Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson
by Robert Louis Stevenson
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The text of the following essays is taken from the Thistle Edition of Stevenson's Works, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, in New York. I have refrained from selecting any of Stevenson's formal essays in literary criticism, and have chosen only those that, while ranking among his masterpieces in style, reveal his personality, character, opinions, philosophy, and faith. In the Introduction, I have endeavoured to be as brief as possible, merely giving a sketch of his life, and indicating some of the more notable sides of his literary achievement; pointing out also the literary school to which these Essays belong. A lengthy critical Introduction to a book of this kind would be an impertinence to the general reader, and a nuisance to a teacher. In the Notes, I have aimed at simple explanation and some extended literary comment. It is hoped that the general recognition of Stevenson as an English classic may make this volume useful in school and college courses, while it is not too much like a textbook to repel the average reader. I am indebted to Professor Catterall of Cornell and to Professor Cross of Yale, and to my brother the Rev. Dryden W. Phelps, for some assistance in locating references. W.L.P., YALE UNIVERSITY, 13 February 1906.
















Robert Louis Stevenson[1] was born at Edinburgh on the 13 November 1850. His father, Thomas, and his grandfather, Robert, were both distinguished light-house engineers; and the maternal grandfather, Balfour, was a Professor of Moral Philosophy, who lived to be ninety years old. There was, therefore, a combination of Lux et Veritas in the blood of young Louis Stevenson, which in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde took the form of a luminous portrayal of a great moral idea.

In the language of Pope, Stevenson's life was a long disease. Even as a child, his weak lungs caused great anxiety to all the family except himself; but although Death loves a shining mark, it took over forty years of continuous practice for the grim archer to send the black arrow home. It is perhaps fortunate for English literature that his health was no better; for the boy craved an active life, and would doubtless have become an engineer. He made a brave attempt to pursue this calling, but it was soon evident that his constitution made it impossible. After desultory schooling, and an immense amount of general reading, he entered the University of Edinburgh, and then tried the study of law. Although the thought of this profession became more and more repugnant, and finally intolerable, he passed his final examinations satisfactorily. This was in 1875.

He had already begun a series of excursions to the south of France and other places, in search of a climate more favorable to his incipient malady; and every return to Edinburgh proved more and more conclusively that he could not live in Scotch mists. He had made the acquaintance of a number of literary men, and he was consumed with a burning ambition to become a writer. Like Ibsen's Master-Builder, there was a troll in his blood, which drew him away to the continent on inland voyages with a canoe and lonely tramps with a donkey; these gave him material for books full of brilliant pictures, shrewd observations, and irrepressible humour. He contributed various articles to magazines, which were immediately recognised by critics like Leslie Stephen as bearing the unmistakable mark of literary genius; but they attracted almost no attention from the general reading public, and their author had only the consciousness of good work for his reward. In 1880 he was married.

Stevenson's first successful work was Treasure Island, which was published in book form in 1883, and has already become a classic. This did not, however, bring him either a good income or general fame. His great reputation dates from the publication of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which appeared in 1886. That work had an instant and unqualified success, especially in America, and made its author's name known to the whole English-speaking world. Kidnapped was published the same year, and another masterpiece, The Master of Ballantrae, in 1889.

After various experiments with different climates, including that of Switzerland, Stevenson sailed for America in August 1887. The winter of 1887-88 he spent at Saranac Lake, under the care of Dr. Trudeau, who became one of his best friends. In 1890 he settled at Samoa in the Pacific. Here he entered upon a career of intense literary activity, and yet found time to take an active part in the politics of the island, and to give valuable assistance in internal improvements.

The end came suddenly, exactly as he would have wished it, and precisely as he had unconsciously predicted in the last radiant, triumphant sentences of his great essay, Aes Triplex. He had been at work on a novel, St. Ives, one of his poorer efforts, and whose composition grew steadily more and more distasteful, until he found that he was actually writing against the grain. He threw this aside impatiently, and with extraordinary energy and enthusiasm began a new story, Weir of Hermiston, which would undoubtedly have been his masterpiece, had he lived to complete it. In luminosity of style, in nobleness of conception, in the almost infallible choice of words, this astonishing fragment easily takes first place in Stevenson's productions. At the end of a day spent in almost feverish dictation, the third of December 1894, he suddenly fainted, and died without regaining consciousness. "Death had not been suffered to take so much as an illusion from his heart. In the hot-fit of life, a-tiptoe on the highest point of being, he passed at a bound on to the other side. The noise of the mallet and chisel was scarcely quenched, the trumpets were hardly done blowing, when, trailing with him clouds of glory, this happy-starred, full-blooded spirit shot into the spiritual land."

He was buried at the summit of a mountain, the body being carried on the shoulders of faithful Samoans, who might have sung Browning's noble hymn,

"Let us begin and carry up this corpse, Singing together! Leave we the common crofts, the vulgar thorpes Each in its tether Sleeping safe on the bosom of the plain... That's the appropriate country; there, man's thought, Rarer, intenser, Self-gathered for an outbreak, as it ought, Chafes in the censer. Leave we the unlettered plain its herd and crop; Seek we sepulture On a tall mountain... Thither our path lies; wind we up the heights: Wait ye the warning! Our low life was the level's and the night's; He's for the morning. Step to a tune, square chests, erect each head, 'Ware the beholders! This is our master, famous, calm and dead, Borne on our shoulders...

Here—here's his place, where meteors shoot clouds form, Lightnings are loosened, Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm, Peace let the dew send! Lofty designs must close in like effects Loftily lying, Leave him—still loftier than the world suspects, Living and dying."



Stevenson had a motley personality, which is sufficiently evident in his portraits. There was in him the Puritan, the man of the world, and the vagabond. There was something too of the obsolete soldier of fortune, with the cocked and feathered hat, worn audaciously on one side. There was also a touch of the elfin, the uncanny—the mysterious charm that belongs to the borderland between the real and the unreal world—the element so conspicuous and so indefinable in the art of Hawthorne. Writers so different as Defoe, Cooper, Poe, and Sir Thomas Browne, are seen with varying degrees of emphasis in his literary temperament. He was whimsical as an imaginative child; and everyone has noticed that he never grew old. His buoyant optimism was based on a chronic experience of physical pain, for pessimists like Schopenhauer are usually men in comfortable circumstances, and of excellent bodily health. His courage and cheerfulness under depressing circumstances are so splendid to contemplate that some critics believe that in time his Letters may be regarded as his greatest literary work, for they are priceless in their unconscious revelation of a beautiful soul.

Great as Stevenson was as a writer, he was still greater as a Man. So many admirable books have been written by men whose character will not bear examination, that it is refreshing to find one Master-Artist whose daily life was so full of the fruits of the spirit. As his romances have brought pleasure to thousands of readers, so the spectacle of his cheerful march through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a constant source of comfort and inspiration. One feels ashamed of cowardice and petty irritation after witnessing the steady courage of this man. His philosophy of life is totally different from that of Stoicism; for the Stoic says, "Grin and bear it," and usually succeeds in doing neither. Stevenson seems to say, "Laugh and forget it," and he showed us how to do both.

Stevenson had the rather unusual combination of the Artist and the Moralist, both elements being marked in his writings to a very high degree. The famous and oft-quoted sonnet by his friend, the late Mr. Henley, gives a vivid picture:

"Thin-legged, thin-chested, slight unspeakably, Neat-footed and weak-fingered: in his face— Lean, large-honed, curved of beak, and touched with race, Bold-lipped, rich-tinted, mutable as the sea, The brown eyes radiant with vivacity— There shown a brilliant and romantic grace, A spirit intense and rare, with trace on trace Of passion, impudence, and energy. Valiant in velvet, light in ragged luck, Most vain, most generous, sternly critical, Buffoon and poet, lover and sensualist; A deal of Ariel, just a streak of Puck, Much Antony, of Hamlet most of all, And something of the Shorter Catechist."

He was not primarily a moral teacher, like Socrates or Thomas Carlyle; nor did he feel within him the voice of a prophetic mission. The virtue of his writings consists in their wholesome ethical quality, in their solid health. Fresh air is often better for the soul than the swinging of the priest's censer. At a time when the school of Zola was at its climax, Stevenson opened the windows and let in the pleasant breeze. For the morbid and unhealthy period of adolescence, his books are more healthful than many serious moral works. He purges the mind of uncleanness, just as he purged contemporary fiction.

As Stevenson's correspondence with his friends like Sidney Colvin and William Archer reveals the social side of his nature, so his correspondence with the Unseen Power in which he believed shows that his character was essentially religious. A man's letters are often a truer picture of his mind than a photograph; and when these epistles are directed not to men and women, but to the Supreme Intelligence, they form a real revelation of their writer's heart. Nothing betrays the personality of a man more clearly than his prayers, and the following petition that Stevenson composed for the use of his household at Vailima, bears the stamp of its author.

"At Morning. The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties. Help us to play the man, help us to perform them with laughter and kind faces, let cheerfulness abound with industry. Give us to go blithely on our business all this day, bring us to our resting beds weary and content and undishonoured, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep."



