Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson
13 November 1850
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 3 December 1894 (aged 44)
Vailima, Samoa
Occupation Novelist, poet, travel writer
Nationality Scottish
Education 1857 Mr. Henderson's School, Edinburgh, 1857-1861, Private tutors, >1859 Return to Mr. Henderson's School, >1861 Edinburgh Academy
1863 Boarding school in Isleworth, Middlesex
1864 Robert Thomson's School, Edinburgh
1867 University of Edinburgh
Period Victorian era
Notable work(s) Treasure Island
A Child's Garden of Verses
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Spouse(s) Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne
Children Isobel Osbourne Strong (stepdaughter)
Lloyd Osbourne (stepson)
Relative(s) father: Thomas Stevenson
mother: Margaret Isabella Balfour

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (13 November 1850 - 3 December 1894) was a Scottish poet, novelist, essayist, and travel writer.


Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson


Stevenson was born at Edinburgh, the son of Thomas Stevenson, a distinguished civil engineer. His health was extremely delicate. He was destined for the engineering profession, in which his family had for 2 generations been eminent, but having neither inclination nor physical strength for it, he in 1871 exchanged it for law, and was called to the Bar in 1875, but never practised. From childhood his interests had been literary, and in 1871 he began to contribute to the Edinburgh University Magazine and the Portfolio. A tour in a canoe in 1876 led to the publication in 1878 of his 1st book, An Inland Voyage. In the same year, The New Arabian Nights, (afterwards separately published) appeared in magazines, and in 1879 he brought out Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. In that year he went to California and married Mrs. Osbourne. Returning to Europe in 1880 he entered page 361upon a period of productiveness which, in view of his wretched health, was, both as regards quantity and worth, highly remarkable. The year 1881 was marked by his unsuccessful candidature for the Chair of Constitutional Law and History at Edinburgh, and by the publication of Virginibus Puerisque. Other works followed in rapid succession. Though the originality and power of Stevenson's writings was recognised from the beginning by a select few, it was only slowly that he caught the ear of the general public. The tide may be said to have turned with the publication of Treasure Island in 1882, which immeidately gave him an assured place among the foremost imaginative writers of the day. In 1887 he went to America, and in the following year visited the South Sea Islands where, in Samoa, he settled in 1890, and where he died and is buried. In 1889 The Master of Ballantrae appeared, in 1892 Across the Plains and The Wrecker, in 1893 Island Nights Entertainments and Catriona, and in 1894 The Ebb Tide in collaboration with his step-son, Lloyd Osbourne. By this time his health was completely broken, but to the last he continued the struggle, and left the fragments St. Ives and Weir of Hermiston, the latter containing some of his best work. They were published in 1897. His greatest power is shown in those works which deal with Scotland in the 18th century, such as Kidnapped, Catriona, and Weir of Hermiston, and in those, e.g., The Child's Garden of Verse, which exhibit his extraordinary insight into the psychology of child-life; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a marvellously powerful and subtle psychological story, and some of his short tales also are masterpieces. Of these "Thrawn Janet" and "Will of the Mill" may be mentioned as examples in widely different kinds. His excursions into the drama in collaboration with W.E. Henley added nothing to his reputation. His style is singularly fascinating, graceful, various, subtle, and with a charm all its own.[3]

A literary celebrity during his lifetime, Stevenson now ranks among the 26 most translated authors in the world.[4] His works have been admired by many other writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Vladimir Nabokov,[5] J. M. Barrie,[6] and G. K. Chesterton, who said of him that he "seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins."[7]


File:Robert Louis Stevenson daguerreotype portrait as a child.jpg
File:Robert Louis Stevenson childhood home, Heriot Row.jpg

Stevenson was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson[8] at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh, Scotland, to Margaret Isabella (Balfour) (1829–1897) and Thomas Stevenson (1818–1887), a leading lighthouse engineer.[9] Lighthouse design was the family profession: Thomas's own father (Robert's grandfather) was the famous civil engineer Robert Stevenson, and Thomas's maternal grandfather, Thomas Smith, and brothers Alan and David were also in the business.[10] On Margaret's side, the family were gentry, tracing their name back to an Alexander Balfour, who held the lands of Inchrye in Fife in the 15th century. Her father, Lewis Balfour (1777–1860), was a minister of the Church of Scotland at nearby Colinton,[11] and Stevenson spent the greater part of his boyhood holidays in his house. "Now I often wonder", wrote Stevenson, "what I inherited from this old minister. I must suppose, indeed, that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to hear them."[12]

