Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version

Love Of Vagabonds
WHAT is very remarkable in Stevenson is that a man who was so much the dreamer of
dreams - the mystic moralist, the constant questioner and speculator on human destiny
and human perversity, and the riddles that arise on the search for the threads of motive
and incentives to human action - moreover, a man, who constantly suffered from one of
the most trying and weakening forms of ill- health - should have been so full-blooded, as
it were, so keen for contact with all forms of human life and character, what is called the
rougher and coarser being by no means excluded. Not only this: he was himself a rover -
seeking daily adventure and contact with men and women of alien habit and taste and
liking. His patience is supported by his humour. He was a bit of a vagabond in the good
sense of the word, and always going round in search of "honest men," like Diogenes, and
with no tub to retire into or the desire for it. He thus on this side touches the Chaucers and
their kindred, as well as the Spensers and Dantes and their often illusive CONFRERES.
His voyage as a steerage passenger across the Atlantic is only one out of a whole chapter
of such episodes, and is more significant and characteristic even than the TRAVELS
ranked with the "Sentimental Journeys" that have sometimes been the fashion - that was
truly of a prosaic and risky order. The appeal thus made to an element deep in the English
nature will do much to keep his memory green in the hearts that could not rise to
appreciation of his style and literary gifts at all. He loves the roadways and the by-ways,
and those to be met with there - like him in this, though unlike him in most else. The love
of the roadsides and the greenwood - and the queer miscellany of life there unfolded and
ever changing - a kind of gipsy-like longing for the tent and familiar contact with nature
and rude human-nature in the open dates from beyond Chaucer, and remains and will
have gratification - the longing for novelty and all the accidents, as it were, of pilgrimage
and rude social travel. You see it bubble up, like a true and new nature-spring, through all
the surface coatings of culture and artificiality, in Stevenson. He anew, without pretence,
enlivens it - makes it first a part of himself, and then a part of literature once more. Listen
to him, as he sincerely sings this passion for the pilgrimage - or the modern phase of it -
innocent vagabond roving:
"Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me;
Give the jolly heaven above,
And the by-way nigh me:
Bed in the bush, with stars to see;
Bread I dip in the river -
Here's the life for a man like me,
Here's the life for ever....
"Let the blow fall soon or late;
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.