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60 ...... Truth T he “happy star of this trade of writing is that it should combine pleasure and profit to both parties, and be at once agreeable, like fiddling, and useful, like good preaching.”1 The writer has a high calling. His work is not only to please, but to improve and instruct. Stevenson believed all forms of writing implicitly communicate the beliefs and values of their author and that writers can be important moral teachers. “There is no quite good book,” he wrote in his essay on Dumas, “without a good morality.”2 More than music, painting, or sculpture, literature has the potential to shape people’s beliefs because “the material in which the literary artist works is the dialect of life.”3 Not everyone can handle a brush or play the violin, but everyone uses language. So literary works, from the humblest to the greatest, come home “easily and powerfully to the minds of men.” And then literature drags with a wide net. No subject is closed to a writer, no form of expression prohibited. Novels, stories, poems, essays, and journalism have the capacity to reach many people, to form their thoughts and expand their perspectives. The writer is in a position “to build up the sum of sentiments and appreciations which goes by the name of Public Opinion or Public Feeling.” “Any literary work which conveys faithful facts or pleasing impressions is a service to the public.... Every article, every piece of verse, every essay . . . is destined to pass, however swiftly, through the minds of some portion of the public, and to colour, however transiently, their thoughts.” Stevenson believed writers 61 ...... could potentially wield considerable influence. “I still contend that, in the humblest sort of literary work, we have it in our power either to do great harm or great good.”4 Stevenson came of age a generation after the big writers of the High Victorian period, men and women who earnestly believed that the mission of art and literature was to morally strengthen and ennoble people. Browning and Tennyson in poetry, Ruskin and Carlyle in prose, and in fiction Thackeray, Eliot, Trollope, the Brontës, and, of course, Dickens—these were towering names for would-­ be authors in the 1880s. Stevenson honored and admired them, and they shaped his comprehension of the writer’s moral responsibilities . But he could not accept their authority unquestioningly , and as a writer he had no desire to duplicate their achievements. Dickens died in 1870 and George Eliot in 1880. The last two decades of the century felt looser— more exploratory and less rule-­ bound. Like many young artists and intellectuals of the fin de siècle, Stevenson did not want to tread the old road of triple-­ decker novels, angelic heroines, wrap-­ up endings, and narrative omniscience. Nor did he want to conform to conventional ideas about life, literature , love, or religion. To thoughtful, forward-­ looking men and women of his generation, independent thought and fearless self-­ creation were moral imperatives. Stevenson fought hard to be true to himself. When he was in his twenties, in letter after letter, he defended his departure from his father’s religious faith in terms of spiritual and intellectual integrity. “People must be themselves,” he insisted.5 To his cousin Bob he complained, It is all very well to talk about flesh and lusts and such like; but the real hot sweat must come out in this business, or we go alone to the end of life. I want an object, a mission, a belief, a hope to be my wife; and, please God, have it I shall.... It would be much easier to give over the pursuit, to leave the windy hunting ground 62 ...... and go home to the warm ingle, to bid adieu to honesty and settle back to the old outward conformity; but I am damned if I don’t carry it through.6 Stevenson knew that healthy self-­ love and brave self-­ scrutiny were vital for a creative person. Artists have to get to the marrow of who they are. The author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde knew that if a writer can’t be bothered to discover the good and the evil within himself, he probably should try another occupation. And a writer has to be a little egotistical, otherwise he wouldn’t bother to publish anything. Stevenson confessed to one young writer, “I am a rogue at egotism myself and to be plain, I have rarely or...


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