Robert Louis Stevenson and autumn

??????????????????????????????? There is something quite enchanting about seasons; for the changes endowed upon much of the earth are as if nature was staging a new theater production. And if you are not careful, if you are quite busy going about your business, as most industrious people do, we are apt to find ourselves missing the show. Because the world is a sphere, those of us who are presently ensconced in autumn live in the hemisphere which is now trounced by falling leaves.

Here the world is noiselessly changing; for those who walk and kick up leaves, and those who admire the landscapes, in our little part of the universe, (and I say little for we take up just a tiny bit of room) the leaves must have drunk up all the yellow, and orange, and brown … for being quite greedy, it stands to reason that surely they have grown too lazy and hang slothfully upon the trees rusting, and then with very little effort, with the slightest push from a breeze, drop off and flutter idly to the ground.

In autumn there is a thinning, the days have shortened and perhaps because the temperatures have fallen, evening comes upon us earlier with its blanket of darkness and covers the day like a warm friend…

No wonder we refer to autumn as fall, the time when the earth seems to be slowly curling, drying, chilling, it is falling into a state of sleep. And right before our eyes it is vanishing into thin air…

Robert-louis-stevenson Today I bring back to you the ever popular esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Our Scottish author has entertained readers of all ages with his classic novels; Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although Stevenson was ill much of his life, he was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His beautifully crafted essays expose his keen understanding of human nature.

I invite you to steal a moment away from your day with a portion trimmed from his 1875 essay titled An Autumn Effect. Join Mr. Stevenson on an autumn walk as he shares with us his thoughts. And if you live in the hemisphere where we are now engaged in this season called fall, perhaps you too will reminisce with the same observations, only with an eye that is more than a century of years later.

“… It was well, perhaps, that I had this first enthusiasm to encourage me up the long hill above High Wycombe; for the day was a bad day for walking at best, and now began to draw towards afternoon, dull, heavy, and lifeless. A pall of grey cloud covered the sky, and its colour reacted on the colour of the landscape. Near at hand, indeed, the hedgerow trees were still fairly green, shot through with bright autumnal yellows, bright as sunshine. But a little way off, the solid bricks of woodland that lay squarely on slope and hill-top were not green, but russet and grey, and ever less russet and more grey as they drew off into the distance. As they drew off into the distance, also, the woods seemed to mass themselves together, and lie thin and straight, like clouds, upon the limit of one’s view. Not that this massing was complete, or gave the idea of any extent of forest, for every here and there the trees would break up and go down into a valley in open order, or stand in long Indian file along the horizon, tree after tree relieved, foolishly enough, against the sky. I say foolishly enough, although I have seen the effect employed cleverly in art, and such long line of single trees thrown out against the customary sunset of a Japanese picture with a certain fantastic effect that was not to be despised; but this was over water and level land, where it did not jar, as here, with the soft contour of hills and valleys. The whole scene had an indefinable look of being painted, the colour was so abstract and correct, and there was something so sketchy and merely impressional about these distant single trees on the horizon that one was forced to think of it all as of a clever French landscape. For it is rather in nature that we see resemblance to art, than in art to nature; and we say a hundred times, ‘How like a picture!’ for once that we say, ‘How like the truth!’ The forms in which we learn to think of landscape are forms that we have got from painted canvas. Any man can see and understand a picture; it is reserved for the few to separate anything out of the confusion of nature, and see that distinctly and with intelligence…”

C.S. Lewis and children’s literature

chronicles of narnia An imaginary dividing line has been created in literature, a line of longitude if you please. If we were talking about cartography we may call it the Prime Meridian … or if you prefer, you might decide to call this literary intersection the equator, the 0 degree line of latitude …whichever way you like to cut-up this analogy…some north to south and others east to west, a division is metaphorically visible. This literary line is more obvious when you enter a library or book store resembling a road where there are painted stripes we refer to as the median… However, one has to wonder why in our quest for good books there has been a division at all… making the signage “Children’s Section” like the highway indicator for the fast-food exit.

