Treasure Island (1909)/Introduction
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Few writers of our own generation have been so well known or have so appealed to the personal affections of their readers as Robert Louis Stevenson. Our intimate knowledge of his life is due in part to the degree to which he put his experiences into his books, in part to the sympathy and admiration aroused by his plucky fight to do his work under the heavy odds of ill health. To his personal acquaintances he was lovable because of his brilliancy, his high-mindedness, his humor and his broad sympathies; to his readers he was lovable because he carried these qualities into his writings.
He was born in Edinburgh, November 13, 1850. His grandfather, his father and several of his uncles were builders of lighthouses. Of their ability, their sterling qualities of character, and their eccentricities he has told in his essay, A Family of Engineers. Upon reading this paper one can see whence came many of Stevenson's own characteristics: his love of thoroughness in his work, his chivalric devotion to truth, and his quaint humor. Of his father, particularly, it is said that he was serious, painstaking, with a touch of daring and a fondness for the out-of-doors life, and a power of saying things in picturesque fashion. His mother came of a famous old Scotch family, the Balfours. She was bright and vivacious, and a tactful hostess. Between mother and son a strong attachment existed up to the end of his life. After the death of his father she accompanied him in his pursuit of health, first to America and then to the islands of the Pacific.
He was a precocious and imaginative child. And his memories of his childhood, of his plays and games, and especially of the child's view of the things about him seem to have been more vivid and lasting than is usual even in literary geniuses. No better portrayal of childhood exists than his Child's Garden of Verses. This book is fittingly dedicated to the nurse who was his attendant, friend, and teacher, Alison Cunningham.
He learned to read late—at seven or eight years—because he had been read to by his mother and nurse, and, as he has said, saw no reason then why he should read for himself. His formal instruction began in a private school in 1859. From 1861 to 1864 he went to the Edinburgh Academy: from 1864 to 1867 to another private school in Edinburgh, and then to the University of Edinburgh. One of his masters in the first school said of him: "He was without exception the most delightful boy I ever knew; full of fun, full of tender feeling; ready for his lessons, ready for a story, ready for fun." His fragile body was unfit for vigorous athletics; boating, riding and swimming were his only sports. But he found entertainment enough in life; for his mind was active. Even as a child his delight was intense in hearing, reading, and making imaginative stories. Of some of this early reading he has written most delightfully in A Penny Plain, Two Pence Coloured, a title taken from the price of the series of plays and stories that he and his schoolmates most affected.
His interest in learning to write began early. From the time he was twelve, this was his chief and most constant interest. In his essay A College Magazine occurs the oft quoted passage:
"All through my boyhood and youth I was known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler; and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write. I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a penny version book would be in my hand, to note down the features of the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with words. And what I thus wrote was for no ulterior use, it was written consciously for practice. It was not so much that I wished to be an author (though I wished that too) as that I had vowed that I would learn to write. That was a proficiency that tempted me; and I practised to acquire it, as men learn to whittle, in a wager with myself."
He started several magazines in his boyhood. The earlier ones were in manuscript, but illustrated, and the later ones in print. Their contents were generally hair-raising tales of adventure. Altogether, it would be hard to find a better instance of a man's bent showing itself all through his life.
It had been understood in the family that Louis—as his friends always called him—should follow his father's profession, engineering. Accordingly, when he entered the University of Edinburgh, he chose his course with this in view. At various times he went with his father or alone to acquaint himself with the practical side of the profession. What he thought of these experiences he tells us in his usual interesting way:
"As a way of life, I wish to speak with sympathy of my education as an engineer. It takes a man into the open air; it keeps him hanging about harbour sides, which is the richest form of idling; it carries him to wild islands; it gives him a taste of the genial dangers of the sea; it supplies him with dexterities to exercise; it makes demands upon his ingenuity; it will go far to cure him of any taste (if he ever had one) of the miserable life of cities; and when it has done so, it carries him back and shuts him in an office. From the roaring skerry and the wet thwart of the tossing boat, he passes to the stool and desk; and with a memory full of ships, and seas, and perilous headlands, and the shining pharos, he must apply his longsighted eyes to the petty niceties of drawing, or measure his inaccurate mind with several pages of consecutive figures. He is a wise youth, to be sure, who can balance one part of genuine life against two parts of drudgery between four walls, and for the sake of the one, manfully accept the other."
