Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version

Proofs Of Growth
Once again I quote Goethe:
"Natural simplicity and repose are the acme of art, and hence it follows no youth can be a
master." It has to be confessed that seldom, if ever, does Stevenson naturally and by sheer
enthusiasm for subject and characters attain this natural simplicity, if he often attained the
counterfeit presentment - artistic and graceful euphony, and new, subtle, and often
unexpected concatenations of phrase. Style is much; but it is not everything. We often
love Scott the more that he shows loosenesses and lapses here, for, in spite of them, he
gains natural simplicity, while not seldom Stevenson, with all his art and fine sense of
verbal music, rather misses it. THE SEDULOUS APE sometimes disenchants as well as
charms; for occasionally a word, a touch, a turn, sends us off too directly in search of the
model; and this operates against the interest as introducing a new and alien series of
associations, where, for full effect, it should not be so. And this distraction will be the
more insistent, the more knowledge the reader has and the more he remembers; and since
Stevenson's first appeal, both by his spirit and his methods, is to the cultured and well
read, rather than to the great mass, his "sedulous apehood" only the more directly wars
against him as regards deep, continuous, and lasting impression; where he should be most
simple, natural and spontaneous; he also is most artificial and involved. If the story-writer
is not so much in earnest, not so possessed by his matter that this is allowed to him, how
is it to be hoped that we shall be possessed in the reading of it? More than once in
CATRIONA we must own we had this experience, directly warring against full
possession by the story, and certain passages about Simon Lovat were especially marked
by this; if even the first introduction to Catriona herself was not so. As for Miss Barbara
Grant, of whom so much has been made by many admirers, she is decidedly clever,
indeed too clever by half, and yet her doom is to be a mere DEUS EX MACHINA, and
never do more than just pay a little tribute to Stevenson's own power of PERSIFLAGE,
or, if you like, to pay a penalty, poor lass, for the too perfect doing of hat, and really,
really, I could not help saying this much, though, I do believe that she deserved just a wee
bit better fate than that.
But we have proofs of great growth, and nowhere are they greater than at the very close.
Stevenson died young: in some phases he was but a youth to the last. To a true critic then,
the problem is, having already attained so much - a grand style, grasp of a limited group
of characters, with fancy, sincerity, and imagination, - what would Stevenson have
attained in another ten years had such been but allotted him? It has over and over again
been said that, for long he SHIED presenting women altogether. This is not quite true:
THRAWN JANET was an earlier effort; and if there the problem is persistent, the
woman is real. Here also he was on the right road - the advance road. The sex-question
was coming forward as inevitably a part of life, and could not be left out in any broad and
true picture. This element was effectively revived in WEIR OF HERMISTON, and
"Weir" has been well said to be sadder, if it does not go deeper than DENIS DUVAL or
EDWIN DROOD. We know what Dickens and Thackeray could do there; we can but
guess now what Stevenson would have done. "Weir" is but a fragment; but, to a wisely