Stevenson was a poet, a dramatist, an essayist, and a novelist, besides writing many political, geographical, and biographical sketches. As a poet, his fame is steadily waning. The tendency at first was to rank him too high, owing to the undeniable charm of many of the poems in the Child's Garden of Verses. The child's view of the world, as set forth in these songs, is often originally and gracefully expressed; but there is little in Stevenson's poetry that is of permanent value, and it is probable that most of it will be forgotten. This fact is in a way a tribute to his genius; for his greatness as a prose writer has simply eclipsed his reputation as a poet.

His plays were failures. They illustrate the familiar truth that a man may have positive genius as a dramatic writer, and yet fail as a dramatist. There are laws that govern the stage which must be obeyed; play-writing is a great art in itself, entirely distinct from literary composition. Even Browning, the most intensely dramatic poet of the nineteenth century, was not nearly so successful in his dramas as in his dramatic lyrics and romances.

His essays attracted at first very little attention; they were too fine and too subtle to awaken popular enthusiasm. It was the success of his novels that drew readers back to the essays, just as it was the vogue of Sudermann's plays that made his earlier novels popular. One has only to read such essays, however, as those printed in this volume to realise not only their spirit and charm, but to feel instinctively that one is reading English Literature. They are exquisite works of art, written in an almost impeccable style. By many judicious readers, they are placed above his works of fiction. They certainly constitute the most original portion of his entire literary output. It is astonishing that this young Scotchman should have been able to make so many actually new observations on a game so old as Life. There is a shrewd insight into the motives of human conduct that makes some of these graceful sketches belong to the literature of philosophy, using the word philosophy in its deepest and broadest sense. The essays are filled with whimsical paradoxes, keen and witty as those of Bernard Shaw, without having any of the latter's cynicism, iconoclasm, and sinister attitude toward morality. For the real foundation of even the lightest of Stevenson's works is invariably ethical.

His fame as a writer of prose romances grows brighter every year. His supreme achievement was to show that a book might be crammed with the most wildly exciting incidents, and yet reveal profound and acute analysis of character, and be written with consummate art. His tales have all the fertility of invention and breathless suspense of Scott and Cooper, while in literary style they immeasurably surpass the finest work of these two great masters.

His best complete story, is, I think, Treasure Island. There is a peculiar brightness about this book which even the most notable of the later works failed to equal. Nor was it a trifling feat to make a blind man and a one-legged man so formidable that even the reader is afraid of them. Those who complain that this is merely a pirate story forget that in art the subject is of comparatively little importance, whereas the treatment is everything. To say, as some do, that there is no difference between Treasure Island and a cheap tale of blood and thunder, is equivalent to saying that there is no difference between the Sistine Madonna and a chromo Virgin.



The Personal Essay is a peculiar form of literature, entirely different from critical essays like those of Matthew Arnold and from purely reflective essays, like those of Bacon. It is a species of writing somewhat akin to autobiography or firelight conversation; where the writer takes the reader entirely into his confidence, and chats pleasantly with him on topics that may be as widely apart as the immortality of the soul and the proper colour of a necktie. The first and supreme master of this manner of writing was Montaigne, who belongs in the front rank of the world's greatest writers of prose. Montaigne talks endlessly on the most trivial subjects without ever becoming trivial. To those who really love reading and have some sympathy with humanity, Montaigne's Essays are a "perpetual refuge and delight," and it is interesting to reflect how far in literary fame this man, who talked about his meals, his horse, and his cat, outshines thousands of scholarly and talented writers, who discussed only the most serious themes in politics and religion. The great English prose writers in the field of the personal essay during the seventeenth century were Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Fuller, and Abraham Cowley, though Walton's Compleat Angler is a kindred work. Browne's Religio Medici, and his delightful Garden of Cyrus, old Tom Fuller's quaint Good Thoughts in Bad Times and Cowley's charming Essays are admirable examples of this school of composition. Burton's wonderful Anatomy of Melancholy is a colossal personal essay. Some of the papers of Steele and Addison in the Tatler, Guardian, and the Spectator are of course notable; but it was not until the appearance of Charles Lamb that the personal essay reached its climax in English literature. Over the pages of the Essays of Elia hovers an immortal charm—the charm of a nature inexhaustible in its humour and kindly sympathy for humanity. Thackeray was another great master of the literary easy-chair, and is to some readers more attractive in this attitude than as a novelist. In America we have had a few writers who have reached eminence in this form, beginning with Washington Irving, and including Donald G. Mitchell, whose Reveries of a Bachelor has been read by thousands of people for over fifty years.

As a personal essayist Stevenson seems already to belong to the first rank. He is both eclectic and individual. He brought to his pen the reminiscences of varied reading, and a wholly original touch of fantasy. He was literally steeped in the gorgeous Gothic diction of the seventeenth century, but he realised that such a prose style as illumines the pages of William Drummond's Cypress Grove and Browne's Urn Burial was a lost art. He attempted to imitate such writing only in his youthful exercises, for his own genius was forced to express itself in an original way. All of his personal essays have that air of distinction which attracts and holds one's attention as powerfully in a book as it does in social intercourse. Everything that he has to say seems immediately worth saying, and worth hearing, for he was one of those rare men who had an interesting mind. There are some literary artists who have style and nothing else, just as there are some great singers who have nothing but a voice. The true test of a book, like that of an individual, is whether or not it improves upon acquaintance. Stevenson's essays reflect a personality that becomes brighter as we draw nearer. This fact makes his essays not merely entertaining reading, but worthy of serious and prolonged study.

[Note 1: His name was originally Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson. He later dropped the "Balfour" and changed the spelling of "Lewis" to "Louis," but the name was always pronounced "Lewis."]


The following information is taken from Col. Prideaux's admirable Bibliography of Stevenson, London, 1903. I have given the titles and dates of only the more important publications in book form; and of the critical works on Stevenson, I have included only a few of those that seem especially useful to the student and general reader. The detailed facts about the separate publications of each essay included in the present volume are fully given in my notes.


1878. An Inland Voyage. 1879. Travels with a Donkey. 1881. Virginibus Puerisque. 1882. Familiar Studies of Men and Books. 1882. New Arabian Nights. 1883. Treasure Island. 1885. Prince Otto. 1885. A Child's Garden of Verses. 1885. More New Arabian Nights. The Dynamiter. 1886. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886. Kidnapped. 1887. The Merry Men. 1887. Memories and Portraits. 1888. The Black Arrow. 1889. The Master of Ballantrae. (A few copies privately printed in 1888.) 1889. The Wrong Box. 1890. Father Damien. 1892. Across the Plains. 1892. The Wrecker. 1893. Island Nights' Entertainments. 1893. Catriona. 1894. The Ebb Tide. 1895. Vailima Letters. 1896. Weir of Hermiston. 1898. St. Ives. 1899. Letters, Two Volumes.

NOTE. The Edinburgh Edition of the works, in twenty-eight volumes, is often referred to by bibliographers; it can now be obtained only at second-hand bookshops, or at auction sales. The best complete edition on the market is the Thistle Edition, in twenty-six volumes, including the Life and the Letters, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.


Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, by Graham Balfour. 1901. Two Volumes. This is the standard Life, and indispensable.

Robert Louis Stevenson, by Henry James, in Partial Portraits, 1894. Admirable criticism.

Robert Louis Stevenson, by Walter Raleigh. 1895. An excellent appreciation of his character and work.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Personal Memories, by Edmund Gosse, in Critical Kit-Kats, 1896. Entertaining gossip.

Stevenson's Shrine, The Record of a Pilgrimage, by Laura Stubbs. 1903. Very interesting full-page illustrations.

(For further critical books and articles, which are numerous, consult Prideaux.)




