Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Nothing emboldens sin so much as mercy."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    An Apology For Idlers

    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    BOSWELL: "We grow weary when idle."

    JOHNSON: "That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company;
    but if we were idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all
    entertain one another."[1]

    Just now, when every one is bound, under pain of a decree in absence
    convicting them of _lèse_-respectability,[2] to enter on some
    lucrative profession, and labour therein with something not far short
    of enthusiasm, a cry from the opposite party who are content when they
    have enough, and like to look on and enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a
    little of bravado and gasconade.[3] And yet this should not be.
    Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in
    doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the
    ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry
    itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse to enter
    in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at once an insult
    and a disenchantment for those who do. A fine fellow (as we see so
    many) takes his determination, votes for the sixpences, and in the
    emphatic Americanism, "goes for" them.[4] And while such an one is
    ploughing distressfully up the road, it is not hard to understand his
    resentment, when he perceives cool persons in the meadows by the
    wayside, lying with a handkerchief over their ears and a glass at
    their elbow. Alexander is touched in a very delicate place by the
    disregard of Diogenes.[5] Where was the glory of having taken Rome[6]
    for these tumultuous barbarians, who poured into the Senate house, and
    found the Fathers sitting silent and unmoved by their success? It is a
    sore thing to have laboured along and scaled the arduous hilltops, and
    when all is done, find humanity indifferent to your achievement. Hence
    physicists condemn the unphysical; financiers have only a superficial
    toleration for those who know little of stocks; literary persons
    despise the unlettered; and people of all pursuits combine to
    disparage those who have none.

    But though this is one difficulty of the subject, it is not the
    greatest. You could not be put in prison for speaking against
    industry, but you can be sent to Coventry[7] for speaking like a fool.
    The greatest difficulty with most subjects is to do them well;
    therefore, please to remember this is an apology. It is certain that
    much may be judiciously argued in favour of diligence; only there is
    something to be said against it, and that is what, on the present
    occasion, I have to say. To state one argument is not necessarily to
    be deaf to all others, and that a man has written a book of travels in
    Montenegro, is no reason why he should never have been to Richmond.[8]

    It is surely beyond a doubt that people should be a good deal idle in
    youth. For though here and there a Lord Macaulay may escape from
    school honours[9] with all his wits about him, most boys pay so dear
    for their medals that they never afterwards have a shot in their
    locker, "and begin the world bankrupt." And the same holds true during
    all the time a lad is educating himself, or suffering others to
    educate him. It must have been a very foolish old gentleman who
    addressed Johnson at Oxford in these words: "Young man, ply your book
    diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come
    upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome
    task." The old gentleman seems to have been unaware that many other
    things besides reading grow irksome, and not a few become impossible,
    by the time a man has to use spectacles and cannot walk without a
    stick. Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty
    bloodless substitute for life. It seems a pity to sit, like the Lady
    of Shalott,[10] peering into a mirror, with your back turned on all
    the bustle and glamour of reality. And if a man reads very hard, as
    the old anecdote reminds us, he will have little time for thoughts.

    If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will not be the
    full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you regret; you would
    rather cancel some lack-lustre periods between sleep and waking[11] in
    the class. For my own part, I have attended a good many lectures in my
    time. I still remember that the spinning of a top is a case of Kinetic
    Stability. I still remember that Emphyteusis is not a disease, nor
    Stillicide[12] a crime. But though I would not willingly part with
    such scraps of science, I do not set the same store by them as by
    certain other odds and ends that I came by in the open street while I
    was playing truant. This is not the moment to dilate on that mighty
    place of education, which was the favourite school of Dickens and of
    Balzac,[13] and turns out yearly many inglorious masters in the
    Science of the Aspects of Life. Suffice it to say this: if a lad does
    not learn in the streets, it is because he has no faculty of learning.
    Nor is the truant always in the streets, for if he prefers, he may go
    out by the gardened suburbs into the country. He may pitch on some
    tuft of lilacs over a burn, and smoke innumerable pipes to the tune of
    the water on the stones. A bird will sing in the thicket. And there he
    may fall into a vein of kindly thought, and see things in a new
    perspective. Why, if this be not education, what is? We may conceive
    Mr. Worldly Wiseman[14] accosting such an one, and the conversation
    that should thereupon ensue:--

    "How, now, young fellow, what dost thou here?"

