Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version
attributed to him - they are just R. L. Stevenson with a very superficial difference that,
when once detected, renders them curious and quaint and interesting, but not dramatic.
Preacher And Mystic Fabulist
IN reality, Stevenson is always directly or indirectly preaching a sermon - enforcing a
moral - as though he could not help it. "He would rise from the dead to preach a sermon."
He wrote some first- rate fables, and might indeed have figured to effect as a moralist-
fabulist, as truly he was from beginning to end. There was a bit of Bunyan in him as well
as of Aesop and Rousseau and Thoreau - the mixture that found coherency in his most
peculiarly patient and forbearing temper is what gives at once the quaintness, the
freedom, and yet the odd didactic something that is never wanting. I remember a fable
about the Devil that might well be brought in to illustrate this here - careful readers who
neglect nothing that Stevenson wrote will remember it also and perhaps bear me out here.
But for the sake of the young folks who may yet have some leeway to make up, I shall
indulge myself a little by quoting it: and, since I am on that tack, follow it by another
which presents Stevenson in his favourite guise of quizzing his own characters, if not for
his own advantage certainly for ours, if we would in the least understand the fine
moralist-casuistical qualities of his mind and fancy:
THE DEVIL AND THE INNKEEPER
Once upon a time the devil stayed at an inn, where no one knew him, for they were
people whose education had been neglected. He was bent on mischief, and for a time kept
everybody by the ears. But at last the innkeeper set a watch upon the devil and took him
in the act.
The innkeeper got a rope's end.
"Now I am going to thrash you," said the inn-keeper.
"You have no right to be angry with me," said the devil. "I am only the devil, and it is my
nature to do wrong."
"Is that so?" asked the innkeeper.
"Fact, I assure you," said the devil.
"You really cannot help doing ill?" asked the innkeeper.
"Not in the smallest," said the devil, "it would be useless cruelty to thrash a thing like
"It would indeed," said the innkeeper.