Crockett’s memorial piece in ‘The Bookman’ of January 1895.
Sitting alone by the sea in the mid days of November, I wrote a little article on what I loved most in the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it was set in type for the January Bookman. In itself a thing of no value, it pleased me to think that in his far island my friend would read it, and that it might amuse him. I have tried and failed to revise it in the gloom of the night that has come so swiftly to those who loved him. It would not do.
How could one alter and amend the light sentences with the sense of loss in one's heart? How sit down to write a "tribute " when one has slept, and started, and awaked all night with the dull ache that lies below Sleep saying all the time, "Stevenson is dead! Stevenson is dead!"?
It is true also that I have small right to speak of him. I was little to him ; but then he was very much to me. He alone of mankind saw what pleased him in a little book of boyish verses.
Seven years ago he wrote to tell me so. He had a habit of quoting stray lines from it in successive letters to let me see that he remembered what he had praised. Yet he was ever as modest and brotherly as if I had been the great author and he the lad writing love verses to his sweetheart.
Without reproach and without peer in friendship, our king-over-the-water stood first in our hearts because his own was full of graciousness and tolerance and chivalry.
I let my little article be just as I wrote it for his eye to see, before any of us guessed that the dread hour was so near the sounding which should call our well-beloved "home from the hill."
S. R . CROCKETT. Penicuik, Midlothian. December 19th, 1894
MR. STEVENSON'S BOOKS. By S. R. CROCKETT. (Bookman, January 1895)
In sunny Samoa, more thousands of miles away than the ungeographical can count, sits "The Scot Abroad."
For thus Burton the historian, sane, sage, and wise, wrote of Mr Robert Louis Stevenson before his time. It is the wont of Scotland that her sons, for adventure or merchandise, should early expatriate themselves. The ships of the world in all seas are engineered from the Clyde, and a "doon-the watter" accent is considered as necessary as lubricating oil, in order that the plunging piston rods may really enjoy their rhythmic dance. If you step ashore anywhere "east of Suez and the Ten Commandments," ten to one the first man of your tongue who greets you, will hail in the well-remembered accent of the Scotch gardener who chased you out of the strawberry plots of your unblessed youth.
But to us who "stop at home, on flowery beds of ease," made aware of ourselves only when the east wind blows and we think that we are back in St. Andrews, the typical "Scot Abroad " is neither Burton's Gentleman Companion at Arms nor the oily chief engineer, but Mr. Stevenson.
On high in a cool bowery room on the hillside, looking down on the league-long rollers forming themselves to be hurled on the shore, sits one with his heels on the coco matting of Samoa, but his head over the Highland border. The chiefs gather for palaver (or whatever they are pleased to call hunkering-and blethering out there), and they tell the Tale-teller of heads taken and plantations raided. And be stays his pen and arbitrates, or he "leaves for the front," as though he were plenipotentiary of the Triple Alliance. But all the while it is James More Macgregor who is marching out arrayed in a breech-clout and a Winchester "to plunder and to ravish"-or carry off an heiress lass from the lowlands as was good Macgregor use and wont.
They call the beautiful new complete "Stevenson " which Mr. Sidney Colvin and Mr. Charles Baxter have contrived and organised, the "Edinburgh " edition, because though the stars of the tropics glow like beacons, and in Apia the electric light winks a-nights like glow worms amid a wilderness of green leaves, yet to the lad who sits aloft there are still "no stars like the Edinburgh street lamps." But my own local enthusiasm are duller, for the lastt night I was in Edinburgh I saw a wind (Rajputana and Edinburgh are the only two places where you can see wind)-I saw a wind, with the bit between its teeth, run off with itself down that romantic wall of hotels, which in the night looks like the thunder battered wall of the Dungeon of Buchan. I saw it snatch out a dozen gaps in the converging perspective of the gulamps, and bring down the chimney-cans crashing on the pavement like forest leaves in a November blast. So Mr. Stevenson, who does not live there, "for love and euphony " names his collected edition (to which be all good luck and fostering breezes) "The Edinburgh Edition.” I have just seen the first volume, which in its brightness and beauty seems a summary of all the perfections, and whose print recalls that in which the early novels of Scott were set up. Mr. Hole's portrait suffers a little from the excessive size of the hands, but in spite of this is by far the most characteristic Stevensonian portrait ever done, and represents him exactly as his friends remember him at the most productive period his genius has yet known .
To me the most interesting thing in Mr. Stevenson's books is always Mr. Stevenson himself. Some authors (perhaps the greatest) severely sit with the more ancient gods, and serenely keep themselves out of their books. Most of these authors are dead now. Others put their personalities in, indeed; but would do much better to keep them out. Their futilities and pomposities, pose as they may, are no more interesting than those of the chairman of a prosperous limited company. But there are a chosen few who cannot light a cigarette or part their hair in a new place without being interesting. Upon such in this life, interviewers bear down in shoals with pencils pointed like spears; and about them as soon as they are dead-lo! begins at once the "chatter about Harriet."
