Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version

Mr G. Moore, Mr Marriott Watson And Others
FROM our point of view it will therefore be seen that we could not have read Mr George
Moore's wonderfully uncritical and misdirected diatribe against Stevenson in THE
DAILY CHRONICLE of 24th April 1897, without amusement, if not without laughter -
indeed, we confess we may here quote Shakespeare's words, we "laughed so
consumedly" that, unless for Mr Moore's high position and his assured self-confidence,
we should not trust ourselves to refer to it, not to speak of writing about it. It was a
review of THE SECRET ROSE by W. B. Yeats, but it passed after one single touch to
belittling abuse of Stevenson - an abuse that was justified the more, in Mr Moore's idea,
because Stevenson was dead. Had he been alive he might have had something to say to it,
in the way, at least, of fable and moral. And when towards the close Mr Moore again
quotes from Mr Yeats, it is still "harping on my daughter" to undo Stevenson, as though a
rat was behind the arras, as in HAMLET. "Stevenson," says he, "is the leader of these
countless writers who perceive nothing but the visible world," and these are antagonistic
to the great literature, of which Mr Yeats's SECRET ROSE is a survival or a renaissance,
a literature whose watchword should be Mr Yeats's significant phrase, "When one looks
into the darkness there is always something there." No doubt Mr Yeats's product all along
the line ranks with the great literature - unlike Homer, according to Mr Moore, he never
nods, though in the light of great literature, poor Stevenson is always at his noddings, and
more than that, in the words of Leland's Hans Breitmann, he has "nodings on." He is
poor, naked, miserable - a mere pretender - and has no share in the makings of great
literature. Mr Moore has stripped him to the skin, and leaves him to the mercy of rain and
storm, like Lear, though Lear had a solid ground to go on in self-aid, which Stevenson
had not; he had daughters, and one of them was Cordelia, after all. This comes of
painting all boldly in black and white: Mr Yeats is white, R. L. Stevenson is black, and I
am sure neither one nor other, because simply of their self-devotion to their art, could
have subscribed heartily to Mr Moore's black art and white art theory. Mr Yeats is hardly
the truest modern Celtic artist I take him for, if he can fully subscribe to all this.
Mr Marriott Watson has a little unadvisedly, in my view, too like ambition, fallen on
'tother side, and celebrated Stevenson as the master of the horrifying. (11) He even finds
the EBB-TIDE, and Huish, the cockney, in it richly illustrative and grand. "There never
was a more magnificent cad in literature, and never a more foul-hearted little ruffian. His
picture glitters (!) with life, and when he curls up on the island beach with the bullet in
his body, amid the flames of the vitriol he had intended for another, the reader's shudder
conveys something also, even (!) of regret."
And well it may! Individual taste and opinion are but individual taste and opinion, but the
EBB-TIDE and the cockney I should be inclined to cite as a specimen of Stevenson's all
too facile make- believe, in which there is too definite a machinery set agoing for horrors
for the horrors to be quite genuine. The process is often too forced with Stevenson, and
the incidents too much of the manufactured order, for the triumph of that simplicity
which is of inspiration and unassailable. Here Stevenson, alas! all too often, PACE Mr
Marriott Watson, treads on the skirts of E. A. Poe, and that in his least composed and