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"Played The Sedulous Ape"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Robert Louis Stevenson describes the manner in which he went about learning to write. As a youth, he was considered an idler, but he was hardworking and persistent in his one great desire–to learn to write. Work toward this one goal absorbed his time completely. Always he took two books around with him, one to read, the other to write in Sometimes during his walks, he carried on dramatic dialogues with himself and wrote down conversations from memory. He also kept diaries, but his best training was in imitating the styles of good writers. Whenever he read a passage that contained a quality he especially liked, he immediately sat down and tried "to ape that quality." He wrote and rewrote without ever achieving his goal. But in his painstaking labor of imitating, he got practice in the elements of composition. Concerning his practice, Stevenson says:

. . . I have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Baudelaire and to Obermann.