Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

passage in one of the letters to Mrs. Sitwell where this youth of five and twenty expresses an emotion very rare in men :

0, I have such a longing for children of my own; and yet I do pot think I could bear it if I had one. I fancy I must feel more like a woman than like a man about that. I sometimes hate the children I see on the street-you know what I mean by hate-wish they were somewhere else, and not there to mock me; and sometimre, again, I don't know how to go by them for the love of them, especially the very wee ones.'

Now, in March 1880, he wrote :

MY DEAR COLVIN, -My landlord and landlady's little four-yearold child is dying in the house ; and, O, what he has suffered. It has really affected my health. O never, never, any family for me! I am cured of that.

I have taken a long holiday-have not worked for three days, and will not for a week ; for I was really weary. Excuse this scratch ; for the child weighs on me, dear Colvin. I did all I could to help; but all seems little, to the point of crime, when one of these poor innocents lies in such misery.--Ever yours, R. L. S.'

The next letter from him is dated April; for six weeks it had been 'a toss-up for life or death. His future wife nursed him through ; his parents, hearing of his extremity, relented, and telegraphed, Count on 2501. annually'; and, after a slow convalescence, he made what he called 'a sort of inarriage in extremis'-being, indeed, no prosperous-looking bridegroom. The story of the first few months of his married life, spent at a deserted mining camp in the Coast Range, is told in the •Silverado Squatters. In August 1880 he and his wife came home and were received with open arms; and, from this time onward, domestic dissensions were only an unbappy memory. During the next four years, although compelled to take an invalid's precautions, Stevenson was able to move about freely; and his life was divided between Scotland and some foreign health resort. Davos was tried for two successive winters, but it did not suit Mrs. Stevenson; and for the winter of 1883-4 the family went to the Riviera. After one or two unfortunate experiences, they settled at Hyères, where for sixteen months Stevenson enjoyed a spell of comparative health and happiness. In these years literary success, in the sense that implies an income, was still a thing after which he had to strive; there was still the excitement of the chase, as well as the desire of escape from a position, borne not without some soreness, of inability to earn bread for his own. And for that reason the letters of this time are occupied with little but the cares which relate to

literature as an art and to literature as a business. As a supplement, or rather as an assurance of livelihood, he sought, with little hope, a professorship of history and law at Edinburgh. This failed, as was natural. But in the end of 1882 • Treasure Island' appeared, and brought the first instalment of widespread popularity. There were those who read it and looked out eagerly for another story as exciting from the same writer; there were also those, and not a few of them—the writer of these lines was one - who had never heard of this author before, but, having read • Treasure Island,' proceeded to read whatever else he had written, and thus perceived the versatility and fascination of his genius. The popularity was naturally an encouragement; but, for the moment, a hundred pounds seemed excessive payment for this masterpiece, and the man who had written it saw no grounds for counting with confidence on literature as a support. Still, he was gradually feeling his feet ; his essays enjoyed at least a succès d'estime, though the Black Arrow,' in which he attempted to hit again the boyish taste to which he had appealed in Treasure Island,' missed its mark.

However, if the man was ill at ease, both in mind and body, the artist was happy in his art. Here is a very characteristic letter to Mr. Henley—characteristic of both friends, for Stevenson's letters have this mark of the best correspondence, that one may infer from them the character of the person to whom they are addressed; and an intelligent reader, having gone through the first of these volumes, should be able to decide by internal evidence whether a letter in the second is written, for instance, to Mr. Gosse, Mr. Henley, or Mr. Colvin. There is, at all events, a good deal to be learnt about Mr. Henley from this attractive mixture of sense and nonsense, dated June 1883:

· DEAR LAD, . . . I beg to inform you that I, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “ Brashiana” and other works, am merely beginning to commence to prepare to make a first start at trying to understand my profession. O the height and depth of novelty and worth in any art! and O that I am privileged to swim and shoulder through such oceans! Could one get out of sight of land—all in the blue ? Alas not, being anchored here in flesh, and the bonds of logic being still about us.

But what a great space and a great air there is in these small shallows where alone we venturel and how new each sight, squall, calm, or sunrise! An art is a fine fortune, a palace in a park, a band of music, health, and physical beauty; all but love-- to any worthy practiser. I sleep npon my art for a pillow; I waken in my art; I am unready for death, because I hate to leave it. I love my wife, I do not know how much, nor can, nor shall unless I lost her; but while I can conceive my being widowed, I refuse the

offering of life without my art. I am not but in my art; it is me; I am the body of it merely.

“And yet I produce nothing, am the author of “Brasbiana " and other works; tiddy-iddity-as if the works one wrote were anything but ’prentice's experiments. Dear reader, I deceive you with husks; the real works and all the pleasure are still mine and incommunicable. After this break in my work, beginning to return to it, as from light sleep, I wax exclamatory, as you see

Sursum Corda :
Heave ahead:
Here's luck.
Art and Blue Heaven,
April and God's Larks.
Green reeds and the sky-scattering river.
A stately music.
Enter God!

-R. L. S. Ay, but you know, until a man can write that "Enter God," he has made no art! None! Come, let us take counsel together and make some!'