This imaginary line in writing has been created slowly like erosion over a mountain pass by a running stream…this ever expanding crevice has become a fissure that is widening with each passing decade starting round about the time the publishing industry found out that it could create a marketable and lucrative item, Children’s books. And so, here we have it… the 21st century where the glut of books written just for kids has flooded over into a hot bed of “products”. Yet, children are neither as gullible nor devoid of knowing when they are being conned; they enjoy a well written story. Let’s resurrect Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; I use these works as an example not because of the story lines or plots…for some would find them too ‘out-dated’ for their liking… but rather because they are beautifully written, well-crafted, and genuine in their allegiance to providing a laudable narrative… none of these authors looked down upon the younger reader as though they were perhaps not worthy of the best.

A delicious meal isn’t usually watered down for a child, for if it was then most of the flavors and taste that the cook intended would be lost, unless of course this cook was not very good. Literature fed to children aught be refined enough to satisfy the reading pallet of an adult; for they too are deserving.

However on a “most” positive note, within the multitude of books published every year there are excellent titles that offer quality writing and craftsmanship by the author… the quest for the buyer or borrower is to heed their selection as if shopping in a grocery store; one needs to know what we are ingesting. (As for the adult readers who like very spicy food, adult books are often written just for adults… while children’s books can be enjoyed by both parties; for who doesn’t like a good kid’s story)

c.s. lewis 2 I now turn today’s blog over again to the esteemed thinker: C.S. Lewis; author, scholar, and literary critic who gained international recognition for his array of popular and scholarly works. Let us take time out from our busy day to read a parcel of words from his essay, “On Juvenile Tastes” ….

“…Surely it would be less arrogant, and truer to the evidence to say that the peculiarity of child readers is that they are not peculiar. It is we who are peculiar. Fashions in literary taste come and goes among the adults…for children read only to enjoy. Of course their limited vocabulary and general ignorance make some books unintelligible to them. But apart from that, juvenile taste is simply human taste, going on from age to age, silly with a universal silliness or wise with a universal wisdom, regardless of modes, movements, and literary revolutions…
It follows that there are now two very different sorts of ‘writers for children’. The wrong sort believe that children are ‘a distinct race’. They carefully ‘make up’ the tastes of these odd creatures-like an anthropologist observing the habita of a savage tribe-or even the tastes of a clearly defined age-group within a particular social class within the ‘distinct-race’. They dish up not what they like themselves but what that race is supposed to like. Educational and moral, as well as commercial, motives may come in. The right sort work from the common, universally human, ground that share with the children, and indeed with countless adults. They label their books “for Children’ because children are the only market now recognized for the books they, anyway, want to write…”

Robert Louis Stevenson and books of influence

dr. Jekyll and Mr HydeRegardless if you are an avid reader with several books piled upon the nightstand, a casual reader of magazines that you scan while patiently (or impatiently) sit in the waiting room of the dentist, or the week-end “I have such little time” reader; there is likely to be a favorite title that left an impression upon you somewhere tucked away from the past. For if the author has caught your attention and hooked you through to the very final page… your literary experience may have endured a positive influence upon you.

Positioning a book on your favorite list may have occurred because of the writer’s style; maybe it was because of a particular character that reminded you of yourself or even someone you wished to be like, and then there is the plot…the story –line that kept you on the very edge of your seat or ushered you away on an unforgettable journey. Regardless of the reason, books placed on a pedestal are meant to be shared and there is nothing more satisfying then ruminating over a good story with someone else that has enjoyed the same book.

Most of us have many “favorite” titles… for similar to ice cream… there are numerous flavors that are quite satisfying. It reminds me of an analogy … ‘ice cream is to mystery as chocolate is to genre’ …the relationship phrase here is “type”. In view of the fact that we often have ‘favorites’ that cross over into different genres or “types” of books; one has to wonder then what were the favorite titles of some of our great writers. For their taste would most likely not be “plain vanilla” but rather a scoop that was laced with other delicacies …perhaps “rocky road” or “vanilla fudge swirl”. But then, maybe not….

