Part 4 out of 4
"DEAR SIR, - I am much obliged for your letter, and can only state
that the name of Thoreau was not mentioned by Stevenson himself,
and therefore I could not cite it in my quotation.
"With regard to the style of Stevenson's later works, I am inclined
to agree with you.-Believe me, yours very faithfully,
"Dr ALEXANDER H. JAPP."
This I at once replied to as follows:
"NATIONAL LIBERAL CLUB,
WHITEHALL. PLACE, S.W.,
19TH DECEMBER 1896.
"MY LORD, - It is true R. L. Stevenson did not refer to Thoreau in
the passage to which you allude, for the good reason that he could
not, since he did not know Thoreau till after it was written; but
if you will oblige me and be so good as to turn to p. xix. of
Preface, BY WAY OF CRITICISM, to FAMILIAR STUDIES OF MEN AND BOOKS
you will read:
"'Upon me this pure, narrow, sunnily-ascetic Thoreau had exercised
a wondrous charm. I HAVE SCARCE WRITTEN TEN SENTENCES SINCE I WAS
INTRODUCED TO HIM, BUT HIS INFLUENCE MIGHT BE SOMEWHERE DETECTED BY
A CLOSE OBSERVER.'
"It is very detectable in many passages of nature-description and
of reflection. I write, my Lord, merely that, in case opportunity
should arise, you might notice this fact. I am sure R. L.
Stevenson would have liked it recognised. - I remain, my Lord,
always yours faithfully, etc.,
ALEXANDER H. JAPP."
In reply to this Lord Rosebery sent me only the most formal
acknowledgment, not in the least encouraging me in any way to
further aid him in the matter with regard to suggestions of any
kind; so that I was helpless to press on his lordship the need for
some corrections on other points which I would most willingly have
tendered to him had he shown himself inclined or ready to receive
I might also have referred Lord Rosebery to the article in THE
BRITISH WEEKLY (1887), "Books that have Influenced Me," where,
after having spoken of Shakespeare, the VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE,
Bunyan, Montaigne, Goethe, Martial, Marcus Aurelius's MEDITATIONS,
and Wordsworth, he proceeds:
"I suppose, when I am done, I shall find that I have forgotten much
that is influential, as I see already I have forgotten Thoreau."
I need but to add to what has been said already that, had Lord
Rosebery written and told me the result of his references and
encouraged me to such an exercise, I should by-and-by have been
very pleased to point out to him that he blundered, proving himself
no master in Burns' literature, precisely as Mr Henley blundered
about Burns' ancestry, when he gives confirmation to the idea that
Burns came of a race of peasants on both sides, and was himself
nothing but a peasant.
When the opportunity came to correct such blunders, corrections
which I had even implored him to make, Lord Rosebery (who by
several London papers had been spoken of as "knowing more than all
the experts about all his themes"), that is, when his volume was
being prepared for press, did not act on my good advice given him
"FREE, GRATIS, FOR NOTHING"; no; he contented himself with simply
slicing out columns from the TIMES, or allowing another man to do
so for him, and reprinting them LITERATIM ET VERBATIM, all
imperfect and misleading, as they stood. SCRIPTA MANET alas! only
too truly exemplified to his disadvantage. But with that note of
mine in his hand, protesting against an ominous and fatal omission
as regards the confessed influences that had operated on Stevenson,
he goes on, or allows Mr Geake to go on, quite as though he had
verified matters and found that I was wrong as regards the facts on
which I based my appeal to him for recognition of Thoreau as having
influenced Stevenson in style. Had he attended to correcting his
serious errors about Stevenson, and some at least of those about
Burns, thus adding, say, a dozen or twenty pages to his book wholly
fresh and new and accurate, then the TIMES could not have got, even
if it had sought, an injunction against his publishers and him; and
there would have been no necessity that he should pad out other and
later speeches by just a little whining over what was entirely due
to his own disregard of good advice, his own neglect - his own
fault - a neglect and a fault showing determination not to revise
where revision in justice to his subject's own free and frank
acknowledgments made it most essential and necessary.
Mr Justice North gave his decision against Lord Rosebery and his
publishers, while the Lords of Appeal went in his favour; but the
House of Lords reaffirmed the decision of Mr Justice North and
granted a perpetual injunction against this book. The copyright in
his speech is Lord Rosebery's, but the copyright in the TIMES'
report is the TIMES'. You see one of the ideas underlying the law
is that no manner of speech is quite perfect as the man speaks it,
or is beyond revision, improvement, or extension, and, if there is
but one VERBATIM report, as was the case of some of these speeches
and addresses, then it is incumbent on the author, if he wishes to
preserve his copyright, to revise and correct his speeches and
addresses, so as to make them at least in details so far differ
from the reported form. This thing ought Lord Rosebery to have
done, on ethical and literary GROUNDS, not to speak of legal and
self-interested grounds; and I, for one, who from the first held
exactly the view the House of Lords has affirmed, do confess that I
have no sympathy for Lord Rosebery, since he had before him the
suggestion and the materials for as substantial alterations and
additions from my own hands, with as much more for other portions
of his book, had he informed me of his appreciation, as would have
saved him and his book from such a sadly ironical fate as has
overtaken him and it.
