“Talent without genius isn’t much,” remarked Valery, “but genius without talent is nothing whatever.” Robert Louis Stevenson had talent in abundance, and he was touched by genius, but how often the two combined in his work remains a question not easily answered. Stevenson (1850–94) shall soon be dead for fully a century, yet his literary reputation is still unsettled. William Lyon Phelps thought that he belonged with Fielding and Scott, Dickens and George Eliot, Meredith and Hardy. Henry James acclaimed him “an exquisite literary talent.” Yet George Moore, despite the enduring popularity of Treasure Island and Kidnapped, said that Stevenson “imagined no human soul, and he invented no story that anyone will remember,” while John Jay Chapman accused him of merely aping his literary betters with the result that he was nothing more than...


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