“If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:—
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake.”
Works.—Stevenson wrote entertaining travels, such as An Inland Voyage (1878), the record of a canoe journey from Antwerp to Pontoise, Travels with a Donkey through the Cevennes (1879), and In the South Seas (published in book form in 1896). Early in life he wrote many essays, the best of which are included in the volumes, Virginibus Puerisque (To Girls and Boys, 1881) and Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882). Valuable papers presenting his views of the technique of writing may be found in the volumes called Memories and Portraits (1887) and Essays in the Art of Writing (collected after his death). There is a happy blending of style, humor, and thought in many of these essays. Perhaps the most unusual and original of all is Child’s Play (Virginibus Puerisque). This is a psychological study, which reveals one of his strongest characteristics, the power of vividly recalling the events and feelings of childhood.
“When my cousin and I took our porridge of a morning, we had a device to enliven the course of the meal. He ate his with sugar, and explained it to be a country continually buried under snow. I took mine with milk, and explained it to be a country suffering gradual inundation. You can imagine us exchanging bulletins; how here was an island still unsubmerged, here a valley not yet covered with snow; ...and how, in fine, the food was of altogether secondary importance, and might even have been nauseous, so long as we seasoned it with these dreams.”
The simplicity and apparent artlessness of his A Child’s Garden of Verse (1885) have caused many critics to neglect these poems; but the verdict of young children is almost unanimous against such neglect. These songs
“Lead onward into fairy land,
Where all the children dine at five,
And all the playthings come alive.”
It is quite possible that the verses in this little volume may in the coming years appeal to more human beings than all the remainder of Stevenson’s work. He and his American contemporary, Eugene Field (1850-1895), had the peculiar genius to delight children with a type of verse in which only a very few poets have excelled.
Boys and young men love Stevenson best for his short stories and romances. After a careful study of Poe and Hawthorne, the American short story masters, Stevenson made the English impressionistic short story a more artistic creation. Some of the best of his short stories are Will o’ the Mill (1878), The Sire de Maletroit’s Door (1878), and Markheim (1885). His best-known single production, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is really a short story that presents a remarkable psychological study of dual personality.