From the whole business - since "free, gratis, for nothing," I
offered him as good advice as any lawyer in the three kingdoms
could have done for large payment, and since he never deemed it
worth while, even to tell me the results of his reference to
FAMILIAR STUDIES, I here and now say deliberately that his conduct
to me was scarcely so courteous and grateful and graceful as it
might have been. How different - very different - the way in which
the late R. L. Stevenson rewarded me for a literary service no whit
greater or more essentially valuable to him than this service
rendered to Lord Rosebery might have been to him.
This chapter would most probably not have been printed, had not Mr
Coates re-issued the inadequate and most misleading paragraph about
Mr Stevenson and style in his Lord Rosebery's LIFE AND SPEECHES
exactly as it was before, thus perpetuating at once the error and
the wrong, in spite of all my trouble, warnings, and protests. It
is a tragicomedy, if not a farce altogether, considering who are
the principal actors in it. And let those who have copies of the
queer prohibited book cherish them and thank me; for that I do by
this give a new interest and value to it as a curiosity, law-
inhibited, if not as high and conscientious literature - which it
I remember very well about the time Lord Rosebery spoke on Burns,
and Stevenson, and London, that certain London papers spoke of his
deliverances as indicating more knowledge - fuller and exacter
knowledge - of all these subjects than the greatest professed
experts possessed. That is their extravagant and most reckless
way, especially if the person spoken about is a "great politician"
or a man of rank. They think they are safe with such superlatives
applied to a brilliant and clever peer (with large estates and many
interests), and an ex-Prime Minister! But literature is a
republic, and it must here be said, though all unwillingly, that
Lord Rosebery is but an amateur - a superficial though a clever
amateur after all, and their extravagances do not change the fact.
I declare him an amateur in Burns' literature and study because of
what I have said elsewhere, and there are many points to add to
that if need were. I have proved above from his own words that he
was crassly and unpardonably ignorant of some of the most important
points in R. L. Stevenson's development when he delivered that
address in Edinburgh on Stevenson - a thing very, very pardonable -
seeing that he is run after to do "speakings" of this sort; but to
go on, in face of such warning and protest, printing his most
misleading errors is not pardonable, and the legal recorded result
is my justification and his condemnation, the more surely that even
that would not awaken him so far as to cause him to restrain Mr
Coates from reproducing in his LIFE AND SPEECHES, just as it was
originally, that peccant passage. I am fully ready to prove also
that, though Chairman of the London County Council for a period,
and though he made a very clever address at one of Sir W. Besant's
lectures, there is much yet - very much - he might learn from Sir
W. Besant's writings on London. It isn't so easy to outshine all
the experts - even for a clever peer who has been Prime Minister,
though it is very, very easy to flatter Lord Rosebery, with a
purpose or purposes, as did at least once also with rarest tact, at
Glasgow, indicating so many other things and possibilities, a
certain very courtly ex-Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
CHAPTER XXXI - MR GOSSE AND MS. OF TREASURE ISLAND
MR EDMUND GOSSE has been so good as to set down, with rather an air
of too much authority, that both R. L. Stevenson and I deceived
ourselves completely in the matter of my little share in the
TREASURE ISLAND business, and that too much credit was sought by me
or given to me, for the little service I rendered to R. L.
Stevenson, and to the world, say, in helping to secure for it an
element of pleasure through many generations. I have not SOUGHT
any recognition from the world in this matter, and even the mention
of it became so intolerable to me that I eschewed all writing about
it, in the face of the most stupid and misleading statements, till
Mr Sidney Colvin wrote and asked me to set down my account of the
matter in my own words. This I did, as it would have been really
rude to refuse a request so graciously made, and the reader has it
in the ACADEMY of 10th March 1900. Nevertheless, Mr Gosse's
statements were revived and quoted, and the thing seemed ever to
revolve again in a round of controversy.
Now, with regard to the reliability in this matter of Mr Edmund
Gosse, let me copy here a little note made at request some time
ago, dealing with two points. The first is this:
1. MOST ASSUREDLY I carried away from Braemar in my portmanteau, as
R. L. Stevenson says in IDLER'S article and in chapter of MY FIRST
BOOK reprinted in EDINBURGH EDITION, several chapters of TREASURE
ISLAND. On that point R. L. Stevenson, myself, and Mr James
Henderson, to whom I took these, could not all be wrong and co-
operating to mislead the public. These chapters, at least vii. or
viii., as Mr Henderson remembers, would include the FIRST THREE,
that is, FINALLY REVISED VERSIONS FOR PRESS. Mr Gosse could not
then HAVE HEARD R. L. STEVENSON READ FROM THESE FINAL VERSIONS BUT
FROM FIRST DRAUGHTS ONLY, and I am positively certain that with
some of the later chapters R. L. Stevenson wrote them off-hand, and
with great ease, and did not revise them to the extent of at all
needing to re-write them, as I remember he was proud to tell me,
being then fully in the vein, as he put it, and pleased to credit
me with a share in this good result, and saying "my enthusiasm over
it had set him up steep." There was then, in my idea, a necessity
that Stevenson should fill up a gap by verbal summary to Mr Gosse
(which Mr Gosse has forgotten), bringing the incident up to a
further point than Mr Gosse now thinks. I am certain of my facts
under this head; and as Mr Gosse clearly fancies he heard R. L.
