The short stories served as an apprenticeship for the longer romances, of which Treasure Island is the best constructed and the most interesting. Among a number of other romances, the four which deal with eighteenth-century Scottish history are the best: Kidnapped (1886), The Master of Ballantrae (1889), David Balfour (Catriona, 1893), and the unfinished Weir of Hermiston, published two years after his death.
[Illustration: EDINBURGH MEMORIAL OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. By Augustus St. Candeus.]
General Characteristics.—Unlike the majority of the Victorian writers of fiction, Stevenson preferred the field of romance and adventure. It is natural to compare him with Scott, who showed a far wider range, both in subject matter and in the portrayal of human beings. Stevenson, however, surpassed Scott in swift delineation of incident, in pictorial vividness, and in literary form. Scott dashed off some of his long romances in six weeks; while Stevenson said that his printer’s copy was sometimes the result of ten times that amount of writing. The year before he died, he spent three weeks in writing twenty-four pages.
Stevenson’s romances are remarkable for artistic style, clearness of visual image, and boyish love of adventure. He made little attempt to portray more than the masculine half of the human race. His simple verses possess rare power to charm children. The most evident quality of all his prose is its artistic finish.
[Illustration: GEORGE MEREDITH. From the painting by G.F. Watts, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life.—George Meredith was the only child of a Welsh father and an Irish mother. He was born in 1828 over his grandfather’s tailor shop in Portsmouth, Hampshire. The father proved incompetent in handling the excellent tailoring business to which he fell heir; and he soon abandoned his son. The mother died when the boy was five years old, and he was then cared for by relatives. When he was fourteen, he was sent to school in Germany for two years; but he did not consider his schooling of much benefit to him and he was forced to educate himself for his life’s work.
On his return to England, he was articled to a London solicitor; but by the age of twenty-one, Meredith had abandoned the law and had begun the literary life which was to receive his undivided attention for nearly sixty years. The struggle was at first extremely hard. Some days, indeed, he is said to have lived on a single bowl of porridge.
While following his work as a novelist, he tried writing for periodicals, served as a newspaper correspondent, and later became a literary adviser for a large London publishing firm. In this capacity, he proved a sympathetic friend to many a struggling young author. Thomas Hardy says that he received from Meredith’s praise sufficient encouragement to persevere in the field of literature.