Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial
Egotistic Element And Its Effects
FROM these sources now traced out by us - his youthfulness of spirit, his mystical bias,
and tendency to dream - symbolisms leading to disregard of common feelings - flows too
often the indeterminateness of Stevenson's work, at the very points where for direct
interest there should be decision. In THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE this leads him to
try to bring the balances even as regards our interest in the two brothers, in so far
justifying from one point of view what Mr Zangwill said in the quotation we have given,
or, as Sir Leslie Stephen had it in his second series of the STUDIES OF A
"The younger brother in THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE, who is black- mailed by
the utterly reprobate master, ought surely to be interesting instead of being simply sullen
and dogged. In the later adventures, we are invited to forgive him on the ground that his
brain has been affected: but the impression upon me is that he is sacrificed throughout to
the interests of the story [or more strictly for the working out of the problem as originally
conceived by the author]. The curious exclusion of women is natural in the purely boyish
stories, since to a boy woman is simply an incumbrance upon reasonable modes of life.
When in CATRIONA Stevenson introduces a love story, it is still unsatisfactory, because
David Balfour is so much the undeveloped animal that his passion is clumsy, and his
charm for the girl unintelligible. I cannot feel, to say the truth, that in any of these stories
I am really among living human beings with whom, apart from their adventures, I can
feel any very lively affection or antipathy."
In the EBB-TIDE it is, in this respect, yet worse: the three heroes choke each other off all
In his excess of impartiality he tones down the points and lines that would give the
attraction of true individuality to his characters, and instead, would fain have us
contented with his liberal, and even over-sympathetic views of them and allowances for
them. But instead of thus furthering his object, he sacrifices the whole - and his story
becomes, instead of a broad and faithful human record, really a curiosity of
autobiographic perversion, and of overweening, if not extravagant egotism of the more
refined, but yet over-obtrusive kind.
Mr Baildon thus hits the subjective tendency, out of which mainly this defect - a serious
defect in view of interest - arises.
"That we can none of us be sure to what crime we might not descend, if only our
temptation were sufficiently acute, lies at the root of his fondness and toleration for
wrong-doers (p. 74).
Thus he practically declines to do for us what we are unwilling or unable to do for
ourselves. Interest in two characters in fiction can never, in this artificial way, and if they
are real characters truly conceived, be made equal, nor can one element of claim be