Mr. Stevenson and Mr. James
— Mr. Stevenson’s literary work is in itself a subject of such lively interest that any intelligent comment upon it partakes in some degree of that interest. In Mr. James’s discriminating eulogy lately published in the Century Magazine, I note a point or two on which to differ from, or at least to question, the critic’s judgment, though for the most part I heartily agree with the opinions which Mr. James has so happily expressed. The first point on which I would like to contravene Mr. James is the alleged want of appreciation of so delightful a romancer by persons of my own sex. It is not women who most fall in love with him, says Mr. James, It may be true that Mr. Stevenson cannot count among his admirers as many women as men ; but it may be asserted with confidence that no man can go beyond certain women in love for the author of Prince Otto and Kidnapped. I can speak for myself, who lost my heart to him at first sight, — reading, I mean, — on taking up the New Arabian Nights, and every fresh revelation of his gifts and graces has endeared him the more. I have a woman friend, already bound to me by many ties, between whom and myself a new bond has been forged by our common delight in Mr. Stevenson. We are agreed in differing from Mr. James, when he characterizes Prince Otto as “ inhuman.” There is abundance of " glitter ” in it, and glitter is apt to be “ hard ; ” yet after all, what is this little story if not a love tale, — a tale in which hero and heroine are brought, through trial, to accept love as the sufficient compensation for a lost self-complacency, a lost ambition, and a throne ? On a first reading, Prince Otto disappointed and puzzled me, but I have since discovered it to be a grown folks’ fairy-tale, as full of truth and poetry as of wit and cleverness. And if it had no definite meaning, I should still find each page fascinating for its own sake.
I cannot think with Mr. James that what Mr. Stevenson most cares for is youth, or that “ the direct expression of the love of youth is the beginning and end of his message.” If we can say that he has one message, it does not seem to me to be this. A thought to which the author of An Inland Voyage and Familiar Studies of Men and Books often recurs is that a man’s wisdom lies in following his nature and its instincts, rather than the conventions of the world; that a free life, in which a man chooses his own friends, pursuits, and pleasures, is the healthy and happy life. Another idea he constantly presents is the supreme worth of love and friendship. No author has written fiction with less of the passion of love in it, but in the short essays above referred to the reader finds Mr. Stevenson making confession of faith in the infinite value of these sentiments, the love of woman and of friend. He “ cares most,” I think, not precisely for youth, but for life, and for youth as the embodiment of the fullness of fresh, vigorous, and unconventionalized life. This partly accounts for his delight in adventure, heroism, and personal gallantry, which are manifestations of life raised to the highest pitch of activity and vivid interest. To an invalid it is not strange that the ideal of happiness should appear a life full of out-door freedom and exercise of individual capacities and powers of all sorts. A Child’s Garden of Verse is dedicated to the nurse who tended the author through the years of a delicate childhood ; and one feels sure that the verses are all autobiographical, memory’s record of the fancies and feelings of an imaginative child much shut up to his own lonely thoughts. In the volume called Underwoods there is a little poem, written in the quaint style of George Herbert, which in a few lines contains a special philosophy of life. It is entitled The Celestial Surgeon, and begins thus: —
In my great task of happiness.”
That is what the pursuit of happiness becomes to some of us, — a task, to be persevered in with resolute courage; and not on every one is bestowed, in aid of that task, the gift of imagination, in virtue of which, though the body be bound to one spot, and that a sick-bed, one yet inhabits the universe and ranges it at will.
It seems to me that Mr. James is mistaken in calling the feeling which constitutes one half of our author’s literary character merely or chiefly the “ feeling of one’s teens.” It is true that we have to do with an artist accomplished even to sophistication, whose theme is very often the unsophisticated, yet not “ constantly.” Mr. Stevenson has a kindness for vagabonds and Bohemians, persons sophisticated enough generally, but tinctured with the philosophy he approves, of living one’s own life, going one’s own way, and choosing one’s own pleasures. The critic described Mr. Stevenson’s writings, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Prince Otto, apart, as a rhapsody on boyhood. Do the two series of New Arabian Nights or The Merry Men come under this head ? Apropos of the last mentioned volume, I have noticed that critics beside Mr. James have picked out Thrawn Janet for commendation. It is an admirably told tale, of course, but the subject was made to Mr. Stevenson’s hand, so to speak, and has none of the surprise of originality that belongs to Will of the Mill, or Markheim, the pendant of Dr. Jekyll. The Treasure of Tranchard pleased me for the engaging lightness with which its moral is set forth.