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Louis's cousin, the Bob of the "Vailima Letters," who came down from Paris shortly after Stevenson's own arrival. Years later, as professor of art at Oxford and as the author of a remarkable monograph upon Velasquez, he was destined to become widely known throughout the world. At that time, however, he was endeavoring to demonstrate to himself and to others his right to be ranked seriously as a landscape-painter, and wasting considerable quantities of perfectly good pigment in the effort, which before many months he was frankly to abandon. as a mistake. But although his talent did not lie in the direction of pictorial expression, Bob Stevenson was, more nearly than any other mortal I have ever met, a genius in the true sense of the word; unfortunately for himself, however, and still more unfortunately for the world at large, his genius could expand only under conditions which precluded its finding permanent expression. Just as those of us who have heard Edwin Booth play Hamlet know that there never was or never could be such another Hamlet, so those of us who have heard Bob Stevenson converse know that, in this generation at least, there never has been or could be such another talker. But for its fullest and best expression, his special talent demanded an interlocutor, or at least the figment of an opponent in the scintillating monologue And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
On these occasions Bob's flights of imagination were not only brilliant to a degree, but they were often humorous and most entertaining. Not infrequently they took the form of a story, with a complicated plot evolved on the spur of the moment, and with characters who by their acts and words gave living form to the abstraction which he had set out to ride to earth. Louis, being the artist that he was, made notes, and several of the stories which later appeared in the "New Arabian Nights" and are there duly accredited to "my cousin Robert Mowbray Stevenson,' were thrown off by the latter during one of these impromptu symposia. First among these was the famous "Suicide Club," to which, however, Stevenson himself added what was perhaps the most original and telling touch-the incident of the young man with the cream tarts. The gruesome idea of the main story grew out of an indignant protest on the part of Bob to an opinion set forth by his cousin to the effect that in the domain of morals men were in no sense free agents, and that no man had the right to dispose of his own life any more than he had the right to dispose of the life of his friend or neighbor. Bob in reply quoted the verse from Omar:
What, without asking, hither hurried
Ah! contrite heaven endowed us with the
To drug the memory of that insolence!
which he was pleased to style a discussion. If it comes to a mere question of genius pure and simple, no one who knew the two cousins intimately would have hesitated for an instant to award the primacy to Bob, and Louis himself would have been the first to concur in the justice of this decision. When the after-dinner coffee was on the table in the old salle à manger, it was Louis's custom to stir up a discussion upon some subject connected with ethics or morals or the general conduct of life, and then, if he succeeded in getting Bob started, to sit back and enjoy the intellectual feast which was sure to follow, just dropping in a word of dissent now and then in order to keep the stream flowing.
contending hotly that inasmuch as we had not been consulted when we were thus rudely and without our Own consent dumped into life, the option was surely ours as to the time and the manner of leaving it.
Then followed the inevitable monologue, which gradually developed into the plot of the "Suicide Club" as printed in the "New Arabian Nights," and in which Bob set forth his own ideas as to the most agreeable mode of shuffling off this mortal coil. But not quite content with his first effort, he proceeded to evolve an alternate
"The Cornhill Magazine," and he was also engaged upon "An Inland Voyage" and parts of the "New Arabian Nights." As if this were not sufficient to satisfy the cravings of the greediest of workers, he was also writing various stories and essays which he called "Studies," but which he afterward destroyed.
plot, which, while not so dramatic as the original, was at least not quite so distressing. In this second story the device of the executioner who is selected by chance is replaced by a train which is scheduled to start once a month at midnight from Charing Cross, and is to carry all those who during the month have decided that life has no further attractions for them. The train is to be the last word in modern luxury, with a dancing-car for those who would dance and a dining-car for those who would dine, furnished with the most dainty and delectable dishes, and provided with champagne and fine liqueurs of the most expensive brands. The track is to be cleared, and the train started, without an engineer or a train crew, direct for the cliff of Dover, over which it is supposed to plunge at a moment unknown to any of the passengers, and when the revelry is at its height.
