John Singer Sargent’s ‘Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife’ (1885).
The first return to Treasure Island was made by Robert Louis Stevenson himself. Fourteen years after the novel was published, Longman’s Magazine published ‘The Persons of the Tale’, in which Captain Smollett and Long John Silver step out of the narrative after the 32nd chapter to have a chat ‘in an open place not far from the story’. Stevenson has the two men wonder whether there is ‘such a thing as an Author’, and – if there is – whose side he’s on. The captain berates Silver for being a ‘damned rogue’; the rogue retorts: ‘Now, dooty is dooty, as I knows, and none better; but we’re off dooty now; and I can’t see no call to keep up the morality business.’ The captain is sure that the author is ‘on the side of good’ (he means on his side). ‘“And so you was the judge, was you?” said Silver, derisively … “What is this good? … by all stories, you ain’t no such saint … Which is which? Which is good, and which bad?”’ As the captain starts to denounce Silver again, the piece ends with the captain saying: ‘“But there’s the ink-bottle opening. To quarters!” And indeed the author was just then beginning to write the words: chapter xxxiii.’
LRB 25 October 2012 | PDF Download