaks
 
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