Uncollected Essays

RLS with Quill Pen (1886)

UNCOLLECTED ESSAYS, by year of publication

The following is a brief guide to first publication of RLS’s uncollected essays. While some of these essays have subsequently been published in volumes of RLS’s writings, RLS never organized these for publication in the same way that he compiled Virginibus Puerisque (1881), Familiar Studies (1882) and Memories and Portraits (1887). These essays – which are often overlooked in the RLS canon – demonstrate the huge volume of work that RLS completed in his short life. They also show his versatility as a writer, and offer a unique insight into the development of his thoughts and writing from a young man in Scotland, to the well-travelled and established author in Samoa.

Key: Edin Ed = The Edinburgh Edition; Cent Ed = Centenary Edition; Tus = Tusitala Edition; Vail Ed = Vailima Edition (see Collected Works)


‘Edinburgh Students in 1824’, ‘The Modern Students Considered Generally’, ‘The Philosophy of Umbrellas’, ‘Debating Societies’, ‘The Philosophy of Nomenclature’. Edinburgh University Magazine (1871). Edin Ed 21; Tus 25, 29. Personal essay.


‘Roads’. The Portfolio 4 (Dec 1873). Tus 25. Travel essay.


‘Lord Lytton’s Fables in Song’. Fortnightly Review ns 15 (June 1874): 817-823. Tus 28. Review essay.

‘Review: The Ballads and Songs of Scotland’. The Academy (8 Aug 1874). Tus 28. Review essay.

‘Review: Scottish Rivers’. The Academy (15 Aug 1874). Tus 28. Review essay.

‘Review: A Quiet Corner of England’. The Academy (5 Dec 1874). Tus 28. Review essay.

‘Notes on the Movements of Young Children’. The Portfolio 5 (Aug 1874). Tus 25. Personal essay.

‘On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places’. The Portfolio 5 (Nov 1874). Tus 25. Personal essay.


’Review: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe’. The Academy (2 January 1875). Tus 28. Review essay.

‘An Autumn Effect’. The Portfolio 6 (Apr 1875). Tus 30. Travel Essay.

‘Pierre Jean de Béranger’. Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Ed. (1875). Tus 28. Formal essay.

‘Measure of a Marquis’ [review]. Vanity Fair 25 (25 Nov. 1875): 305-6. Unpublished since then. Review essay.


‘Forest Notes’. Cornhill Magazine 33 (May 1876). Tus 30. Travel essay.

‘Salvini’s Macbeth’. The Academy (3 June 1876). Tus 28. Critical essay.

‘Review: Jules Verne’s Stories’. The Academy (3 June 1876). Review essay.

‘Review: The Comedy of the Noctes Ambosianae’. The Academy (22 July 1876). Tus 28. Review essay.

‘Mr. Browning Again!’ Vanity Fair (11 Dec 1875): 332-3. Unpublished since then. Review essay.


‘Our City Men. No. 1–A Salt-Water Financier’. London  1: 9-10. Unpublished since then. Personal essay.

‘The Book of the Week. Mr. Tennyson’s Harold’. London 1: 18-19. Unpublished since then. Review essay.

‘In the Latin Quarter. No.  I.–A Ball At Mr. Elsinare’s’. London 2: 41-2. (repr. The Stevensonian [London] 2 [1965]: 2-7). Autobiographical essay.

‘In the Latin Quarter. No.  II.–A Studio of Ladies’. London 3: 64. Unpublished since then. Autobiographical essay.

‘The Paris Bourse’. London  4: 88. [repr. The Stevensonian [London] 2 (1965): 2-7]. 

‘The Book of the Week. Wallace’s Russia’. London 4: 92-3. Unpublished since then. Review essay.


‘San Carlos Day’. Monterey Californian 11 November 1879. [Republished by G.R. Stewart, Scribner’s Magazine August 1920; also in Hart, From Scotland to Silverado. 1966.]


‘Health and Mountains’. Pall Mall Gazette (17 Feb. 1881). Tus. 30. Autobiographical essay.

‘Davos in Winter’. Pall Mall Gazette (21 Feb. 1881). Tus. 30. Autobiographical essay.

‘Alpine Diversions’. Pall Mall Gazette (26 Feb. 1881). Tus. 30. Autobiographical essay.

‘The Stimulation of the Alps’. Pall Mall Gazette (5 Mar 1881). Tus. 30. Autobiographical essay.

‘The Misgivings of Convalescence’. Pall Mall Gazette (17 Mar 1881). Unpublished since then. Autobiographical essay.

‘The Morality of the Profession of Letters’. Fortnightly Review ns 157 (Apr 1881). Tus 28. Critical/moral essay.


