The modern masculine novel, dealing almost exclusively with the rougher, more stirring side of life, with the objective rather than the subjective, marks the reaction against the abuse of love in fiction. This one phase of life in its orthodox aspect, and ending in the conventional marriage, has been so hackneyed and worn to a shadow, that it is not to be wondered at that there is a tendency sometimes to swing to the other extreme, and to give it less than its fair share in the affairs of men. In British fiction nine books out of ten have held up love and marriage as the be-all and end-all of life. Yet we know, in actual practice, that this may not be so. In the career of the average man his marriage is an incident, and a momentous incident; but it is only one of several. He is swayed by many strong emotionsâ€”his business, his ambitions, his friendships, his struggles with the recurrent dangers and difficulties which tax a man's wisdom and his courage. Love will often play a subordinate part in his life. How many go through the world without ever loving at all? It jars upon us then to have it continually held up as the predominating, all-important fact in life; and there is a not unnatural tendency among a certain school, of which Stevenson is certainly the leader, to avoid altogether a source of interest which has been so misused and overdone. If all love-making were like that between Richard Feverel and Lucy Desborough, then indeed we could not have too much of it; but to be made attractive once more, the passion must be handled by some great master who has courage to break down conventionalities and to go straight to actual life for his inspiration.
So much for the top line, concerning which I have already gossipped for six sittings, but there is no surcease for you, reader, for as you see there is a second line, and yet a third, all equally dear to my heart, and all appealing in the same degree to my emotions and to my memory. Be as patient as you may, while I talk of these old friends, and tell you why I love them, and all that they have meant to me in the past. If you picked any book from that line you would be picking a little fibre also from my mind, very small, no doubt, and yet an intimate and essential part of what is now myself. Hereditary impulses, personal experiences, booksâ€”those are the three forces which go to the making of man. These are the books.
But the most interesting portion of old Froissart's work is that which deals with the knights and the knight-errants of his time, their deeds, their habits, their methods of talking. It is true that he lived himself just a little after the true heyday of chivalry; but he was quite early enough to have met many of the men who had been looked upon as the flower of knighthood of the time. His book was read too, and commented on by these very men (as many of them as could read), and so we may take it that it was no fancy portrait, but a correct picture of these soldiers which is to be found in it. The accounts are always consistent. If you collate the remarks and speeches of the knights (as I have had occasion to do) you will find a remarkable uniformity running through them. We may believe then that this really does represent the kind of men who fought at Crecy and at Poictiers, in the age when both the French and the Scottish kings were prisoners in London, and England reached a pitch of military glory which has perhaps never been equalled in her history.
The use of novel and piquant forms of speech is one of the most obvious of Stevenson's devices. No man handles his adjectives with greater judgment and nicer discrimination. There is hardly a page of his work where we do not come across words and expressions which strike us with a pleasant sense of novelty, and yet express the meaning with admirable conciseness. "His eyes came coasting round to me." It is dangerous to begin quoting, as the examples are interminable, and each suggests another. Now and then he misses his mark, but it is very seldom. As an example, an "eye-shot" does not commend itself as a substitute for "a glance," and "to tee-hee" for "to giggle" grates somewhat upon the ear, though the authority of Chaucer might be cited for the expressions.