Stevenson read all from final versions and is mistaken - COMPLETELY
mistaken there - he may be just as wrong and the victim of error or
bad memory elsewhere after the lapse of more than twenty years.
2. I gave the pencilled outline of incident and plot to Mr
Henderson - a fact he distinctly remembers. This fact completely
meets and disposes of Mr Robert Leighton's quite imaginative BILLY
BO'SUN notion, and is absolute as to R. L. Stevenson before he left
Braemar on the 21st September 1881, or even before I left it on
26th August 1881, having clear in his mind the whole scheme of the
work, though we know very well that the absolute re-writing out
finally for press of the concluding part of the book was done at
Davos. Mr Henderson has always made it the strictest rule in his
editorship that the complete outline of the plot and incident of
the latter part of a story must be supplied to him, if the whole
story is not submitted to him in MS.; and the agreement, if I am
not much mistaken, was entered into days before R. L. Stevenson
left Braemar, and when he came up to London some short time after
to go to Weybridge, the only arrangement then needed to be made was
about the forwarding of proofs to him.
The publication of TREASURE ISLAND in YOUNG FOLKS began on the 1st
October 1881, No. 565 and ran on in the following order:
OCTOBER 1, 1881.
I. The Old Sea Dog at the Admiral Benbow.
II. Black Dog Appears and Disappears.
Dated OCTOBER 8, 1881.
III. The Black Spot.
Dated OCTOBER 15, 1881.
IV. The Sea Chart.
V. The Last of the Blind Man.
VI. The Captain's Papers.
Dated OCTOBER 22, 1881.
I. I go to Bristol.
II. The Sea-Cook.
Ill. Powder and Arms.
Now, as the numbers of YOUNG FOLKS were printed about a fortnight
in advance of the date they bear under the title, it is clear that
not only must the contract have been executed days before the
middle of September, but that a large proportion of the COPY must
have been in Mr Henderson's hands at that date too, as he must have
been entirely satisfied that the story would go on and be finished
in a definite time. On no other terms would he have begun the
publication of it. He was not in the least likely to have accepted
a story from a man who, though known as an essayist, had not yet
published anything in the way of a long story, on the ground merely
of three chapters of prologue. Mr Gosse left Braemar on 5th
September, when he says nine chapters were written, and Mr
Henderson had offered terms for the story before the last of these
could have reached him. That is on seeing, say six chapters of
prologue. But when Mr Gosse speaks about three chapters only
written, does he mean three of the prologue or three of the story,
in addition to prologue, or what does he mean? The facts are
clear. I took away in my portmanteau a large portion of the MS.,
together with a very full outline of the rest of the story, so that
Mr Stevenson was, despite Mr Gosse's cavillings, SUBSTANTIALLY
right when he wrote in MY FIRST BOOK in the IDLER, etc., that "when
he (Dr Japp) left us he carried away the manuscript in his
portmanteau." There was nothing of the nature of an abandonment of
the story at any point, nor any difficulty whatever arose in this
respect in regard to it.
CHAPTER XXXII - STEVENSON PORTRAITS
OF the portraits of Stevenson a word or two may be said. There is
a very good early photograph of him, taken not very long before the
date of my visit to him at Braemar in 1881, and is an admirable
likeness - characteristic not only in expression, but in pose and
attitude, for it fixes him in a favourite position of his; and is,
at the same time, very easy and natural. The velvet jacket, as I
have remarked, was then his habitual wear, and the thin fingers
holding the constant cigarette an inseparable associate and
He acknowledged himself that he was a difficult subject to paint -
not at all a good sitter - impatient and apt to rebel at posing and
time spent in arrangement of details - a fact he has himself, as we
shall see, set on record in his funny verses to Count Nerli, who
painted as successful a portrait as any. The little miniature,
full-length, by Mr J. S. Sarjent, A.R.A., which was painted at
Bournemouth in 1885, is confessedly a mere sketch and much of a
caricature: it is in America. Sir W. B. Richmond has an
unfinished portrait, painted in 1885 or 1886 - it has never passed
out of the hands of the artist, - a photogravure from it is our
There is a medallion done by St Gauden's, representing Stevenson in
bed propped up by pillows. It is thought to be a pretty good
likeness, and it is now in Mr Sidney Colvin's possession. Others,
drawings, etc., are not of much account.
And now we come to the Nerli portrait, of which so much has been
written. Stevenson himself regarded it as the best portrait of him
ever painted, and certainly it also is characteristic and
effective, and though not what may be called a pleasant likeness,
is probably a good representation of him in the later years of his
life. Count Nerli actually undertook a voyage to Samoa in 1892,
mainly with the idea of painting this portrait. He and Stevenson
became great friends, as Stevenson naively tells in the verses we
have already referred to, but even this did not quite overcome
Stevenson's restlessness. He avenged himself by composing these
verses as he sat:
Did ever mortal man hear tell o' sic a ticklin' ferlie
As the comin' on to Apia here o' the painter Mr Nerli?
He cam'; and, O, for o' human freen's o' a' he was the pearlie -
The pearl o' a' the painter folk was surely Mr Nerli.
He took a thraw to paint mysel'; he painted late and early;
O wow! the many a yawn I've yawned i' the beard o' Mr Nerli.