It is a difficult matter[1] to make the most of any given place, and we have much in our own power. Things looked at patiently from one side after another generally end by showing a side that is beautiful. A few months ago some words were said in the Portfolio as to an "austere regimen in scenery"; and such a discipline was then recommended as "healthful and strengthening to the taste." That is the text, so to speak, of the present essay. This discipline in scenery,[2] it must be understood, is something more than a mere walk before breakfast to whet the appetite. For when we are put down in some unsightly neighborhood, and especially if we have come to be more or less dependent on what we see, we must set ourselves to hunt out beautiful things with all the ardour and patience of a botanist after a rare plant. Day by day we perfect ourselves in the art of seeing nature more favourably. We learn to live with her, as people learn to live with fretful or violent spouses: to dwell lovingly on what is good, and shut our eyes against all that is bleak or inharmonious. We learn, also, to come to each place in the right spirit. The traveller, as Brantome quaintly tells us, "fait des discours en soi pour se soutenir en chemin";[3] and into these discourses he weaves something out of all that he sees and suffers by the way; they take their tone greatly from the varying character of the scene; a sharp ascent brings different thoughts from a level road; and the man's fancies grow lighter as he comes out of the wood into a clearing. Nor does the scenery any more affect the thoughts than the thoughts affect the scenery. We see places through our humours as though differently colored glasses. We are ourselves a term in the equation, a note of the chord, and make discord or harmony almost at will. There is no fear for the result, if we can but surrender ourselves sufficiently to the country that surrounds and follows us, so that we are ever thinking suitable thoughts or telling ourselves some suitable sort of story as we go. We become thus, in some sense, a centre of beauty; we are provocative of beauty,[4] much as a gentle and sincere character is provocative of sincerity and gentleness in others. And even where there is no harmony to be elicited by the quickest and most obedient of spirits, we may still embellish a place with some attraction of romance. We may learn to go far afield for associations, and handle them lightly when we have found them. Sometimes an old print comes to our aid; I have seen many a spot lit up at once with picturesque imaginations, by a reminiscence of Callot, or Sadeler, or Paul Brill.[5] Dick Turpin[6] has been my lay figure for many an English lane. And I suppose the Trossachs would hardly be the Trossachs[7] for most tourists if a man of admirable romantic instinct had not peopled it for them with harmonious figures, and brought them thither their minds rightly prepared for the impression. There is half the battle in this preparation. For instance: I have rarely been able to visit, in the proper spirit, the wild and inhospitable places of our own Highlands. I am happier where it is tame and fertile, and not readily pleased without trees.[8] I understand that there are some phases of mental trouble that harmonise well with such surroundings, and that some persons, by the dispensing power of the imagination, can go back several centuries in spirit, and put themselves into sympathy with the hunted, houseless, unsociable way of life that was in its place upon these savage hills. Now, when I am sad, I like nature to charm me out of my sadness, like David before Saul;[9] and the thought of these past ages strikes nothing in me but an unpleasant pity; so that I can never hit on the right humour for this sort of landscape, and lose much pleasure in consequence. Still, even here, if I were only let alone, and time enough were given, I should have all manner of pleasure, and take many clear and beautiful images away with me when I left. When we cannot think ourselves into sympathy with the great features of a country, we learn to ignore them, and put our head among the grass for flowers, or pore, for long times together, over the changeful current of a stream. We come down to the sermon in stones,[10] when we are shut out from any poem in the spread landscape. We begin to peep and botanise, we take an interest in birds and insects, we find many things beautiful in miniature. The reader will recollect the little summer scene in Wuthering Heights[11]—the one warm scene, perhaps, in all that powerful, miserable novel—and the great feature that is made therein by grasses and flowers and a little sunshine: this is in the spirit of which I now speak. And, lastly, we can go indoors; interiors are sometimes as beautiful, often more picturesque, than the shows of the open air, and they have that quality of shelter of which I shall presently have more to say.

With all this in mind, I have often been tempted to put forth the paradox that any place is good enough to live a life in, while it is only in a few, and those highly favoured, that we can pass a few hours agreeably. For, if we only stay long enough, we become at home in the neighbourhood. Reminiscences spring up, like flowers, about uninteresting corners. We forget to some degree the superior loveliness of other places, and fall into a tolerant and sympathetic spirit which is its own reward and justification. Looking back the other day on some recollections of my own, I was astonished to find how much I owed to such a residence; six weeks in one unpleasant country-side had done more, it seemed, to quicken and educate my sensibilities than many years in places that jumped more nearly with my inclination.

The country to which I refer was a level and treeless plateau, over which the winds cut like a whip. For miles on miles it was the same. A river, indeed, fell into the sea near the town where I resided; but the valley of the river was shallow and bald, for as far up as ever I had the heart to follow it. There were roads, certainly, but roads that had no beauty or interest; for, as there was no timber, and but little irregularity of surface, you saw your whole walk exposed to you from the beginning: there was nothing left to fancy, nothing to expect, nothing to see by the wayside, save here and there an unhomely-looking homestead, and here and there a solitary, spectacled stone-breaker;[12] and you were only accompanied, as you went doggedly forward by the gaunt telegraph-posts and the hum of the resonant wires in the keen sea-wind. To one who has learned to know their song in warm pleasant places by the Mediterranean, it seemed to taunt the country, and make it still bleaker by suggested contrast. Even the waste places by the side of the road were not, as Hawthorne liked to put it, "taken back to Nature" by any decent covering of vegetation. Wherever the land had the chance, it seemed to lie fallow. There is a certain tawny nudity of the South, bare sunburnt plains, coloured like a lion, and hills clothed only in the blue transparent air; but this was of another description—this was the nakedness of the North; the earth seemed to know that it was naked, and was ashamed and cold.[13]

It seemed to be always blowing on that coast. Indeed, this had passed into the speech of the inhabitants, and they saluted each other when they met with "Breezy, breezy," instead of the customary "Fine day" of farther south. These continual winds were not like the harvest breeze, that just keeps an equable pressure against your face as you walk, and serves to set all the trees talking over your head, or bring round you the smell of the wet surface of the country after a shower. They were of the bitter, hard, persistent sort, that interferes with sight and respiration, and makes the eyes sore. Even such winds as these have their own merit in proper time and place. It is pleasant to see them brandish great masses of shadow. And what a power they have over the colour of the world! How they ruffle the solid woodlands in their passage, and make them shudder and whiten like a single willow! There is nothing more vertiginous than a wind like this among the woods, with all its sights and noises; and the effect gets between some painters and their sober eyesight, so that, even when the rest of their picture is calm, the foliage is coloured like foliage in a gale.[14] There was nothing, however, of this sort to be noticed in a country where there were no trees and hardly any shadows, save the passive shadows and clouds or those of rigid houses and walls. But the wind was nevertheless an occasion of pleasure; for nowhere could you taste more fully the pleasure of a sudden lull, or a place of opportune shelter. The reader knows what I mean; he must remember how, when he has sat himself down behind a dyke on a hill-side, he delighted to hear the wind hiss vainly through the crannies at his back; how his body tingled all over with warmth, and it began to dawn upon him, with a sort of slow surprise, that the country was beautiful, the heather purple, and the faraway hills all marbled with sun and shadow. Wordsworth, in a beautiful passage[15] of the "Prelude," has used this as a figure for the feeling struck in us by the quiet by-streets of London after the uproar of the great thoroughfares; and the comparison may be turned the other way with as good effect:

"Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length, Escaped as from an enemy we turn, Abruptly into some sequestered nook, Still as a shelter'd place when winds blow loud!"

I remember meeting a man once, in a train, who told me of what must have been quite the most perfect instance of this pleasure of escape. He had gone up, one sunny, windy morning, to the top of a great cathedral somewhere abroad; I think it was Cologne Cathedral, the great unfinished marvel by the Rhine;[16] and after a long while in dark stairways, he issued at last into the sunshine, on a platform high above the town. At that elevation it was quite still and warm; the gale was only in the lower strata of the air, and he had forgotten it in the quiet interior of the church and during his long ascent; and so you may judge of his surprise when, resting his arms on the sunlit balustrade and looking over into the Place far below him, he saw the good people holding on their hats and leaning hard against the wind as they walked. There is something, to my fancy, quite perfect in this little experience of my fellow-traveller's. The ways of men seem always very trivial to us when we find ourselves alone on a church-top, with the blue sky and a few tall pinnacles, and see far below us the steep roofs and foreshortened buttresses, and the silent activity of the city streets; but how much more must they not have seemed so to him as he stood, not only above other men's business, but above other men's climate, in a golden zone like Apollo's![17]

This was the sort of pleasure I found in the country of which I write. The pleasure was to be out of the wind, and to keep it in memory all the time, and hug oneself upon the shelter. And it was only by the sea that any such sheltered places were to be found. Between the black worm-eaten headlands there are little bights and havens, well screened from the wind and the commotion of the external sea, where the sand and weeds look up into the gazer's face from a depth of tranquil water, and the sea-birds, screaming and flickering from the ruined crags, alone disturb the silence and the sunshine. One such place has impressed itself on my memory beyond all others. On a rock by the water's edge, old fighting men of the Norse breed had planted a double castle; the two stood wall to wall like semi-detached villas; and yet feud had run so high between their owners, that one, from out of a window, shot the other as he stood in his own doorway. There is something in the juxtaposition of these two enemies full of tragic irony. It is grim to think of bearded men and bitter women taking hateful counsel together about the two hall-fires at night,[18] when the sea boomed against the foundations and the wild winter wind was loose over the battlements. And in the study we may reconstruct for ourselves some pale figure of what life then was. Not so when we are there; when we are there such thoughts come to us only to intensify a contrary impression, and association is turned against itself.[19] I remember walking thither three afternoons in succession, my eyes weary with being set against the wind, and how, dropping suddenly over the edge of the down, I found myself in a new world of warmth and shelter. The wind, from which I had escaped, "as from an enemy,"[20] was seemingly quite local. It carried no clouds with it, and came from such a quarter that it did not trouble the sea within view. The two castles, black and ruinous as the rocks about them, were still distinguishable from these by something more insecure and fantastic in the outline, something that the last storm had left imminent and the next would demolish entirely. It would be difficult to render in words the sense of peace that took possession of me on these three afternoons. It was helped out, as I have said, by the contrast. The shore was battered and bemauled by previous tempests; I had the memory at heart of the insane strife of the pigmies who had erected these two castles and lived in them in mutual distrust and enmity, and knew I had only to put my head out of this little cup of shelter to find the hard wind blowing in my eyes; and yet there were the two great tracts of motionless blue air and peaceful sea looking on, unconcerned and apart, at the turmoil of the present moment and the memorials of the precarious past. There is ever something transitory and fretful in the impression of a high wind under a cloudless sky; it seems to have no root in the constitution of things; it must speedily begin to faint and wither away like a cut flower. And on those days the thought of the wind and the thought of human life came very near together in my mind. Our noisy years did indeed seem moments[21] in the being of the eternal silence: and the wind, in the face of that great field of stationary blue, was as the wind of a butterfly's wing. The placidity of the sea was a thing likewise to be remembered. Shelley speaks of the sea as "hungering for calm,"[22] and in this place one learned to understand the phrase. Looking down into these green waters from the broken edge of the rock, or swimming leisurely in the sunshine, it seemed to me that they were enjoying their own tranquillity; and when now and again it was disturbed by a wind ripple on the surface, or the quick black passage of a fish far below, they settled back again (one could fancy) with relief.

