Quotations by Stevenson, Robert Louis


If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. I do not say “give them up,” for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Christmas Sermon,” Across the Plains, ch. 12 (1892)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Jun-13
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Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much: — surely that may be his epitaph of which he need not be ashamed.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Christmas Sermon,” Across the Plains, ch. 12 (1892)
Added on 20-Nov-08 | Last updated 27-Jun-13
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Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Christmas Sermon,” Across the Plains, ch. 12 (1892)
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To make our idea of morality centre on forbidden acts is to defile the imagination and to introduce into our judgments of our fellow-men a secret element of gusto.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Christmas Sermon,” Across the Plains, ch. 12 (1892)
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There is an idea abroad among moral people that they should make their neighbors good. One person I have to make good: myself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Christmas Sermon” (2), Across the Plains, ch. 12 (1880)
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A strange temptation attends upon man: to keep his eye on pleasures, even when he will not share in them; to aim all his morals against them. This very year a lady (singular iconoclast!) proclaimed a crusade against dolls; and the racy sermon against lust is a feature of the age. I venture to call such moralists insincere. At any excess or perversion of a natural appetite, their lyre sounds of itself with relishing denunciations; but for all displays of the truly diabolic — envy, malice, the mean lie, the mean silence, the calumnious truth, the back-biter, the petty tyrant, the peevish poisoner of family life — their standard is quite different. These are wrong, they will admit, yet somehow not so wrong; there is no zeal in their assault on them, no secret element of gusto warms up the sermon; it is for things not wrong in themselves that they reserve the choicest of their indignation.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Christmas Sermon” (2), Across the Plains, ch. 12 (1880)
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Added on 17-Feb-11 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be eloquent, should run thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers, and the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“A Gossip on Romance,” Longman’s Magazine (Nov 1882)

Full text.

Added on 30-Jul-09 | Last updated 30-Jul-09
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All who have meant good work with their whole hearts, have done good work, although they may die before they have the time to sign it. Every heart that has beat strong and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind. And even if death catch people, like an open pitfall, and in mid-career, laying out vast projects, and planning monstrous foundations, flushed with hope, and their mouths full of boastful language, they should be at once tripped up and silenced: is there not something brave and spirited in such a termination? and does not life go down with a better grace, foaming in full body over a precipice, than miserably straggling to an end in sandy deltas?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Aes Triplex” (1878)
Added on 23-Sep-08 | Last updated 23-Sep-08
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By all means begin your folio; even if the doctor does not give you a year, even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave push and see what can be accomplished in a week.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Aes Triplex” (1878)
Added on 30-Oct-08 | Last updated 14-Jul-09
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It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than to waste is like a miser. It is better to live and be done with it, then to die daily in the sick-room.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Aes Triplex” (1878)
Added on 8-Jan-09 | Last updated 14-Jul-09
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We do not go to cowards for tender dealing; there is nothing so cruel as panic; the man who has least fear for his own carcase, has most time to consider others.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Aes Triplex” (1878)
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To be over-wise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger ends by standing stock-still.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Aes Triplex” (1878)
Added on 21-Aug-09 | Last updated 21-Aug-09
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There is no duty we so much under-rate as the duty of being happy.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
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A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of goodwill; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorem of the Liveableness of Life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
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Added on 27-Nov-08 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
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Added on 19-Feb-09 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
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To hold the same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been stupefied for a score of years, and take rank, not as a prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well birched and none the wiser. It is as if a ship captain should sail to India from the Port of London; and having brought a chart of the Thames on deck at his first setting out, should obstinately use no other for the whole voyage.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth”
Added on 16-Oct-13 | Last updated 16-Oct-13
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All error, not merely verbal, is a strong way of stating that the current truth is incomplete. The follies of youth have a basis in sound reason, just as much as the embarrassing questions put by babes and sucklings. Their most antisocial acts indicate the defects of our society. When the torrent sweeps the man against a boulder, you must expect him to scream, and you need not be surprised if the scream is sometimes a theory.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth” (1881)
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Added on 22-Jan-09 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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I shall doubtless outlive some troublesome desires; but I am in no hurry about that; nor, when the time comes, shall I plume myself on the immunity just in the same way, I do not greatly pride myself on having outlived my belief in the fairy tales of Socialism. Old people have faults of their own; they tend to become cowardly, niggardly, and suspicious. Whether from the growth of experience or the decline of animal heat, I see that age leads to these and certain other faults; and it follows, of course, that while in one sense I hope I am journeying towards the truth, in another I am indubitably posting towards these forms and sources of error.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth” (c. 1874)
Added on 23-Oct-13 | Last updated 23-Oct-13
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When the torrent sweeps the man against a boulder, you must expect him to scream, and you need not be surprised if the scream is sometimes a theory. Shelley, chafing at the Church of England, discovered the cure of all evils in universal atheism. Generous lads irritated at the injustices of society, see nothing for it but the abolishment of everything and Kingdom Come of anarchy. Shelley was a young fool; so are these cocksparrow revolutionaries. But it is better to be a fool than to be dead. It is better to emit a scream in the shape of a theory than to be entirely insensible to the jars and incongruities of life and take everything as it comes in a forlorn stupidity.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth” (c. 1874)
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Some people swallow the universe like a pill; they travel on through the world, like smiling images pushed from behind. For God’s sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself!