Lewis Balfour and his daughter both had weak chests, and often needed to stay in warmer climates for their health. Stevenson inherited a tendency to coughs and fevers, exacerbated when the family moved to a damp, chilly house at 1 Inverleith Terrace in 1851.[13] The family moved again to the sunnier 17 Heriot Row when Stevenson was six years old, but the tendency to extreme sickness in winter remained with him until he was eleven. Illness would be a recurrent feature of his adult life and left him extraordinarily thin.[14] Contemporary views were that he had tuberculosis, but more recent views are that it was bronchiectasis[15] or even sarcoidosis.[16]

Stevenson's parents were both devout and serious Presbyterians, but the household was not strict in its adherence to Calvinist principles. His nurse, Alison Cunningham (known as Cummy),[17] was more fervently religious. Her Calvinism and folk beliefs were an early source of nightmares for the child, and he showed a precocious concern for religion.[18] But she also cared for him tenderly in illness, reading to him from Bunyan and the Bible as he lay sick in bed and telling tales of the Covenanters. Stevenson recalled this time of sickness in "The Land of Counterpane" in A Child's Garden of Verses (1885),[19] and dedicated the book to his nurse.[20]

An only child, strange-looking and eccentric, Stevenson found it hard to fit in when he was sent to a nearby school at age 6, a problem repeated at age 11 when he went on to the Edinburgh Academy; but he mixed well in lively games with his cousins in summer holidays at Colinton.[21] In any case, his frequent illnesses often kept him away from his first school, and he was taught for long stretches by private tutors. He was a late reader, first learning at age seven or eight, but even before this he dictated stories to his mother and nurse.[22] He compulsively wrote stories throughout his childhood. His father was proud of this interest; he had also written stories in his spare time until his own father found them and told him to "give up such nonsense and mind your business."[10] He paid for the printing of Robert's 1st publication at 16, an account of the covenanters' rebellion which was published on its 200th anniversary, The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666 (1866).[23]


Robert Louis Stevenson mit 7 Jahren

Stevenson at seven. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In September 1857, Stevenson went to Mr Henderson's school in India Street, Edinburgh, but because of poor health stayed only a few weeks and did not return until October 1859. During his many absences he was taught by private tutors. In October 1861 he went to Edinburgh Academy, an independent school for boys, and stayed there sporadically for about fifteen months. In the autumn of 1863 he spent one term at an English boarding school at Spring Grove in Isleworth in Middlesex (now an urban area of West London). In October 1864, following an improvement to his health, he was sent to Robert Thomson's private school in Frederick Street, Edinburgh, where he remained until he went to university.[24] In November 1867, Stevenson entered the University of Edinburgh to study engineering. He showed from the start no enthusiasm for his studies and devoted much energy to avoiding lectures.

This time was more important for the friendships he made with other students in the Speculative Society (an exclusive debating club), particularly with Charles Baxter, who would become Stevenson's financial agent, and with a professor, Fleeming Jenkin, whose house staged amateur drama in which Stevenson took part, and whose biography he would later write.[25] Perhaps most important at this point in his life was a 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.[26] Each year during vacations, Stevenson travelled to inspect the family's engineering works—to Anstruther and Wick in 1868, with his father on his official tour of Orkney and Shetland islands lighthouses in 1869, and for three weeks to 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 1822 novel The Pirate.[27] 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.[28] In his 1887 poetry collection Underwoods, Stevenson muses his turning from the family profession:[29]

Say not of me that weakly I declined
The labours of my sires, and fled the sea,
The towers we founded and the lamps we lit,
But rather say: In the afternoon of time
A strenuous family dusted from its hands
The sand of granite, and beholding far
Along the sounding coast its pyramids
And tall memorials catch the dying sun,
Smiled well content, and to this childish task
Around the fire addressed its evening hours.