But, though Stevenson was never the man to shirk drudgery, "genuine life" lay for him in another field of work. The call to write was as strong in him as ever. And s0, in 1871, he decided to relinquish the profession of engineering. His father was, of course, disappointed. . As his friends could not yet be brought to regard authorship as a profession and a means of livelihood, it was now decided that he should become a lawyer. During 1871–2 he pursued the study of law. This was interrupted by ill health; and how he was sent to Southern France because of incipient consumption he has told in Ordered South. In the spring of 1874 he returned, resumed his law studies, and was admitted to the bar. As he felt no more strongly drawn to this life than to engineering, he never engaged in the practice of the law.
From this period, the years just before and beyond twentyfive, date the beginnings of many of his life-long friendships. Among these friends were W. E. Henley, Charles Baxter, Sidney Colvin, Edmund Gosse, and Fleeming Jenkin. He made various trips to Fontainebleau, and formed close ties with many of the artists gathered there. Of the charm of his talk at this period Mr. Gosse has written delightfully:
"[Gaiety] was his cardinal quality in those early days. A childlike mirth leaped and danced in him; he seemed to skip upon the hills of life. He was simply bubbling with quips and jests; his inherent earnestness or passion about abstract things was incessantly relieved by jocosity; and when he had built one of his intellectual castles in the sand, a wave of humor was certain to sweep in and destroy it."
It was during this period that he went on the canoe trip that he made famous in The Inland Voyage. While on one of his sojourns with the artist colony at Grez, near Fontainebleau, he met his future wife, Mrs. Osbourne, who had come there from San Francisco to study art. After her return to San Francisco Stevenson crossed the Atlantic to visit her. Of this voyage, made partly in the steerage, and of his journey across the United States in an emigrant car, he has told in The Amateur Emigrant. The journey made him ill. He lived for a time in Monterey and San Francisco in poverty, ill health, and loneliness, but working with persistence upon various books.
In May, 1880, he married Mrs. Osbourne. They went at once up into the mountains, to a deserted mining camp; and out of this experience Stevenson made The Silverado Squatters. In August they sailed for Scotland to visit his parents.
A few months later he was sent by his physicians for a winter in Switzerland. For the next seven or eight years the story of the life of the Stevensons is mainly an account of their wanderings in search of a climate that would help him in his fight against consumption, of the mutual love and devotion of husband and wife, of his persistent work upon his books in spite of ill health, and of his growing reputation as an author. During these years he lived in the Adirondack Mountains, in Switzerland, at Hyéres, near Paris, at Bournemouth, England, and for a short period or two, in Edinburgh.
His literary reputation was perhaps most securely established by Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All of these were widely read and highly praised not only by the ordinary reader of novels but by men of distinction in letters.
In the spring of 1888 he conceived the plan of cruising in the South Seas. He chartered a schooner in San Francisco, and the next three years were spent in cruising among the islands of the Pacific. He sojourned for shorter or longer periods here and there, always making friends of the natives, perhaps because he appealed to the best in them, and gathering many pictures and impressions. Few books of travel are so interesting, and perhaps none so charming, as his book, In The South Seas. His story, The Beach of Falesa, is also filled with the spirit of the region.
In 1891, he settled definitely in Samoa. He bought land, built a house, and established a plantation there; and there he spent three busy, helpful and, on the whole, happy years, until his death in August, 1894, He called his home Vailima, a Samoan word meaning "five waters," from the five streams upon the estate.
He was buried on a hill on his estate overlooking the sea. On his simple monument was inscribed the Requiem written by himself:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live, and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me;
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
One of the most significant things in his life was his relation to the natives there. His native servants idolized him. To the chiefs and the other islanders Tusitala ("the teller of tales"—so they called him) was as a brother. To the missionaries and traders, and brother Europeans there, he was a friend and counsellor. With their own hands the natives, chiefs and all, built a road from the seaport, Apia, to Stevenson's house; and they named it Ala Loto Alofa, The Road of the Loving Heart.
Twice, at least, he used his powers as a writer in a public protest against injustice. Father Damien, a devoted young Catholic priest, who was giving his life to the service of the lepers in their colony at Molokai had been basely slandered. Stevenson took up his cause, and denounced his traducers. Again, seeing the incompetence and injustice existing in Samoa under the three-fold government of Germany, England, and the United States, Stevenson wrote a series of vigorous letters to the London Times, which, though they made enemies for him, eventually helped to bring to an end a bad condition of government. An account of these events may be read in his A Footnote to History. It was for this crowning service that the chiefs built The Road of the Loving Heart.