‘Byways of Book Illustration: Bagster’s Pilgrim’s Progress’. The Magazine of Art 5 ns pt 16 (Feb 1882). Tus 28. Critical essay.

‘Byways of Book Illustration: Two Japanese Romances’. The Magazine of Art 5 ns pt 25 (Nov 1882). Tus 28. Critical essay.


‘A Modern Cosmopolis’. The Magazine of Art 6 ns pt 31 (May 1883). Combined with ‘The Old Pacific Capital’ (1880) as ‘The Old and New Pacific Capitals’ in Edin Ed 3 and Tus 18. Travel essay.

‘A Note on Realism’. The Magazine of Art 7 (Nov 1883). Tus 28. Critical essay.


‘On Some Technical Elements of Style in Literature’. Contemporary Review 47 (Apr 1885). Tus 28.Not collected until the Edinburgh Edition  (Miscellanies 3, 1895) and then in Essays in the Art of Writing (1905). Critical essay.

Apologies for analysing an aesthetic effect – it is disenchanting to be shown the mechanism of any art – the result of our limitations: an ideal analysis would reveal ‘ancient harmonies in nature’.

1. Choice of words. The material of literature is language made of finite and rigid words – writing is difficult because it is like building with toy building blocks of similar ‘arbitrary size and figure’ – unlike in other arts its elements cannot be used as mere forms but must also have meaning.

The clearest aspect of literary art is the choice and contrast of words. The creation (from these rude blocks) of fine meanings and distinctions restores ‘primal energy’ to words. This is prominent in the work of Carlyle, Tacitus and Montaigne. Addison, Cicero and Voltaire are less successful here, but are superior in another aspect…

2. The web. Arts may be divided into (i) the representative (sculpture, painting, acting) and (ii) the presentative and self-sufficient (architecture, music, dance). Each class of arts has different principles but all aim ‘to make a pattern’. Music and literature (the two temporal arts) make a pattern of sounds and pauses in time.

The literary artist weaves his meaning in phrases into a ‘knot’ (or ‘hitch’) of suspended meaning in the sentence, which is then resolved. The reader anticipates and welcomes successive phrases. This pleasure may be heightened by surprise, as in antithesis, or in suggested but evaded antithesis. The sound of the sentence should be balanced, should develop and end satisfactorily, but with variety – to give the effect of ‘ingenious neatness’.

The writer, like a juggler with two oranges, plays contemporaneously with sound and meaning: word-choices and ‘knots’ must serve the argument; cheville (filling) must be avoided. Style is synthetic: good formal organization combines with effective meaning. Attention to form adds philosophy (gives an idea of complexities and interrelationships) and wit (delight in the performance), and wit supports philosophy. Style requires formal ‘implication’ (entwining of meaning); unusual word-order can also help the argument.

The web (or ‘pattern’, or ‘texture’) is both ‘sensuous’ and ‘logical’. It is true that some books are read just for ‘the fact or fable’; some authors (Cicero, Trollope) give pleasure just in the ‘elegance of texture’ – however, in both cases, the two elements (form and meaning) are still juggled (even if one of the oranges is rotten).

In verse, pattern is provided by the metre – this set pattern makes it easier to write pleasing verse than interesting prose, where the pattern has to be invented. The greatness of the ‘true versifier’ (Shakespeare, Milton, Hugo) is in combining metre with an independent pattern of sentence structure that contrasts or combines with the verse pattern. The writer of verse is like the juggler with three oranges.

Yet verse also loses something: the balance and neatness of the prose sentence is superior to the usual loose structure in verse – compare superior organization in Shakespeare’s great prose speeches.

3. Rhythm of the phrase. Each phrase should be ‘comely’, must please the ear like a phrase in music – but the laws of this beauty are not easy to discover. Even in poetry this is not easy: the iambic pentameter line often falls into four groups of words with a variety of metrical forms: hence there are two patterns and the verse reads both ‘in fives’ and ‘in fours’. Other lines are divided into three groups of words. Polysyllables help tot create this essential variety.

In prose, The rule of rhythm is not so intricate – prose is written in longer groups (or ‘phrases’) – successive phrases differ in length and rhythm. But the rhythm must not be metrical (because this produces units of identical length with a regularity of beat but unaccompanied by the density of the short verse group). The prose writer must produce perpetual fresh variation of movement – this is the ‘third orange’ for the prose writer.