The mutual admiration of the two Stevensons was a delight to see, and that it was destined to be a lifelong affection is shown by the long series of "Vailima Letters" addressed to Bob. Fundamentally, of course, their mutual attraction for each other was due to the fact that both were true men; but it was doubtless partly attributable to the added fact that the quality of their genius was as different as was their outward appearance. Louis, as we all know, was of the blond, appealing Northern type, but Bob was as black and as fiery as an Andalusian. One could not help feeling that one of his ancestors at least must have been a Spaniard—one of those Spanish adventurers perchance who were wrecked upon the coast of Scotland at the time when the last ships of the Spanish Armada were dispersed in that historic storm which, with the assistance of Lord Howard and Drake, saved England. Legend has it that the daughters. of the isles were kind to the handsome and unfortunate waifs from the sea, and that the black Highlanders of the Scottish Hebrides have more than a little Spanish blood in their veins.
At this time Stevenson was publishing a series of studies of men and things in
I have a vivid recollection of a most interesting shop-talk with him about this time which occurred during a long walk to Fontainebleau. As we tramped along under the shade of the tall poplars, he outlined to me the writer's credo as he knew it, and explained his own methods of work.
"You painter-chaps make lots of studies, don't you?" he exclaimed. "And you don't frame them all and send them to the Salon, do you? You just stick them up. on the studio wall for a bit, and presently you tear them up and make more. And you copy Velasquez and Rembrandt and Vandyke and Corot; and from each you learn some little trick of the brush, some obscure little point in technic. And you know damn well that it is the knowledge thus acquired that will enable you later on to deliver your own message with a fine and confident bravado. You are simply learning your métier; and believe me, mon cher, an artist in any line without the métier is just a blind man with a stick. Now, in the literary line I am simply doing what you painter-men are doing in the pictorial line-learning the métier."
"Yes, but how do you work the game?" I inquired. "We artists use paint and canvas and brushes precisely as the masters did."
"Well, I use pen and ink and paper precisely as did the masters of the pen," laughed Stevenson, "only a pencil is quite good enough for me at present. Just now I am making a story à la Balzac, with a French plot, French local color, and every little touch and detail as close to the old boy as I can possibly make it. And is n't he a wizard! Look at 'Cousine Bette' and 'Peau de chagrin' and the 'Médecin de campagne.' Are n't they just marvels of literary perfection! Really, I believe that
Balzac held up to nature a more wonderful mirror than even the great W. S. himself. And dear old Père Goriot, don't you just know him better even than if you had met him right here on the grande route and had an hour's chat with him? I like to swallow a great master whole as it were, to read everything he 's written at one go, and then have a try myself at something in his manner. The only way to become a master is to study the masters, take my word for it. It's all one whether it 's in paint or clay or words. And then, if you are humble enough and keep an open mind. and have something of your own to say, you may one of these long days learn how to say it. I have at various periods thus sat at the feet of Sir Walter Scott and Smollett and Fielding and Dickens and Poe and Baudelaire, and the number of things which I have written in the style of each would fill a clothes-basket."
I have since occasionally regretted that some of the contents of this basket had not been rescued and given to us in a discreet little sub-rosa book, if only for an example to future students of art and of literature. Yet the master probably knew best, and pursued the wise course in destroying his tentative experiments. Upon another occasion, certainly, it befell me to regret still more poignantly that the studies of a great master had not been destroyed, for they stood like a blurring mist between the public and the finished masterpieces of the greatest sculptor of modern times.