    "Truly, sir, I take mine ease."

    "Is not this the hour of the class? and should'st thou not be plying
    thy Book with diligence, to the end thou mayest obtain knowledge?"

    "Nay, but thus also I follow after Learning, by your leave."

    "Learning, quotha! After what fashion, I pray thee? Is it

    "No, to be sure."

    "Is it metaphysics?"

    "Nor that."

    "Is it some language?"

    "Nay, it is no language."

    "Is it a trade?"

    "Nor a trade neither."

    "Why, then, what is't?"

    "Indeed, sir, as a time may soon come for me to go upon Pilgrimage, I
    am desirous to note what is commonly done by persons in my case, and
    where are the ugliest Sloughs and Thickets on the Road; as also, what
    manner of Staff is of the best service. Moreover, I lie here, by this
    water, to learn by root-of-heart a lesson which my master teaches me
    to call Peace, or Contentment."

    Hereupon, Mr. Worldly Wiseman was much commoved with passion, and
    shaking his cane with a very threatful countenance, broke forth upon
    this wise: "Learning, quotha!" said he; "I would have all such rogues
    scourged by the Hangman!"

    And so he would go his way, ruffling out his cravat with a crackle of
    starch, like a turkey when it spread its feathers.

    Now this, of Mr. Wiseman, is the common opinion. A fact is not called
    a fact, but a piece of gossip, if it does not fall into one of your
    scholastic categories. An inquiry must be in some acknowledged
    direction, with a name to go by; or else you are not inquiring at all,
    only lounging; and the workhouse is too good for you. It is supposed
    that all knowledge is at the bottom of a well, or the far end of a
    telescope. Sainte-Beuve,[15] as he grew older, came to regard all
    experience as a single great book, in which to study for a few years
    ere we go hence; and it seemed all one to him whether you should read
    in Chapter xx., which is the differential calculus, or in Chapter
    xxxix., which is hearing the band play in the gardens. As a matter of
    fact, an intelligent person, looking out of his eyes and hearkening in
    his ears, with a smile on his face all the time, will get more true
    education than many another in a life of heroic vigils. There is
    certainly some chill and arid knowledge to be found upon the summits
    of formal and laborious science; but it is all round about you, and
    for the trouble of looking, that you will acquire the warm and
    palpitating facts of life. While others are filling their memory with
    a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week
    be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the
    fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to
    all varieties of men. Many who have "plied their book diligently," and
    know all about some one branch or another of accepted lore, come out
    of the study with an ancient and owl-like demeanour, and prove dry,
    stockish, and dyspeptic in all the better and brighter parts of life.
    Many make a large fortune, who remain underbred and pathetically
    stupid to the last. And meantime there goes the idler, who began life
    along with them--by your leave, a different picture. He has had time
    to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a great deal
    in the open air, which is the most salutary of all things for both
    body and mind; and if he has never read the great Book in very
    recondite places, he has dipped into it and skimmed it over to
    excellent purpose. Might not the student afford some Hebrew roots, and
    the business man some of his half-crowns, for a share of the idler's
    knowledge of life at large, and Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has
    another and more important quality than these. I mean his wisdom. He
    who has much looked on at the childish satisfaction of other people in
    their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very ironical
    indulgence. He will not be heard among the dogmatists. He will have a
    great and cool allowance for all sorts of people and opinions. If he
    finds no out-of-the-way truths, he will identify himself with no very
    burning falsehood. His way took him along a by-road, not much
    frequented, but very even and pleasant, which is called Commonplace
    Lane, and leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense.[16] Thence he shall
    command an agreeable, if no very noble prospect; and while others
    behold the East and West, the Devil and the Sunrise, he will be
    contentedly aware of a sort of morning hour upon all sublunary things,
    with an army of shadows running speedily and in many different
    directions into the great daylight of Eternity. The shadows and the
    generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent wars,[17] go by into
    ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all this, a man may
    see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and peaceful landscape;
    many firelit parlours; good people laughing, drinking, and making love
    as they did before the Flood or the French Revolution; and the old
    shepherd[18] telling his tale under the hawthorn.

