“I go to fly at higher
At prose as good as I can make it;
And though it brings nor gold nor fame,
I will not, while I live, forsake it.”
It is no disparagement to his verse to rejoice over this resolve of his. For a young man who begins with epic may end with good epic; but a young man who begins with imitating Calverley will turn in time to prose if he means to write in earnest. And J.K.S. may do well or ill, but that he is to be watched has been evident since the days when he edited the Reflector.[B]
[A] I am bound to admit that the only authority for this is a note written into the text of Aubrey’s Lives.
[B] The reader will refer to the date at the head of this paper:—
“Heu miserande puer! signa
fata aspera rumpas,
Tu Marcellus eris.
* * * * *
Sed nox atra caput tristi circumvolat umbra.”
April 15, 1893. The “Island Nights’ Entertainments.”
I wish Mr. Stevenson had given this book another title. It covers but two out of the three stories in the volume; and, even so, it has the ill-luck to be completely spoilt by its predecessor, the New Arabian Nights.
The New Arabian Nights was in many respects a parody of the Eastern book. It had, if we make a few necessary allowances for the difference between East and West, the same, or very near the same, atmosphere of gallant, extravagant, intoxicated romance. The characters had the same adventurous irresponsibility, and exhibit the same irrelevancies and futilities. The Young Man with the Cream Cakes might well have sprung from the same brain as the facetious Barmecide, and young Scrymgeour sits helpless before his destiny as sat that other young man while the inexorable Barber sang the song and danced the dance of Zantout. Indeed Destiny in these books resembles nothing so much as a Barber with forefinger and thumb nipping his victims by the nose. It is as omnipotent, as irrational, as humorous and almost as cruel in the imitation as in the original. Of course I am not comparing these in any thing but their general presentment of life, or holding up The Rajah’s Diamond against Aladdin. I am merely pointing out that life is presented to us in Galland and in Mr. Stevenson’s first book of tales under very similar conditions—the chief difference being that Mr. Stevenson has to abate something of the supernatural, or to handle it less frankly.