Robert Louis Stevenson_lib. congressOn that delicious note I bring us back to our esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author of celebrated novels and poetry that graced so many of our shelves. Mr. Stevenson was also a distinguished essayist, whereby I have extracted a small portion from his Essays in The Art of Writing and placed it on today’s blog. Steal a moment’s pause out of your hectic day for some words by from our famed writer…

“….The most influential books, and the truest in their influence, are works of fiction. They do not pin the reader to a dogma, which he must afterwards discover to be inexact; they do not teach him a lesson, which he must afterwards unlearn. They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage us from ourselves, they constrain us to the acquaintance of others; and they show us the web of experience, not as we can see it for ourselves, but with a singular change—that monstrous, consuming ego of ours being, for the nonce, struck out. To be so, they must be reasonably true to the human comedy; and any work that is so serves the turn of instruction. But the course of our education is answered best by those poems and romances where we breathe a magnanimous atmosphere of thought and meet generous and pious characters. Shakespeare has served me best. Few living friends have had upon me an influence so strong for good as Hamlet or Rosalind… Perhaps my dearest and best friend outside of Shakespeare is D’Artagnan—the elderly D’Artagnan of the Vicomte de Bragelonne. I know not a more human soul, nor, in his way, a finer; I shall be very sorry for the man who is so much of a pedant in morals that he cannot learn from the Captain of Musketeers. Lastly, I must name the Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that breathes of every beautiful and valuable emotion…”

Esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson

wolf It is a difficult task being a reader today, not because there is not enough to read, but rather there is too much. Unlike those who lived in a time where all published material was executed by a printer, who had the laborious job of setting out one block letter at a time and manually turning a press that would emboss the ink to the paper… words today fly off the screen and are dumped into the ethereal airspace… so many pieces of writing that it would be presumptuous to believe we could count them all. Henceforth, we the reader has to decipher and manage this material like panning with a sieve to separate sand from gold nuggets, what we believe to be fact from fiction … and by following this procedure, as I stated before, it can only be sorted as a most cumbersome and challenging act.

And just like those professions who we trust to be sincere and honorable, so do we often believe is true for the author…yet naively often we wander into their passages and articles…like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest… just perhaps we need to be more wary of the wolf.

Robert Louis Stevenson Today’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish poet, novelist, and essayist. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he became one of the most celebrated authors, having penned such great works as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was a most prolific and notable writer; giving us pause to wonder what are the elements that fuels such literary grandness that were achieved by our acclaimed Mr. Stevenson; for once you become engrossed in his work it is hard not to concur that he demonstrates classical distinction.

So, I bid you to set aside a moment to read from his essay: “The Morality of the Profession of Letters” and then you will understand a bit of his thinking… discovering the constitutional make-up of a great writer.

“….Man is imperfect; yet, in his literature, he must express himself and his own views and preferences; for to do anything else is to do a far more perilous thing than to risk being immoral: it is to be sure of being untrue. To ape a sentiment, even a good one, is to travesty a sentiment; that will not be helpful. To conceal a sentiment, if you are sure you hold it, is to take a liberty with truth. There is probably no point of view possible to a sane man but contains some truth and, in the true connection, might be profitable to the race. I am not afraid of the truth, if any one could tell it me, but I am afraid of parts of it impertinently uttered. There is a time to dance and a time to mourn; to be harsh as well as to be sentimental; to be ascetic as well as to glorify the appetites; and if a man were to combine all these extremes into his work, each in its place and proportion, that work would be the world’s masterpiece of morality as well as of art. Partiality is immorality; for any book is wrong that gives a misleading picture of the world and life. The trouble is that the weakling must be partial; the work of one proving dank and depressing; of another, cheap and vulgar; of a third, epileptically sensual; of a fourth, sourly ascetic. In literature as in conduct, you can never hope to do exactly right. All you can do is to make as sure as possible; and for that there is but one rule. Nothing should be done in a hurry that can be done slowly. It is no use to write a book and put it by for nine or even ninety years; for in the writing you will have partly convinced yourself; the delay must precede any beginning; and if you meditate a work of art, you should first long roll the subject under the tongue to make sure you like the flavour, before you brew a volume that shall taste of it from end to end; or if you propose to enter on the field of controversy, you should first have thought upon the question under all conditions, in health as well as in sickness, in sorrow as well as in joy. It is this nearness of examination necessary for any true and kind writing, that makes the practice of the art a prolonged and noble education for the writer…”