    Extreme _busyness_, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a
    symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a
    catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a
    sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious
    of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation.
    Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you
    will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no
    curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations;
    they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its
    own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will
    even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they _cannot_
    be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those
    hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in
    the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they
    are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is
    a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they
    fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would
    suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you
    would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly
    they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a
    flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and
    college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have
    gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time
    they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man's soul were not
    too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a
    life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a
    listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and
    not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train.
    Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he
    was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is
    smoked out, the snuffbox empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright
    upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as
    being Success in Life.

    But it is not only the person himself who suffers from his busy
    habits, but his wife and children, his friends and relations, and down
    to the very people he sits with in a railway carriage or an omnibus.
    Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be
    sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. And it is not by
    any means certain that a man's business is the most important thing he
    has to do. To an impartial estimate it will seem clear that many of
    the wisest, most virtuous, and most beneficent parts that are to be
    played upon the Theatre of Life are filled by gratuitous performers,
    and pass, among the world at large, as phases of idleness. For in that
    Theatre not only the walking gentlemen, singing chambermaids, and
    diligent fiddlers in the orchestra, but those who look on and clap
    their hands from the benches, do really play a part and fulfil
    important offices towards the general result. You are no doubt very
    dependent on the care of your lawyer and stockbroker, of the guards
    and signalmen who convey you rapidly from place to place, and the
    policemen who walk the streets for your protection; but is there not a
    thought of gratitude in your heart for certain other benefactors who
    set you smiling when they fall in your way, or season your dinner with
    good company? Colonel Newcome helped to lose his friend's money; Fred
    Bayham had an ugly trick of borrowing shirts; and yet they were better
    people to fall among than Mr. Barnes. And though Falstaff was neither
    sober nor very honest, I think I could name one or two long-faced
    Barabbases whom the world could better have done without. Hazlitt
    mentions that he was more sensible of obligation to Northcote,[19] who
    had never done him anything he could call a service, than to his whole
    circle of ostentatious friends; for he thought a good companion
    emphatically the greatest benefactor. I know there are people in the
    world who cannot feel grateful unless the favour has been done them at
    the cost of pain and difficulty. But this is a churlish disposition. A
    man may send you six sheets of letter-paper covered with the most
    entertaining gossip, or you may pass half an hour pleasantly, perhaps
    profitably, over an article of his; do you think the service would be
    greater, if he had made the manuscript in his heart's blood, like a
    compact with the devil? Do you really fancy you should be more
    beholden to your correspondent, if he had been damning you all the
    while for your importunity? Pleasures are more beneficial than duties
    because, like the quality of mercy,[20] they are not strained, and
    they are twice blest. There must always be two to a kiss, and there
    may be a score in a jest; but wherever there is an element of
    sacrifice, the favour is conferred with pain, and, among generous
    people, received with confusion. There is no duty we so much underrate
    as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits
    upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they
    are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The other
    day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with
    so jolly an air that he set every one he passed into a good humour;
    one of these persons, who had been delivered from more than usually
    black thoughts, stopped the little fellow and gave him some money with
    this remark: "You see what sometimes comes of looking pleased." If he
    had looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and
    mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of smiling rather
    than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but
    upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal largely in the opposite
    commodity. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a
    five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of good-will; and
    their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been
    lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh
    proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically
    demonstrate the great Theorum of the liveableness of Life.
    Consequently, if a person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle
    he should remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger
    and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within practical
    limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths in the whole Body
    of Morality. Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I
    beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal
    of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous
    derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely from all
    fellowship, and lives a recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and
    a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people swiftly and bitterly, in a
    contraction of his whole nervous system, to discharge some temper
    before he returns to work. I do not care how much or how well he
    works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people's lives. They
    would be happier if he were dead. They could easier do without his
    services in the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his
    fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head. It is better to
    be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace nephew, than daily hag-ridden
    by a peevish uncle.

