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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson.

Of that tide of students that used to throng the arch and blacken the quadrangle, how many are scattered into the remotest parts of the earth, and how many more have lain down beside their fathers in their "resting" graves; and again, how many of these last have not found their way there all too early through the stress of education! I am sorry, indeed, that I have no Greek but I should be sorrier still if I were dead; nor do I know the name of that page 41 branch of knowledge which is worth acquiring at the price of a brain fever. There are many sordid tragedies in the life of a student, above all if he be poor, or drunken, or both; but nothing more moves a wise man's pity than the case of the lad who is in too much hurry to be learned. . . .

A student, ambitious of success by that hot, intemperate manner of study that now grows so common, read night and day for an examination. As he went on the task became more easy to him, sleep was more easily banished, his brain grew hot and clear and more capacious, the necessary knowledge dany fuller and more orderly. It came to the eve of the trial, and he watched all night in bis high chamber reviewing what he knew, and already secure of success. . . . But to him that good hour of cockcrow and the changes of the dawn had brought panic, and lasting doubt, and such terror as he still shook to think of. He dared not return to his lodging; he could not eat; he sat down, he rose up; he wandered; the city woke about him with its cheerful bustle; the sun climbed over-head, and still he grew but the more absorbed in the distress of his recollection and the fear of his past fear. At the appointed hour he came to the door of the place of examination, but when he was asked he had forgotten his name. Seeing him so disordered they had not the heart so, send him away, but gave him a paper and admitted him, still nameless, to the well. Vain kindness, vain efforts. He could only sit in a still growing horror, writing nothing, ignorant of all, his mind filled with a single memory of the breaking day and his own intolerable fear. And that same night he was tossing in a, brain fever.

People are afraid of war, and wounds, and dentists, all with excellent reason: hut these are not to be compared with such chaotic terrors of the mind as fell on this young man, and made him cover his eyes from the innocent morning. We all have by our bedsides the box of the merchant Abudah, thank God, securely enough shut; but when a young man sacrifices sleep to labor let him have a care, for he is playing with the lock.

This college memory of Stevenson is not a whit more pitiful than the case of a small girl from one of our New Zealand High Schools, who had to be sent to Seacliff this year.