Stevenson's work is of three kinds: fiction, essays, and poetry. The best known is his fiction; the least known—with the conspicuous exception of A Child's Garden of Verses—is his poetry. But to a wide and growing list of readers his essays and letters are the best work.
We have seen that he was a teller of tales and a lover of them all his life. When he wrote, he lived not only in the characters but in the scenes of his stories. His sympathies were, as he has told in A Little Gossip on Romance, all with the romantic school. For him the unusual, the striking, the quaint and the heroic held the greatest charm. He admired Scott, Dumas, and the other great romancists. He was fertile in invention. He conceived many plans for stories, dramas, and other books that he never found time and strength to write. All his life the world was rich and full to him; as it had been in his observant and imaginative childhood, so it continued to be in his fuller and richer manhood.
The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
I have already spoken of his painstaking efforts to master his craft. Few prose writers have had so keen a sense of style or so zealous a desire to write well. Not only his essays, but even his stories, were rewritten and polished again and again. And so he came to the power of saying perfectly just the exact thing that he meant to say. When we read him we have the satisfaction that comes from feeling that we and the author are in perfect accord.
But this is not the only, or even the greatest, satisfaction that he gives us. I have spoken of his richness of observation and invention. He is never dull. Every page—every sentence almost—has its charm either in the picture or the idea it suggests. His books are full of vivid action, life-like and convincing touches of character portrayal, descriptions of scenes and places, each with its special charm. And to many readers his revelation of his own personal qualities is the greatest charm of all. What he sees, he has seen for himself, not through others' eyes. His thoughts are his own, not the borrowed garments of other men. His good humor, his playful spirit, his high courage, his innate truthfulness and honesty,—all these are in his books for the eye that will see.
Stevenson called Treasure Island his "first book.'"' He meant, not the first book that he had published, but the first that had a great success. He has told fully and most interestingly of the beginning and progress of the story. His young stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, was in part responsible for the story, as Stevenson has said in the dedication. His father, now old and retired from his profession, entered into sympathy with the work like a boy. It was he who made out the contents of Billy Bones's chest, suggested the name Walrus for Flint's ship, and did the handwriting of Bones and Flint on the map. The boy and the old man were an eager audience to each chapter as it was finished.
The story began with the map. Stevenson's interest in places and in maps was always great. In A Little Gossip on Romance he has well expressed his feeling that there is a certain kind of scene appropriate to a certain kind of event; and that many places only await the advent of some genius who will make them famous by fitting to them some appropriate incident. In this case the map, which he called Treasure Island, was the fire of his inspiration and the backbone of his plot. He fell to work upon the story eagerly, writing the first fifteen chapters at the rate of a chapter a day. Then his inspiration gave out. The tale would not go on. In the meantime it had begun to appear as a serial in Young Folks, and Stevenson was in despair. Later he went to Switzerland for the winter, and while here his inspiration came back to him, and he finished the remaining chapters as rapidly and easily as he did the first.
The first title Stevenson had given it was The Sea Cook. But at the suggestion of his publisher it was changed to "Treasure Island; by Captain George North." Its real value was not recognized at first. But later, Messrs. Cassell, publishers, arranged to bring it out in book form. Its success was now immediate and astonishing. Graham Balfour, his biographer, says:
"Its reception reads like a fairy tale. Statesmen and judges and all sorts of staid and sober men became boys once more, sitting up long after bedtime to read their new book. The story goes that Mr. Gladstone got a glimpse of it at a colleague's house, and spent the next day hunting over London for a secondhand copy. The editor of the Saturday Review, the superior, cynical 'Saturday' of old days, wrote excitedly to say that he thought Treasure Island was the best book that had appeared since Robinson Crusoe; and James Payn, who, if not a great novelist himself, held an undisputed position among novelists and critics, sent a note hardly less enthusiastic. Mr. Andrew Lang spent over it 'several hours of unmingled bliss, This is the kind of stuff a fellow wants. I don't know, except Tom Sawyer and the Odyssey, that I ever liked any romance so well.'"
Stevenson's own comment upon his success was characteristically modest and whimsical. "This gives one strange thoughts of how very bad the common run of books must be; and generally all the books that the wiseacres think too bad to print are the very ones that bring one praise and pudding." But this modest comment of the author is indeed far from the truth. Though Treasure Island is neither a great book, nor a storehouse of wisdom, it is one of the very best of its kind. No apologies need ever be made for books which can give so much harmless pleasure to readers of all ages and of such varying tastes.