    And what, in God's name, is all this pother about? For what cause do
    they embitter their own and other people's lives? That a man should
    publish three or thirty articles a year, that he should finish or not
    finish his great allegorical picture, are questions of little interest
    to the world. The ranks of life are full; and although a thousand
    fall, there are always some to go into the breach. When they told Joan
    of Arc[21] she should be at home minding women's work, she answered
    there were plenty to spin and wash. And so, even with your own rare
    gifts! When nature is "so careless of the single life,"[22] why should
    we coddle ourselves into the fancy that our own is of exceptional
    importance? Suppose Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark
    night in Sir Thomas Lucy's[23] preserves, the world would have wagged
    on better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to the
    corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any the wiser of
    the loss. There are not many works extant, if you look the alternative
    all over, which are worth the price of a pound of tobacco to a man of
    limited means. This is a sobering reflection for the proudest of our
    earthly vanities. Even a tobacconist may, upon consideration, find no
    great cause for personal vainglory in the phrase; for although tobacco
    is an admirable sedative, the qualities necessary for retailing it are
    neither rare nor precious in themselves. Alas and alas! you may take
    it how you will, but the services of no single individual are
    indispensable. Atlas[24] was just a gentleman with a protracted
    nightmare! And yet you see merchants who go and labour themselves into
    a great fortune and thence into bankruptcy court; scribblers who keep
    scribbling at little articles until their temper is a cross to all who
    come about them, as though Pharaoh should set the Israelites to make a
    pin instead of a pyramid;[25] and fine young men who work themselves
    into a decline,[26] and are driven off in a hearse with white plumes
    upon it. Would you not suppose these persons had been whispered, by
    the Master of the Ceremonies, the promise of some momentous destiny?
    and that this lukewarm bullet on which they play their farces was the
    bull's-eye and centrepoint of all the universe? And yet it is not so.
    The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they
    know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect
    may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world
    they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the


    This essay was first printed in the _Cornhill Magazine_, for July
    1877, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 80-86. It was next published in the volume,
    _Virginibus Puerisque_, in 1881. Although this book contains some of
    the most admirable specimens of Stevenson's style, it did not have a
    large sale, and it was not until 1887 that another edition Appeared.
    The editor of the _Cornhill Magazine_ from 1871 to 1882 was Leslie
    Stephen (1832-1904), whose kindness and encouragement to the new
    writer were of the utmost importance at this critical time. That so
    grave and serious a critic as Leslie Stephen should have taken such
    delight in a _jeu d'esprit_ like _Idlers_, is proof, if any were
    needed, for the breadth of his literary outlook. Stevenson had been at
    work on this article a year before its appearance, which shows that
    his _Apology for Idlers_ demanded from him anything but idling. As
    Graham Balfour says, in his _Life of Stevenson_, I, 122, "Except
    before his own conscience, there was hardly any time when the author
    of the _Apology for Idlers_ ever really neglected the tasks of his
    true vocation." In July 1876 he wrote to Mrs. Sitwell, "A paper called
    'A Defence of Idlers' (which is really a defence of R.L.S.) is in a
    good way." A year later, after the publication of the article, he
    wrote (in August 1877) to Sidney Colvin, "Stephen has written to me
    apropos of 'Idlers,' that something more in that vein would be
    agreeable to his views. From Stephen I count that a devil of a lot."
    It is noteworthy that this charming essay had been refused by
    _Macmillan's Magazine_ before Stephen accepted it for the _Cornhill._
    (_Life,_ I, 180).

