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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial

Mr. Christie Murray's Impressions
MR CHRISTIE MURRAY, writing as "Merlin" in our handbook in the REFEREE at the
time, thus disposed of some of the points just dealt with by us:
"Here is libel on a large scale, and I have purposely refrained from approaching it until I
could show my readers something of the spirit in which the whole attack is conceived. 'If
he wanted a thing he went after it with an entire contempt for consequences. For these,
indeed, the Shorter Catechist was ever prepared to answer; so that whether he did well or
ill, he was safe to come out unabashed and cheerful.' Now if Mr Henley does not mean
that for the very express picture of a rascal without a conscience he has been most
strangely infelicitous in his choice of terms, and he is one of those who make so strong a
profession of duty towards mere vocables that we are obliged to take him AU PIED DE
LA LETTRE. A man who goes after whatever he wants with an entire contempt of
consequences is a scoundrel, and the man who emerges from such an enterprise
unabashed and cheerful, whatever his conduct may have been, and justifies himself on
the principles of the Shorter Catechism, is a hypocrite to boot. This is not the report we
have of Robert Louis Stevenson from most of those who knew him. It is a most grave and
dreadful accusation, and it is not minimised by Mr Henley's acknowledgment that
Stevenson was a good fellow. We all know the air of false candour which lends a
disputant so much advantage in debate. In Victor Hugo's tremendous indictment of
Napoleon le Petit we remember the telling allowance for fine horsemanship. It spreads an
air of impartiality over the most mordant of Hugo's pages. It is meant to do that. An
insignificant praise is meant to show how a whole Niagara of blame is poured on the
victim of invective in all sincerity, and even with a touch of reluctance.
"Mr Henley, despite his absurdities of ''Tis' and 'it were,' is a fairly competent literary
craftsman, and he is quite gifted enough to make a plain man's plain meaning an evident
thing if he chose to do it. But if for the friend for whom 'first and last he did share' he can
only show us the figure of one 'who was at bottom an excellent fellow,' and who had 'an
entire contempt' for the consequences of his own acts, he presents a picture which can
only purposely be obscured. . . .
"All I know of Robert Louis Stevenson I have learned from his books, and from one
unexpected impromptu letter which he wrote to me years ago in friendly recognition of
my own work. I add the testimonies of friends who may have been of less actual service
to him than Mr Henley, but who surely loved him better and more lastingly. These do not
represent him as the victim of an overweening personal vanity, nor as a person reckless of
the consequences of his own acts, nor as a Pecksniff who consoled himself for moral
failure out of the Shorter Catechism. The books and the friends amongst them show me
an erratic yet lovable personality, a man of devotion and courage, a loyal, charming, and
rather irresponsible person whose very slight faults were counter- balanced many times
over by very solid virtues....
 
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