Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version

Edinburgh Reviewers' Dicta Inapplicable To Later Work
FROM many different points of view discerning critics have celebrated the
autobiographic vein - the self-revealing turn, the self-portraiture, the quaint, genial, yet
really child-like egotistic and even dreamy element that lies like an amalgam, behind all
Stevenson's work. Some have even said, that because of this, he will finally live by his
essays and not by his stories. That is extreme, and is not critically based or justified,
because, however true it may be up to a certain point, it is not true of Stevenson's quite
latest fictions where we see a decided breaking through of the old limits, and an advance
upon a new and a fresher and broader sphere of interest and character altogether. But
these ideas set down truly enough at a certain date, or prior to a certain date, are wrong
and falsely directed in view of Stevenson's latest work and what it promised. For
instance, what a discerning and able writer in the EDINBURGH REVIEW of July 1895
said truly then was in great part utterly inapplicable to the whole of the work of the last
years, for in it there was grasp, wide and deep, of new possibilities - promise of clear
insight, discrimination, and contrast of character, as well as firm hold of new and great
human interest under which the egotistic or autobiographic vein was submerged or
weakened. The EDINBURGH REVIEWER wrote:
"There was irresistible fascination in what it would be unfair to characterise as egotism,
for it came natural to him to talk frankly and easily of himself. . . . He could never have
dreamed, like Pepys, of locking up his confidence in a diary. From first to last, in
inconsecutive essays, in the records of sentimental touring, in fiction and in verse, he has
embodied the outer and the inner autobiography. He discourses - he prattles - he almost
babbles about himself. He seems to have taken minute and habitual introspection for the
chief study in his analysis of human nature, as a subject which was immediately in his
reach, and would most surely serve his purpose. We suspect much of the success of his
novels was due to the fact that as he seized for a substructure on the scenery and
situations which had impressed him forcibly, so in the characters of the most different
types, there was always more or less of self-portraiture. The subtle touch, eminently and
unmistakably realistic, gave life to what might otherwise have seemed a lay-figure. . . .
He hesitated again and again as to his destination; and under mistakes, advice of friends,
doubted his chances, as a story-writer, even after TREASURE ISLAND had enjoyed its
special success. . . . We venture to think that, with his love of intellectual self-indulgence,
had he found novel-writing really enjoyable, he would never have doubted at all. But
there comes in the difference between him and Scott, whom he condemns for the
slovenliness of hasty workmanship. Scott, in his best days, sat down to his desk and let
the swift pen take its course in inspiration that seemed to come without an effort. Even
when racked with pains, and groaning in agony, the intellectual machinery was still
driven at a high pressure by something that resembled an irrepressible instinct. Stevenson
can have had little or nothing of that inspiriting afflatus. He did his painstaking work
conscientiously, thoughtfully; he erased, he revised, and he was hard to satisfy. In short,
it was his weird - and he could not resist it - to set style and form before fire and spirit."