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth” (c. 1874)
Added on 6-Nov-13 | Last updated 6-Nov-13
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Age may have one side, but assuredly Youth has the other. There is nothing more certain than that both are right, except perhaps that both are wrong. Let them agree to differ; for who knows but what agreeing to differ may not be a form of agreement rather than a form of difference?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth” (c. 1874)
Added on 13-Nov-13 | Last updated 13-Nov-13
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It is as natural and as right for a young man to be imprudent and exaggerated, to live in swoops and circles, and beat about his cage like any other wild thing newly captured, as it is for old men to turn gray, or mothers to love their offspring, or heroes to die for something worthier than their lives.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Crabbed Age and Youth” (c. 1874)
Added on 20-Nov-13 | Last updated 20-Nov-13
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Youth is wholly experimental.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Letter to a Young Gentleman,” Scribner’s Magazine (Sep 1888)
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Added on 9-Oct-13 | Last updated 9-Oct-13
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My body which my dungeon is,
And yet my parks and palaces.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“My Body Which My Dungeon Is,” Underwoods (1887)
Added on 11-Mar-09 | Last updated 11-Mar-09
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I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“My Shadow,” st. 1, A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885)
Added on 12-Feb-09 | Last updated 12-Feb-09
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Books were the proper remedy: books of vivid human import, forcing upon their minds the issues, pleasures, busyness, importance and immediacy of that life in which they stand; books of smiling or heroic temper, to excite or to console; books of a large design, shadowing the complexity of that game of consequences to which we all sit down, the hanger-back not least.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Old Mortality”

This is the source of the otherwise-spurious Stevenson quote "Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences" or "Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences."

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It is the mark of a good action that it appears inevitable in retrospect.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Reflections and Remarks on Human Life,” #6 (1878)
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Our business in this world is not to succeed, but to continue to fail, in good spirits.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Reflections and Remarks on Human Life,” sec. IV (1878)
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Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Requiem,” Underwoods, Bk. 1 (1887)
Added on 26-Feb-09 | Last updated 26-Feb-09
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The correction of silence is what kills; when you know you have transgressed, and your friend says nothing and avoids your eye.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Talk and Talkers” (1882)
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Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Talk and Talkers” (1882)
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Is there anything in life so disenchanting as attainment?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs” (1878)
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You cannot run away from weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“The Amateur Immigrant” (1895)

Citations.
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The friendly cow all red and white,
I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with apple-tart.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“The Cow,” st. 1, A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885)
Added on 18-Dec-08 | Last updated 18-Dec-08
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No man lives in the external truth among salts and acids, but in the warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the painted windows and the storied wall.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“The Lantern-bearers,” Across the Plains (1892)
Added on 25-Sep-08 | Last updated 27-Jun-13
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A generous prayer is never presented in vain; the petition may be refused, but the petitioner is always, I believe, rewarded by some gracious visitation.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“The Merry Men” (1882)

