I cannot understand the special enthusiasm for The Playboy except among those who read it before they knew anything of Synge’s earlier and better work. With all its faults, however, it is written by the hand of genius, and the first hearing or reading of it must come as a revelation to those who do not know Riders to the Sea or The Well of the Saints. Even when it is played, as it is now played, in an expurgated form, and with sentimentality substituted for the tolerant but Mephistophelean malice which Synge threaded into it, the genius and originality are obvious enough. The Playboy is a marvellous confection, but it is to Riders to the Sea one turns in search of Synge the immortal poet.
VILLON: THE GENIUS OF THE TAVERN
It is to Stevenson’s credit that he was rather sorry that he had ever written his essay on Villon. He explains that this was due to the fact that he “regarded Villon as a bad fellow,” but one likes to think that his conscience was also a little troubled because through lack of sympathy he had failed to paint a just portrait of a man of genius. Villon was a bad fellow enough in all conscience. He was not so bad, however, as Stevenson made him out. He was, no doubt, a thief; he had killed a man; and it may even be (if we are to read autobiography into one of the most shocking portions of the Grand Testament) that he lived for a time on the earnings of “la grosse Margot.” But, for all this, he was not the utterly vile person that Stevenson believed. His poetry is not mere whining and whimpering of genius which occasionally changes its mood and sticks its fingers to its nose. It is rather the confession of a man who had wandered over the “crooked hills of delicious pleasure,” and had arrived in rags and filth in the famous city of Hell. It is a map of disaster and a chronicle of lost souls. Swinburne defined the genius of Villon more imaginatively than Stevenson when he addressed him in a paradoxical line as:
Bird of the bitter bright grey golden morn,
and spoke of his “poor, perfect voice,”
That rings athwart the sea
whence no man steers,
Like joy-bells crossed with death-bells in our ears.