Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial
Earlier Determinations And Results
STEVENSON'S earlier determination was so distinctly to the symbolic, the parabolic,
allegoric, dreamy and mystical - to treatment of the world as an array of weird or half-
fanciful existences, witnessing only to certain dim spiritual facts or abstract moralities,
occasionally inverted moralities - "tail foremost moralities" as later he himself named
them - that a strong Celtic strain in him had been detected and dwelt on by acute critics
long before any attention had been given to his genealogy on both sides of the house. The
strong Celtic strain is now amply attested by many researches. Such phantasies as THE
HOUSE OF ELD, THE TOUCHSTONE, THE POOR THING, and THE SONG OF THE
MORROW, published along with some fables at the end of an edition of DR JEKYLL
AND MR HYDE, by Longman's, I think, in 1896, tell to the initiated as forcibly as
anything could tell of the presence of this element, as though moonshine, disguising and
transfiguring, was laid over all real things and the secret of the world and life was in its
glamour: the shimmering and soft shading rendering all outlines indeterminate, though a
great idea is felt to be present in the mind of the author, for which he works. The man
who would say there is no feeling for symbol - no phantasy or Celtic glamour in these
weird, puzzling, and yet on all sides suggestive tales would thereby be declared inept,
inefficient - blind to certain qualities that lie near to grandeur in fanciful literature, or the
literature of phantasy, more properly.
This power in weird and playful phantasy is accompanied with the gift of impersonating
or embodying mere abstract qualities or tendencies in characters. The little early sketch
written in June 1875, titled GOOD CONTENT, well illustrates this:
"Pleasure goes by piping: Hope unfurls his purple flag; and meek Content follows them
on a snow-white ass. Here, the broad sunlight falls on open ways and goodly countries;
here, stage by stage, pleasant old towns and hamlets border the road, now with high sign-
poles, now with high minster spires; the lanes go burrowing under blossomed banks,
green meadows, and deep woods encompass them about; from wood to wood flock the
glad birds; the vane turns in the variable wind; and as I journey with Hope and Pleasure,
and quite a company of jolly personifications, who but the lady I love is by my side, and
walks with her slim hand upon my arm?
"Suddenly, at a corner, something beckons; a phantom finger-post, a will o' the wisp, a
foolish challenge writ in big letters on a brand. And twisting his red moustaches,
braggadocio Virtue takes the perilous way where dim rain falls ever, and sad winds sigh.
And after him, on his white ass, follows simpering Content.
"Ever since I walk behind these two in the rain. Virtue is all a- cold; limp are his curling
feather and fierce moustache. Sore besmirched, on his jackass, follows Content."
The record, entitled SUNDAY THOUGHTS, which is dated some five days earlier is
naive and most characteristic, touched with the phantastic moralities and suggestions