    [Note 1: The conversation between Boswell and Johnson, quoted at the
    beginning of the essay, occurred on the 26 October 1769, at the famous
    Mitre Tavern. In Stevenson's quotation, the word "all" should be
    inserted after the word "were" to correspond with the original text,
    and to make sense. Johnson, though constitutionally lazy, was no
    defender of Idlers, and there is a sly humour in Stevenson's appealing
    to him as authority. Boswell says in his _Life_, under date of 1780,
    "He would allow no settled indulgence of idleness upon principle, and
    always repelled every attempt to urge excuses for it. A friend one day
    suggested, that it was not wholesome to study soon after dinner.
    JOHNSON: 'Ah, sir, don't give way to such a fancy. At one time of my
    life I had taken it into my head that it was not wholesome to study
    between breakfast and dinner.'"]

    [Note 2: _Lèse-respectability._ From the French verb _leser_, to hurt,
    to injure. The most common employment of this verb is in the phrase
    "_lèse-majesté,"_ high treason. Stevenson's mood here is like that of
    Lowell, when he said regretfully, speaking of the eighteenth century,
    "Responsibility for the universe had not then been invented." (_Essay
    on Gray_.)]

    [Note 3: _Gasconade_. Boasting. The inhabitants of Gascony
    (_Gascogne)_ a province in the south-west of France, are proverbial
    not only for their impetuosity and courage, but for their willingness
    to brag of the possession of these qualities. Excellent examples of
    the typical Gascon in literature are D'Artagnan in Dumas's _Trois
    Mousquetaires_ (1844) and Cyrano in Rostand's splendid drama, _Cyrano
    de Bergerac_ (1897).]

    [Note 4: _In the emphatic Americanism, "goes for" them._ When
    Stevenson wrote this (1876-77), he had not yet been in America. Two
    years later, in 1879, when he made the journey across the plains, he
    had many opportunities to record Americanisms far more emphatic than
    the harmless phrase quoted here, which can hardly be called an
    Americanism. Murray's _New English Dictionary_ gives excellent English
    examples of this particular sense of "go for" in the years 1641, 1790,
    1864, and 1882!]

    [Note 5: _Alexander is touched in a very delicate place_. Alluding to
    the famous interview between the young Alexander and the old Diogenes,
    which took place at Corinth about 330 B.C. Alexander asked Diogenes in
    what way he could be of service to him, and the philosopher replied
    gruffly, "By standing out of my sunshine." As a young man Diogenes had
    been given to all excesses of dissipation; but he later went to the
    opposite extreme of asceticism, being one of the earliest and most
    striking illustrations of "plain living and high thinking." The
    debauchery of his youth and the privation and exposure of his old age
    did not deeply affect his hardy constitution, for he is said to have
    lived to the age of ninety. In the charming play by the Elizabethan,
    John Lyly, _A moste excellente Comedie of Alexander, Campaspe, and
    Diogenes_ (1584), the conversations between the man who has conquered
    the world and the man who has overcome the world are highly

    [Note 6: _Where was the glory of having taken Rome_. This refers to
    the invasion by the Gauls about the year 389 B. C. A good account is
    given in T. Arnold's _History of Rome_ I, pp. 534 et seq.]

    [Note 7: _Sent to Coventry_. The origin of this proverb, which means
    of course, "to ostracise," probably dates back to 1647, when,
    according to Clarendon's _History of the Great Rebellion_, VI, par.
    83, Royalist prisoners were sent to the parliamentary stronghold of
    Coventry, in Warwickshire.]

    [Note 8: _Montenegro ... Richmond_. Montenegro is one of the smallest
    principalities in the world, about 3,550 square miles. It is in the
    Balkan peninsula, to the east of the lower Adriatic, between
    Austro-Hungary and Turkey. When Stevenson was writing this essay,
    1876-77, Montenegro was the subject of much discussion, owing to the
    part she took in the Russo-Turkish war. The year after this article
    was published (1878) Montenegro reached the coast of the Adriatic for
    the first time, and now has two tiny seaports. Tennyson celebrated the
    hardy virtues of the inhabitants in his sonnet _Montenegro_, written
    in 1877.