In other respects too, Stevenson was moving away from his upbringing. His dress became more bohemian; he already wore his hair long, but he now took to wearing a velveteen jacket and rarely attended parties in conventional evening dress.[30] Within the limits of a strict allowance, he visited cheap pubs and brothels.[31] More importantly, he had come to reject Christianity and declared himself an atheist.[32] In January 1873 his father came across the constitution of the LJR (Liberty, Justice, Reverence) Club, of which Stevenson and his cousin Bob were members, which began: "Disregard everything our parents have taught us." Questioning his son about his beliefs, he discovered the truth, leading to a long period of dissension with both parents:

What a damned curse I am to my parents! As my father said "You have rendered my whole life a failure". As my mother said "This is the heaviest affliction that has ever befallen me". O Lord, what a pleasant thing it is to have damned the happiness of (probably) the only two people who care a damn about you in the world.[33]

Early writing and travelsEdit

File:Robert Louis Stevenson at 26.jpg

In late 1873, on a visit to a cousin in England, Stevenson met 2 people who were to be of great importance to him, Sidney Colvin and Fanny (Frances Jane) Sitwell. Sitwell was a 34-year-old woman with a son, separated from her husband. She attracted the devotion of many who met her, including Colvin, who eventually married her in 1901. Stevenson was also drawn to her, and over several years they kept up a heated correspondence in which Stevenson wavered between the role of a suitor and a son (he came to address her as "Madonna").[34] 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.[35] Stevenson was soon active in London literary life, becoming acquainted with many of the writers of the time, including Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse,[36] and Leslie Stephen, the editor of the Cornhill Magazine, who took an interest in Stevenson's work. Stephen in turn would introduce him to a more important friend. Visiting Edinburgh in 1875, he took Stevenson with him to visit a patient at the Edinburgh Infirmary, William Ernest Henley. Henley, an energetic and talkative man with a wooden leg, became a close friend and occasional literary collaborator, until a quarrel broke up the friendship in 1888. Henley is often seen as the model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island.[37]

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.[38] He 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.[39] He did qualify for the Scottish bar in July 1875, and his father added a brass plate with "R.L. Stevenson, Advocate" to the Heriot Row house. But although his law studies would influence his books, he never practised law.[40] All his energies were now spent in travel and writing. One of his journeys, a canoe voyage in Belgium and France with Sir Walter Simpson,[41] a friend from the Speculative Society and frequent travel companion, was the basis of his 1st real book, An Inland Voyage (1878).[42]


File:Fanny Osbourne 1.jpg

The canoe voyage with Simpson brought Stevenson to Grez in September 1876, and here he first met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne (1840–1914). Born in Indianapolis, she had married at age seventeen and moved to Nevada to rejoin husband Samuel after his participation in the American Civil War. That marriage produced 3 children: Isobel (or "Belle"); Lloyd; and Hervey (who died in 1875). But anger over her husband's infidelities led to a number of separations and in 1875 she had taken her children to France, where she and Isobel studied art.[43] Although Stevenson returned to Britain shortly after this meeting, Fanny apparently remained in his thoughts, and he wrote an essay, "On falling in love," for the Cornhill Magazine.[44] They met again early in 1877 and became lovers. Stevenson spent much of the following year with her and her children in France.[45] In August 1878 Fanny returned to San Francisco, California. Stevenson at first remained in Europe, making the walking trip that would form the basis for Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). But in August 1879 he set off to join her, against the advice of his friends and without notifying his parents. He took second-class passage on the steamship Devonia, in part to save money but also to learn how others travelled and to increase the adventure of the journey.[46] From New York City he travelled overland by train to California. He later wrote about the experience in The Amateur Emigrant. Although it was good experience for his literature, it broke his health, and he was near death when he arrived in Monterey, California, where some local ranchers nursed him back to health.

By December 1879 Stevenson had recovered his health enough to continue to San Francisco, where for several months he struggled "all alone on forty-five cents a day, and sometimes less, with quantities of hard work and many heavy thoughts,"[47] in an effort to support himself through his writing, but by the end of the winter his health was broken again and he found himself at death's door. Fanny, now divorced and recovered from her own illness, came to Stevenson's bedside and nursed him to recovery. "After a while," he wrote, "my spirit got up again in a divine frenzy, and has since kicked and spurred my vile body forward with great emphasis and success."[48] When his father heard of his condition, he cabled him money to help him through this period.

