Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 193 pages of information about Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson.

[Note 24:  “Carneying.”  This means coaxing, wheedling.]

[Note 25:  Louis Quatorze.  Louis XIV of France, who died in 1715, after a reign of 72 years, the longest reign of any monarch in history.  His absolutism and complete disregard of the people unconsciously prepared the way for the French Revolution in 1789.]

VII

A COLLEGE MAGAZINE

I

All through my boyhood and youth, I was known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler;[1] and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write.  I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.  As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a penny version-book would be in my hand, to note down the features of the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas.  Thus I lived with words.  And what I thus wrote was for no ulterior use, it was written consciously for practice.  It was not so much that I wished to be an author (though I wished that too) as that I had vowed that I would learn to write.  That was a proficiency that tempted me; and I practised to acquire it, as men learn to whittle, in a wager with myself.  Description was the principal field of my exercise; for to any one with senses there is always something worth describing, and town and country are but one continuous subject.  But I worked in other ways also; often accompanied my walks with dramatic dialogues, in which I played many parts; and often exercised myself in writing down conversations from memory.

This was all excellent, no doubt; so were the diaries I sometimes tried to keep, but always and very speedily discarded, finding them a school of posturing[2] and melancholy self-deception.  And yet this was not the most efficient part of my training.  Good though it was, it only taught me (so far as I have learned them at all) the lower and less intellectual elements of the art, the choice of the essential note and the right word:  things that to a happier constitution had perhaps come by nature.  And regarded as training, it had one grave defect; for it set me no standard of achievement.  So that there was perhaps more profit, as there was certainly more effort, in my secret labours at home.  Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which there was either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the style, I must sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality.  I was unsuccessful, and I knew it; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts, I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction and the co-ordination of parts.  I have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to

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Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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