The central figure of the story is, of course, the Sea Cook, Captain John Silver. His ability is as extraordinary as his shameless rascality; and he is consistently drawn from start to finish. Many of the other figures are equally well done, though less prominent: as Bill Bones, the blind Pew, Doctor Livesey, the Squire, and Ben Gunn, the maroon. Each has his mark,—his tag, so to speak. One of the best touches of the story is poor Ben Gunn's habit of semi-soliloquy in dialogue and his longing for a bit of "Christian diet," a piece of toasted cheese.
The author has recorded with characteristic frankness his debt to other writers. He borrowed the parrot from Robinson Crusoe, the skeleton from Poe, the stockade from Captain Marryat's Masterman Ready, "and Billy Bones, the chest, the company in the parlour, the whole inner spirit and a good deal of the material of the first chapters" from Irving's Tales of a Traveller. "But," he goes on, "I had no guess of it then as I sat writing by the fireside, in what seemed the springtides of a somewhat pedestrian inspiration; nor yet, day by day, after lunch, as I read aloud my morning's work to the family. It seemed to me original as sin; it seemed to belong to me like my right eye." One can not but wish that the masters from whom he borrowed might, like us, have the pleasure of seeing what good use he made of the loans!
Were there time and space in such an edition, an interesting essay might be written upon the history of piracy and its contributions to literature. There is something in the life of this type of plunderer that makes a strong appeal to the unregenerate boy-tastes of us all. But like many types of heroes, such as the red Indian and the quarrelsome knight errant, the pirate's charm depends upon his being contemplated at a proper distance of time and place, and through the proper halo of romantic fiction. Near at hand, and seen truly, he was a base and ugly specimen.
Piracy is perhaps as old as commerce. The Phœnicians, who not only engaged in trade by sea, but preyed upon the commerce of other maritime peoples, such as the Greeks, are thought to have been the first pirates. Our Norse and Saxon ancestors were famous pirates; they took England and Northern France in that direct and brutal way. Piracy flourished in the middle ages. No general attempt was made to suppress it. There was, indeed, something of the same halo attaching to it as to the equally cruel and savage practice of winning lands by conquest. Society rested somewhat unstably on
the simple plan
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.
The law of might had not yet come into contempt. So in spite of attempts by various nations to put it down, it existed in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century. Its last representatives were the Moors of the northern coast of Africa. Our school histories tell us that it was finally suppressed here by the United States; English text-books assign the credit to English sailors. Both are entitled to the credit.
The particular type of piracy, of which that in Treasure Island is one of the flickering remnants, was that against the Spaniards in the Spanish Main, or the Caribbean Sea. The Spaniards had stolen vast treasure from the Indians, and added to it by working the gold and silver mines in Central America; and enterprising adventurers of various nations proceeded to steal from the Spaniards by robbing and sinking their treasure-laden ships. The most adventurous and successful thieves were the English. Under the color of the war between England and Spain, men like Admiral Hawk and Sir Francis Drake became rich and famous heroes. But when war ceased, and piracy became mere theft and murder, the sentiment of nations could no longer condone it; and the Buccaneers, as they were then called, were hunted from the seas. In the Encyclopedia Britannica the student will find under "Buccaneers" an interesting account of the rise and fall of this particular branch of piracy. How the pirate had come to be the lowest and most reckless type of criminal, hunted and hiding from the law, a thing of terror to the law-abiding citizen, and living himself in terror of being "hanged and sun-dried at Execution Dock" is clearly shown in Treasure Island. It will easily be remembered, however, that this book is not history, but romance.
One of the best tributes ever paid to Stevenson is by his brother novelist, J. M. Barrie. In Margaret Ogilvy, the subject and heroine of which is his mother, Mr. Barrie tells of her pretense that she does not think Stevenson's books are as good as those of her son; of her smuggling Stevenson's stories under her apron and into her room that she may not be seen reading them; and of how they "agreed upon a compromise; she was to read the enticing thing just to convince herself of its inferiority." Thenceforward she read Stevenson assiduously. The account goes on:
"But how enamored she was of Treasure Island, and how faithful she tried to be to me all the time she was reading it! I had to put my hands over her eyes to let her know that I had entered the room, and even then she might try to read between my fingers, coming to herself presently, however, to say, 'It's a haver of a book.'