Among the regular members of our artist band I remember Henley, a brother of the poet; Metcalf; Joe Heseltine; Enfield; Weldon Hawkins; and Walter Ullman, all English; Frank O'Meara, the handsome, debonair young Irishman who was to die before his great talent as a painter made its mark; Carl Larson and Shredswig, both now famous abroad as well as in their native Sweden; Will Low; Bentz; Walter Palmer; and Jameson, a young Scotch painter of talent, and a brother of Dr. Jameson of Kimberly, South Africa, who, as the author of the Jameson Raid, caused some little trouble in South Africa later on. This reminds
me that one day the young doctor turned up at the Pension Chevillon with the statement that, with the help and advice of a certain Cecil Rhodes, who was a chum of his down there, he had cleaned up the sum of two thousand pounds sterling, which sum he had brought back with him to defray the expenses of a Continental trip, he having neglected to do the grand tour before going to South Africa. He kindly invited the whole colony to join him as guests in the proposed round of Europe, promising that everything should be first-class, and that no wine more plebeian than champagne should be served on the trip. Accordingly, after a symposium. which lasted from daylight to daylight, a gay band of a dozen young and brave men started off upon this first Jameson Raid, which has hitherto been unchronicled and unknown to fame. Stevenson was not of the party, he having at the time other interests in Grez which were of a more absorbing nature and of which more anon. Perhaps it was just as well, on the whole, that he remained behind, for something under a month later a hollow-eyed, worn, bedraggled band limped into Grez, explaining that their condition was due to the fact that they had ended up the tour three days previously by climbing Mont Blanc!
One of the most picturesque and at the same time one of the most mysterious members of our group was a young Frenchman named Salis, who threw himself upon our mercy by explaining that he was an escaped convict, and that he did not dare return to his old haunts in Paris or even venture to live among French people elsewhere, knowing full well that he would be apprehended and sent back. hot-foot to New Caledonia. He had been a communard, it appeared, in fact the editor of a communard journal in Paris, whence he had been deported for advocating too strenuously the cause of "Liberté, egalité, fraternité." He was certainly an entertaining chap, and Stevenson, ever on the elert for the picturesque in human form, became his principal friend and companion among the Anglo-Saxon group.
Shortly after his arrival, the law of general amnesty was passed, and Salis was once more free to return to his beloved Paris. But, alas! he had nothing to return to. Communism was no longer a profession that paid a living wage, and to return to Paris without a profession meant certain starvation. So Stevenson called a special meeting of the colony to consider the "Question Salis," and to devise ways and means by which the owner of the name could live and thrive reasonably once more in Paris. He elected himself chairman of the meeting, and in the opening address stated that there was only one sure and never-failing method by which one could always and anywhere be certain of making money, and that was by the sale of drink. In England, where drink is dispensed at the "pub," it was not a particularly cleanly or attractive profession, to be sure; but in Paris it was different, he said. For what could be neater or more appealing than the little whitemarble tables outside a boulevard café, with the prim little hedge of arbor-vitæ dividing off its special strip of sidewalk from the area pertaining to the adjoining shop? Moreover, a café could be of any desired character, musical, artistic, or literary. The Café Salis should be all three of these in one. Right here we had the
painters who would cover the walls with their pictures, the poets who would recite their own poetry of evenings, and the musicians who would be only too pleased to discourse sweet sound for the price of a bock or a fine that was not charged up. The bourgeois would repay, what? But the Café Salis needed a name. Neither a book nor a picture was quite sure of success without a taking title, and this was still more true of a café.
that a black cat went slinking along the stone wall in the background, arching its back and resting occasionally to survey the landscape. Suddenly it occurred to the artist that this little bit of life in the canvas might égayer his picture a bit, while the sable color of the creature would keep it fairly within the scheme.
"How about Hawkins's black cat?" cried one of the committee. "Stamped out of black iron it would make a bully sign to swing over the door."
The suggestion was carried by acclamation, and the "Café of the Black Cat," which was opened in the Quartier des Batignolles that autumn, had an immediate and bewildering success; so much so indeed that presently its proprietor, grown prosperous and sleek, the communard utterly submerged in the successful bourgeois, was swept into the French senate on the tide of his prosperity. Before leaving Grez, Salis rowed up to the house of a murderous miller, a sinister person who was known positively to have killed his old mother in cold blood, although the crime. could never be fastened upon him, and calling him to the door of his mill, recited in stentorian tones and with much dramatic gesticulation Victor Hugo's "Assassin." Taken all in all, a picturesque person was Rodolfe Salis.