4. Contents of the Phrase. The resources of rhythm vary between different languages and different dialects of the same language – but rhythm is not essential: other formal elements can give beauty to verse and prose. In French the ‘pattern of the web’ is dominant in prose (with little space for ‘lawless melody’). However, French prose is better than English and is more clearly seen as ‘comely’. So there is another element to ‘comeliness’: the phonetic content of the phrase: the repetition, variation and contrast of sounds.

However, literature is written both for the internal ear (sounds) and for the eye (written forms), so a letter A corresponding to different vowels in English creates an additional pattern (the fourth preoccupation for the prose writer, the fifth for the versifier). Examples of sound and letter patterns in Milton, Coleridge and Shakespeare (showing a Scottish pronunciation). Comments on the change from FV, PF and BP (slight changes in articulation or voicing). The Shakespeare lines ‘The barge she sat in…’ does not show ‘colour sense’ (non-existent in literature) but a use of the word ‘purple’ in an intricate pattern of sound. Compares passages in Macauley to see if frequent repetitions of sound are significant or just normal frequencies in English. (Macauley, however, overdoes the use of sound repetition – he ‘a dauber’).

The desire to repeat sounds is deep-seated, instinctive. Ordinary writers use sound repetition only occasionally, to link or strengthen phrases. bad writers produce cacophony.

Conclusion. Hence the elements of style are: (i) (for the prose writer) creating rhythmical phrases without making them metrical; (for the versifier) combining and contrasting the pattern of feet, word-groups, meaning and metre (Point 3); (ii) artfully combining sounds (‘the prime elements of language’) into pleasing phrases (Point 4); (iii) weaving argument into a texture of phrases and periods (especially for prose) (Point 2); (iii) choosing ‘apt, explicit and communicative words’ (Point 1). Successful writing is complicated and involves great skill, combining shapes and sounds of letters (appealing to the senses), paying attention to the architecture of the sentence (appealing to the intellect).


‘The Day After Tomorrow’. The Contemporary Review 51 (Apr 1887). Tus 26. Moral essay.

‘Books Which Have Influenced Me’. British Weekly (May 1887). Tus 28. Also in ”British Weekly” Extras. No. 1. Books Which Have Influenced Me. London: British Weekly, 1887, pp. 3-16. Critical essay.


‘Gentlemen’. Scribner’s Magazine 3 (May 1888): 635-40. Tus 26. Moral essay.

‘Some Gentlemen in Fiction’. Scribner’s Magazine 3 (June 1888) : 764-8. Tus 26. Critical essay.

‘Popular Authors’. Scribner’s Magazine 4 (July 1888) : 122-8. Tus 28. Critical essay.


‘Scott’s Voyage in the Lighthouse Yacht. Note’ Scribner’s Magazine 14 (Oct. 1893): 492-4.


‘My First Book: Treasure Island’. The Idler 6 (Aug 1894)/McClure’s Magazine 3 (Sep 1894). Tus 2. Critical essay.

Posthumous Publications:


‘Lay Morals’. Edin Ed 21 (1896). Tus 26. Moral essay.

[A Retrospect]. Edin. Ed. 21 (1896). Tus 30. Autobiographical essay.

‘Cockermouth and Keswick’. Edin Ed 21 (1896). Tus 30.

‘Rosa Quo Locorum’. Edin Ed 21 (1896). Tus 30. Autobiographical essay.

‘The Satyrist’, ‘Nuits Blanches’, ‘The Wreath of Immortelles’, ‘Nurses’, ‘A Character’ (‘grouped as ‘Sketches’). Edin. Ed. 21 (1896). Tus. 30. Personal essay.

‘A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway’. The Illustrated London News (summer 1896)/The Chap-Book (Chicago) (15 June 1896). Tus. 30 (where the title is ‘A Winter Walk…’). Travel essay.


‘The Ideal House’ (unfinished essay). Edin Ed. 28 (1898). Tus 25. Personal essay.

‘Reflections and Remarks on Human Life’. Edin Ed. 28 (1898). Tus 26.


‘On the Choice of a Profession’. Scribner’s Magazine 57 (Jan. 1915) : 66-9. Tus 28. Moral essay.


‘Confessions of a Unionist: An Unpublished “Talk on Things Current” By Robert Louis Stevenson’. Cambridge, MA: privately printed. Moral essay.


‘On Time’ (unfinished essay). Vailima Ed 24 (1923). Tus 25.


‘Authors and Publishers’. Jeremy Treglown, ‘R.L. Stevenson and the Authors-Publishers Debate’, Times Literary Supplement, 15-21 Jan 1988: 58-9. Also in Stevenson, Robert Louis (ed. Jeremy Treglown). 1988. The Lantern-Bearers and Other Essays. London: Chatto & Windus. Moral essay.