Whiles I wad sleep and whiles wad wake, an' whiles was mair than
I wondered sair as I sat there fornent the eyes o' Nerli.
O will he paint me the way I want, as bonnie as a girlie?
O will he paint me an ugly tyke? - and be d-d to Mr Nerli.
But still an' on whichever it be, he is a canty kerlie,
The Lord protect the back an' neck o' honest Mr Nerli.
Mr Hammerton gives this account of the Nerli portrait:
"The history of the Nerli portrait is peculiar. After being
exhibited for some time in New Zealand it was bought, in the course
of this year, by a lady who was travelling there, for a hundred
guineas. She then offered it for that sum to the Scottish National
Portrait Gallery; but the Trustees of the Board of Manufactures -
that oddly named body to which is entrusted the fostering care of
Art in Scotland, and, in consequence, the superintendence of the
National Portrait Gallery - did not see their way to accept the
offer. Some surprise has been expressed at the action of the
Trustees in thus declining to avail themselves of the opportunity
of obtaining the portrait of one of the most distinguished Scotsmen
of recent times. It can hardly have been for want of money, for
though the funds at their disposal for the purchase of ordinary
works of art are but limited, no longer ago than last year they
were the recipients of a very handsome legacy from the late Mr J.
M. Gray, the accomplished and much lamented Curator of the Scottish
National Portrait Gallery - a legacy left them for the express
purpose of acquiring portraits of distinguished Scotsmen, and the
income of which was amply sufficient to have enabled them to
purchase this portrait. One is therefore almost shut up to the
conclusion that the Trustees were influenced in their decision by
one of the two following reasons:
"1. That they did not consider Stevenson worthy of a place in the
gallery. This is a position so incomprehensible and so utterly
opposed to public sentiment that one can hardly credit it having
been the cause of this refusal. Whatever may be the place which
Stevenson may ultimately take as an author, and however opinions
may differ as to the merits of his work, no one can deny that he
was one of the most popular writers of his day, and that as a mere
master of style, if for nothing else, his works will be read so
long as there are students of English Literature. Surely the
portrait of one for whom such a claim may legitimately be made
cannot be considered altogether unworthy of a place in the National
Collection, as one of Scotland's most distinguished sons.
"2. The only other reason which can be suggested as having weighed
with the Trustees in their decision is one which in some cases
might be held to be worthy of consideration. It is conceivable
that in the case of some men the Trustees might be of opinion that
there was plenty of time to consider the matter, and that in the
meantime there was always the chance of some generous donor
presenting them with a portrait. But, as has been shown above, the
portraits of Stevenson are practically confined to two: one of
these is in America, and there is not the least chance of its ever
coming here; and the other they have refused. And, as it is
understood that the Trustees have a rule that they do not accept
any portrait which has not been painted from the life, they
preclude themselves from acquiring a copy of any existing picture
or even a portrait done from memory.
"It is rumoured that the Nerli portrait may ultimately find a
resting-place in the National Collection of Portraits in London.
If this should prove to be the case, what a commentary on the old
saying: 'A prophet is not without honour save in his own
CHAPTER XXXIII - LAPSES AND ERRORS IN CRITICISM
NOTHING could perhaps be more wearisome than to travel o'er the
wide sandy area of Stevenson criticism and commentary, and expose
the many and sad and grotesque errors that meet one there. Mr
Baildon's slip is innocent, compared with many when he says (p.
106) TREASURE ISLAND appeared in YOUNG FOLKS as THE SEA-COOK. It
did nothing of the kind; it is on plain record in print, even in
the pages of the EDINBURGH EDITION, that Mr James Henderson would
not have the title THE SEA-COOK, as he did not like it, and
insisted on its being TREASURE ISLAND. To him, therefore, the
vastly better title is due. Mr Henley was in doubt if Mr Henderson
was still alive when he wrote the brilliant and elevated article on
"Some Novels" in the NORTH AMERICAN, and as a certain dark bird
killed Cock Robin, so he killed off Dr Japp, and not to be outdone,
got in an ideal "Colonel" JACK; so Mr Baildon there follows Henley,
unaware that Mr Henderson did not like THE SEA-COOK, and was still
alive, and that a certain Jack in the fatal NORTH AMERICAN has
Mr Baildon's words are:
"This was the famous book of adventure, TREASURE ISLAND, appearing
first as THE SEA-COOK in a boy's paper, where it made no great
stir. But, on its publication in volume form, with the vastly
better title, the book at once 'boomed,' as the phrase goes, to an
extent then, in 1882, almost unprecedented. The secret of its
immense success may almost be expressed in a phrase by saying that
it is a book like GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, and
ROBINSON CRUSOE itself for all ages - boys, men, and women."
Which just shows how far lapse as to a fact may lead to critical
Mr Hammerton sometimes lets good folks say in his pages, without
correction, what is certainly not correct. Thus at one place we
are told that Stevenson was only known as Louis in print, whereas
that was the only name by which he was known in his own family.
Then Mr Gosse, at p. 34, is allowed to write:
"Professor Blackie was among them on the steamer from the Hebrides,
a famous figure that calls for no description, and a voluble shaggy
man, clad in homespun, with spectacles forward upon his nose, who
it was whispered to us, was Mr Sam Bough, the Scottish Academician,
A WATER-COLOUR PAINTER OF SOME REPUTE, who was to die in 1878."