• Happy—I was only happy once; that was at Hyères '—he writes in the Vailima Letters'; and so one must extract a good deal from the correspondence of this period to give an idea of the gaiety which balanced, and over-balanced, in his disposition the under-tone of melancholy. Yet often the two blend in a strange saturnine humour, which is perhaps more fully characteristic of the man than any other of his many facets. 1883 was overshadowed towards its close with gloom : the death of his friend Walter Ferrier made the first gap in the circle of his intimates, and he felt it keenly. Moreover, his father was drifting into a lethargic melancholy, from which the son laboured to rouse him with exhortations half playful, wholly earnest. “Resignation' (or the False Gratitude plant') is a thing to be weeded out. • In its place put Laughter and a Good Conceit (that capital home evergreen) and a busb of Flowering Piety—but see it be the flowering sort—the other species is no ornament to any gentleman's back garden.' Although this same letter begins with an expression of the writer's own gratitude for the closing year, which has made him solvent and cheerful, in the first month of 1884 another bad attack occurred, and left this courageous planter of herbs (who signed himself 'Jno. Bunyan') in a state which might well produce 'gran' plants' of Resignation. Yet Laughter still flourished in his garden, and in March he was writing to Mr. Cosmo Monkhouse, then at Dover, a place which awakened envious thoughts of the people who could be happy under a sky so cheerless :

. It is idle to deny it: I havo-I may say I nourish—a growing jealousy of the robust, large-legged, healthy Britain-dwellers, patient of grog, scorners of the timid umbrella, innocuously breathing fog: all which I once was, and I am ashamed to say liked it. How ignorant is youth! grossly rolling among unselected pleasures; and how nobler, purer, sweeter, and lighter, to sip the choice tonic, to recline in the luxurious invalid chair, and to tread, well-shawled, the little round of the constitutional. Seriously, do you like to repose? Ye gods, I hate it. I never rest with any acceptation; I do not know what people mean who say they like sleep and that damned bedtime, which, since long ero I was breeched, has rung a kpell to all my day's doings and beings.

And when a man, seemingly sane, tells me he bas “ fallen in love with stagnation,” I can only say to him, “ You will never be a Pirate !"

This may not cause any regret to Mrs. Monkhouse, but in your own soul it will clang hollow-think of it! Never! After all boyhood's aspirations and youth's immoral day-dreams, you are condemned to sit down, grossly draw in your chair to the fat board, and be a beastly Burgess till you die.'

Gladly would one quote the still funnier letter of April, signed •R. L. Monkhouse,' in which Stevenson proposes a change of personality with his friend, and describes the furniture of his own bodily habitation: but there must be a limit. Yet no spirits can stand out for ever, and in a few months he is writing to Mr. Colvin, very dim, dumb, dowie, and damnable,' reduced to talk by signs. My life dwindles into a kind of Valley of the Shadow picnic,' he says, and a better word could not be invented to describe what it was for the next four Returning to England he settled at Bournemouth, and there, till he left his country for ever in 1887, he lived a denizen of 'the land of counterpane.' But, though his vile body' might lay bim low, and deny him even the exercise of speech, it could not break his spirit or impair his mental energy. In the land of counterpane' he finished Prince Otto,' which had not the success that was once hoped for it; but • Kidnapped,' the story which sprang out of his projected history of the Highlands, achieved a popularity wider even than that of Treasure Island'; while · Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' published in 1886, finally established his fame. He had gained a position which assured to him not only reputation but an income which he, at least for the moment, counted riches.

And yet—such is the nature of man—he was further than ever from contentment. While the pursuit of success occupied all his faculties, he did not speculate on its worth, if attained. But when he found himself in the full possession of fame, with thousands ready to pay for his utterances, he began iminediately

years.

to question with himself whether his aim bad after all been a worthy one. He was a breadwinner-that, at least, was accomplished, and justified his existence; but was he doing a man's work in the world when he elected to live by a pleasure'? that is, by doing what gave him pleasure to do, and what gave to others none of life's necessities, but a luxury. His extreme statement of this point of view may be found in the 'Letter to a Young Gentleman about to embrace the Career of Art,' where, by a curiously misleading analogy, the artist is placed on a level with a fille de joie, since each lives by selling a pleasure. It is needless to refute the fallacy ; indeed Stevenson admits it in a letter from Samoa to Mr. Le Gallienne; and one finds him adding-though with some hesitation-the artist's life to the three professions which appeared to him best to befit man's dignity. His model men were oddly chosen—the sailor, the shepherd, the schoolmaster; and the artist was only admitted to the same category as a kind of adjunct to the teacher. That is a very notable avowal from one who preached so resolutely that art should be a-moral'; and it would be easy to demonstrate that no artist has given better aid to the instructor of youth's morals than Stevenson himself. But these matters belong rather to criticism than to biography, and our object is to show that out of these letters the story of the man's life may

be

constructed. A student of the life, then, will note in these years—1885–87– a change of preoccupation. The goal of Stevenson's youth was achieved, and ambition, perennially concerned with the unaccomplished, sought new paths to explore. There set in what he himself calls, in a new and illuminating phrase, the green-sickness of maturity. This surprising invalid was troubled with a ferment of new energies; he desired to make himself felt in the world more directly than by literature ; in short, he wanted to do something, just as every boy wants to be something-something notable that should justify his existence in

The Gordon episode and the desertion of the Egyptian outposts in the Sudan had grievously distressed him; it seemed to this chivalrous nature that England was drifting out of all touch with the plain code of honour, and his resentment was so fierce that he abandoned a project which involved a personal letter to Mr. Gladstone. How should I sign it,' he asks, unless “Your fellow criminal in the sight of God”? In the beginning of 1886 chance offered to him what he conceived to be a public duty. A man named Curtin had been murdered in the south of Ireland : his widow and children were boycotted, and could neither let the farm nor get help to work it. Stevenson

his own eyes.

« PredošláPokračovať »