"'Those pirate stories are so uninteresting,' I would reply without fear, for she was too engrossed to see through me. 'Do you think you will finish this one?'
"'I may as well go on with it since I have begun it,' my mother says, so slyly that my sister and I shake our heads at each other to imply, 'Was there ever such a woman!'
"'There are none of those one-legged scoundrels in my books,' I say.
"'Better without them,' she replies promptly.
"'I wonder, mother, what it is about the man that so infatuates the public?'
"'He takes no hold of me,' she insists. 'I would a hantle rather read your books.'
"'I offer obligingly to bring one of them to her, and now she looks at me suspiciously. 'You surely believe I like yours best,' she says with instant anxiety, and I soothe her by assurances, and retire advising her to read on, just to see if she can find out how he misleads the public.
"'h, I may take a look at it again by and by,' she says indifferently, but nevertheless the probability is that as the door shuts the book opens, as if by some mechanical contrivance. I remember how she read Treasure Island, holding it close to the ribs of the fire (because she could not spare a moment to rise and light the gas), and how, when bedtime came, and we coaxed, remonstrated, scolded, she said quite fiercely, clinging to the book, 'I dinna lay my head on a pillow this night till I see how that laddie got out of the barrel.'"—J. M. Barrie's Margaret Ogilvy.
"Of Treasure Island itself one finds it difficult to speak the unexaggerated word. That the subject itself and many of its details were reminiscential with Stevenson matters not. It is the unique fusion of incident and character-interest that makes the book so remarkable. It is action, action, action, from the first sentence to the last. Yet every one who plays his part in the action is as deeply characterized as if he were the centre of an introspective novel. It is not alone the sea cook himself; there is not a single person whose name is given in the book whose character we do not know almost as well, if not as thoroughly, as that versatile villain. From Billy Bones to George Merry they are characterized with a firmness of touch and certainty of vision equal to Phil May's."—Joseph Jacobs, The Athenaeum, December 22, 1894.
"His fancy, light and quick as a child's, made of the world around him an enchanted pleasure. The realism, as it is called, that deals only with the banalities and squalors of life, and weaves into the mesh of its story no character but would make you yawn if you passed ten minutes with him in a railway carriage, might well take a lesson from this man, if it had the brains. ............. "The most remarkable feature of the work he has left is its singular combination of style and romance. It has so happened, and the accident has gained almost the strength of a tradition, that the most assiduous followers of romance have been careless stylists. They have trusted to the efficacy of their situation and incident, and have too often cared little about the manner of its presentation. By an odd piece of irony style has been left to the cultivation of those who have little or nothing to tell. Sir Walter Scott himself, with all his splendid romantic and tragical gifts, often, in Stevenson's perfectly just phrase, 'fobs us off with languid and inarticulate twaddle.' He wrote carelessly and genially, and then breakfasted, and began the business of the day. But Stevenson, who had romance tingling in every vein. of his body, set himself laboriously and patiently to train his other faculty, the faculty of style. .............
"Stevenson's work is a gallery of romantic effects that haunt the memory. Some of these are directly pictorial: the fight in the roundhouse on board the brig Covenant; the duel between the two brothers of Ballantrae in the island of light thrown by the candles from that abyss of windless night; the flight of the Princess Seraphina through the dark mazes of the wood,—all these, although they carry with them subtleties beyond the painter's art, yet have something of picture in them. But others make entrance to the corridors of the mind by blind and secret ways, and these awaken the echoes of primeval fear. The cry of the parrot—'Pieces of eight'—the tapping of the stick of the blind pirate Pew as he draws near the inn-parlor, and the similar effects of inexplicable terror wrought by the introduction of the blind catechist in Kidnapped, and of the disguise of a blind leper in The Black Arrow, are beyond the reach of any but the literary form of romantic art. The last appearance of Pew, in the play of Admiral Guinea, written in collaboration with Mr. W. E. Henley, is perhaps the masterpiece of all the scenes of terror. The blind ruffian's screams of panic fear, when he puts his groping hand into the burning flame of the candle in the room where he believed that he was unseen, and so realizes that his every movement is being silently watched, is indeed 'the horrors come alive.'"—Walter Raleigh's Stevenson.