Mr Sam Bough WAS "a water-colour painter of some repute," but a
painter in oils of yet greater repute - a man of rare strength,
resource, and facility - never, perhaps, wholly escaping from some
traces of his early experiences in scene-painting, but a true
genius in his art. Ah, well I remember him, though an older man,
yet youthful in the band of young Scotch artists among whom as a
youngster I was privileged to move in Edinburgh - Pettie, Chalmers,
M'Whirter, Peter Graham, MacTaggart, MacDonald, John Burr, and
Bough. Bough could be voluble on art; and many a talk I had with
him as with the others named, especially with John Burr. Bough and
he both could talk as well as paint, and talk right well. Bough
had a slight cast in the eye; when he got a WEE excited on his
subject he would come close to you with head shaking, and
spectacles displaced, and forelock wagging, and the cast would seem
to die away. Was this a fact, or was it an illusion on my part? I
have often asked myself that question, and now I ask it of others.
Can any of my good friends in Edinburgh say; can Mr Caw help me
here, either to confirm or to correct me? I venture to insert here
an anecdote, with which my friend of old days, Mr Wm. MacTaggart,
R.S.A., in a letter kindly favours me:
"Sam Bough was a very sociable man; and, when on a sketching tour,
liked to have a young artist or two with him. Jack Nisbett played
the violin, and Sam the 'cello, etc. Jack was fond of telling that
Sam used to let them all choose the best views, and then he would
take what was left; and Jack, with mild astonishment, would say,
that 'it generally turned out to be the best - on the canvas!'"
In Mr Hammerton's copy of the verses in reply to Mr Crockett's
dedication of THE STICKIT MINISTER to Stevenson, in which occurred
the fine phrase "The grey Galloway lands, where about the graves of
the martyrs the whaups are crying, his heart remembers how":
"Blows the wind to-day and the sun and the rain are flying:
Blows the wind on the moors to-day and now,
Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying,
My heart remembers how.
"Grey recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,
Standing stones on the vacant wine-red moor,
Hills of sheep, and the HOMES of the silent vanished races,
And winds austere and pure.
"Be it granted me to behold you again in dying,
Hills of home! and to hear again the call -
Hear about the graves of the martyrs the pee-weet crying,
And hear no more at all."
Mr Hammerton prints HOWES instead of HOMES, which I have italicised
above. And I may note, though it does not affect the poetry, if it
does a little affect the natural history, that the PEE-WEETS and
the whaups are not the same - the one is the curlew, and the other
is the lapwing - the one most frequenting wild, heathery or peaty
moorland, and the other pasture or even ploughed land - so that it
is a great pity for unity and simplicity alike that Stevenson did
not repeat the "whaup," but wrote rather as though pee-weet or pee-
weets were the same as whaups - the common call of the one is KER-
LEE, KER-LEE, and of the other PEE-WEET, PEE-WEET, hence its common
It is a pity, too, that Mr Hammerton has no records of some
portions of the life at Davos Platz. Not only was Stevenson ill
there in April 1892, but his wife collapsed, and the tender concern
for her made havoc with some details of his literary work. It is
good to know this. Such errata or omissions throw a finer light on
his character than controlling perfection would do. Ah, I remember
how my old friend W. B. Rands ("Matthew Browne" and "Henry
Holbeach") was wont to declare that were men perfect they would be
isolated, if not idiotic, that we are united to each other by our
defects - that even physical beauty would be dead like later Greek
statues, were these not departures from the perfect lines. The
letter given by me at p. 28 transfigures in its light, some of his
work at that time.
And then what an opportunity, we deeply regret to say, Mr Hammerton
wholly missed, when he passed over without due explanation or
commentary that most significant pamphlet - the ADDRESS TO THE
SCOTTISH CLERGY. If Mr Hammerton had but duly and closely studied
that and its bearings and suggestions in many directions, then he
would have written such a chapter for true enlightenment and for
interest as exactly his book - attractive though it is in much -
yet specially lacks. It is to be hoped that Mr Sidney Colvin will
not once more miss the chance which is thus still left open to him
to perfect his LIFE OF STEVENSON, and make it more interpretive
than anything yet published. If he does this, then, a dreadful
LACUNA in the EDINBURGH EDITION will also be supplied.
Carefully reading over again Mr Arthur Symons' STUDIES IN TWO
LITERATURES - published some years ago - I have come across
instances of apparent contradiction which, so far as I can see, he
does not critically altogether reconcile, despite his ingenuity and
great charm of style. One relates to Thoreau, who, while still
"sturdy" as Emerson says, "and like an elm tree," as his sister
Sophia says, showed exactly the same love of nature and power of
interpreting her as he did after in his later comparatively short
period of "invalidity," while Mr Symons says his view of Nature
absolutely was that of the invalid, classing him unqualifiedly with
Jefferies and Stevenson, as invalid. Thoreau's mark even in the
short later period of "invalidity" was complete and robust
independence and triumph over it - a thing which I have no doubt
wholly captivated Stevenson, as scarce anything else would have
done, as a victory in the exact ROLE he himself was most ambitious
to fill. For did not he too wrestle well with the "wolverine" he
carried on his back - in this like Addington Symonds and Alexander
Pope? Surely I cannot be wrong here to reinforce my statement by a
passage from a letter written by Sophia Thoreau to her good friend
Daniel Ricketson, after her brother's death, the more that R. L.