Fanny and Robert were married in May 1880, although, as he said, he was "a mere complication of cough and bones, much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom."[49] With his new wife and her son, Lloyd,[50] he travelled north of San Francisco to Napa Valley, and spent a summer honeymoon at an abandoned mining camp on Mount Saint Helena. He wrote about this experience in The Silverado Squatters. He met Charles Warren Stoddard, co-editor of the Overland Monthly and author of South Sea Idylls, who urged Stevenson to travel to the South Pacific, an idea which would return to him many years later. In August 1880 he sailed with Fanny and Lloyd from New York to Britain and found his parents and his friend Sidney Colvin on the wharf at Liverpool, happy to see him return home. Gradually, his new wife was able to patch up differences between father and son and make herself a part of the new family through her charm and wit.


240px-Robert Louis Stevenson Knox Series

Knox Series photo of Stevenson. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Much like his father, Stevenson remained a staunch Tory for most of his life. His cousin and biographer, Sir Graham Balfour, said that "he probably throughout life would, if compelled to vote, have always supported the Conservative candidate."[51] During his college years he briefly identified himself as a "red-hot socialist". By 1877, at only twenty-six years of age and before having written most of his major fictional works, Stevenson reflected: "For my part, I look back to the time when I was a Socialist with something like regret. I have convinced myself (for the moment) that we had better leave these great changes to what we call great blind forces: their blindness being so much more perspicacious than the little, peering, partial eyesight of men [...] Now I know that in thus turning Conservative with years, I am going through the normal cycle of change and travelling in the common orbit of men's opinions. I submit to this, as I would submit to gout or gray hair, as a concomitant of growing age or else of failing animal heat; but I do not acknowledge that it is necessarily a change for the better—I dare say it is deplorably for the worse."[52]

Musical compositionsEdit

Stevenson was an amateur composer who wrote songs typical of California in the 1880s: salon-type music, entertaining rather than serious. A flageolet player, Stevenson had studied harmony and simple counterpoint and knew such basic instrumental techniques as transposition. Some song titles include "Fanfare," "Tune for Flageolet," "Habanera," and "Quadrille." Robert Hughes in 1968, arranged a number of Stevenson's songs for chamber orchestra, which went on a tour of the Pacific Northwest in that year.

Attempted settlement in Europe and the U.S.Edit


For the next 7 years, between 1880 and 1887, Stevenson searched in vain for a place of residence suitable to his state of health. He spent his summers at various places in Scotland and England, including Westbourne, Dorset, a residential area in Bournemouth. It was during his time in Bournemouth that he wrote the story Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, naming a character (Mr Poole) after the town of Poole, which is situated next to Bournemouth. In Westbourne he named his house Skerryvore after the tallest lighthouse in Scotland, which his uncle Alan had built (1838-1844). In the wintertime Stevenson traveled to France and lived at Davos-Platz[53] and the Chalet de Solitude at Hyères, where, for a time, he enjoyed almost complete happiness. "I have so many things to make life sweet for me," he wrote, "it seems a pity I cannot have that other one thing — health. But though you will be angry to hear it, I believe, for myself at least, what is is best. I believed it all through my worst days, and I am not ashamed to profess it now."[54]

In spite of his ill health, he produced the bulk of his best-known work during these years: Treasure Island, his first widely popular book; Kidnapped; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the story which established his wider reputation; The Black Arrow; and 2 volumes of verse, A Child's Garden of Verses and Underwoods. At Skerryvore he gave a copy of Kidnapped to his friend and frequent visitor Henry James.[55]

When his father died in 1887, Stevenson felt free to follow the advice of his physician to try a complete change of climate, and he 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 at a cure cottage now known as Stevenson Cottage. During the intensely cold winter Stevenson wrote some of his best essays, including Pulvis et Umbra, began The Master of Ballantrae, and lightheartedly planned, for the following summer, a cruise to the southern Pacific Ocean. "The proudest moments of my life," he wrote, "have been passed in the stern-sheets of a boat with that romantic garment over my shoulders."[56]

Journey to the PacificEdit

File:Robert Louis Stevenson and King Kalakaua.jpg
File:Stevenson vailima.jpg
File:Robert Louis Stevenson birthday fete, Samoa 1896.jpg
File:Burial and grave of Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa, 1894.jpg
File:Grave of Robert Louis Stevenson 1909.jpg