"In Treasure Island, then, Stevenson had at last got into the true path of his genius, and no critic can perceive this more clearly than he perceived it himself. Here for the first time his style ceased to bear the marks of artificiality, gaining enormously in vigor without losing anything of its subtle charm. Here for the first time he showed that he could treat the incidents of a story seriously—otherwise, that is to say, than as the squibs and fireworks of a pretty wit.
"Nothing could have been more fortunate than the circumstances under which Treasure Island was produced. It was meant for boys, and the hero, who speaks in the first person, is himself a boy. Now boys are singularly and even umreasonably intolerant of posturing or 'manner.' Without affectation themselves, they are satanically keen at detecting it in others. Even fitting cleverness, unless 'craftily qualified,' appears to them, in their sturdy barbarism, a highly suspicious trait, and verbal cleverness is downright unbearable. A wholesome control was thus exercised over the style of the romance.
"Again, the tale had to depend for its main interest on bare incident, and this requisite not only acted salutarily on the style, but kept down Stevenson's innate tendency to moralizing and to playing with character delineation. And, finally, no freakishness of incident was admissible. Verisimilitude is rigorously demanded by a boy—above all in such weighty concerns as pirates and hidden treasure. These subjects are not to be handled with levity; there must be no suspicion of a wink at the audience. All this Stevenson knew as well as anybody, for he comprehended a boy's nature thoroughly; indeed, in some things he never ceased to be a boy himself, albeit a boy 'with a graceful and somewhat fantastic bearing.' Besides, there was his dramatic sense—the instinct of putting himself in the place of his characters. There was also the presence of the elder Stevenson, who made the tale so real that he insisted on drawing up the inventory of Bones's estate in the sea-chest—a very salutary presence indeed."—Prof. G. L. Kittredge, The Nation, January 9, 1896.
"It is an astonishing thing that a writer who has deliberately set himself to write pure adventure stories should possess such a gift of spiritual subtlety, and it begets in us a doubt whether, after all, Stevenson was rightly aware of the nature of his own genius. But this at least must be admitted, that he has contrived to lift the adventure story to a quite new elevation by the powers which he has brought to bear upon it. That which gives his books their enduring hold upon the mind is precisely this spiritual subtlety which informs them. …
"Stevenson was too modest a man to pose as a thinker; yet a thinker he was, and of great originality and insight. And in the truest sense of the word he was an entirely pious man. He knew what it meant, as he has put it, to go up 'the great bare staircase of his duty, uncheered and undepressed.' In the trials of a life unusually difficult, and pierced by the spear's points of the sharpest limitations, he presented a splendid and unbroken fortitude. No man ever met life with a higher courage; it is safe to say that a man less courageous would not have lived so long. There are few things more wonderful and admirable than the persistence of his energy; ill and compelled to silence, he still dictates his story in the dumb alphabet, and at his lowest ebb of health makes no complaint. And through all his life there runs a piety as invincible as his fortitude; a certain gaiety of soul that never deserts him; a faith in the ultimate rightness of destiny which holds him serene amid a sea of troubles. Neither his work nor his life have yet been justly apprehended, nor has the time yet come when a thoroughly accurate and balanced judgment is possible. But it will be a painful surprise to me if coming generations do not recognize his work as one of the chief treasures of our literature, and the man himself as one of the most original, rare, and entirely lovable men of genius of this or of any time."—W. J. Dawson, The Bookman, for September, 1896.
"Now to me, I confess, for I fear that it is a confession, Treasure Island is the one story which I can admire without the least qualification or reserve. The aim may not be the highest, but it is attained with the most thorough success. It may be described as a 'message' in the sense that it appeals to the boyish element. Stevenson has described the fit of inspiration in which he wrote it. He had a schoolboy for audience; his father became a schoolboy to collaborate; and when published it made schoolboys of Gladstone and of the editor of the 'cynical' Saturday Review. We-believe in it as we believe in Robinson Crusoe. My only trouble is that I have always thought that, had I been in command of the Hispaniola, I should have adopted a different line of defense against the conspirators. My plan would have spoilt the story, but I regret the error as I regret certain real blunders which were supposed to have changed the course of history.
"… Treasure Island is a pure novel of adventure. It satisfies what he somewhere describes as the criterion of a good 'romance.' The writer and his readers throw themselves into the events, enjoy the thrilling excitement, and do not bother themselves with questions of psychology. Treasure Island indeed contains Silver, who, to my mind, is his most successful hero. But Silver incarnates the spirit in which the book is to be read; the state of mind in which we accept genial good humor as a complete apology for cold-blooded murder. Piracy is for the time to be merely one side of the game; and in a serious picture of human life, which of course is out of that sphere, we should have required a further attempt to reconcile us to the psychological monstrosity."—Leslie Stephen's Studies of a Biographer.
