Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial
Edmund Clarence Stedman's Estimate
It should be clearly remembered that Stevenson died at a little over forty - the age at
which severity and simplicity and breadth in art but begin to be attained. If Scott had died
at the age when Stevenson was taken from us, the world would have lacked the
WAVERLEY NOVELS; if a like fate had overtaken Dickens, we should not have had A
TALE OF TWO CITIES; and under a similar stroke, Goldsmith could not have written
RETALIATION, or tasted the bitter- sweet first night of SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER.
At the age of forty- four Mr Thomas Hardy had probably not dreamt of TESS OF THE
D'URBERVILLES. But what a man has already done at forty years is likely, I am afraid,
to be a gauge as well as a promise of what he will do in the future; and from Stevenson
we were entitled to expect perfect form and continued variety of subject, rather than a
measurable dynamic gain.
This is the point of view which my friend and correspondent of years ago, Mr Edmund
Clarence Stedman, of New York, set out by emphasising in his address, as President of
the meeting under the auspices of the Uncut Leaves Society in New York, in the
beginning of 1895, on the death of Stevenson, and to honour the memory of the great
romancer, as reported in the NEW YORK TRIBUNE:
"We are brought together by tidings, almost from the Antipodes, of the death of a beloved
writer in his early prime. The work of a romancer and poet, of a man of insight and
feeling, which may be said to have begun but fifteen years ago, has ended, through
fortune's sternest cynicism, just as it seemed entering upon even more splendid
achievement. A star surely rising, as we thought, has suddenly gone out. A radiant
invention shines no more; the voice is hushed of a creative mind, expressing its fine
imagining in this, our peerless English tongue. His expression was so original and fresh
from Nature's treasure-house, so prodigal and various, its too brief flow so consummate
through an inborn gift made perfect by unsparing toil, that mastery of the art by which
Robert Louis Stevenson conveyed those imaginings to us so picturesque, yet wisely
ordered, his own romantic life - and now, at last, so pathetic a loss which renews
"'The Virgilian cry, The sense of tears in mortal things,'
that this assemblage has gathered at the first summons, in tribute to a beautiful genius,
and to avow that with the putting out of that bright intelligence the reading world
experiences a more than wonted grief.
"Judged by the sum of his interrupted work, Stevenson had his limitations. But the work
was adjusted to the scale of a possibly long career. As it was, the good fairies brought all
gifts, save that of health, to his cradle, and the gift-spoiler wrapped them in a shroud.
Thinking of what his art seemed leading to - for things that would be the crowning efforts
of other men seemed prentice- work in his case - it was not safe to bound his limitations.
And now it is as if Sir Walter, for example, had died at forty-four, with the WAVERLEY
NOVELS just begun! In originality, in the conception of action and situation, which,