"Everyone Lives By Selling Something"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Part IX of Stevenson's Across the Plains is entitled "Beggars." It opens with reminiscences of two consumptive beggars whom Stevenson had met in his rambles about Scotland. One, an ex-soldier, loved "the romance of language," Keats and Shelley were his favorite poets, and the only books he would borrow from Stevenson–and always return–were volumes of poetry. Recalling this simple lover of literature, Stevenson is led to some random comments on beggars and men who follow other callings. Among the comments are these:

Everyone lives by selling something, whatever be his right to it. The burglar sells at the same time his own skill and courage and my silver plate (the whole at the most moderate figure) to a Jew receiver. The bandit sells the traveller an article of prime necessity: that traveller's life. And as for the old soldier, . . . he dealt in a specialty; for he was the only beggar in the world who ever gave me pleasure for my money. He had learned a school of manner in the barracks and had the sense to cling to it, accosting strangers with a regimental freedom, thanking patrons with a merely regimental difference, sparing you at once the tragedy of his position and the embarrassment of yours. . . .