Yarrrr! Shiver mi timbers! Here be a tribute to Robert Louis Stephenson

Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, was Born November 13th 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Robert’s grandfather was the famous Scottish civil engineer and builder of lighthouses Robert Stevenson, FRSE, FGS, FRAS, MSA Scot, MWS, MInstCE. As An only child, strange-looking and eccentric, Stevenson found it hard to fit in when he was sent to a nearby school at age six, and when he went on to the Edinburgh Academy at age eleven. His frequent illnesses often kept him away from his first school, and he was taught for long stretches by private tutors. He learnt to read at age seven or eight, but even before this he dictated stories to his mother and nurse. He compulsively wrote stories throughout his childhood. His father was proud of this interest; he had also written stories in his spare time. He paid for the printing of Robert’s first publication at sixteen, an account of the covenanters’ rebellion which was published on its two hundredth anniversary, The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666 (1866).

In November 1867 Stevenson entered the University of Edinburgh to study engineering. but showed no enthusiasm for his studies, however he formed many friendships with other students in the Speculative Society (an exclusive debating club), particularly with Charles Baxter, and with a professor, Fleeming Jenkin, whose house staged amateur drama in which Stevenson took part, and whose biography he would later write. He also spent much time with His cousin, Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (known as “Bob”), a lively and light-hearted young man who instead of the family profession had chosen to study art.

========================================================================================

TREASURE ISLAND (1950)

========================================================================================

During holidays, Stevenson travelled to inspect the family’s engineering work in Anstruther and Wick in 1868, and went with his father on his official tour of Orkney and Shetland islands lighthouses in 1869, and spent three weeks on the island of Erraid in 1870. He enjoyed the travels more for the material they gave for his writing than for any engineering interest. The voyage with his father pleased him because a similar journey of Walter Scott with Robert Stevenson had provided the inspiration for Scott’s 1821 novel The Pirate. In April 1871 Stevenson notified his father of his decision to pursue a life of letters. Though the elder Stevenson was naturally disappointed, the surprise cannot have been great, and Stevenson’s mother reported that he was “wonderfully resigned” to his son’s choice. To provide some security, it was agreed that Stevenson should read Law (again at Edinburgh University) and be called to the Scottish bar.

In late 1873, on a visit to a cousin in England, Stevenson met two people who were to be of great importance to him, Sidney Colvin and Fanny Sitwell. Colvin became Stevenson’s literary adviser and after his death was the first editor of Stevenson’s letters. Soon after their first meeting, he had placed Stevenson’s first paid contribution, an essay entitled “Roads,” in The Portfolio. Stevenson was soon active in London literary life, becoming acquainted with many of the writers of the time, including Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse, and Leslie Stephen, the editor of the Cornhill Magazine, who while Visiting Edinburgh in 1875, he took Stevenson with him to visit a patient at the Edinburgh Infirmary, named Ernest Henley, who was an energetic and talkative man with a wooden leg who became a close friend and occasional literary collaborator, and is often seen as the model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island. In November 1873 Stevenson’s health failed, and he was sent to Menton on the French Riviera to recuperate. He returned in better health in April 1874 and settled down to his studies, but he returned to France several times after that and made long and frequent trips to the neighbourhood of the Forest of Fontainebleau, staying at Barbizon, Grez-sur-Loing, and Nemours and becoming a member of the artists’ colonies there, as well as to Paris to visit galleries and the theatres. He did qualify for the Scottish bar in July 1875. But although his law studies would influence his books, he never practised law as All his energies were now spent in travel and writing. One of his journeys, a canoe voyage in Belgium and France with a friend from the Speculative Society and frequent travel companion, was the basis of his first real book, An Inland Voyage (1878). Between 1880 and 1887, Stevenson spent his summers at various places in Scotland and England, including Westbourne, Dorset, and It was during his time he wrote the story Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, naming one of the characters Mr.Poole after the town of Poole. He also named his house Skerryvore after the tallest lighthouse in Scotland, which his uncle Alan had built. Despite his ill health, he produced the bulk of his best-known work during these years, including Treasure Island, Kidnapped; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Black Arrow and two volumes of verse, A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods. When his father died in 1887, Stevenson felt free to follow the advice of his physician to try a complete change of climate, and started with his mother and family for Colorado. But after landing in New York, they decided to spend the winter at Saranac Lake, New York, in the Adirondacks & it was here that he wrote some of his best essays, including The Master of Ballantrae.

========================================================================================

JEKYLL & HYDE (1920)

========================================================================================

In June 1888 Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and set sail with his family from San Francisco. The sea air and thrill of adventure restored his health, and for nearly three years he wandered the eastern and central Pacific, stopping for extended stays at the Hawaiian Islands, where he became a good friend of King Kalākaua and his niece, Princess Victoria Kaiulani, who also had a link to Scottish heritage. He spent time at the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands. During this period he completed The Master of Ballantrae, composed two ballads based on the legends of the islanders, and wrote The Bottle Imp. He also intended to write another book of travel writing to follow his earlier book In the South Seas, but it was his wife who eventually published her journal of their third voyage in her account of the 1890 voyage The Cruise of the Janet Nichol.

Towrds the end of his life In 1890 Stevenson purchased a tract of about 400 acres (1.6 km²) in Upolu, an island in Samoa. Here, he established himself in the village of Vailima. He took the native name Tusitala (Samoan for “Teller of Tales”. His influence spread to the Samoans, who consulted him for advice, and he soon became involved in local politics.In addition to building his house and helping the Samoans in many ways, he found time to work at his writing & wrote The Beach of Falesa, Catriona (titled David Balfour in the USA), The Ebb-Tide, and the Vailima Letters during this period and also began work on Weir of Hermiston, which He felt was the best work he had done.

On 3 December 1894, Stevenson was talking to his wife and straining to open a bottle of wine when he suddenly exclaimed, “What’s that!” asking his wife “Does my face look strange?” and collapsed. He died within a few hours, probably of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was forty-four years old. The Samoans insisted on surrounding his body with a watch-guard during the night and on bearing their Tusitala upon their shoulders to nearby Mount Vaea, where they buried him on a spot overlooking the sea.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.