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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.
"'Oh, 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 tho 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.
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"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 unreasonably 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 doom. There are two dangers that beset the artist, — the one is being pleased with what is done, and the other being dejected 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.
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