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Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), one of the bestknown English novelists, was born in Edinburgh. His father was a builder of lighthouses and wished his son to follow his profession, but the boy's health forbade this. He attended Edinburgh University, where he was not a very diligent student but a tremendous reader. He began the study of law, although his heart was not in it: as he tells us in this essay, he desired of all things to become a writer. In this he was handicapped by his poor health; an inherited tendency to consumption made him an invalid practically all his life. In search of health he went to the south of France, to Switzerland, to the Adirondacks, and finally to the South Sea islands, where he died in 1894.
The beginning of his literary work is told in this essay. He made a canoe trip through Holland and Belgium, and described it in An Inland Voyage; a walking tour in France gave material for Travels with a Donkey. Then followed two volumes of essays, Virginibus Puerisque (To Girls and Boys), and Familiar Studies of Men and Books. His first novel, Treasure Island, published in 1883, made him famous. It has taken its place beside Robinson Crusoe as one of the best boys' books ever written. Other novels of his are Kidnapped, David Balfour, The Master of Ballantrae, and The Weir of Hermiston. He wrote a number of notable short stories, of which the best known is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ; also a volume of poems, A Child's Garden of Verses.
In his essays Stevenson shows himself one of the great masters of style. Clear, flexible, musical, it is a perfect medium for conveying his thought. How he acquired this style is told in the paper A College Magazine.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
A COLLEGE MAGAZINE
(From Memories and Portraits)
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. Description was the principal field of my exercise; for to any one with senses there is always something worth describing, and town and country are but one continuous subject. But I worked in other ways also; often accompanied my walks with dramatic dialogues, in which I played many parts; and often exercised myself in writing down conversations from memory.
This was all excellent, no doubt; so were the diaries I sometimes tried to keep, but always and very speedily discarded, finding them a school of posturing and melancholy self-deception. And yet this was not the most efficient part of my training. Good though it was, it only taught me (so far as I have learned them at all) the lower and less intellectual elements of the art, the choice of the essential note and the right word: things that to a happier constitution had perhaps come by nature. And regarded as training, it had one grave defect; for it set me no standard of achievement. So that there was perhaps more profit, as there was certainly more effort, in my secret labors at home. Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which there was either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the style, I must sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful, and I knew it; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts, I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction, and in the co-ordination of parts. I have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Baudelaire, and to Obermann. I remember one of these monkey tricks, which was called The Vanity of Morals: it was to have had a second part, The Vanity of Knowledge, and as I had neither morality nor scholarship, the names were apt; but the second part was never attempted, and the first part was written (which is my reason for recalling it, ghostlike, from its ashes) no less than three times: first in the manner of Hazlitt, second in the manner of Ruskin, who had cast on me a passing spell, and third, in a laborious pasticcio * of Sir Thomas Browne. So with