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A Visit To R. L. Stevenson
by [?]

It was late in May or early in June, for I cannot now remember the exact date, that I landed in Apia, in the island of Upolu. Naturally enough that island was not to me so much the centre of Anglo-American and German rivalries as the home of Robert Louis Stevenson, then become the literary deity of the Pacific. In a dozen shops in Honolulu I had seen little plaster busts of him; here and there I came across his photograph. And I had a theory about him to put to the test. Though I was not, and am not, one of those who rage against over-great praise, when there is any true foundation for it, I had never been able to understand the laudation of which he was the subject. At that time, and until the fragment of Weir of Hermiston was given to the world, nothing but his one short story about the thief and poet, Villon, had seemed to me to be really great, really to command or even to be an excuse for his being in the position in which his critics had placed him. Yet I had read The Wrecker, The Ebb Tide, The Beach of Falesa, Kidnapped, Catriona, The Master of Ballantrae, and the New Arabian Nights. I came to the conclusion that, as most of the organic chorus of approval came from men who knew him, he must be (as all writers, I think, should be) immeasurably greater than his books. I was prepared then for a personality, and I found it. When his name is mentioned I no longer think of any of his works, but of a sweet-eyed, thin, brown ghost of a man whom I first saw upon horseback in a grove of cocoanut palms by the sounding surges of a tropic sea. There are writers, and not a few of them, whose work it is a pleasure to read, while it is a pain to know them, a disappointment, almost an unhappiness, to be in their disillusioning company. They have given the best to the world. Robert Louis Stevenson never gave his best, for his best was himself.

At any time of the year the Navigator Islands are truly tropical, and whether the sun inclines towards Cancer or Capricorn, Apia is a bath of warm heat. As soon as the Monowai dropped her anchor inside the opening of the reef that forms the only decent harbour in all the group, I went ashore in haste. Our time was short, but three or four hours, and I could afford neither the time nor the money to stay there till the next steamer. I had much to do in Australia, and was not a little exercised in mind as to how I should ever be able to get round the world at all unless I once more shipped before the mast. I was, in fact, so hard put to it in the matter of cash, that when the hotel-keeper asked three dollars for a pony on which to ride to Vailima, I refused to pay it, and went away believing that after all I should not see him whom I most desired to meet. Yet it was possible, if not likely, that he would come down to visit the one fortnightly link with the great world from which he was an exile. I had to trust to chance, and in the meantime walked the long street of Apia and viewed the Samoans, whom he so loved, with vivid interest. These people, riven and torn by internal dissensions between Mataafa and Malietoa, and honeycombed by Anglo-American and German intrigue, were the most interesting and the noblest that I had met since I foregathered for a time with a wandering band of Blackfeet Indians close to Calgary beneath the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. Their dress, their customs, and their free and noble carriage, yet unspoiled by civilisation, appealed to me greatly. I could understand as I saw them walk how Stevenson delighted in them. Man and woman alike looked me and the whole world in the face, and went by, proud, yet modest, and with the smile of a happy, unconquered race.