[The following passage comes from the author's Robert Louis Stevenson — George P. Landow.]
this perverse youth would go his own way. And again with the best possible results. Yet he is not to be applauded, for this conduct showed or developed a strain of weakness in him. He left an enormous deal unfinished, and at critical periods some of his long stories break down.
He carried this neglect of stated times and places to a much greater and more aggravating and perplexing extent. Modern Edinburgh society is conventional, precise, prim, formal, in speech, in thought, in conduct, in dress, much given to formal parties and to formal exchange of civilities. If it does not rise very high, it is determined not to sink very low. It is very exclusive. The Scots Mrs. Grundy is fearfully and wonderfully made, and is an absolute despot. The Stevensons were people of position in Edinburgh and lived in the best social life of the place. All this R. L. S. detested with his whole heart and soul. He would have none of the formal society. He found more humour, more point, more salt in folk at the other end of the social scale. He had friends of his own class, but they were mainly of his own way of thinking. Now he has said of Fergusson, “It was not choice as much as an external fate that kept Fergusson in this round of sordid pleasures. A Scot of poetic temperament drops as if by nature into the public-house. The picture may not be pleasing, but what else is a man to do in this dog's weather?”
This is almost a confession that he himself “dropped” into the public-house. . . . Now the public-house in Edinburgh is a very different thing from the public-house in London. It is frequented by a lower class of people. You can scarcely "use" one in the North, to employ a curious London vulgarism, and continue respectable. There is well-founded reason for this. Liquor in the form of whisky has a certain unholy power over the Scot, and the better his brain and the kinder his heart so much more potent the attraction. The gloom of the climate, the gloom of the national faith, the gloom of the national character, all help to account for this. And yet, by a certain magic, R. L. S. escaped this real and very present danger. If he heard the chimes at midnight, nay, if he lay among the pots, it was but for a season. His physical or mental constitution, his physical and mental delicacy, the strength of his morals or his will, this or something else scared him from the danger to which many a friend succumbed.
Portrait of Stevenson at Vailima. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Again, from carelessness or perversity, perhaps it may be from inverted pride, Stevenson dressed in the most outre fashion. Some men can do this and still look distinguished. R. L. S. to the common eye was not one of them. He was often accepted as no better than a tramp. All this was enough to flutter the family dovecot, but one other element more extreme than all remains. However strong the national faith, however rigid the spirit of Scots Calvinism, there was always a violent opposition to and reaction from it in certain quarters, and especially of later days, among the younger men at the University. Extreme in belief, the Scot is also extreme in his unbelief. The cheap acquiescence and practical neglect of the Englishman is or at least was not his. Here Stevenson was in accord with many another student. It was impossible but that he should show that he did not think as his fathers had thought on such matters. It is not surprising that the impression R. L. S. produced in Edinburgh, though he was not then a sufficiently important person to make any great impression at all, was that he was a harum-scarum youth who had some skill in putting words together, but who if he did not go under would never make anything of a creditable appearance. It was as such that I first heard of him.
Cruse, Amy. Robert Louis Stevenson. George G. Harrap, 1905 Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of Connecticut Library. Web. 9 October 2014.
Last modified 10 October 2014