When one reads the nonfiction work of Robert Louis Stevenson along with the novels and short stories, a more complete portrait emerges of the author than that of the romantic vagabond one usually associates with his best-known fiction. The Stevenson of the nonfiction prose is a writer involved in the issues of his craft, his milieu, and his soul. Moreover, one can see the record of his maturation in critical essays, political tracts, biographies, and letters to family and friends. What Stevenson lacks, especially for the tastes of this age, is specificity and expertise: he has not the depth of such writers as John Ruskin, Walter Pater, or William Morris. But he was a shrewd observer of humankind, and his essays reveal his lively and
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It was not the first time that Stevenson disappointed his father. In January 1873 Thomas Stevenson discovered some papers that seemed to suggest that the young Stevenson was an atheist. Father and son had their worst falling out. In letters to his student chums, especially to Charles Baxter, Stevenson called himself a "damned curse" on his family. Though it is tempting to see his filial rebellion as a classic Victorian melodrama, father and son did reconcile. The episode is more important in having given the author one of the enduring themes of his fiction. It runs from "An Old Song," a short story published in an 1877 issue of the weekly London, to the masterly romance Weir of Hermiston (1896), left unfinished. It also threads through his nonfiction, in which it is tempered by a tone of reconciliation. For example, in "Crabbed Age and Youth," written in 1877, Stevenson seems to be looking for the common bond that father and son share.
In the decade after his university graduation, Stevenson steeped himself in life, finding an essential core of good humor in people and things. Something of the lightheartedness of this period survives in the humorous essays in Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers (1881), published when the author was thirty-one years old. The essays in this collection had been originally published from 1876 to 1879 in the Cornhill, Macmillan's, and London magazines. The collection received little attention from the