Mr. Stevenson is of this company. Rarest of all, his friends have loved_ and praised him so judiciously that he has no enemies. He might have been the spoiled child of letters. He is only "all the world's Louis." The one unforgivable thing in a chequered past is that at one time be wore a black shirt, to which we refuse to be reconciled on any terms.
But when he writes of himself, how supremely excellent is the reading. It is good even when he does it intentionally, as in 'Portraits and Memories.' It is better still when he sings it, as in his 'Child's Garden .' He is irresistible to every lonely child who reads and thrills, and reads again to find his past recovered for him with effortless ease. It is a book never long out of my hands , for only in it and in my dreams when I am touched with fever, do I grasp the long, long thoughts of a lonely child and a hill-wandering boy thoughts I never told to any; yet which Mr. Stevenson tells over again to me as if he read them oft' a printed page.
I am writing at a distance from books and collections of Stevensoniana, so that I cannot quote, but only vaguely follow the romancer through some of his incarnations. Of course every romancer, consciously or unconsciously, incarnates himself, especially if he writes his books in the first person . It is he who makes love to the heroine; he who fights with the Frenchman "who never can win"; he who climbs the Mountain Perilous with a dirk between his teeth. But Mr. Stevenson writes the fascination of his personality into all his most attractive creations, and whenever I miss the incarnation, I miss most of the magic as well. Jim Hawkins is only "the Lantern Bearer " of North Berwick Links translated into the language of adventure on the high seas -the healthier also for the change.
I love Jim Hawkins. On my soul I love him more even than Alan Breck. He is the boy we should all like to have been, though no doubt David Ballfour is much more like the boys we were without the piety and the adventures. I read Stevenson in every line of 'Treasure Island.' It is of course mixed of Erraid and the island discovered by Mr. Daniel Defoe But we love anything of such excellent breed, and the crossing only improves it. Our hearts dance when Mr. Stevenson lands his cut-throats, with one part of himself as hero and the other as villain. John Silver is an admirable villain, for he is just the author genially cutting throat. Even when he pants three times as he sends the knife home, we do not entirely believe in his villainy. We expect to see the murdered seaman about again and hearty at his meals in the course of a chapter or two. John is a villain at great expense and trouble to himself; but we like him personally, and are prepared to sit down and suck an apple with him, even when he threatens to stove in our "thundering old blockhouse and them as dies will be the lucky ones." In our hearts we think the captain was a little hard on him. We know that it is Mr. Stevenson all the time, and are terrified exactly like a three-year-old who sees his father take a rug over his bead and "be a bear.'' The thrill is delicious, for there is just an off chance that after all the thing may turn out to be a bear; but still we are pretty easy that at the play's end the bearskin will be tossed aside, the villain repent, and John Silver get off with a comfortable tale of pieces of eight.
No book has charted more authentically the topographical features of the kingdom of Romance than 'Treasure Island.' Is that island in the South or in the North Atlantic? Is it in the "Spanish main"? What is the Spanish main? Is it in the Atlantic at all? Or set a jewel somewhere in the wide Pacific, or strung on some fringe of the Indian Ocean? Who knows or cares? Jim Hawkins is there. His luck, it_is true, is something remarkable. His chances are phenomenal His imagination, like ours, is running free, and we could go on for ever hearing about Jim. We can trust Jim Hawkins, and void of care we follow his star.
O for one hour of Jim in the ' Wrecker ' to clear up the mystery of the many captains, or honest and reputable John Silver to do for the poor Scot down below in a workman-like manner when he came running to him, instead of firing as it were "into the brown" till that crying stopped-a touch for which we find it hard to forgive Mr. Stevenson -pardon, Mr. Lloyd Osbourne.
Again, Alan Breck is ever Alan, and bright shines his sword; but be is never quite Jim Hawkins to me. Nor does he seem even so point-device in 'Catriona ' as he was in the round house or with his foot on the heather. But wherever Alan Breck goes or David Balfour follows, thither I am ready to fare forth, unquestioning and all-believing.
But when I do not care very much for any one of Mr. Stevenson's books, it is chiefly the lack of Mr. James Hawkins that I regret. Jim in doublet and hose-how differently he would have sped "The Black Arrow"! Jim in trousers and top hat-he would never have been found in the " Black Box," never have gone out with Huish upon the "Ebb Tide." John Silver never threw vitriol, but did his needs with a knife in a gentlemanly way, and that was because Jim Hawkins was there to see that he was worthy of himself. Jim would never have let things get to such a pass as to require Attwater's bullets splashing like hail in a pond over the last two pages to settle matters in any sort of way.
I often think of getting up a petition to Mr. Stevenson (it is easy to get around Robin), beseeching "with sobs and tears " that he will sort out all his beach-combers and Yankee captains, charter a rakish saucy-sailing schooner, Ship Jim Hawkins as ship's boy or captain (we are not particular), and then up anchor with a Yo-Ho-Cheerily for the Isle of our Heart's Desire, where they load Long Toms with pieces of eight, and, dead or alive, nobody minds Ben Gunn.
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