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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial

Unity In Stevenson's Stories
THE unity in Stevenson's stories is generally a unity of subjective impression and
reminiscence due, in the first place, to his quick, almost abnormal boyish reverence for
mere animal courage, audacity, and doggedness, and, in the second place, to his theory of
life, his philosophy, his moral view. He produces an artificial atmosphere. Everything
then has to be worked up to this - kept really in accordance with it, and he shows great art
in the doing of this. Hence, though, a quaint sense of sameness, of artificial atmosphere -
at once really a lack of spontaneity and of freedom. He is freest when he pretends to
nothing but adventure - when he aims professedly at nothing save to let his characters
develop themselves by action. In this respect the most successful of his stories is yet
TREASURE ISLAND, and the least successful perhaps CATRIONA, when just as the
ambitious aim compels him to pause in incident, the first-person form creates a cold
stiffness and artificiality alien to the full impression he would produce upon the reader.
The two stories he left unfinished promised far greater things in this respect than he ever
accomplished. For it is an indisputable fact, and indeed very remarkable, that the ordinary
types of men and women have little or no attraction for Stevenson, nor their
commonplace passions either. Yet precisely what his art wanted was due infusion of this
very interest. Nothing else will supply the place. The ordinary passion of love to the end
he SHIES, and must invent no end of expedients to supply the want. The devotion of the
ordinary type, as Thomas Hardy has over and over exhibited it, is precisely what
Stevenson wants, to impart to his novels the full sense of reality. The secret of morals,
says Shelley, is a going out of self. Stevenson was only on the way to secure this grand
and all-sufficing motive. His characters, in a way, are all already like himself, romantic,
but the highest is when the ordinary and commonplace is so apprehended that it becomes
romantic, and may even, through the artist's deeper perception and unconscious grasp and
vision, take the hand of tragedy, and lose nothing. The very atmosphere Stevenson so
loved to create was in itself alien to this; and, so far as he went, his most successful
revelations were but records of his own limitations. It is something that he was to the end
so much the youth, with fine impulses, if sometimes with sympathies misdirected, and
that, too, in such a way as to render his work cold and artificial, else he might have turned
out more of the Swift than of the Sterne or Fielding. Prince Otto and Seraphina are from
this cause mainly complete failures, alike from the point of view of nature and of art, and
the Countess von Rosen is not a complete failure, and would perhaps have been a bit of a
success, if only she had made Prince Otto come nearer to losing his virtue. The most
perfect in style, perhaps, of all Stevenson's efforts it is yet most out of nature and truth, -
a farce, felt to be disguised only when read in a certain mood; and this all the more for its
perfections, just as Stevenson would have said it of a human being too icily perfect whom
he had met.
 
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