“Sing me a song of the lad that is gone,”
he wrote about Prince Charlie, but in his own case the lad was never “gone.” Like Keats and Shelley, he was, and he looked, of the immortally young. He and I were at school together, but I was an elderly boy of seventeen, when he was lost in the crowd of “gytes,” as the members of the lowest form are called. Like all Scotch people, we had a vague family connection; a great-uncle of his, I fancy, married an aunt of my own, called for her beauty, “The Flower of Ettrick.” So we had both heard; but these things were before our day. A lady of my kindred remembers carrying Stevenson about when he was “a rather peevish baby,” and I have seen a beautiful photograph of him, like one of Raffael’s children, taken when his years were three or four. But I never had heard of his existence till, in 1873, I think, I was at Mentone, in the interests of my health. Here I met Mr. Sidney Colvin, now of the British Museum, and, with Mr. Colvin, Stevenson. He looked as, in my eyes, he always did look, more like a lass than a lad, with a rather long, smooth oval face, brown hair worn at greater length than is common, large lucid eyes, but whether blue or brown I cannot remember, if brown, certainly light brown. On appealing to the authority of a lady, I learn that brown was the hue. His colour was a trifle hectic, as is not unusual at Mentone, but he seemed, under his big blue cloak, to be of slender, yet agile frame. He was like nobody else whom I ever met. There was a sort of uncommon celerity in changing expression, in thought and speech. His cloak and Tyrolese hat (he would admit the innocent impeachment) were decidedly dear to him. On the frontier of Italy, why should he not do as the Italians do? It would have been well for me if I could have imitated the wearing of the cloak!
I shall not deny that my first impression was not wholly favourable. “Here,” I thought, “is one of your aesthetic young men, though a very clever one.” What the talk was about, I do not remember; probably of books. Mr. Stevenson afterwards told me that I had spoken of Monsieur Paul de St. Victor, as a fine writer, but added that “he was not a British sportsman.” Mr. Stevenson himself, to my surprise, was unable to walk beyond a very short distance, and, as it soon appeared, he thought his thread of life was nearly spun. He had just written his essay, “Ordered South,” the first of his published works, for his “Pentland Rising” pamphlet was unknown, a boy’s performance. On reading “Ordered South,” I saw, at once, that here was a new writer, a writer indeed; one who could do what none of us, nous autres, could rival, or approach. I was instantly “sealed of the Tribe of Louis,” an admirer, a devotee, a fanatic, if you please. At least my taste has never altered. From this essay it is plain enough that the author (as is so common in youth, but with better reason than many have) thought himself