The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson

Contents:
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Selected Passages

When you have read, you carry away with you a memory of the man himself; it is as though you had touched a loyal hand,
looked into brave eyes, and made a noble friend; there is another bond on you thenceforward, binding you to life and to the love of virtue.

*

It is to some more specific memory that youth looks forward in its vigils. Old kings are sometimes disinterred in all the emphasis of life, the hands untainted by decay, the beard that had so often wagged in camp or senate still spread upon the royal bosom; and in busts and pictures,
some similitude of the great and beautiful of former days is handed down. In this way, public curiosity may be gratified, but hardly any private aspiration after fame.
It is not likely that posterity will fall in love with us,
but not impossible that it may respect or sympathise; and so a man would rather leave behind him the portrait of his spirit than a portrait of his face, FIGURA ANIMI MAGIS
QUAM CORPORIS.

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The pleasure that we take in beautiful nature is essentially capricious. It comes sometimes when we least look for it; and sometimes, when we expect it most certainly, it leaves us to gape joylessly for days together, in the very homeland of the beautiful. We may have passed a place a thousand times and one; and on the thousand and second it will be transfigured, and stand forth in a certain splendour of reality from the dull circle of surroundings; so that we see it ’with a child’s first pleasure,’ as Wordsworth saw the daffodils by the lake-side.

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But every one sees the world in his own way. To some the glad moment may have arrived on other provocations; and their recollection may be most vivid of the stately gait of women carrying burthens on their heads; of tropical effect,
with caves and naked rock and sunlight; of the relief of cypresses; of the troubled, busy-looking groups of sea-pines, that seem always as if they were being wielded and swept together by a whirlwind; of the air coming, laden with virginal perfumes, over the myrtles and the scented underwoods; of the empurpled hills standing up, solemn and sharp, out of the green-gold air of the east at evening.
There go many elements, without doubt, to the making of one such moment of intense perception; and it is on the happy agreement of these many elements, on the harmonious vibration of many nerves, that the whole delight of the moment must depend.

*

You should have heard him speak of what he loved; of the tent pitched beside the talking water; of the stars overhead at night; of the blest return of morning, the peep of day over the moors, the awaking birds among the birches;
how he abhorred the long winter shut in cities; and with what delight, at the return of the spring, he once more pitched his camp in the living out-of-doors.

*

It was one of the best things I got from my education as an engineer: of which, however, as a way of life, I wish to speak with sympathy. It takes a man into the open air; it keeps him hanging about harbour-sides, which is the richest form of idling; it carries him to wild islands; it gives him a taste of the genial dangers of the sea; it supplies him with dexterities to exercise; it makes demands upon his ingenuity; it will go far to cure him of any taste (if ever he had one) for the miserable life of cities. And when it has done so, it carries him back and shuts him in an office! From the roaring skerry and the wet thwart of the tossing boat, he passes to the stool and desk; and with a memory full of ships, and seas, and perilous headlands, and the shining Pharos, he must apply his long-sighted eyes to the pretty niceties of drawing, or measure his inaccurate mind with several pages of consecutive figures. He is a wise youth, to be sure, who can balance one part of genuine life against two parts of drudgery between four walls, and for the sake of the one, manfully accept the other.

*

No one knows the stars who has not slept, as the French happily put it, A LA BELLE ETOILE. He may know all their names and distances and magnitudes, and yet be ignorant of what alone concerns mankind,—their serene and gladsome influence on the mind. The greater part of poetry is about the stars; and very justly, for they are themselves the most classical of poets.

*

He surprised himself by a sudden impulse to write poetry—
he did so sometimes, loose, galloping octosyllabics in the vein of Scott—and when he had taken his place on a boulder, near some fairy falls, and shaded by a whip of a tree that was already radiant with new leaves, it still more surprised him that he should find nothing to write.
His heart perhaps beat in time to some vast indwelling rhythm of the universe.

*

No man can find out the world, says Solomon, from beginning to end, because the world is in his heart; and so it is impossible for any of us to understand, from beginning to end, that agreement of harmonious circumstances that creates in us the highest pleasure of admiration, precisely because some of these circumstances are hidden from us for ever in the constitution of our own bodies. After we have reckoned up all that we can see or hear or feel, there still remains to be taken into account some sensibility more delicate than usual in the nerves affected, or some exquisite refinement in the architecture of the brain,
which is indeed to the sense of the beautiful as the eye or the ear to the sense of hearing or sight. We admire splendid views and great pictures; and yet what is truly admirable is rather the mind within us, that gathers together these scattered details for its delight, and snakes out of certain colours, certain distributions of graduated light and darkness, that intelligible whole which alone we call a picture or a view. Hazlitt, relating in one of his essays how he went on foot from one great man’s house to another’s in search of works of art, begins suddenly to triumph over these noble and wealthy owners,
because he was more capable of enjoying their costly possessions than they were; because they had paid the money and he had received the pleasure. And the occasion is a fair one for self-complacency. While the one man was working to be able to buy the picture, the other was working to be able to enjoy the picture. An inherited aptitude will have been diligently improved in either case;
only the one man has made for himself a fortune, and the other has made for himself a living spirit. It is a fair occasion for self-complacency, I repeat, when the event shows a man to have chosen the better part, and laid out his life more wisely, in the long-run, than those who have credit for most wisdom. And yet even this is not a good unmixed; and like all other possessions, although in a less degree, the possession of a brain that has been thus improved and cultivated, and made into the prime organ of a man’s enjoyment, brings with it certain inevitable cares and disappointments. The happiness of such an one comes to depend greatly upon those fine shades of sensation that heighten and harmonise the coarser elements of beauty. And thus a degree of nervous prostration, that to other men would be hardly disagreeable, is enough to overthrow for him the whole fabric of his life, to take, except at rare moments, the edge off his pleasures, and to meet him wherever he goes with failure, and the sense of want, and disenchantment of the world and life.

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Chicago: Robert Louis Stevenson, "Selected Passages," The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson, ed. Sutherland, Alexander, 1853-1902 and trans. Seaton, R. C. in The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson (New York: George E. Wood, ""Death-bed"" edition, 1892), Original Sources, accessed July 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=781QLN9VQREGBKM.

MLA: Stevenson, Robert Louis. "Selected Passages." The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson, edited by Sutherland, Alexander, 1853-1902, and translated by Seaton, R. C., in The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson, New York, George E. Wood, ""Death-bed"" edition, 1892, Original Sources. 4 Jul. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=781QLN9VQREGBKM.

Harvard: Stevenson, RL, 'Selected Passages' in The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson, ed. and trans. . cited in ""Death-bed"" edition, 1892, The Pocket R.L.S.: Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 July 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=781QLN9VQREGBKM.