Stevenson would have greatly exulted too in its cheery and
"Profound joy mingles with my grief. I feel as if something very
beautiful had happened - not death; although Henry is with us no
longer, yet the memory of his sweet and virtuous soul must ever
cheer and comfort me. My heart is filled with praise to God for
the gift of such a brother, and may I never distrust the love and
wisdom of Him who made him and who has now called him to labour in
more glorious fields than earth affords. You ask for some
particulars relating to Henry's illness. I feel like saying that
Henry was never affected, never reached by it. I never before saw
such a manifestation of the power of spirit over matter. Very
often I heard him tell his visitors that he enjoyed existence as
well as ever. The thought of death, he said, did not trouble him.
His thoughts had entertained him all his life and did still.... He
considered occupation as necessary for the sick as for those in
health, and accomplished a vast amount of labour in those last few
A rare "invalidity" this - a little confusing easy classifications.
I think Stevenson would have felt and said that brother and sister
were well worthy of each other; and that the sister was almost as
grand and cheery a stoic, with no literary profession of it, as was
The other thing relates to Stevenson's HUMAN SOUL. I find Mr
Symons says, at p. 243, that Stevenson "had something a trifle
elfish and uncanny about him, as of a bewitched being who was not
actually human - had not actually a human soul" - in which there
may be a glimmer of truth viewed from his revelation of artistic
curiosities in some aspects, but is hardly true of him otherwise;
and this Mr Symons himself seems to have felt, when, at p. 246, he
writes: "He is one of those writers who speak TO US ON EASY TERMS,
with whom we MAY EXCHANGE AFFECTIONS." How "affections" could be
exchanged on easy terms between the normal human being and an
elfish creature actually WITHOUT A HUMAN SOUL (seeing that
affections are, as Mr Matthew Arnold might have said, at least,
three-fourths of soul) is more, I confess, than I can quite see at
present; but in this rather MALADROIT contradiction Mr Symons does
point at one phase of the problem of Stevenson - this, namely that
to all the ordinary happy or pleasure-endings he opposes, as it
were of set purpose, gloom, as though to certain things he was
quite indifferent, and though, as we have seen, his actual life and
practice were quite opposed to this.
I am sorry I CANNOT find the link in Mr Symons' essay, which would
quite make these two statements consistently coincide critically.
As an enthusiastic, though I hope still a discriminating,
Stevensonian, I do wish Mr Symons would help us to it somehow
hereafter. It would be well worth his doing, in my opinion.
CHAPTER XXXIV - LETTERS AND POEMS IN TESTIMONY
AMONG many letters received by me in acknowledgment of, or in
commentary on, my little tributes to R. L. Stevenson, in various
journals and magazines, I find the following, which I give here for
reasons purely personal, and because my readers may with me, join
in admiration of the fancy, grace and beauty of the poems. I must
preface the first poem by a letter, which explains the genesis of
the poem, and relates a striking and very touching incident:
"37 ST DONATT'S ROAD,
LEWISHAM HIGH ROAD, S.E.,
1ST MARCH 1895.
"DEAR SIR, - As you have written so much about your friend, the
late Robert Louis Stevenson, and quoted many tributes to his genius
from contemporary writers, I take the liberty of sending you
herewith some verses of mine which appeared in THE WEEKLY SUN of
November last. I sent a copy of these verses to Samoa, but
unfortunately the great novelist died before they reached it. I
have, however, this week, received a little note from Mrs Strong,
which runs as follows:
"'Your poem of "Greeting" came too late. I can only thank you by
sending a little moss that I plucked from a tree overhanging his
grave on Vaea Mountain.'
"I trust you will appreciate my motive in sending you the poem. I
do not wish to obtrude my claims as a verse-writer upon your
notice, but I thought the incident I have recited would be
interesting to one who is so devoted a collector of Stevensoniana.
- Respectfully yours,
F. J. COX."
(TO ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, IN SAMOA)
We, pent in cities, prisoned in the mart,
Can know you only as a man apart,
But ever-present through your matchless art.
You have exchanged the old, familiar ways
For isles, where, through the range of splendid days,
Her treasure Nature lavishly displays.
There, by the gracious sweep of ampler seas,
That swell responsive to the odorous breeze.
You have the wine of Life, and we the lees!
You mark, perchance, within your island bowers,
The slow departure of the languorous hours,
And breathe the sweetness of the strange wild-flowers.
And everything your soul and sense delights -
But in the solemn wonder of your nights,
When Peace her message on the landscape writes;
When Ocean scarcely flecks her marge with foam -
Your thoughts must sometimes from your island roam,
To centre on the sober face of Home.
Though many a league of water rolls between
The simple beauty of an English scene,
From all these wilder charms your love may wean.
Some kindly sprite may bring you as a boon
Sweets from the rose that crowns imperial June,
Or reminiscence of the throstle's tune;
Yea, gladly grant you, with a generous hand,
Far glimpses of the winding, wind-swept strand,
The glens and mountains of your native land,
Until you hear the pipes upon the breeze -
But wake unto the wild realities
The tangled forests and the boundless seas!
