Saturday, April 20, 2013

Project R.L.S. #1 ~ Some Stevenson Suprises


Robert Louis Stevenson, being the wonderfully versatile writer he is, never fails to surprise and delight me. In my first official "Project R.L.S." post I'll share two Stevenson surprises that I enjoyed this week. The first is a short poem that I read today; the second is a very unique letter that I discovered exploring around on the Internet on Wednesday.

I do not know the title of this poem, but I thought it lovely. I found in included in the entry on Stevenson in a beautiful old set of children's Compton's Encyclopedia that we have. The poem is brief, so I'll share the whole thing:

If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:--
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake;
Or, Lord, if too obdurate I,
Choose thou, before that spirit die,
A piercing pain, a killing sin,
And to my dead heart run them in.

Splendid, isn't it? It's Stevenson glorying in the small and vital things of life. He often does, of course, but here my favorite line is, "Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take / And stab my spirit broad awake"!  Note the sudden movement from "pointed" to "broad"--the contrast is breathtaking. And there is also a poignancy in the image of the soul being stabbed by the Lord--slain by His beauty and love. But it is only our old, dull life that is really slain, for we are now "broad awake" in the new life of God.

My second Stevenson encounter was no less splendid. The other day on Librivox.com I discovered a piece by Stevenson called "Father Damien: An Open Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu". The title piqued my interest, especially as the said Father Damien, of Molokai, was only recently declared a saint.


Apparently in Stevenson's travels around the Pacific he stayed in Hawaii for a time. While there he met a certain Dr. Hyde, a wealthy Protestant doctor and minister in Honolulu; and he visited the leper colony on Molokai, where Father Damien had done his work. Later, in 1890, Stevenson found out about a letter that Dr. Hyde had written about Damien--a grossly slanderous letter trying to debunk his character and ministry. And Stevenson--Stevenson, who was a fellow Protestant--rose up in a blaze of righteous anger and penned a stirring response in defense of the Catholic priest!

Not that, of course, Stevenson praises Damien so much for being Catholic, as for being simply virtuous and heroic. Still, the letter is absolutely worth the read, every splendidly turned phrase of it. The link to the online version of it is here. Please, don't just take my word for it. Read it yourself. It will leave you cheering.