In June 1888 Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and set sail with his family from San Francisco. The vessel "plowed her path of snow across the empty deep, far from all track of commerce, far from any hand of help."[57] The sea air and thrill of adventure for a time restored his health, and for nearly 3 years he wandered the eastern and central Pacific, stopping for extended stays at the Hawaiian Islands, where he spent much time with and became a good friend of King Kalākaua. He befriended the king's 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 2 ballads based on the legends of the islanders, and wrote The Bottle Imp. He witnessed the Samoan crisis. He preserved the experience of these years in his various letters and in his In the South Seas (which was published posthumously),[58] an account of the 1888 cruise which Stevenson and Fanny undertook on the Casco from the Hawaiian Islands to the Marquesas and Tuamotu islands. An 1889 voyage, this time with Lloyd, on the trading schooner Equator, visiting Butaritari, Mariki, Apaiang and Abemama in the Gilbert Islands, (also known as the Kingsmills) now Kiribati.[59] During the 1889 voyage they spent several months on Abemama with the tyrant-chief Tem Binoka, of Abemama, Aranuka and Kuria. Stevenson extensively described Binoka in In the South Seas.[59]

An open letter from this period stands as testimony to his activism and indignation at the pettiness of the "powers that be", in the person of a Presbyterian minister in Honolulu named Rev. Dr. Charles McEwen Hyde. During his time in the Hawaiian Islands, Stevenson had visited Molokai and the leper colony there, shortly after the demise of Father Damien. When Dr. Hyde wrote a letter to a fellow clergyman speaking ill of Father Damien, Stevenson wrote a scathing open letter of rebuke to Dr. Hyde.[60] Soon afterwards, in April 1890, Stevenson left Sydney on the Janet Nicoll for his third and final voyage among the South Seas islands.[61]

While Stevenson intended to write another book of travel writing to follow his earlier book In the South Seas, it was his wife who eventually published her journal of their third voyage. (Fanny misnames the ship as the Janet Nicol in her account of the 1890 voyage, The Cruise of the Janet Nichol.)[62] A fellow passenger was Jack Buckland, whose stories of life as an island trader became the inspiration for the character of Tommy Hadden in The Wrecker (1892), which Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne wrote together.[63][64] Buckland visited the Stevensons at Vailima in 1894.[65]

Last yearsEdit

File:Stevenson's home at Vailima.jpg

In 1890 Stevenson purchased a tract of about 400 acres (1.6 km²) in Upolu, an island in Samoa. Here, after two aborted attempts to visit Scotland, he established himself, after much work, upon his estate in the village of Vailima. He took the native name Tusitala (Samoan for "Teller of Tales", i.e. a storyteller). His influence spread to the Samoans, who consulted him for advice, and he soon became involved in local politics. He was convinced the European officials appointed to rule the Samoans were incompetent, and after many futile attempts to resolve the matter, he published A Footnote to History. This was such a stinging protest against existing conditions that it resulted in the recall of 2 officials, and Stevenson feared for a time it would result in his own deportation. When things had finally blown over he wrote to Colvin, who came from a family of distinguished colonial administrators, "I used to think meanly of the plumber; but how he shines beside the politician!"[66]

The Stevensons were on friendly terms with some of the colonial leaders and their families. At one point he formally donated, by deed of gift, his birthday to the daughter of the American Land Commissioner Henry Clay Ide, since she was born on Christmas Day and had no birthday celebration separate from the family's Christmas celebrations. This led to a strong bond between the Stevenson and Ide families.[67][68]

In addition to building his house and clearing his land and helping the Samoans in many ways, he found time to work at his writing. He felt that "there was never any man had so many irons in the fire".[69] He wrote The Beach of Falesa, Catriona (titled David Balfour in the USA),[70] The Ebb-Tide, and the Vailima Letters during this period.

Stevenson grew depressed and wondered if he had exhausted his creative vein as he had been "overworked bitterly".[71] He felt that with each fresh attempt, the best he could write was "ditch-water".[72] He even feared that he might again become a helpless invalid. He rebelled against this idea: "I wish to die in my boots; no more Land of Counterpane for me. To be drowned, to be shot, to be thrown from a horse — ay, to be hanged, rather than pass again through that slow dissolution."[73] He then suddenly had a return of his old energy and he began work on Weir of Hermiston. "It's so good that it frightens me," he is reported to have exclaimed.[74] He felt that this was the best work he had done. He was convinced, "sick and well, I have had splendid life of it, grudge nothing, regret very little ... take it all over, damnation and all, would hardly change with any man of my time."[75]

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.[76] 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.[77]


Critical introductionEdit

by Sidney Calvin

"Poetry," wrote Walter Savage Landor, “was always my amusement, prose my study and business.” Much the same thing might truly have been said of that very different personage, Robert Louis Stevenson. He once wrote of himself that he was “a poetical character with a prose talent.” There was no time in his literary life when the chief part of his industry and effort was not given to prose: there was no time when he was not also accustomed occasionally to write verse. And though it was the preponderance and excellence of his work in prose that chiefly won and holds for him his place in literature, yet the charm and power of his spirit are to be felt scarcely less in the relatively small and unassuming body of his poetry.