For lo! the moonless night has passed away,
A sudden dawn dispels the shadows grey,
The glad sea moves and hails the quickening day.
New life within the arbours of your fief
Awakes the blossom, quivers in the leaf,
And splendour flames upon the coral reef.
If such a prospect stimulate your art,
More than our meadows where the shadows dart,
More than the life which throbs in London's heart,
Then stay, encircled by your Southern bowers,
And weave, amid the incense of the flowers,
The skein of fair romance - the gain is ours!
F. J. COX.
WEEKLY SUN, 11TH November 1904.
R. L. S., IN MEMORIAM.
AN elfin wight as e'er from faeryland
Came to us straight with favour in his eyes,
Of wondrous seed that led him to the prize
Of fancy, with the magic rod in hand.
Ah, there in faeryland we saw him stand,
As for a while he walked with smiles and sighs,
Amongst us, finding still the gem that buys
Delight and joy at genius's command.
And now thy place is empty: fare thee well;
Thou livest still in hearts that owe thee more
Than gold can reckon; for thy richer store
Is of the good that with us aye most dwell.
Farewell; sleep sound on Vaea's windy shrine,
While round the songsters join their song to thine.
A. C. R.
The following appeared some time ago in one of the London evening
papers, and I make bold, because of its truth and vigour, to insert
THE LAND OF STEVENSON,
ON AN AFTERNOON'S WALK
WILL there be a "Land of Stevenson," as there is already a "Land of
Burns," or a "Land of Scott," known to the tourist, bescribbled by
the guide-book maker? This the future must tell. Yet will it be
easy to mark out the bounds of "Robert Louis Stevenson's Country";
and, taking his native and well-loved city for a starting-point, a
stout walker may visit all its principal sites in an afternoon.
The house where he was born is within a bowshot of the Water of
Leith; some five miles to the south are Caerketton and Allermuir,
and other crests of the Pentlands, and below them Swanston Farm,
where year after year, in his father's time, he spent the summer
days basking on the hill slopes; two or three miles to the westward
of Swanston is Colinton, where his mother's father, Dr Balfour, was
minister; and here again you are back to the Water of Leith, which
you can follow down to the New Town. In this triangular space
Stevenson's memories and affections were firmly rooted; the fibres
could not be withdrawn from the soil, and "the voice of the blood"
and the longing for this little piece of earth make themselves
plaintively heard in his last notes. By Lothian Road, after which
Stevenson quaintly thought of naming the new edition of his works,
and past Boroughmuirhead and the "Bore Stane," where James
FitzJames set up his standard before Flodden, wends your southward
way to the hills. The builder of suburban villas has pushed his
handiwork far into the fields since Stevenson was wont to tramp
between the city and the Pentlands; and you may look in vain for
the flat stone whereon, as the marvelling child was told, there
once rose a "crow-haunted gibbet." Three-quarters of an hour of
easy walking, after you have cleared the last of the houses will
bring you to Swanston; and half an hour more will take the stiff
climber, a little breathless, to
THE TOP OF CAERKETTON CRAGS.
You may follow the high road - indeed there is a choice of two,
drawn at different levels - athwart the western skirts of the Braid
Hills, now tenanted, crown and sides of them, by golf; then to the
crossroads of Fairmilehead, whence the road dips down, to rise
again and circumvent the most easterly wing of the Pentlands. You
would like to pursue this route, were it only to look down on Bow
Bridge and recall how the last-century gauger used to put together
his flute and play "Over the hills and far away" as a signal to his
friend in the distillery below, now converted into a dairy farm, to
stow away his barrels. Better it is, however, to climb the stile
just past the poor-house gate, and follow the footpath along the
smoothly scooped banks of the Braid Burn to "Cockmylane" and to
Comiston. The wind has been busy all the morning spreading the
snow over a glittering world. The drifts are piled shoulder-high
in the lane as it approaches Comiston, and each old tree grouped
around the historic mansion is outlined in snow so virgin pure that
were the Ghost - "a lady in white, with the most beautiful clear
shoes on her feet" - to step out through the back gate, she would
be invisible, unless, indeed, she were between you and the ivy-
draped dovecot wall. Near by, at the corner of the Dreghorn Woods,
is the Hunters' Tryst, on the roof of which, when it was still a
wayside inn, the Devil was wont to dance on windy nights. In the
field through which you trudge knee-deep in drift rises the "Kay
Stane," looking to-day like a tall monolith of whitest marble.
Stevenson was mistaken when he said that it was from its top a
neighbouring laird, on pain of losing his lands, had to "wind a
blast of bugle horn" each time the King
VISITED HIS FOREST OF PENTLAND.
That honour belongs to another on the adjacent farm of Buckstane.
