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Essays: English and American. rn The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Introductory Note

ROBERT LOUIS BALFOUR STEVENSON (1850–94), novelist, essayist, and poet, was descended from a famous family of lighthouse builders. He was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, and was intended for the ancestral profession of engineer. Abandoning this, he tried law with no better success, and finally devoted himself to his destined vocation of letters.

Stevenson began his career with the writing of essays, then issued two charming volumes of humorous and contemplative travel, “An Inland Voyage” and “Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes”; then collected in his “New Arabian Nights” a number of fanciful short stories he had been publishing in a magazine. In 1883 he first caught the attention of the larger public with “Treasure Island,” one of the best, and probably the best written, boys’ story in the language. His most sensational success was “the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”; but a much higher literary quality appears in such novels as “The Master of Ballantrae,” “Kidnapped,” and “Catriona,” in which he to some extent follows the tradition of Scott, with far greater finish of style, but without Scott’s fine spontaneity and unconsciousness. He published also three small volumes of verse, some of it of great charm and delicacy.

Stevenson was essentially an artist in words. The modern desire for subtlety of cadence and for the rendering of fine shades of expression is seen in a high degree in all he wrote, and his work has the merits and defects that accompany this extreme preoccupation with style. But he had also great virtues of matter. He was a superb story-teller, an acute and sensitive critic, a genial and whole-hearted lover of life. In the essay on “Truth of Intercourse” will be found an example of his gracious and tactful moralizing; in “Samuel Pepys,” a penetrating interpretation of one of the most amazing pieces of self-revelation in the annals of literature.