He wrote in verse generally when he was too tired to write in prose, and almost always from one of two impulses: either to give direct expression to personal moods and affections or else to exercise himself in the technical practice of this or that poetic form. The two impulses sometimes, of course, worked together to a single result: but as a rule the stronger the pressure of the immediate feeling that moved him, the simpler, more traditional and ready to hand was the form he chose for expressing it. Although an acute and interested student of poetic forms and measures, he was, with one or two exceptions presently to be noted, no great metrical innovator on his own account. Neither did he consider that he had a right to be regarded as a lyrical or “singing” poet at all. In a letter written to John Addington Symonds not long after the publication of his volume Underwoods, he defined with his usual modesty his own view of his poetical status and affinities: “I wonder if you saw my book of verses? It went into a second edition, because of my name, I suppose, and its prose merits. I do not set up to be a poet. Only an all-round literary man: a man who talks, not one who sings. But I believe the very fact that it was only speech served the book with the public. Horace is much a speaker, and see how popular! most of Martial is only speech, and I cannot conceive a person who does not love his Martial; most of Burns also. Excuse this little apology for my house; but I don’t like to come before people who have a note of song, and let it be supposed I do not know the difference.”

A man writes verses at 18 if ever, and at that age Stevenson records that he was busy with a tragedy of Semiramis in imitation of Webster and a series of sentimental outpourings of his own which he called Voces Fidelium. Neither of these ever saw the light. When he first came in touch with literary circles five years later, his mind seemed concentrated on the single endeavour of achieving a prose style that should match and truly express the vividness of his perceptions and imaginings, and poetry seemed hardly to be in his thoughts at all. But I believe he was already beginning to try his hand at some of those pieces in the Lothian vernacular which were afterwards published in Underwoods. as well as at confessions and meditations in various modes of English verse.

A couple of years later again, when Stevenson began to frequent the Fontainebleau region, we find him for a while much taken up with the study of Charles d’Orléans and with the attempt, then in fashion among his friends, to imitate in English the Old French forms of ballade, rondeau, triolet, &c. His letters at this time were apt to contain experiments of this kind, sometimes, like his translation of Nous n’irons plus au bois, as happy in execution as deep and sincere in feeling. While he was absent, to the anxious concern of his friends, on his marriage expedition to California in 1879, and suffering with high courage much illness and privation, he sometimes cast into unstudied but deeply felt verse the emotions of the time: to this period belong the lines beginning "Not yet, my soul, these friendly fields desert," as well as the famous "Requiem", perhaps his best known utterance in verse.

During the six invalid years on the Continent or in England that followed, the tale of such occasional poems, composed in self-confession or as addresses to friends, continued to grow, but he showed no signs of intending to publish them. Occasionally there came a metrical experiment, like the set of alcaics addressed to Mr. Horatio Brown at Davos and beginning “Brave lads in olden musical centuries,” perhaps the second-best achievement of this pattern in our literature after Tennyson’s ode to Milton. Once at the same place the tragic death of a friend’s son drew from him those consolatory stanzas In Memoriam F. A. S., which have since comforted so many stricken hearts and of which the rhythm and cadence are at once so personal and so moving. But as a rule he preferred to employ the most familiar vehicles, especially the four-stressed couplet or blank verse,— a blank verse of no very studied or complicated structure, perhaps more resembling that of Landor in his occasional and complimentary pieces than any other model.

It was during Stevenson’s stay at Hyères in 1883–4 that his friends became aware of a new departure he was beginning to make in verse. He took to sending home, first in batches and then in sheaves, sets of nursery verses reviving, with a fidelity and freshness unparalleled, the feelings and fancies, the doings and beings, of an imaginative child; the child being of course truly himself. “Penny Whistles” was his name for them: and after returning to England and settling at Bournemouth in 1884 he gathered them into a volume under the new title A Child’s Garden of Verses. This was his first published book of verse....

