Robert Louis Stevenson: 'Treasure Island' author's long-lost essay
Even writers get bored. In a long-lost essay from Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scribe Robert Louis Stevenson, the author admits to finding the fiction of his time to be rather dull.
The never-before-published essay, which appears in the latest issue of The Strand Magazine, details Stevenson’s frustration with his contemporaries. “In the trash that I have no doubt you generally read, a vast number of people will probably get shot and stabbed and drowned; and you have only a very slight excitement for your money,” he wrote. “But if you want to know what a murder really is — to have a murder brought right home to you — you must read of one in the writings of a great writer. Read Macbeth, for example, or still better, get someone to read it aloud to you; and I think I can promise you what people call a ‘sensation.'”
The essay, entitled “Books and Reading. No 2. How books have to be written,” was recently discovered at the library at Syracuse University. The first half was auctioned off in 1914 and has since disappeared, Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli told the AP. “There are several guesses as to who it was meant for and why it was not published,” Gulli said. “One guess is that it was sent to his stepson Sam or it could have been prepared for a young adult magazine called Young Folks but it was never published in that magazine.”
In addition to lambasting his fellow writers, Stevenson offers a tutorial on how to write properly. “Suppose you were to be asked to write a complete account of a day at school,” he wrote. “You would probably begin by saying you rose at a certain hour, dressed, and came down to morning school. You would not think of telling how many buttons you had to fasten, nor how long you took to make a parting, nor how many steps you descended. The youngest boy would have too much of what we call ‘literary tact’ to do that. Such a quantity of twaddling detail would simply bore the reader’s head off.”
Stevenson’s top tip: Leave “all the dullness out.” With such constructive, useful advice, it’s hard to imagine how this essay stayed lost for so long.