On shore, too, in the little nook of shelter, everything was so subdued and still that the least particular struck in me a pleasurable surprise. The desultory crackling of the whin-pods[23] in the afternoon sun usurped the ear. The hot, sweet breath of the bank, that had been saturated all day long with sunshine, and now exhaled it into my face, was like the breath of a fellow-creature. I remember that I was haunted by two lines of French verse; in some dumb way they seemed to fit my surroundings and give expression to the contentment that was in me, and I kept repeating to myself—

"Mon coeur est un luth suspendu,[24] Sitot qu'on le touche, il resonne."

I can give no reason why these lines came to me at this time; and for that very cause I repeat them here. For all I know, they may serve to complete the impression in the mind of the reader, as they were certainly a part of it for me.

And this happened to me in the place of all others where I liked least to stay. When I think of it I grow ashamed of my own ingratitude. "Out of the strong came forth sweetness."[25] There, in the bleak and gusty North, I received, perhaps, my strongest impression of peace. I saw the sea to be great and calm; and the earth, in that little corner, was all alive and friendly to me. So, wherever a man is, he will find something to please and pacify him: in the town he will meet pleasant faces of men and women, and see beautiful flowers at a window, or hear a cage-bird singing at the corner of the gloomiest street; and for the country, there is no country without some amenity—let him only look for it in the right spirit, and he will surely find.


This article first appeared in the Portfolio, for November 1874, and was not reprinted until two years after Stevenson's death, in 1896, when it was included in the Miscellanies (Edinburgh Edition, Miscellanies, Vol. IV, pp. 131-142). The editor of the Portfolio was the well-known art critic, Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894), author of the Intellectual Life (1873). Just one year before, Stevenson had had printed in the Portfolio his first contribution to any periodical, Roads. Although The Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places attracted scarcely any attention on its first appearance, and has since become practically forgotten, there is perhaps no better essay among his earlier works with which to begin a study of his personality, temperament, and style. In its cheerful optimism this article is particularly characteristic of its author. It should be remembered that when this essay was first printed, Stevenson was only twenty-four years old.

[Note 1: It is a difficult matter, etc. The appreciation of nature is a quite modern taste, for although people have always loved the scenery which reminds them of home, it was not at all fashionable in England to love nature for its own sake before 1740. Thomas Gray was the first person in Europe who seems to have exhibited a real love of mountains (see his Letters). A study of the development of the appreciation of nature before and after Wordsworth (England's greatest nature poet) is exceedingly interesting. See Myra Reynolds, The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry between Pope and Wordsworth (1896).]

[Note 2: This discipline in scenery. Note what is said on this subject in Browning's extraordinary poem, Fra Lippo Lippi, vs. 300-302.

"For, don't you mark? We're made so that we love First when we see them painted, things we have passed Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see."]

[Note 3: Brantome quaintly tells us, "fait des discours en soi pour se soutenir en chemin." Freely translated, "the traveller talks to himself to keep up his courage on the road." Pierre de Bourdeille, Abbe de Brantome, (cir. 1534-1614), travelled all over Europe. His works were not published till long after his death, in 1665. Several complete editions of his writings in numerous volumes have appeared in the nineteenth century, one edited by the famous writer, Prosper Merimee.]

[Note 4: We are provocative of beauty. Compare again, Fra Lippo Lippi, vs. 215 et seq.

"Or say there's beauty with no soul at all— (I never saw it—put the case the same—) If you get simple beauty and nought else, You get about the best thing God invents: That's somewhat: and you'll find the soul you have missed, Within yourself, when you return him thanks."]

[Note 5: Callot, or Sadeler, or Paul Brill. Jacques Callot was an eminent French artist of the XVII century, born at Nancy in 1592, died 1635. Matthaeus and Paul Brill were two celebrated Dutch painters. Paul, the younger brother of Matthaeus, was born about 1555, and died in 1626. His development in landscape-painting was remarkable. Gilles Sadeler, born at Antwerp 1570, died at Prague 1629, a famous artist, and nephew of two well-known engravers. He was called the "Phoenix of Engraving."]

[Note 6: Dick Turpin. Dick Turpin was born in Essex, England, and was originally a butcher. Afterwards he became a notorious highwayman, and was finally executed for horse-stealing, 10 April 1739. He and his steed Black Bess are well described in W. H. Ainsworth's Rookwood, and in his Ballads.]

[Note 7: The Trossachs. The word means literally, "bristling country." A beautifully romantic tract, beginning immediately to the east of Loch Katrine in Perth, Scotland. Stevenson's statement, "if a man of admirable romantic instinct had not peopled it for them with harmonious figures," refers to Walter Scott, and more particularly to the Lady of the Lake (1810).]

[Note 8: I am happier where it is tame and fertile, and not readily pleased without trees. Notice the kind of country he begins to describe in the next paragraph. Is there really any contradiction in his statements?]

[Note 9: Like David before Saul. David charmed Saul out of his sadness, according to the Biblical story, not with nature, but with music. See I Samuel XVI. 14-23. But in Browning's splendid poem, Saul (1845), nature and music are combined in David's inspired playing.

"And I first played the tune all our sheep know," etc.]

[Note 10: The sermon in stones. See the beginning of the second act of As You Like It, where the exiled Duke says,

"And this our life exempt from public haunt Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones and good in everything."

It is not at all certain that Shakspere used the word "sermons" here in the modern sense; he very likely meant merely discourses, conversations.]

[Note 11: Wuthering Heights. The well-known novel (1847) by Emily Bronte (1818-1848) sister of the more famous Charlotte Bronte. The "little summer scene" Stevenson mentions, is in Chapter XXIV.]

[Note 12: A solitary, spectacled stone-breaker. To the pedestrian or cyclist, no difference between Europe and America is more striking than the comparative excellence of the country roads. The roads in Europe, even in lonely and remote districts, where one may travel for hours without seeing a house, are usually in perfect condition, hard, white and absolutely smooth. The slightest defect or abrasion is immediately repaired by one of these stone-breakers Stevenson mentions, a solitary individual, his eyes concealed behind large green goggles, to protect them from the glare and the flying bits of stone.]

[Note 13: Ashamed and cold. An excellent example of what Ruskin called "the pathetic fallacy."]

[Note 14: The foliage is coloured like foliage in a gale. Cf. Tennyson, In Memoriam, LXXII:—

"With blasts that blow the poplar white."]

[Note 15: Wordsworth, in a beautiful passage. The passage Stevenson quotes is in Book VII of The Prelude, called Residence in London.]

[Note 16: Cologne Cathedral, the great unfinished marvel by the Rhine. This great cathedral, generally regarded as the most perfect Gothic church in the world, was begun in 1248, and was not completed until 1880, seven years after Stevenson wrote this essay.]

[Note 17: In a golden zone like Apollo's. The Greek God Apollo, later identified with Helios, the Sun-god. The twin towers of Cologne Cathedral are over 500 feet high, so that the experience described here is quite possible.]

[Note 18: The two hall-fires at night. In mediaeval castles, the hall was the general living-room, used regularly for meals, for assemblies, and for all social requirements. The modern word "dining-hall" preserves the old significance of the word. The familiar expression, "bower and hall," is simply, in plain prose, bedroom and sitting-room.]

[Note 19: Association is turned against itself. It is seldom that Stevenson uses an expression that is not instantly transparently clear. Exactly what does he mean by this phrase?]

[Note 20: "As from an enemy." Alluding to the passage Stevenson has quoted above, from Wordsworth's Prelude.]

[Note 21: Our noisy years did indeed seem moments. A favorite reflection of Stevenson's, occurring in nearly all his serious essays.]

[Note 22: Shelley speaks of the sea as "hungering for calm." This passage occurs in the poem Prometheus Unbound, Act III, end of Scene 2.

"Behold the Nereids under the green sea— Their wavering limbs borne on the wind like stream, Their white arms lifted o'er their streaming hair, With garlands pied and starry sea-flower crowns,— Hastening to grace their mighty Sister's joy. It is the unpastured sea hungering for calm."]

[Note 23: Whin-pods. "Whin" is from the Welsh cwyn, meaning "weed." Whin is gorse or furze, and the sound Stevenson alludes to is frequently heard in Scotland.]

