Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Our book today is a jam-packed volume from 1903 called Stevensoniana, and it consists, as you might expect, of countless odd bits and pieces relating to the life and work of Robert Louis Stevenson. The bits and pieces are assembled by the legendary bookman John Hammerton (whose own book of bits and pieces, Books and Myself, is very much worth your time, if you can find a copy), who right up front offers his justifications:
By far the greater part of the work consists of matter, always interesting and often of high value, which might never have been brought together in one volume, and could have been consulted with great difficulty only, if at all. Perhaps, for this reason alone, 'Stevensoniana' carries its own excuse. The feeling uppermost in the mind of the editor while proceeding with the work of research and collation was one of surprise that a similar undertaking had not been essayed before, so rich and abundant was the material to engage any compiler.

Hammerton was perhaps so busy with his researching and collating that he didn't notice the dozen or so previous examples of Stevensoniana (memoirs, remembrances, tributes, etc) that had cropped up in Scotland and England in the decade since the writer's death, but no matter: this one is the best, the most comprehensive of them all. Those of you who've been reading Stevereads for any time (or who've been unlucky enough to be receiving the "audio version" for lot, these many years!) will know the esteem in which I hold RLS, the sheer joy I take in the huge variety of his literary output. Stevensoniana (like Johnsoniana, Kiplingiana, and Trollopiana!) of virtually any kind is guaranteed to win a smile from me, and a volume like this one - sitting unwanted on a Massachusetts library shelf for a decade, with nobody consulting its treasures until it was dropped from inventory and sold to me - instantly becomes a treasure. Attentive readers can glean many things from such a volume of miscellanies that they might not be shown in a more carefully gardened presentation, as in Charles Lowe's enthusiastic recollection of the rail-thin chain-smoking youth he met at Edinburgh University:
From that single hour's conversation with the embryo author of 'Treasure Island,' I certainly derived more intellectual and personal stimulus than ever was imparted to me by any six months' course of lectures within the walls of 'good King James's College.' He was so perfectly frank and ingenuous, so ebullient and open-hearted, so funny, so sparkling, so confiding, so vaulting in his literary ambitions, and withal so widely read and well-informed - notwithstanding his youth, for he could scarcely have been out of his teens then - that I could not help saying to myself that here was a young man who commended himself more to my approval and emulation than any other of my fellow-students ...

That 'so funny' points squarely at the more ephemeral glimpses that collections like this preserve. And in addition to such things, sometimes reading through this king of volume brings unforeseen patterns to the fore. This is W. E. Henley remembering the great author:
At bottom Stevenson was an excellent fellow. But he was of his essence what the French call personnel. He was, that is, incessantly and passionately interested in Stevenson. He could not be in the same room with a mirror but he must invite its confidences every time he passed it; to him there was nothing obvious in time and eternity, and the smallest of his discoveries, his most trivial apprehensions, were all by way of being revelations, and as revelations must be thrust upon the world; he was never so much in earnest, never so well pleased (this were he happy or wretched), never so irresistible, as when he wrote about himself.

And here's S. R. Crockett, writing with far greater skill but striking oddly similar notes:
But when he writes of himself, how supremely excellent is the reading. It is good even when he does it intentionally, as in 'Memories and Portraits.' 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 fro 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 off a printed page.

All of it - all these tantalizing glimpses - are food for thought, all of it re-ponderable as the reader continues to love the writings of the man himself. The two are inextricably linked in fondess, as Clement Shorter points out in this volume:  "Who could fail to love the man and his books?"

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