Monthly Archives: November 2015

New Blog Post: An excerpt from “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is a lengthy post, consisting of large bits of the brilliant 24th chapter of Kidnapped, which my son and I have just finished reading tonight. He is an excellent reader and way ahead of his age, just turning eight. I know he knows this is a very good story full of adventure and intrigue but he has no idea quite yet how brilliantly it is written.  Stevenson is a hard writer at times and this, written often with heavy Scottish description and a heavy accent written in, can be hard to decipher for a kid. However, this chapter’s morality, humanity and friendship – David and Alan’s quarrel, took my breath away. So it’s here, in clips. I find reading it aloud as we do, helps with the Scottish verbage as it melds together and forms more English sounding words.

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“The thought of a separation ran always the stronger in my mind; and the more I approved of it, the more ashamed I grew of my approval. It would be a fine, handsome, generous thing, indeed, for Alan to turn round and say to me: “Go, I am in the most danger, and my company only increases yours.” But for me to turn to the friend who certainly loved me, and say to him: “You are in great danger, I am in but little; your friendship is a burden; go, take your risks and bear your hardships alone–” no, that was impossible; and even to think of it privily to myself, made my cheeks to burn…………

“Alan Breck!” I cried; and then: “Do you think I am one to turn my back on you in your chief need? You dursn’t say it to my face. My whole conduct’s there to give the lie to it. It’s true, I fell asleep upon the muir; but that was from weariness, and you do wrong to cast it up to me–“

“Which is what I never did,” said Alan.

“But aside from that,” I continued, “what have I done that you should even me to dogs by such a supposition? I never yet failed a friend, and it’s not likely I’ll begin with you. There are things between us that I can never forget, even if you can.”

“I will only say this to ye, David,” said Alan, very quietly, “that I have long been owing ye my life, and now I owe ye money. Ye should try to make that burden light for me.”

This ought to have touched me, and in a manner it did, but the wrong manner. I felt I was behaving, badly; and was now not only angry with Alan, but angry with myself in the bargain; and it made me the more cruel.

“You asked me to speak,” said I. “Well, then, I will. You own yourself that you have done me a disservice; I have had to swallow an affront: I have never reproached you, I never named the thing till you did. And now you blame me,” cried I, “because I cannae laugh and sing as if I was glad to be affronted. The next thing will be that I’m to go down upon my knees and thank you for it! Ye should think more of others, Alan Breck. If ye thought more of others, ye would perhaps speak less about yourself; and when a friend that likes you very well has passed over an offence without a word, you would be blithe to let it lie, instead of making it a stick to break his back with. By your own way of it, it was you that was to blame; then it shouldnae be you to seek the quarrel.”

“Aweel,” said Alan, “say nae mair.”…………………….

This was a dreadful time, rendered the more dreadful by the gloom of the weather and the country. I was never warm; my teeth chattered in my head; I was troubled with a very sore throat, such as I had on the isle; I had a painful stitch in my side, which never left me; and when I slept in my wet bed, with the rain beating above and the mud oozing below me, it was to live over again in fancy the worst part of my adventures-to see the tower of Shaws lit by lightning, Ransome carried below on the men’s backs, Shuan dying on the round-house floor, or Colin Campbell grasping at the bosom of his coat. From such broken slumbers, I would be aroused in the gloaming, to sit up in the same puddle where I had slept, and sup cold drammach; the rain driving sharp in my face or running down my back in icy trickles; the mist enfolding us like as in a gloomy chamber-or, perhaps, if the wind blew, falling suddenly apart and showing us the gulf of some dark valley where the streams were crying aloud……………..

During all these horrid wanderings we had no familiarity, scarcely even that of speech. The truth is that I was sickening for my grave, which is my best excuse. But besides that I was of an unforgiving disposition from my birth, slow to take offence, slower to forget it, and now incensed both against my companion and myself. For the best part of two days he was unweariedly kind; silent, indeed, but always ready to help, and always hoping (as I could very well see) that my displeasure would blow by. For the same length of time I stayed in myself, nursing my anger, roughly refusing his services, and passing him over with my eyes as if he had been a bush or a stone.

The second night, or rather the peep of the third day, found us upon a very open hill, so that we could not follow our usual plan and lie down immediately to eat and sleep. Before we had reached a place of shelter, the grey had come pretty clear, for though it still rained, the clouds ran higher; and Alan, looking in my face, showed some marks of concern…………………

At this the last of my anger oozed all out of me; and I found myself only sick, and sorry, and blank, and wondering at myself. I would have given the world to take back what I had said; but a word once spoken, who can recapture it? I minded me of all Alan’s kindness and courage in the past, how he had helped and cheered and borne with me in our evil days; and then recalled my own insults, and saw that I had lost for ever that doughty friend. At the same time, the sickness that hung upon me seemed to redouble, and the pang in my side was like a sword for sharpness. I thought I must have swooned where I stood.

This it was that gave me a thought. No apology could blot out what I had said; it was needless to think of one, none could cover the offence; but where an apology was vain, a mere cry for help might bring Alan back to my side. I put my pride away from me. “Alan!” I said; “if ye cannae help me, I must just die here.”………………….

It was sweet and laughable to hear Alan eat his words up in the fear of some fresh quarrel. I could have laughed, had not my stitch caught me so hard; but if I had laughed, I think I must have wept too.

“Alan,” cried I, “what makes ye so good to me? What makes ye care for such a thankless fellow?”

“‘Deed, and I don’t, know” said Alan. “For just precisely what I thought I liked about ye, was that ye never quarrelled:-and now I like ye better!”

R L Stevenson

Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850.  He was a Scottish novelist, poet, and travel writer, whose illness often curtailed his studies and prompted him to travel to warmer climates such as the South Seas where Treasure Island (1883) was set.   He stayed close to his family home in Scotland, through his novels Kidnapped (1886) and its follow-up with the same lead character David Balfour, Catriona. His ultimate story of good vs. evil, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was also written in 1886.

Though he was greatly admired by many authors, including Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling and Vladimir Nabokov many modernist writers dismissed him because he was popular and did not write within their “narrow definition of literature”. Literary praise for his writing began primarily after his death in 1894, when Robert Louis Stevenson: a Record, an Estimate, and a Memorial was written by Alexander H. Japp after the turn of the century.

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