Full text.
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The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Truth of Intercourse” (1881)
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The essence of love is kindness.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Virginibus Puerisque,” sec. 3 (1881)
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Added on 15-Aug-11 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but principally by catchwords; and the little rift between the sexes is astonishingly widened by simply teaching one set of catchwords to the girls and another to the boys.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Virginibus Puerisque” (1881)
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Added on 29-Jan-09 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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Hope is the boy, a blind, headlong, pleasant fellow, good to chase swallows with the salt; Faith is the grave, experienced, yet smiling man. Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of circumstance and the frailty of human resolution. Hope looks for unqualified success; but Faith counts certainly on failure, and takes honourable defeat to be a form of victory. Hope is a kind old pagan; but Faith grew up in Christian days, and early learnt humility.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Virginibus Puerisque” (1881)
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Added on 27-Aug-09 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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It seems as if marriage were the royal road through life, and realised, on the instant, what we have all dreamed on summer Sundays when the bells ring, or at night when we cannot sleep for the desire of living. They think it will sober and change them. Like those who join a brotherhood, they fancy it needs but an act to be out of the coil and clamour for ever. But this is a wile of the devil’s. To the end, spring winds will sow disquietude, passing faces leave a regret behind them, and the whole world keep calling and calling in their ears. For marriage is like life in this — that it is a field of battle, and not a bed of roses.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Virginibus Puerisque” (1881)
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Added on 11-Dec-13 | Last updated 11-Dec-13
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Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down. And this is all that life really means.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
(Attributed)

Attributed by Senator Sam Ervin in his last newsletter, Senator Sam Ervin Says (2 Jan 1975). Unverified.
Added on 2-Sep-13 | Last updated 2-Sep-13
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That a man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
(Spurious)

This quotation is attributed to Stevenson, to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and (by Ann Landers) to Harry Emerson Fosdick, but it is by Bessie A. Stanley of Lincoln, Kansas, in an essay published in the Emporia Gazette of Emporia, Kansas (11 Dec 1905). More here.

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Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
(Spurious)
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Frequently attributed to Stevenson, but not found in his works.
Added on 26-Jan-15 | Last updated 26-Jan-15
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Every man is his own doctor of divinity, in the last resort.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
An Inland Voyage (1878)
Added on 6-Nov-08 | Last updated 6-Nov-08
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I find I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral: a thing as single and specious as a statue at first glance, and yet, on examination, as lively and interesting as a forest in detail.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
An Inland Voyage, “Noyon Cathedral” (1878)
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To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
An Inland Voyage, ch. 3 “The Royal Sport Nautique” (1878)

Full text.
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The price we have to pay for money is paid in liberty.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Familiar Studies of Men and Books, “Henry David Thoreau” (2) (1882)
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Added on 9-Mar-12 | Last updated 13-Aug-13
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To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Familiar Studies of Men and Books, “Henry David Thoreau” (5) (1882)
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Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Familiar Studies of Men and Books, “Yoshida-Torajiro,” (1882)
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So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Lay Morals and Other Essays, ch. 4 “Lay Morals” (1911)
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And perhaps, after all, it is better that the lad should break his neck than that you should break his spirit.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
The Amateur Emigrant (1880)
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An aim in life is the only fortune worth the finding; and it is not to be found in foreign lands, but in the heart itself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
The Amateur Emigrant, ch. 4 “Steerage Types” (1895)
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Not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is — nor yet so good a Christian.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
The Master of Ballantrae, “Mr. Mackellar’s Journey” (1889)
Added on 9-Oct-08 | Last updated 27-Jun-13
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There is no foreign land; it is the traveler only that is foreign ….

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
The Silverado Squatters (1883)
Added on 2-Oct-13 | Last updated 2-Oct-13
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Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest —
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!      

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Treasure Island, ch. 1 (1883)
Added on 5-Feb-09 | Last updated 5-Feb-09
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Many’s a long night I’ve dreamed of cheese — toasted mostly.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Treasure Island, ch. 15 “The Man of the Island” (1883)
Added on 13-Nov-08 | Last updated 13-Nov-08
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Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese — toasted, mostly.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Treasure Island, ch. 15 (1883)
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The cruelest lies are often told in silence. A man may have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Virginibus Puerisque, “Virginibus Puerisque,” sec. 4 (1881)
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Added on 2-Oct-08 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Virginibus Puerisque, ch. 2 “Crabbed Age and Youth” (1881)
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The world has no room for cowards. We must all be ready somehow to toil, to suffer, to die. And yours is not the less noble because no drum beats before you when you go out into your daily battlefields, and no crowds shout about your coming when you return from your daily victory or defeat.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Address to the Samoan Students, Malua (Jan 1890)

Full text.

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Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind, spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Prayer, Stevenson Memorial, St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh
Added on 6-Aug-09 | Last updated 6-Aug-09
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