    "O smallest among peoples! rough rock-throne
    Of Freedom! warriors beating back the swarm
    Of Turkish Islam for five hundred years."

    _Richmond_ is on the river Thames, close to the city of London.]

    [Note 9: _Lord Macaulay may escape from school honours._ Stevenson
    here alludes to the oft-heard statement that the men who succeed in
    after life have generally been near the foot of their classes at
    school and college. It is impossible to prove either the falsity or
    truth of so general a remark, but it is easier to point out men who
    have been successful both at school and in life, than to find
    sufficient evidence that school and college prizes prevent further
    triumphs. Macaulay, who is noted by Stevenson as an exception, was
    precocious enough to arouse the fears rather than the hopes of his
    friends. When he was four years old, he hurt his finger, and a lady
    inquiring politely as to whether the injured member was better, the
    infant replied gravely, "Thank you, Madam, the agony is abated."]

    [Note 10: _The Lady of Shalott_. See Tennyson's beautiful poem (1833).

    "And moving thro' a mirror clear
    That hangs before her all the year,
    Shadows of the world appear."]

    [Note 11: _Some lack-lustre periods between sleep and waking._ Cf.
    _King Lear_, Act I, Sc. 2, vs. 15. "Got 'tween asleep and wake."]

    [Note 12: _Kinetic Stability ... _Emphyteusis ... Stillicide_ For
    Kinetic Stability, see any modern textbook on Physics. _Emphyteusis_
    is the legal renting of ground; _Stillicide_, a continual dropping of
    water, as from the eaves of a house. These words, _Emphyteusis_ and
    _Stillicide_, are terms in Roman Law. Stevenson is of course making
    fun of the required studies of Physics and Roman Law, and of their
    lack of practical value to him in his chosen career.]

    [Note 13: _The favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac_. The great
    English novelist Dickens (1812-1870) and his greater French
    contemporary Balzac (1799-1850), show in their works that their chief
    school was Life.]

    [Note 14: _Mr. Worldly Wiseman_. The character in Bunyan's _Pilgrim's
    Progress_ (1678), who meets Christian soon after his setting out from
    the City of Destruction. _Pilgrim's Progress_ was a favorite book of
    Stevenson's; he alludes to it frequently in his essays. See also his
    own article _Bagster's Pilgrim's Progress_, first published in the
    _Magazine of Art_ in February 1882. This essay is well worth reading,
    and the copies of the pictures which he includes are extremely

    [Note 15: _Sainte-Beuve._ The French writer Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869)
    is usually regarded today as the greatest literary critic who ever
    lived. His constant change of convictions enabled him to see life from
    all sides.]

    [Note 16: _Belvedere of Commonsense_. Belvedere is an Italian word,
    which referred originally to a place of observation on the top of a
    house, from which one might enjoy an extensive prospect. A portion of
    the Vatican in Rome is called the Belvedere, thus lending this name to
    the famous statue of Apollo, which stands there. On the continent,
    anything like a summer-house is often called a Belvedere. One of the
    most interesting localities which bears this name is the Belvedere
    just outside of Weimar, in Germany, where Goethe used to act in his
    own dramas in the open air theatre.]

    [Note 17: _The plangent wars_. Plangent is from the Latin _plango_, to
    strike, to beat. Stevenson's use of the word is rather unusual in

    [Note 18: _The old shepherd telling his tale_.. See Milton,

    "And every shepherd tells his tale
    Under the hawthorn in the dale."

    "Tells his tale" means of course "counts his sheep," not "tells a
    story." The old use of the word "tell" for "count" survives to-day in
    the word "teller" in a parliamentary assemblage, or in a bank.]