Just at this time it happened that Hawkins, one of our group, had sent to the Salon a picture which had achieved a considerable success despite the fact that its subject was most lugubrious-nothing less than a forlorn orphan weeping at the grave of her mother. One day as Hawkins was working on his nearly completed canvas in the village cemetery it chanced
This little incident was very characteristic of Stevenson, and it illustrates what always seemed to me the most salient and dominating force in his nature-an intense interest in the human drama which was being enacted about him, the artist's ability to see it as a drama, and an uncontrollable desire to mix in the fray himself and, playing the part of a kindly deus ex machina, to bring the fifth act of the play to a happy or an artistic conclusion.
I do not think that in those early days he appeared to any of us as specifically a genius, an exceptional man set apart for great accomplishments. Indeed, had we been solemnly assured that he would share the honor, with only one or two possible competitors, of being the foremost English writer of the latter half of the nineteenth century, we would certainly have received
the assurance with a smile. What! Louis! so simple, kindly, natural; so all-round a good fellow; so like all the rest of us, only nicer!
And I am quite sure that in his inmost heart at this period he could never really have looked forward to or expected the fame which later came to him, and which grows and expands as time gives us the perspective wherewith to view it in all its roundness and bigness and essential simplicity. In fact, in introducing himself to me, he remarked simply that he was "a writer-chap," or hoped to be one.
I was told of another rainy afternoon "blague party," at which I did not chance. to be present, during which Bob Stevenson amused himself by forecasting the future careers of those present. When he came to his cousin he remarked with a satirical little smile: "There sits Louis, as smug and complacent as any old type de bourgeois. I have not the least doubt that he fondly imagines that one of these days they will be publishing all of his dinky, private correspondence-'the letters of R. L. S.'-in boards." And Louis joined as heartily as any one in the laugh which the sally raised. Bob, at least, did live to see the publication of the "Vailima Letters," and I have often wondered if he remembered this little incident as he thumbed their leaves.
But I would not give the impression. that the artist colony of Grez during that memorable summer was wholly masculine in its make-up, for this was far indeed from being the case, and most of the unforgetable dramatic quality of the place. and the time would have been lacking but for the presence of a very fair proportion of the female element. There was a certain return to primitive standards in the relation between the sexes, but primitive standards, nevertheless, in which honor and a regard for the square deal held a high place. In matters of morals Stevenson himself was the least censorious of judges, providing there was no infringement of the law of nature or the law of friendship; though perhaps it would be truer to say that he entered no judgment
either for or against the accused, preferring to leave the decision in such matters to the Maker of all laws.
But if he heard of anything mean or underhand, any tricky blow beneath the belt, he was a very firebrand, flaming with a fury which nothing could quell. I remember one case in which he forced two very unwilling opponents to accept a duel as the only possible solution of an entanglement involving an unmanly act on the part of one of the pair. Fortunately the duel was never fought, the chief offender considering discretion the better part of valor and deciding that the woods. about Barbison at that particular season of the year offered better material for the painter than the river at Grez.
I would not, however, by any means have it understood that there was in the colony no sense of decency or morality in the ordinary acceptance of those terms, for that would be a misstatement as manifestly unfair and untrue as to claim a standard of rigid puritanism for the whole region. If there was a fair sprinkling of the grisette and the model element, which had followed the painters down from Paris, there were also a certain number of very serious women-painters who were studying hard, and some of whom were destined to make an enviable place for themselves. later on. Among these I may mention Mlles. Loestadt and Lilienthal, Swedish painters of genuine talent, and more particularly the lady "Trusty, dusky, vivid, and true" to whom Robert Louis Stevenson inscribed the most beautiful love-song of our time, and who later on was destined to become his wife. Mrs. Osbourne could not at the time have been more than thirty-five years of age, a grave and remarkable type of womanhood, with eyes of a depth and a somber beauty which I have never seen equaled-eyes, nevertheless, that upon occasion could sparkle with humor and brim over with laughter. Yet upon the whole Mrs. Osbourne impressed me as first of all a woman of profound character and serious judgment, who could, if occasion called, have been the leader in some great movement. But she