[Note 24: "Mon coeur est un luth suspendu." These beautiful words are from the poet Beranger (1780-1857). It is probable that Stevenson found them first not in the original, but in reading the tales of Poe, for the "two lines of French verse" that "haunted" Stevenson are quoted by Poe at the beginning of one of his most famous pieces, The Fall of the House of Usher, where, however, the third, and not the first person is used:—

"Son coeur est un luth suspendu; Sitot qu'on le touche il resonne."]

[Note 25: "Out of the strong came forth sweetness." Alluding to the riddle propounded by Samson. See the book of Judges, Chapter XIV.]



BOSWELL: "We grow weary when idle."

JOHNSON: "That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company; but if we were idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another."[1]

Just now, when every one is bound, under pain of a decree in absence convicting them of lese-respectability,[2] to enter on some lucrative profession, and labour therein with something not far short of enthusiasm, a cry from the opposite party who are content when they have enough, and like to look on and enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a little of bravado and gasconade.[3] And yet this should not be. Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse to enter in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at once an insult and a disenchantment for those who do. A fine fellow (as we see so many) takes his determination, votes for the sixpences, and in the emphatic Americanism, "goes for" them.[4] And while such an one is ploughing distressfully up the road, it is not hard to understand his resentment, when he perceives cool persons in the meadows by the wayside, lying with a handkerchief over their ears and a glass at their elbow. Alexander is touched in a very delicate place by the disregard of Diogenes.[5] Where was the glory of having taken Rome[6] for these tumultuous barbarians, who poured into the Senate house, and found the Fathers sitting silent and unmoved by their success? It is a sore thing to have laboured along and scaled the arduous hilltops, and when all is done, find humanity indifferent to your achievement. Hence physicists condemn the unphysical; financiers have only a superficial toleration for those who know little of stocks; literary persons despise the unlettered; and people of all pursuits combine to disparage those who have none.

But though this is one difficulty of the subject, it is not the greatest. You could not be put in prison for speaking against industry, but you can be sent to Coventry[7] for speaking like a fool. The greatest difficulty with most subjects is to do them well; therefore, please to remember this is an apology. It is certain that much may be judiciously argued in favour of diligence; only there is something to be said against it, and that is what, on the present occasion, I have to say. To state one argument is not necessarily to be deaf to all others, and that a man has written a book of travels in Montenegro, is no reason why he should never have been to Richmond.[8]

It is surely beyond a doubt that people should be a good deal idle in youth. For though here and there a Lord Macaulay may escape from school honours[9] with all his wits about him, most boys pay so dear for their medals that they never afterwards have a shot in their locker, "and begin the world bankrupt." And the same holds true during all the time a lad is educating himself, or suffering others to educate him. It must have been a very foolish old gentleman who addressed Johnson at Oxford in these words: "Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task." The old gentleman seems to have been unaware that many other things besides reading grow irksome, and not a few become impossible, by the time a man has to use spectacles and cannot walk without a stick. Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life. It seems a pity to sit, like the Lady of Shalott,[10] peering into a mirror, with your back turned on all the bustle and glamour of reality. And if a man reads very hard, as the old anecdote reminds us, he will have little time for thoughts.

If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will not be the full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you regret; you would rather cancel some lack-lustre periods between sleep and waking[11] in the class. For my own part, I have attended a good many lectures in my time. I still remember that the spinning of a top is a case of Kinetic Stability. I still remember that Emphyteusis is not a disease, nor Stillicide[12] a crime. But though I would not willingly part with such scraps of science, I do not set the same store by them as by certain other odds and ends that I came by in the open street while I was playing truant. This is not the moment to dilate on that mighty place of education, which was the favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac,[13] and turns out yearly many inglorious masters in the Science of the Aspects of Life. Suffice it to say this: if a lad does not learn in the streets, it is because he has no faculty of learning. Nor is the truant always in the streets, for if he prefers, he may go out by the gardened suburbs into the country. He may pitch on some tuft of lilacs over a burn, and smoke innumerable pipes to the tune of the water on the stones. A bird will sing in the thicket. And there he may fall into a vein of kindly thought, and see things in a new perspective. Why, if this be not education, what is? We may conceive Mr. Worldly Wiseman[14] accosting such an one, and the conversation that should thereupon ensue:—

"How, now, young fellow, what dost thou here?"

"Truly, sir, I take mine ease."

"Is not this the hour of the class? and should'st thou not be plying thy Book with diligence, to the end thou mayest obtain knowledge?"

"Nay, but thus also I follow after Learning, by your leave."

"Learning, quotha! After what fashion, I pray thee? Is it mathematics?"

"No, to be sure."

"Is it metaphysics?"

"Nor that."

"Is it some language?"

"Nay, it is no language."

"Is it a trade?"

"Nor a trade neither."

"Why, then, what is't?"

"Indeed, sir, as a time may soon come for me to go upon Pilgrimage, I am desirous to note what is commonly done by persons in my case, and where are the ugliest Sloughs and Thickets on the Road; as also, what manner of Staff is of the best service. Moreover, I lie here, by this water, to learn by root-of-heart a lesson which my master teaches me to call Peace, or Contentment."

Hereupon, Mr. Worldly Wiseman was much commoved with passion, and shaking his cane with a very threatful countenance, broke forth upon this wise: "Learning, quotha!" said he; "I would have all such rogues scourged by the Hangman!"

And so he would go his way, ruffling out his cravat with a crackle of starch, like a turkey when it spread its feathers.

Now this, of Mr. Wiseman, is the common opinion. A fact is not called a fact, but a piece of gossip, if it does not fall into one of your scholastic categories. An inquiry must be in some acknowledged direction, with a name to go by; or else you are not inquiring at all, only lounging; and the workhouse is too good for you. It is supposed that all knowledge is at the bottom of a well, or the far end of a telescope. Sainte-Beuve,[15] as he grew older, came to regard all experience as a single great book, in which to study for a few years ere we go hence; and it seemed all one to him whether you should read in Chapter xx., which is the differential calculus, or in Chapter xxxix., which is hearing the band play in the gardens. As a matter of fact, an intelligent person, looking out of his eyes and hearkening in his ears, with a smile on his face all the time, will get more true education than many another in a life of heroic vigils. There is certainly some chill and arid knowledge to be found upon the summits of formal and laborious science; but it is all round about you, and for the trouble of looking, that you will acquire the warm and palpitating facts of life. While others are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men. Many who have "plied their book diligently," and know all about some one branch or another of accepted lore, come out of the study with an ancient and owl-like demeanour, and prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all the better and brighter parts of life. Many make a large fortune, who remain underbred and pathetically stupid to the last. And meantime there goes the idler, who began life along with them—by your leave, a different picture. He has had time to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a great deal in the open air, which is the most salutary of all things for both body and mind; and if he has never read the great Book in very recondite places, he has dipped into it and skimmed it over to excellent purpose. Might not the student afford some Hebrew roots, and the business man some of his half-crowns, for a share of the idler's knowledge of life at large, and Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has another and more important quality than these. I mean his wisdom. He who has much looked on at the childish satisfaction of other people in their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very ironical indulgence. He will not be heard among the dogmatists. He will have a great and cool allowance for all sorts of people and opinions. If he finds no out-of-the-way truths, he will identify himself with no very burning falsehood. His way took him along a by-road, not much frequented, but very even and pleasant, which is called Commonplace Lane, and leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense.[16] Thence he shall command an agreeable, if no very noble prospect; and while others behold the East and West, the Devil and the Sunrise, he will be contentedly aware of a sort of morning hour upon all sublunary things, with an army of shadows running speedily and in many different directions into the great daylight of Eternity. The shadows and the generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent wars,[17] go by into ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all this, a man may see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and peaceful landscape; many firelit parlours; good people laughing, drinking, and making love as they did before the Flood or the French Revolution; and the old shepherd[18] telling his tale under the hawthorn.

