Transition, part II

Sir Edmund William Goose, 1886 By John Singer Sargent, National Portrait Gallery, London, England

When in London, Louis spent time at the prestigious Savile Club into which he had been elected through his friend and mentor, Sidney Colvin. Besides Colvin, RLS hung out there with friends like W.E. Henley, George Meredith, Andrew Lang, Walter Pollock and Edmund Gosse. Gosse got to see a lot of Stevenson:

“My experience of Stevenson during these first years was confined to London, upon which he would make sudden piratical descents, staying a few days or weeks, and melting into air again,” Gosse said in his memoirs. “He was much at my house…Those who have written about him from later impression than those of which I speak, seem to give insufficient prominence to the gaiety of Stevenson. It was his cardinal quality in those early days. A childlike mirth leaped and danced in him; he seemed to skip upon the hills of life. He was simply bubbling with quips and jests; his inherent earnestness or passion about abstract things was incessantly relieved by jocosity; and when he had built one of his intellectual castles in the sand, a wave of humour was certain to sweep in and destroy it…I am anxious that his laughter-loving mood should not be forgotten, because later on it was partly, but I think never wholly, quenched by ill health, responsibility, and the advance of years.”

“It was in these years especially that he gave the impression of something transitory and unreal, sometimes almost inhuman. He was careful, as I have hardly known any other man to be, not to allow himself to be burdened by the weight of material things. It was quite a jest with us that he never acquired any possessions…Stevenson’s friends caught the ground with a house, a fixed employment, a ‘stake in life’; he alone kept dancing in the free element, unattached … “

“His private thoughts and prospects must often have been of the gloomiest, but he seems to have borne his unhappiness with a courage as high as he ever afterwards displayed, and with a show of levity which imposed on his friends and often ended by carrying him out of himself.”

Robert Louis Stevenson and Edmund Gosse or ‘Weg’ to his friends, kept in touch right to the end. The last of the author’s published letters went to “my dear Weg.” It was long, touching on many subjects and near the end, “Here’s wishing you all health and prosperity as well as to the Mistress and the bairns. May you live long, since it seems as if you would continue to enjoy life…Here’s Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…Yours ever, R.L. Stevenson.” The letter was dated Decemeber 1, 1894. Three days later RLS or ‘Tusitala’ as they called him down under was in the ground on top of Mt. Vaea, “under the wide and starry sky.”

‘Weg’ took his friend’s advice to live long and enjoy life. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Bicentennial Edition, he made a name for himself as a translator, literary historian and critic who introduced the work of Ibsen and other continental writers to English readers. His book Father and Son took autobiography to uncharted places while his talents kept him busy at the British Museum, the Board of Trade and the House of Lords for many years.

E. Britannica says, “Though much of his work has been superseded by later scholarship, he was influential in his day and enjoyed the friendships of distinguished contemporaries as James, Hardy, Kipling, Shaw, and Max Beerbohm. Gosse was knighted in 1925.”

They left out Stevenson! No wonder they went out of business. They even failed to disclose that Sir Edmund Gosse had been a British Representative of the Stevenson Society of America in Saranac Lake, N.Y. In a letter of October 24, 1923, to the Stevenson Society, Gosse said:

“More than 52 years have passed since Stevenson and I met for the first time, steaming northward from Oban to Skye, but this incident and the face of my new friend are as fresh in my memory as if it was yesterday. If someone had told us then that the name of Robert Louis Stevenson would within half a century be honored and loved in every quarter of the globe, I should have received the prophecy with incredulity and he with derision. But so it is…”

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