"The Bright Face Of Danger"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In his essay The Lantern-Bearers, Stevenson investigates the poetic impulse which he feels to be universal in man. Painting a vivid word picture of his youth in a seacoast village, he describes a local custom among the boys: in autumn they bought tin bull's-eye lanterns of the type once worn by policemen. These had a shutter which cut off the dim light they produced and were called dark-lanterns. They were sometimes used also by burglars, but the boys were imitating neither. Each wearing his lantern concealed under his topcoat, the boys would sally forth and foregather in the early darkness to talk of the things they felt at their age to be serious. "But the talk, at any rate," says Stevenson, "was but a condiment; and these gatherings themselves only accidents in the career of the lantern-bearer. The essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut, the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps or to make your glory public . . . and to exult and sing over the knowledge."

It is said that a poet has died young in the breast of the most stolid. It may be contended, rather, that this (somewhat minor) bard in almost every case survives, and is the spice of life to his possessor. Justice is not done to the versatility and the unplumbed childishness of man's imagination. His life from without may seem but a rude mound of mud; there will be some golden chamber at the heart of it, in which he dwells delighted; and for as dark as his pathway seems to the observer, he will have some kind of a bull's-eye at his belt. . . .
The average man . . . is just like you and me, or he would not be average . . . this harping on life's dulness and meanness is a loud profession of incompetence; it is one of two things: the cry of the blind eye, I cannot see, or the complaint of the dumb tongue, I cannot utter. To draw a life without delights is to prove I have not realised it. . . .
For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action. That is the explanation, that the excuse. To one who has not the secret of the lanterns, the scene . . . is meaningless. And hence the haunting and truly spectral unreality of realistic books . . . in each, life falls dead like dough . . . ; each is true, each inconceivable; for no man lives in the external truth, among salts and acids, but in the warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain. . . .
In nobler books we are moved with something like the emotions of life. . . . These are notes that please the great heart of man. Not only love, and the fields, and the bright face of danger, but sacrifice and death and unmerited suffering humbly supported, touch in us the vein of the poetic. We love to think of them, we long to try them, we are humbly hopeful that we may prove heroes also.