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuffbox empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

But it is not only the person himself who suffers from his busy habits, but his wife and children, his friends and relations, and down to the very people he sits with in a railway carriage or an omnibus. Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. And it is not by any means certain that a man's business is the most important thing he has to do. To an impartial estimate it will seem clear that many of the wisest, most virtuous, and most beneficent parts that are to be played upon the Theatre of Life are filled by gratuitous performers, and pass, among the world at large, as phases of idleness. For in that Theatre not only the walking gentlemen, singing chambermaids, and diligent fiddlers in the orchestra, but those who look on and clap their hands from the benches, do really play a part and fulfil important offices towards the general result. You are no doubt very dependent on the care of your lawyer and stockbroker, of the guards and signalmen who convey you rapidly from place to place, and the policemen who walk the streets for your protection; but is there not a thought of gratitude in your heart for certain other benefactors who set you smiling when they fall in your way, or season your dinner with good company? Colonel Newcome helped to lose his friend's money; Fred Bayham had an ugly trick of borrowing shirts; and yet they were better people to fall among than Mr. Barnes. And though Falstaff was neither sober nor very honest, I think I could name one or two long-faced Barabbases whom the world could better have done without. Hazlitt mentions that he was more sensible of obligation to Northcote,[19] who had never done him anything he could call a service, than to his whole circle of ostentatious friends; for he thought a good companion emphatically the greatest benefactor. I know there are people in the world who cannot feel grateful unless the favour has been done them at the cost of pain and difficulty. But this is a churlish disposition. A man may send you six sheets of letter-paper covered with the most entertaining gossip, or you may pass half an hour pleasantly, perhaps profitably, over an article of his; do you think the service would be greater, if he had made the manuscript in his heart's blood, like a compact with the devil? Do you really fancy you should be more beholden to your correspondent, if he had been damning you all the while for your importunity? Pleasures are more beneficial than duties because, like the quality of mercy,[20] they are not strained, and they are twice blest. There must always be two to a kiss, and there may be a score in a jest; but wherever there is an element of sacrifice, the favour is conferred with pain, and, among generous people, received with confusion. There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with so jolly an air that he set every one he passed into a good humour; one of these persons, who had been delivered from more than usually black thoughts, stopped the little fellow and gave him some money with this remark: "You see what sometimes comes of looking pleased." If he had looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of smiling rather than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal largely in the opposite commodity. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of good-will; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorum of the liveableness of Life. Consequently, if a person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle he should remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within practical limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths in the whole Body of Morality. Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely from all fellowship, and lives a recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people swiftly and bitterly, in a contraction of his whole nervous system, to discharge some temper before he returns to work. I do not care how much or how well he works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people's lives. They would be happier if he were dead. They could easier do without his services in the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head. It is better to be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace nephew, than daily hag-ridden by a peevish uncle.

And what, in God's name, is all this pother about? For what cause do they embitter their own and other people's lives? That a man should publish three or thirty articles a year, that he should finish or not finish his great allegorical picture, are questions of little interest to the world. The ranks of life are full; and although a thousand fall, there are always some to go into the breach. When they told Joan of Arc[21] she should be at home minding women's work, she answered there were plenty to spin and wash. And so, even with your own rare gifts! When nature is "so careless of the single life,"[22] why should we coddle ourselves into the fancy that our own is of exceptional importance? Suppose Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark night in Sir Thomas Lucy's[23] preserves, the world would have wagged on better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to the corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any the wiser of the loss. There are not many works extant, if you look the alternative all over, which are worth the price of a pound of tobacco to a man of limited means. This is a sobering reflection for the proudest of our earthly vanities. Even a tobacconist may, upon consideration, find no great cause for personal vainglory in the phrase; for although tobacco is an admirable sedative, the qualities necessary for retailing it are neither rare nor precious in themselves. Alas and alas! you may take it how you will, but the services of no single individual are indispensable. Atlas[24] was just a gentleman with a protracted nightmare! And yet you see merchants who go and labour themselves into a great fortune and thence into bankruptcy court; scribblers who keep scribbling at little articles until their temper is a cross to all who come about them, as though Pharaoh should set the Israelites to make a pin instead of a pyramid;[25] and fine young men who work themselves into a decline,[26] and are driven off in a hearse with white plumes upon it. Would you not suppose these persons had been whispered, by the Master of the Ceremonies, the promise of some momentous destiny? and that this lukewarm bullet on which they play their farces was the bull's-eye and centrepoint of all the universe? And yet it is not so. The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought.


This essay was first printed in the Cornhill Magazine, for July 1877, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 80-86. It was next published in the volume, Virginibus Puerisque, in 1881. Although this book contains some of the most admirable specimens of Stevenson's style, it did not have a large sale, and it was not until 1887 that another edition Appeared. The editor of the Cornhill Magazine from 1871 to 1882 was Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), whose kindness and encouragement to the new writer were of the utmost importance at this critical time. That so grave and serious a critic as Leslie Stephen should have taken such delight in a jeu d'esprit like Idlers, is proof, if any were needed, for the breadth of his literary outlook. Stevenson had been at work on this article a year before its appearance, which shows that his Apology for Idlers demanded from him anything but idling. As Graham Balfour says, in his Life of Stevenson, I, 122, "Except before his own conscience, there was hardly any time when the author of the Apology for Idlers ever really neglected the tasks of his true vocation." In July 1876 he wrote to Mrs. Sitwell, "A paper called 'A Defence of Idlers' (which is really a defence of R.L.S.) is in a good way." A year later, after the publication of the article, he wrote (in August 1877) to Sidney Colvin, "Stephen has written to me apropos of 'Idlers,' that something more in that vein would be agreeable to his views. From Stephen I count that a devil of a lot." It is noteworthy that this charming essay had been refused by Macmillan's Magazine before Stephen accepted it for the Cornhill. (Life, I, 180).

[Note 1: The conversation between Boswell and Johnson, quoted at the beginning of the essay, occurred on the 26 October 1769, at the famous Mitre Tavern. In Stevenson's quotation, the word "all" should be inserted after the word "were" to correspond with the original text, and to make sense. Johnson, though constitutionally lazy, was no defender of Idlers, and there is a sly humour in Stevenson's appealing to him as authority. Boswell says in his Life, under date of 1780, "He would allow no settled indulgence of idleness upon principle, and always repelled every attempt to urge excuses for it. A friend one day suggested, that it was not wholesome to study soon after dinner. JOHNSON: 'Ah, sir, don't give way to such a fancy. At one time of my life I had taken it into my head that it was not wholesome to study between breakfast and dinner.'"]

[Note 2: Lese-respectability. From the French verb leser, to hurt, to injure. The most common employment of this verb is in the phrase "lese-majeste," high treason. Stevenson's mood here is like that of Lowell, when he said regretfully, speaking of the eighteenth century, "Responsibility for the universe had not then been invented." (Essay on Gray.)]

[Note 3: Gasconade. Boasting. The inhabitants of Gascony (Gascogne) a province in the south-west of France, are proverbial not only for their impetuosity and courage, but for their willingness to brag of the possession of these qualities. Excellent examples of the typical Gascon in literature are D'Artagnan in Dumas's Trois Mousquetaires (1844) and Cyrano in Rostand's splendid drama, Cyrano de Bergerac (1897).]

[Note 4: In the emphatic Americanism, "goes for" them. When Stevenson wrote this (1876-77), he had not yet been in America. Two years later, in 1879, when he made the journey across the plains, he had many opportunities to record Americanisms far more emphatic than the harmless phrase quoted here, which can hardly be called an Americanism. Murray's New English Dictionary gives excellent English examples of this particular sense of "go for" in the years 1641, 1790, 1864, and 1882!]

[Note 5: Alexander is touched in a very delicate place. Alluding to the famous interview between the young Alexander and the old Diogenes, which took place at Corinth about 330 B.C. Alexander asked Diogenes in what way he could be of service to him, and the philosopher replied gruffly, "By standing out of my sunshine." As a young man Diogenes had been given to all excesses of dissipation; but he later went to the opposite extreme of asceticism, being one of the earliest and most striking illustrations of "plain living and high thinking." The debauchery of his youth and the privation and exposure of his old age did not deeply affect his hardy constitution, for he is said to have lived to the age of ninety. In the charming play by the Elizabethan, John Lyly, A moste excellente Comedie of Alexander, Campaspe, and Diogenes (1584), the conversations between the man who has conquered the world and the man who has overcome the world are highly entertaining.]

[Note 6: Where was the glory of having taken Rome. This refers to the invasion by the Gauls about the year 389 B. C. A good account is given in T. Arnold's History of Rome I, pp. 534 et seq.]

[Note 7: Sent to Coventry. The origin of this proverb, which means of course, "to ostracise," probably dates back to 1647, when, according to Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion, VI, par. 83, Royalist prisoners were sent to the parliamentary stronghold of Coventry, in Warwickshire.]

[Note 8: Montenegro ... Richmond. Montenegro is one of the smallest principalities in the world, about 3,550 square miles. It is in the Balkan peninsula, to the east of the lower Adriatic, between Austro-Hungary and Turkey. When Stevenson was writing this essay, 1876-77, Montenegro was the subject of much discussion, owing to the part she took in the Russo-Turkish war. The year after this article was published (1878) Montenegro reached the coast of the Adriatic for the first time, and now has two tiny seaports. Tennyson celebrated the hardy virtues of the inhabitants in his sonnet Montenegro, written in 1877.

"O smallest among peoples! rough rock-throne Of Freedom! warriors beating back the swarm Of Turkish Islam for five hundred years."

Richmond is on the river Thames, close to the city of London.]

[Note 9: Lord Macaulay may escape from school honours. Stevenson here alludes to the oft-heard statement that the men who succeed in after life have generally been near the foot of their classes at school and college. It is impossible to prove either the falsity or truth of so general a remark, but it is easier to point out men who have been successful both at school and in life, than to find sufficient evidence that school and college prizes prevent further triumphs. Macaulay, who is noted by Stevenson as an exception, was precocious enough to arouse the fears rather than the hopes of his friends. When he was four years old, he hurt his finger, and a lady inquiring politely as to whether the injured member was better, the infant replied gravely, "Thank you, Madam, the agony is abated."]