The ancient monument carries you further back, and there are Celtic
authorities that translate its name the "Stone of Victory." The
"Pechtland Hills" - their elder name - were once a refuge for the
Picts; and Caerketton - probably Caer-etin, the giant's strong-hold
- is one of them. Darkly its cliffs frown down upon you, while all
else is flashing white in the winter sunlight. For once, in this
last buttress thrown out into the plain of Lothian towards the
royal city, the outer folds of the Pentlands loses its boldly-
rounded curves, and drops an almost sheer descent of black rock to
the little glen below. In a wrinkle of the foothills Swanston farm
and hamlet are snugly tucked away. The spirit that breathes about
it in summer time is gently pastoral. It is sheltered from the
rougher blasts; it is set about with trees and green hills. It was
with this aspect of the place that Stevenson, coming hither on
holiday, was best acquainted. The village green, whereon the
windows of the neat white cottages turn a kindly gaze under low
brows of thatch, is then a perfect place in which to rest, and,
watching the smoke rising and listening to "the leaves ruffling in
the breeze," to muse on men and things; especially on Sabbath
mornings, when the ploughman or shepherd, "perplext wi' leisure,"
it is time to set forth on the three-mile walk along the hill-
skirts to Colinton kirk. But Swanston in winter time must also
HAVE BEEN FAMILIAR TO STEVENSON.
Snow-wreathed Pentlands, the ribbed and furrowed front of
Caerketton, the low sun striking athwart the sloping fields of
white, the shadows creeping out from the hills, and the frosty
yellow fog drawing in from the Firth - must often have flashed back
on the thoughts of the exile of Samoa. Against this wintry
background the white farmhouse, old and crow-stepped, looks dingy
enough; the garden is heaped with the fantastic treasures of the
snow; and when you toil heavily up the waterside to the clump of
pines and beeches you find yourself in a fairy forest. One need
not search to-day for the pool where the lynx-eyed John Todd, "the
oldest herd on the Pentlands," watched from behind the low scrag of
wood the stranger collie come furtively to wash away the tell-tale
stains of lamb's blood. The effacing hand of the snow has
smothered it over. Higher you mount, mid leg-deep in drift, up the
steep and slippery hill-face, to the summit. Edinburgh has been
creeping nearer since Stevenson's musing fancy began to draw on the
memories of the climbs up "steep Caerketton." But this light gives
it a mystic distance; and it is all glitter and shadow. Arthur
Seat is like some great sea monster stranded near a city of dreams;
from the fog-swathed Firth gleams the white walls of Inchkeith
lighthouse, a mark never missed by Stevenson's father's son; above
Fife rise the twin breasts of the Lomonds. Or turn round and look
across the Esk valley to the Moorfoots; or more westerly, where the
back range of the Pentlands - Caernethy, the Scald, and the knife-
edged Kips - draw a sharp silhouette of Arctic peaks against the
sky. In the cloven hollow between is Glencarse Loch, an ancient
chapel and burying ground hidden under its waters; on the slope
above it, not a couple miles away, is Rullion Green, where, as
Stevenson told in THE PENTLAND RISING (his first printed work)
THE WESTLAND WHIGS WERE SCATTERED
as chaff on the hills. Were "topmost Allermuir," that rises close
beside you, removed from his place, we might see the gap in the
range through which Tom Dalyell and his troopers spurred from
Currie to the fray. The air on these heights is invigorating as
wine; but it is also keen as a razor. Without delaying long yon
plunge down to the "Windy Door Nick"; follow the "nameless trickle
that springs from the green bosom of Allermuir," past the rock and
pool, where, on summer evenings, the poet "loved to sit and make
bad verses"; and cross Halkerside and the Shearers' Knowe, those
"adjacent cantons on a single shoulder of a hill," sometimes
floundering to the neck in the loose snow of a drain, sometimes
scaring the sheep huddling in the wreaths, or putting up a covey of
moorfowl that circle back without a cry to cover in the ling. In
an hour you are at Colinton, whose dell has on one side the manse
garden, where a bright-eyed boy, who was to become famous, spent so
much of his time when he came thither on visits to his stern
Presbyterian grandfather; on the other the old churchyard. The
snow has drawn its cloak of ermine over the sleepers, it has run
its fingers over the worn lettering; and records almost effaced
start out from the stone. In vain these "voices of generations
dead" summon their wandering child, though you might deem that his
spirit would rest more quietly where the cold breeze from Pentland
shakes the ghostly trees in Colinton Dell than "under the flailing
fans and shadows of the palm."
(1) Professor Charles Warren Stoddard, Professor of English
Literature at the Catholic University of Washington, in KATE
(2) In his portrait-sketch of his father, Stevenson speaks of him
as a "man of somewhat antique strain, and with a blended sternness
and softness that was wholly Scottish, and at first sight somewhat
bewildering," as melancholy, and with a keen sense of his
unworthiness, yet humorous in company; shrewd and childish; a
(3) INFERNO, Canto XV.
(4) Alas, I never was told that remark - when I saw my friend
afterwards there was always too much to talk of else, and I forgot
(5) Quoted by Hammerton, pp. 2 and 3.
(6) Tusitala, as the reader must know, is the Samoan for Teller of
(7) WISDOM OF GOETHE, p. 38.
(8) THE FOREIGNER AT HOME, in MEMORIES AND PORTRAITS.
(9) A great deal has been made of the "John Bull element" in De
Quincey since his MEMOIR was written by me (see MASSON'S
CONDENSATION, p. 95); so now perhaps a little more may be made of
the rather conceited Calvinistic Scot element in R. L. Stevenson!
(10) It was Mr George Moore who said this.
(11) FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, October, 1903.