Excerpt from Robert Louis Stevenson
The history of English literature on its biographical side serves to show how few of our great writers have come of a literary stock. In one instance after another the same story is repeated; a strong and virile race, following some active occupation, produces at a certain stage a man or woman who provides it with means of expression; and, though this is probably mere coincidence, the branch of the family thus distinguished has a way of soon afterward dwindling and dying out. Chaucer came of a family of vintners, Shakespeare of a family of yeomen. Sir Walter Scott had behind him a long line of Border 'cattle-lifters.' Thackeray's immediate ancestors were India merchants, George Eliot's were carpenters and builders, and Robert Louis Stevenson's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were engineers. Instances might be multiplied, but these may suffice; and the conclusion seems to be that in the race as well as in the individual, literature, if it is to be strong and living, must be in the closest touch with life.
In Robert Louis Stevenson the conception of a man as the product of forces that had gathered through the long line of his ancestors was peculiarly vivid.
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