    [Note 19: _Colonel Newcome ... Fred Bayham ... Mr. Barnes ... Falstaff
    ... Barabbases ... Hazlitt ... Northcote._ Colonel Newcome, the great
    character in Thackeray's _The Newcomes_ (1854). _Fred Bayham_ and
    _Barnes Newcome_ are persons in the same story. One of the best essays
    on Falstaff is the one printed in the first series of Mr. Augustine
    Birrell's _Obiter Dicta_ (1884). This essay would have pleased
    Thackeray. One of the finest epitaphs in literature is that pronounced
    over the supposedly dead body of Falstaff by Prince Hal--"I could have
    better spared a better man." (_King Henry IV_, Part I, Act V, Sc. 4.)
    _Barabbas_ was the robber who was released at the time of the trial of
    Christ.... _William Hazlitt_ (1778-1830), the well-known essayist,
    published in 1830 the _Conversations_ of _James Northcote_
    (1746-1831). Northcote was an artist and writer, who had been an
    assistant in the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Stevenson projected a
    _Life of Hazlitt_, but later abandoned the undertaking. (_Life,_ I,

    [Note 20: _The quality of mercy_. See Portia's wonderful speech in the
    _Merchant of Venice_, Act IV, Scene I.]

    [Note 21: _Joan of Arc_. The famous inspired French peasant girl, who
    led the armies of her king to victory, and who was burned at Rouen in
    1431. She was variously regarded as a harlot and a saint. In
    Shakspere's historical plays, she is represented in the basest manner,
    from conventional motives of English patriotism. Voltaire's scandalous
    work, _La Pucelle_, and Schiller's noble _Jungfrau von Orleans_ make
    an instructive contrast. She has been the subject of many dramas and
    works of poetry and fiction. Her latest prominent admirer is Mark
    Twain, whose historical romance _Joan of Arc_ is one of the most
    carefully written, though not one of the most characteristic of his

    [Note 22: "_So careless of the single life_." See Tennyson's _In
    Memoriam_, LV, where the poet discusses the pessimism caused by
    regarding the apparent indifference of nature to the happiness of the

    "Are God and Nature then at strife,
    That Nature lends such evil dreams?
    So careful of the type she seems,
    So careless of the single life."]

    [Note 23: _Shakespeare ... Sir Thomas Lucy_. The familiar tradition
    that Shakspere as a boy was a poacher on the preserves of his
    aristocratic neighbor, Sir Thomas Lucy. See Halliwell-Phillipps's
    _Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare_. In 1879, at the first
    performance of _As You Like It_ at the Stratford Memorial Theatre, the
    deer brought on the stage in Act IV, Scene 2, had been shot that very
    morning by H.S. Lucy, Esq., of Charlecote Park, a descendant of the
    owner of the herd traditionally attacked by the future dramatist.]

    [Note 24: _Atlas_. In mythology, the leader of the Titans, who fought
    the Gods, and was condemned by Zeus to carry the weight of the vault
    of heaven on his head and hands. In the sixteenth century the name
    Atlas was given to a collection of maps by Mercator, probably because
    a picture of Atlas had been commonly placed on the title-pages of
    geographical works.]

    [Note 25: _Pharaoh ... Pyramid_. For _Pharaoh's_ experiences with the
    Israelites, see the book of _Exodus_. Pharaoh was merely the name
    given by the children of Israel to the rulers of Egypt: cf. Caesar,
    Kaiser, etc. ... The Egyptian pyramids were regarded as one of the
    seven wonders of ancient times, the great pyramid weighing over six
    million tons. The pyramids were used for the tombs of monarchs.]

    [Note 26: _Young men who work themselves into a decline._ Compare the
    tone of the close of this essay with that of the conclusion of _AEs
    Triplex_. Stevenson himself died in the midst of the most arduous work
    possible--the making of a literary masterpiece.]
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Robert Louis Stevenson essay and need some advice, post your Robert Louis Stevenson essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?