[Note 10: The Lady of Shalott. See Tennyson's beautiful poem (1833).

"And moving thro' a mirror clear That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear."]

[Note 11: Some lack-lustre periods between sleep and waking. Cf. King Lear, Act I, Sc. 2, vs. 15. "Got 'tween asleep and wake."]

[Note 12: _Kinetic Stability ... _Emphyteusis ... Stillicide_ For Kinetic Stability, see any modern textbook on Physics. _Emphyteusis_ is the legal renting of ground; _Stillicide_, a continual dropping of water, as from the eaves of a house. These words, _Emphyteusis_ and _Stillicide_, are terms in Roman Law. Stevenson is of course making fun of the required studies of Physics and Roman Law, and of their lack of practical value to him in his chosen career.]

[Note 13: The favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac. The great English novelist Dickens (1812-1870) and his greater French contemporary Balzac (1799-1850), show in their works that their chief school was Life.]

[Note 14: Mr. Worldly Wiseman. The character in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678), who meets Christian soon after his setting out from the City of Destruction. Pilgrim's Progress was a favorite book of Stevenson's; he alludes to it frequently in his essays. See also his own article Bagster's Pilgrim's Progress, first published in the Magazine of Art in February 1882. This essay is well worth reading, and the copies of the pictures which he includes are extremely diverting.]

[Note 15: Sainte-Beuve. The French writer Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) is usually regarded today as the greatest literary critic who ever lived. His constant change of convictions enabled him to see life from all sides.]

[Note 16: Belvedere of Commonsense. Belvedere is an Italian word, which referred originally to a place of observation on the top of a house, from which one might enjoy an extensive prospect. A portion of the Vatican in Rome is called the Belvedere, thus lending this name to the famous statue of Apollo, which stands there. On the continent, anything like a summer-house is often called a Belvedere. One of the most interesting localities which bears this name is the Belvedere just outside of Weimar, in Germany, where Goethe used to act in his own dramas in the open air theatre.]

[Note 17: The plangent wars. Plangent is from the Latin plango, to strike, to beat. Stevenson's use of the word is rather unusual in English.]

[Note 18: The old shepherd telling his tale.. See Milton, L'Allegro:

"And every shepherd tells his tale Under the hawthorn in the dale."

"Tells his tale" means of course "counts his sheep," not "tells a story." The old use of the word "tell" for "count" survives to-day in the word "teller" in a parliamentary assemblage, or in a bank.]

[Note 19: Colonel Newcome ... Fred Bayham ... Mr. Barnes ... Falstaff ... Barabbases ... Hazlitt ... Northcote. Colonel Newcome, the great character in Thackeray's The Newcomes (1854). Fred Bayham and Barnes Newcome are persons in the same story. One of the best essays on Falstaff is the one printed in the first series of Mr. Augustine Birrell's Obiter Dicta (1884). This essay would have pleased Thackeray. One of the finest epitaphs in literature is that pronounced over the supposedly dead body of Falstaff by Prince Hal—"I could have better spared a better man." (King Henry IV, Part I, Act V, Sc. 4.) Barabbas was the robber who was released at the time of the trial of Christ.... William Hazlitt (1778-1830), the well-known essayist, published in 1830 the Conversations of James Northcote (1746-1831). Northcote was an artist and writer, who had been an assistant in the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Stevenson projected a Life of Hazlitt, but later abandoned the undertaking. (Life, I, 230.)]

[Note 20: The quality of mercy. See Portia's wonderful speech in the Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I.]

[Note 21: Joan of Arc. The famous inspired French peasant girl, who led the armies of her king to victory, and who was burned at Rouen in 1431. She was variously regarded as a harlot and a saint. In Shakspere's historical plays, she is represented in the basest manner, from conventional motives of English patriotism. Voltaire's scandalous work, La Pucelle, and Schiller's noble Jungfrau von Orleans make an instructive contrast. She has been the subject of many dramas and works of poetry and fiction. Her latest prominent admirer is Mark Twain, whose historical romance Joan of Arc is one of the most carefully written, though not one of the most characteristic of his books.]

[Note 22: "So careless of the single life." See Tennyson's In Memoriam, LV, where the poet discusses the pessimism caused by regarding the apparent indifference of nature to the happiness of the individual.

"Are God and Nature then at strife, That Nature lends such evil dreams? So careful of the type she seems, So careless of the single life."]

[Note 23: Shakespeare ... Sir Thomas Lucy. The familiar tradition that Shakspere as a boy was a poacher on the preserves of his aristocratic neighbor, Sir Thomas Lucy. See Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare. In 1879, at the first performance of As You Like It at the Stratford Memorial Theatre, the deer brought on the stage in Act IV, Scene 2, had been shot that very morning by H.S. Lucy, Esq., of Charlecote Park, a descendant of the owner of the herd traditionally attacked by the future dramatist.]

[Note 24: Atlas. In mythology, the leader of the Titans, who fought the Gods, and was condemned by Zeus to carry the weight of the vault of heaven on his head and hands. In the sixteenth century the name Atlas was given to a collection of maps by Mercator, probably because a picture of Atlas had been commonly placed on the title-pages of geographical works.]

[Note 25: Pharaoh ... Pyramid. For Pharaoh's experiences with the Israelites, see the book of Exodus. Pharaoh was merely the name given by the children of Israel to the rulers of Egypt: cf. Caesar, Kaiser, etc. ... The Egyptian pyramids were regarded as one of the seven wonders of ancient times, the great pyramid weighing over six million tons. The pyramids were used for the tombs of monarchs.]

[Note 26: Young men who work themselves into a decline. Compare the tone of the close of this essay with that of the conclusion of AEs Triplex. Stevenson himself died in the midst of the most arduous work possible—the making of a literary masterpiece.]



The changes wrought by death are in themselves so sharp and final, and so terrible and melancholy in their consequences, that the thing stands alone in man's experience, and has no parallel upon earth. It outdoes all other accidents because it is the last of them. Sometimes it leaps suddenly upon its victims, like a Thug;[2] sometimes it lays a regular siege and creeps upon their citadel during a score of years. And when the business is done, there is sore havoc made in other people's lives, and a pin knocked out by which many subsidiary friendships hung together. There are empty chairs, solitary walks, and single beds at night. Again in taking away our friends, death does not take them away utterly, but leaves behind a mocking, tragical, and soon intolerable residue, which must be hurriedly concealed. Hence a whole chapter of sights and customs striking to the mind, from the pyramids of Egypt to the gibbets and dule trees[3] of mediaeval Europe. The poorest persons have a bit of pageant going towards the tomb; memorial stones are set up over the least memorable; and, in order to preserve some show of respect for what remains of our old loves and friendships, we must accompany it with much grimly ludicrous ceremonial, and the hired undertaker parades before the door. All this, and much more of the same sort, accompanied by the eloquence of poets, has gone a great way to put humanity in error; nay, in many philosophies the error has been embodied and laid down with every circumstance of logic; although in real life the bustle and swiftness, in leaving people little time to think, have not left them time enough to go dangerously wrong in practice.

As a matter of fact, although few things are spoken of with more fearful whisperings than this prospect of death, few have less influence on conduct under healthy circumstances. We have all heard of cities in South America built upon the side of fiery mountains, and how, even in this tremendous neighbourhood, the inhabitants are not a jot more impressed by the solemnity of mortal conditions than if they were delving gardens in the greenest corner of England. There are serenades and suppers and much gallantry among the myrtles overhead; and meanwhile the foundation shudders underfoot, the bowels of the mountain growl, and at any moment living ruin may leap sky-high into the moonlight, and tumble man and his merry-making in the dust. In the eyes of very young people, and very dull old ones, there is something indescribably reckless and desperate in such a picture. It seems not credible that respectable married people, with umbrellas, should find appetite for a bit of supper within quite a long distance of a fiery mountain; ordinary life begins to smell of high-handed debauch when it is carried on so close to a catastrophe; and even cheese and salad, it seems, could hardly be relished in such circumstances without something like a defiance of the Creator. It should be a place for nobody but hermits dwelling in prayer and maceration, or mere born-devils drowning care in a perpetual carouse.

And yet, when one comes to think upon it calmly, the situation of these South American citizens forms only a very pale figure for the state of ordinary mankind. This world itself, travelling blindly and swiftly in overcrowded space, among a million other worlds travelling blindly and swiftly in contrary directions, may very well come by a knock that would set it into explosion like a penny squib. And what, pathologically looked at, is the human body with all its organs, but a mere bagful of petards? The least of these is as dangerous to the whole economy as the ship's powder-magazine to the ship; and with every breath we breathe, and every meal we eat, we are putting one or more of them in peril. If we clung as devotedly as some philosophers pretend we do to the abstract idea of life, or were half as frightened as they make out we are, for the subversive accident that ends it all, the trumpets might sound[4] by the hour and no one would follow them into battle—the blue-peter might fly at the truck,[5] but who would climb into a sea-going ship? Think (if these philosophers were right) with what a preparation of spirit we should affront the daily peril of the dinner-table: a deadlier spot than any battlefield in history, where the far greater proportion of our ancestors have miserably left their bones! What woman would ever be lured into marriage, so much more dangerous than the wildest sea? And what would it be to grow old? For, after a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through. By the time a man gets well into the seventies, his continued existence is a mere miracle; and when he lays his old bones in bed for the night, there is an overwhelming probability that he will never see the day. Do the old men mind it, as a matter of fact? Why, no. They were never merrier; they have their grog at night, and tell the raciest stories; they hear of the death of people about their own age, or even younger, not as if it was a grisly warning, but with a simple childlike pleasure at having outlived someone else; and when a draught might puff them out like a fluttering candle, or a bit of a stumble shatter them like so much glass, their old hearts keep sound and unaffrighted, and they go on, bubbling with laughter, through years of man's age compared to which the valley at Balaclava[6] was as safe and peaceful as a village cricket-green on Sunday. It may fairly be questioned (if we look to the peril only) whether it was a much more daring feat for Curtius[7] to plunge into the gulf, than for any old gentleman of ninety to doff his clothes and clamber into bed.

