As to his literary likings, they appear in his own confessions. He revelled in Dickens, but, about Thackeray—well, I would rather have talked to somebody else! To my amazement, he was of those (I think) who find Thackeray “cynical.” “He takes you into a garden, and then pelts you with”—horrid things! Mr. Stevenson, on the other hand, had a free admiration of Mr. George Meredith. He did not so easily forgive the longueus and lazinesses of Scott, as a Scot should do. He read French much; Greek only in translations.
Literature was, of course, his first love, but he was actually an advocate at the Scottish Bar, and, as such, had his name on a brazen door-plate. Once he was a competitor for a Chair of Modern History in Edinburgh University; he knew the romantic side of Scottish history very well. In his novel, “Catriona,” the character of James Mohr Macgregor is wonderfully divined. Once I read some unpublished letters of Catriona’s unworthy father, written when he was selling himself as a spy (and lying as he spied) to the Hanoverian usurper. Mr. Stevenson might have written these letters for James Mohr; they might be extracts from “Catriona.”
In turning over old Jacobite pamphlets, I found a forgotten romance of Prince Charles’s hidden years, and longed that Mr. Stevenson should retell it. There was a treasure, an authentic treasure; there were real spies, a real assassin; a real, or reported, rescue of a lovely girl from a fire at Strasbourg, by the Prince. The tale was to begin sur le pont d’Avignon: a young Scotch exile watching the Rhone, thinking how much of it he could cover with a salmon fly, thinking of the Tay or Beauly. To him enter another shady tramping exile, Blairthwaite, a murderer. And so it was to run on, as the author’s fancy might lead him, with Alan Breck and the Master for characters. At last, in unpublished MSS. I found an actual Master of Ballantrae, a Highland chief—noble, majestically handsome—and a paid spy of England! All these papers I sent out to Samoa, too late. The novel was to have been dedicated to me, and that chance of immortality is gone, with so much else.