"It is said that the painters can, and do, produce a new type of face. The artist creates an ideal head, introduces something of it into all his canvases, and delights the whole nation. … But it is not merely the painters who create, or seem to create, types. The men of letters who deal with the creative side of their trade, also call into existence new aspects of humanity. … It would seem that this process, or something very like it, is beginning with Mr. Stevenson's creations. Mr. Stevenson's special type, the type he loves best, and devotes his most precious thoughts to elaborate, is that which for want of a better term, we must call the boy-hero with a difference. His greatest contribution to literature is the boy who acts the part of a hero, but yet is at the same time always a thorough boy and a real boy,—and by this we do not mean an angelic person of the choirboy order, but that curious mixture of irresponsibility and shrewdness, boldness and shyness, waywardness and hard common sense, which constitutes the true boy."—London Spectator, August 11, 1894.
"He (Stevenson) was never satisfied with himself, yet never cast down. There are two dangers that beset the artist,—the one is being pleased with what is done, and the other being de-| jected with it. Stevenson, more than any other man whom I have known, steered the middle course. He never conceived that he had achieved a great success, but he never lost hope that by taking pains he might yet do so. … 'One should strain,' he said, 'and then play, strain again, and play again. The strain is for us, it educates; the play is for the reader, and pleases. In moments of effort one learns to do the easy things that people like.'
"He learned that which he desired, and he gained more than he hoped for. He became the most exquisite English writer of his generation; yet those who lived close to him are apt to think less of this than of the fact that he was the most unselfish and the most lovable of human beings."—Edmund Gosse's Critical Kit-Kats.
"People were fond of him, and people were proud of him; his achievements, as it were, sensibly raised their pleasure in the world, and, to them, became parts of themselves. They warmed their hands at that centre of light and heat. It is not every success which has these beneficent results. We see the successful sneered at, deceived, insulted, even when success is deserved. Very little of all this, hardly aught of all this, I think, came in Mr. Stevenson's way. …
"I have known no man in whom the pre-eminently manly virtues of kindness, courage, sympathy, generosity, helpfulness, were more beautifully conspicuous than in Mr. Stevenson, none so much loved—it is not too strong a word—by so many and so various people. He was as unique in character as in literary genius."—Recollections of Stevenson, by Andrew Lang, North American Review, February, 1895.
"It was the happy fortune of Robert Louis Stevenson to have created, beyond any man of his craft in our day, a body of readers inspired with the feelings that we, for the most part, place at the disposal of those for whom our affection is personal. There was no one who knew the man, one may safely assert, who was not also devoted to the writer; conforming in this respect to a general law—if law it be—that shows us many exceptions: but, naturally and not inconveniently, it had to remain far from true that all devotees of the writer were able to approach the man. The case was, nevertheless, that the man, somehow, approached them, and that to read him—certainly to read him with the full sense of his charm—came, for many people, to mean much the same as to 'meet' him. It was as if he wrote himself altogether, rose straight to the surface of his prose, and still more of his happiest verse; so that these things gave out, besides whatever else, his look and his voice, showed his life and manners, his affairs and his very secrets. In short, we grew to possess him entire; and the example is the more curious and beautiful, as he neither made a business of 'confession' nor cultivated most those forms through which the ego shines. … The finest papers in Across the Plains, in Memories and Portraits and in Virginibus Puerisque, stout of substance and supremely silver of speech, have both a nobleness and a nearness that place them, for perfection and roundness, above his fictions, and that also may remind a vulgarized generation of what, even under its nose, English prose can be. But it is bound up with his name, for our wonder and reflection, that he is something other than the author of this or that particular beautiful thing, or of all such things together. It has been his fortune (whether or no the greatest that can befall a man of letters) to have had to consent to become, by a process not purely mystic and not. wholly untraceable—what shall we call it?—a Figure. Tracing is needless now, for the personality has acted and the incarnation is full. There he is—he has passed ineffaceably into happy legend. This case of the figure is of the rarest, and the honor surely of the greatest."—Henry James, The North American Review, January, 1900.
- A foolish book.
- A good deal.
- Phil May was an able and distinguished cartoonist.