Indeed, it is a memorable subject for consideration, with what unconcern and gaiety mankind pricks on along the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The whole way is one wilderness of snares, and the end of it, for those who fear the last pinch, is irrevocable ruin. And yet we go spinning through it all, like a party for the Derby.[8] Perhaps the reader remembers one of the humorous devices of the deified Caligula:[9] how he encouraged a vast concourse of holiday-makers on to his bridge over Baiae[10] bay; and when they were in the height of their enjoyment, turned loose the Praetorian guards[11] among the company, and had them tossed into the sea. This is no bad miniature of the dealings of nature with the transitory race of man. Only, what a chequered picnic we have of it, even while it lasts! and into what great waters, not to be crossed by any swimmer, God's pale Praetorian throws us over in the end!

We live the time that a match flickers; we pop the cork of a ginger-beer bottle, and the earthquake swallows us on the instant. Is it not odd, is it not incongruous, is it not, in the highest sense of human speech, incredible, that we should think so highly of the ginger-beer, and regard so little the devouring earthquake? The love of Life and the fear of Death are two famous phrases that grow harder to understand the more we think about them. It is a well-known fact that an immense proportion of boat accidents would never happen if people held the sheet in their hands instead of making it fast; and yet, unless it be some martinet of a professional mariner or some landsman with shattered nerves, every one of God's creatures makes it fast. A strange instance of man's unconcern and brazen boldness in the face of death!

We confound ourselves with metaphysical phrases, which we import into daily talk with noble inappropriateness. We have no idea of what death is, apart from its circumstances and some of its consequences to others; and although we have some experience of living, there is not a man on earth who has flown so high into abstraction as to have any practical guess at the meaning of the Word life. All literature, from Job and Omar Khayyam to Thomas Carlyle or Walt Whitman,[12] is but an attempt to look upon the human state with such largeness of view as shall enable us to rise from the consideration of living to the Definition of Life. And our sages give us about the best satisfaction in their power when they say that it is a vapour, or a show, or made out of the same stuff with dreams.[13] Philosophy, in its more rigid sense, has been at the same work for ages; and after a myriad bald heads have wagged over the problem, and piles of words have been heaped one upon another into dry and cloudy volumes without end, philosophy has the honour of laying before us, with modest pride, her contribution towards the subject: that life is a Permanent Possibility of Sensation.[14] Truly a fine result! A man may very well love beef, or hunting, or a woman; but surely, surely, not a Permanent Possibility of Sensation. He may be afraid of a precipice, or a dentist, or a large enemy with a club, or even an undertaker's man; but not certainly of abstract death. We may trick with the word life in its dozen senses until we are weary of tricking; we may argue in terms of all the philosophies on earth, but one fact remains true throughout—that we do not love life, in the sense that we are greatly preoccupied about its conservation; that we do not, properly speaking, love life at all, but living. Into the views of the least careful there will enter some degree of providence; no man's eyes are fixed entirely on the passing hour; but although we have some anticipation of good health, good weather, wine, active employment, love, and self-approval, the sum of these anticipations does not amount to anything like a general view of life's possibilities and issues; nor are those who cherish them most vividly, at all the most scrupulous of their personal safety. To be deeply interested in the accidents of our existence, to enjoy keenly the mixed texture of human experience, rather leads a man to disregard precautions, and risk his neck against a straw. For surely the love of living is stronger in an Alpine climber roping over a peril, or a hunter riding merrily at a stiff fence, than in a creature who lives upon a diet and walks a measured distance in the interest of his constitution.

There is a great deal of very vile nonsense talked upon both sides of the matter: tearing divines reducing life to the dimensions of a mere funeral procession, so short as to be hardly decent; and melancholy unbelievers yearning for the tomb as if it were a world too far away. Both sides must feel a little ashamed of their performances now and again when they draw in their chairs to dinner. Indeed, a good meal and a bottle of wine is an answer to most standard works upon the question. When a man's heart warms to his viands, he forgets a great deal of sophistry, and soars into a rosy zone of contemplation. Death may be knocking at the door, like the Commander's statue;[15] we have something else in hand, thank God, and let him knock. Passing bells are ringing all the world over. All the world over, and every hour,[16] someone is parting company with all his aches and ecstasies. For us also the trap is laid. But we are so fond of life that we have no leisure to entertain the terror of death. It is a honeymoon with us all through, and none of the longest. Small blame to us if we give our whole hearts to this glowing bride of ours, to the appetites, to honour, to the hungry curiosity of the mind, to the pleasure of the eyes in nature, and the pride of our own nimble bodies.

We all of us appreciate the sensations; but as for caring about the Permanence of the Possibility, a man's head is generally very bald, and his senses very dull, before he comes to that. Whether we regard life as a lane leading to a dead wall—a mere bag's end,[17] as the French say—or whether we think of it as a vestibule or gymnasium, where we wait our turn and prepare our faculties for some more noble destiny; whether we thunder in a pulpit, or pule in little atheistic poetry-books, about its vanity and brevity; whether we look justly for years of health and vigour, or are about to mount into a Bath-chair, as a step towards the hearse; in each and all of these views and situations there is but one conclusion possible: that a man should stop his ears against paralysing terror, and run the race that is set before him with a single mind. No one surely could have recoiled with more heartache and terror from the thought of death than our respected lexicographer; and yet we know how little it affected his conduct, how wisely and boldly he walked, and in what a fresh and lively vein he spoke of life. Already an old man, he ventured on his Highland tour; and his heart, bound with triple brass, did not recoil before twenty-seven individual cups of tea.[18] As courage and intelligence are the two qualities best worth a good man's cultivation, so it is the first part of intelligence to recognise our precarious estate in life, and the first part of courage to be not at all abashed before the fact. A frank and somewhat headlong carriage, not looking too anxiously before, not dallying in maudlin regret over the past, stamps the man who is well armoured for this world.

And not only well armoured for himself, but a good friend and a good citizen to boot. We do not go to cowards for tender dealing; there is nothing so cruel as panic; the man who has least fear for his own carcass, has most time to consider others. That eminent chemist who took his walks abroad in tin shoes, and subsisted wholly upon tepid milk, had all his work cut out for him in considerate dealings with his own digestion. So soon as prudence has begun to grow up in the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds its first expression in a paralysis of generous acts. The victim begins to shrink spiritually; he develops a fancy for parlours with a regulated temperature, and takes his morality on the principle of tin shoes and tepid milk. The care of one important body or soul becomes so engrossing, that all the noises of the outer world begin to come thin and faint into the parlour with the regulated temperature; and the tin shoes go equably forward over blood and rain. To be overwise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger ends by standing stockstill. Now the man who has his heart on his sleeve, and a good whirling weathercock of a brain, who reckons his life as a thing to be dashingly used and cheerfully hazarded, makes a very different acquaintance of the world, keeps all his pulses going true and fast, and gathers impetus as he runs, until, if he be running towards anything better than wildfire, he may shoot up and become a constellation in the end. Lord look after his health, Lord have a care of his soul, says he; and he has at the key of the position, and swashes through incongruity and peril towards his aim. Death is on all sides of him with pointed batteries, as he is on all sides of all of us; unfortunate surprises gird him round; mim-mouthed friends[19] and relations hold up their hands in quite a little elegiacal synod about his path: and what cares he for all this? Being a true lover of living, a fellow with something pushing and spontaneous in his inside, he must, like any other soldier, in any other stirring, deadly warfare, push on at his best pace until he touch the goal. "A peerage or Westminster Abbey!"[20] cried Nelson in his bright, boyish, heroic manner. These are great incentives; not for any of these, but for the plain satisfaction of living, of being about their business in some sort or other, do the brave, serviceable men of every nation tread down the nettle danger,[21] and pass flyingly over all the stumbling-blocks of prudence. Think of the heroism of Johnson, think of that superb indifference to mortal limitation that set him upon his dictionary, and carried him through triumphantly until the end! Who, if he were wisely considerate of things at large, would ever embark upon any work much more considerable than a halfpenny post card? Who would project a serial novel, after Thackeray and Dickens had each fallen in mid-course?[22] Who would find heart enough to begin to live, if he dallied with the consideration of death?

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