Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version
AT first sight it would seem hard to trace any illustration of the doctrine of heredity in the
case of this master of romance. George Eliot's dictum that we are, each one of us, but an
omnibus carrying down the traits of our ancestors, does not appear at all to hold here.
This fanciful realist, this naive-wistful humorist, this dreamy mystical casuist, crossed by
the innocent bohemian, this serious and genial essayist, in whom the deep thought was
hidden by the gracious play of wit and phantasy, came, on the father's side, of a stock of
what the world regarded as a quiet, ingenious, demure, practical, home-keeping people.
In his rich colour, originality, and graceful air, it is almost as though the bloom of
japonica came on a rich old orchard apple-tree, all out of season too. Those who go hard
on heredity would say, perhaps, that he was the result of some strange back-stroke. But,
on closer examination, we need not go so far. His grandfather, Robert Stevenson, the
great lighthouse-builder, the man who reared the iron-bound pillar on the destructive Bell
Rock, and set life-saving lights there, was very intent on his professional work, yet he had
his ideal, and romantic, and adventurous side. In the delightful sketch which his famous
grandson gave of him, does he not tell of the joy Robert Stevenson had on the annual
voyage in the LIGHTHOUSE YACHT - how it was looked forward to, yearned for, and
how, when he had Walter Scott on board, his fund of story and reminiscence all through
the tour never failed - how Scott drew upon it in THE PIRATE and the notes to THE
PIRATE, and with what pride Robert Stevenson preserved the lines Scott wrote in the
lighthouse album at the Bell Rock on that occasion:
"Far in the bosom of the deep
O'er these wild shelves my watch I keep,
A ruddy gem of changeful light
Bound on the dusky brow of night.
The seaman bids my lustre hail,
And scorns to strike his timorous sail."
And how in 1850 the old man, drawing nigh unto death, was with the utmost difficulty
dissuaded from going the voyage once more, and was found furtively in his room packing
his portmanteau in spite of the protests of all his family, and would have gone but for the
utter weakness of death.
His father was also a splendid engineer; was full of invention and devoted to his
profession, but he, too, was not without his romances, and even vagaries. He loved a
story, was a fine teller of stories, used to sit at night and spin the most wondrous yarns, a
man of much reserve, yet also of much power in discourse, with an aptness and felicity in
the use of phrases - so much so, as his son tells, that on his deathbed, when his power of
speech was passing from him, and he couldn't articulate the right word, he was silent
rather than use the wrong one. I shall never forget how in these early morning walks at