Having once thus come before the public as a writer of verse, he next gathered together what he thought the pick of his occasional and experimental efforts both in English and in Scots, and published them in a volume of which he borrowed the title, Underwoods, from Ben Jonson. In the English portion of the book many of his private affections and experiences, and some of his thoughts and observations as a traveller, are recorded in no such strain of brilliant and high-wrought craftsmanship as he maintains in his prose, but for the most part in modes which attract and satisfy by a certain quiet, companionable grace and unobtrusive distinction of their own. The attempt to revive the measures and the dialect of Burns, and yet not to be a slavish imitator of his spirit, has been a stumbling-block to almost all who have ventured on it; but here, too, Stevenson’s personality has strength enough to assert itself through a wide range of mood, from the satire, smiling but not without its sting, of A Lowden Sabbath Morn to the heartfelt recollections of Ille Terrarum. Of this section of Stevenson’s work two short contrasted examples will be found here.

When in 1887 Stevenson left England again, and as it turned out for good and all, he carried with him both the habit of throwing his immediate personal emotions into simple and heartfelt occasional verse and that of trying his hand deliberately at new styles and measures. This time his new technical experiments were in the ballad form. The first, Ticonderoga, a tale of Highland second-sight during the American War of Independence, was written at the Adirondacks at the beginning of winter, 1887. During the eighteen months of seafaring in the Pacific archipelagos which followed, he took an intense interest in the native island populations and their traditions, partly because of resemblances he found between them and those of the Scottish Highlands, and wrote two long and vigorous ballads in a swinging 6-beat and triple-time measure on subjects of island history, "Rahero" and "The Feast of Famine." It is no doubt due to the remoteness of the scenes, names, and manners, as well as to the fact that prose narrative, not verse, was what his public were used to expect from him, that these ballads have had less success than almost any of his writings. When in 1890 they were reprinted in a volume, he included with them 2 others more familiar in theme, the Galloway story of "Heather Ale," and the English one, told with fine spirit in the 1st person, "Christmas at Sea."

Meanwhile the growth of Stevenson’s mind and deepening of his character, together with his sense of exile — voluntary, but exile none the less — from old scenes and friendships, seemed to give every year a richer and fuller note to the occasional meditations or addresses to his friends in verse which he continued to send home. The more remote and solitary the island haunt from whence he wrote, the more poignant seemed his recollections of Scotland or of London; and once at any rate, in the verses "To S.R. Crockett" ... he showed a touch of something like metrical genius in his manner of taking over a phrase from a prose dedication and turning it into verse of a new and very moving rhythm. After his sudden death at Vailima in December, 1894, a volume, partly prepared by himself, of these later occasional verses, together with some of earlier date that had not previously been collected, was published under the title Songs of Travel.[78]

Recognition Edit

3 of his poems ("Romance," "In the Highlands," and "Requiem") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[79]

Stevenson was a celebrity in his own time, but with the rise of modern literature after World War I, he was seen for much of the 20th century as a writer of the second class, relegated to children's literature and the horror genre. Condemned by authors such as Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard Woolf, he was gradually excluded from the literary canon taught in schools. His exclusion reached a height in 1973 when, in the 2,000-page Oxford Anthology of English Literature, Stevenson was entirely unmentioned.

The late 20th century saw the start of a re-evaluation of Stevenson as an artist of great range and insight, a literary theorist, an essayist and social critic, a witness to the colonial history of the South Pacific, and a humanist. He is now being re-evaluated as a peer with authors such as Joseph Conrad (who Stevenson influenced with his South Seas fiction) and Henry James, with new scholarly studies and organizations devoted to his work.[80]

No matter what the scholarly reception, Stevenson remains very popular. According to the Index Translationum, Stevenson is ranked the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Monuments and commemorationEdit

File:Robert Louis Stevenson head.JPG
File:Robert Louis Stevenson statue.JPG

A bronze relief memorial to Stevenson, designed by American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1904, is mounted in the Moray Aisle of St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.[81] Another memorial in Edinburgh stands in West Princes Street Gardens below Edinburgh Castle; it is a simple upright stone inscribed with "RLS - A Man of Letters 1850 -1894" by sculptor Iain Hamilton Finlay in 1987.[82]

A plaque above the door of a house in Castleton of Braemar asserts 'Here R.L. Stevenson spent the Summer of 1881 and wrote Treasure Island, his first great work'.

Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California was established in 1952 and still exists as a college preparatory boarding school.

A garden was designed by the Bournemouth Corporation in 1957 as a memorial to Stevenson, on the site of his Westbourne house "Skerryvore" which he occupied from 1885 to 1887. A statue of the Skerryvore lighthouse is present on the site.

The Writers' Museum off Edinburgh's Royal Mile devotes a room to Stevenson, containing some of his personal possessions from childhood through to adulthood.

In 1994, to mark the 100th Anniversary of Stevenson's death, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a series of commemorative £1 notes which featured a quill pen and Stevenson's signature on the obverse, and Stevenson's face on the reverse side. Alongside Stevenson's portrait are scenes from some of his books and his house in Western Samoa.[83] Two million notes were issued, each with a serial number beginning "RLS". The first note to be printed was sent to Samoa in time for their centenary celebrations on 3 December 1994.[84]

In 2013, a statue of Robert Louis Stevenson with his dog as a child was unveiled by author Ian Rankin outside Colinton Parish Church in Scotland.[85] The sculptor of the statue was Alan Herriot and the money to erect it was raised by the Colinton Community Conservation Trust.[85]

There is an R.L. Stevenson Elementary School in Burbank, California, whose mascot is the Pirates. [86][87]





Short fictionEdit




Collected editionsEdit

  • The Novels and Tales of Robert Louis Stevenson. New York: Scribner, 1891. 
  • The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Edinburgh: Printed by T. & A. Constable for Longmans Green & Chatto & Windus.
  • The Stevenson Reader; Selected passages from the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. London: Chatto & Windus, 1898.
  • A Stevenson Medley (edited by Sidney Colvin). London: Chatto & Windus, 1899.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[88]

See alsoEdit

Robert Louis Stevenson poem - From a Railway Carriage

Robert Louis Stevenson poem - From a Railway Carriage


  • Bowman, James Cloyd. An Inland Voyage and Travels with a Donkey. 1918.
  • Harman, Claire. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-711321-8
  • O'Brien, Robert. This is San Francisco. Chronicle Books, 1994.


  1. Menikoff, Barry. The Complete Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson; Introduction. Modern Library, 2002, p. xx
  2. Menikoff, Barry. The Complete Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson; Introduction. Modern Library, 2002, p. xvii
  3. John William Cousin, "Stevenson, Robert Louis," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 360-361. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 5, 2018.
  4. See the Index Translationum.
  5. Dillard, R. H. W. (1998). Introduction to Treasure Island. New York: Signet Classics. xiii. ISBN 0-451-52704-6. 
  6. Chaney, Lisa (2006). Hide-and-seek with Angels: The Life of J. M. Barrie. London: Arrow Books. ISBN 0-09-945323-1. 
  7. Chesterton, Gilbert Keith (1913). The Victorian Age in Literature. London: Henry Holt and Co.. p. 246. 
  8. At about 18, Stevenson changed the spelling of "Lewis" to "Louis," and in 1873 he dropped "Balfour": Mehew (2004). The spelling "Lewis" is said to have been rejected because his father violently disliked another person of the same name, and the new spelling was not accompanied by a change of pronunciation: Balfour (1901) I, 29 n. 1
  9. Furnas (1952), 23–4; Mehew (2004)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Paxton (2004)
  11. Balfour (1901), 10–12; Furnas (1952), 24; Mehew (2004)
  12. Memories and Portraits (1887), Chapter VII. The Manse
  13. "A Robert Louis Stevenson Timeline (born Nov. 13th 1850 in Edinburgh, died Dec. 3rd 1894 in Samoa)". Retrieved 2012-05-14. 
  14. Furnas (1952), 25–8; Mehew (2004)
  15. Holmes, Lowell (2002). Treasured Islands: Cruising the South Seas with Robert Louis Stevenson. Sheridan House, Inc.. ISBN 1-57409-130-1. 
  16. Sharma OP (2005). "Murray Kornfeld, American College Of Chest Physician, and sarcoidosis: a historical footnote: 2004 Murray Kornfeld Memorial Founders Lecture". Chest 128 (3): 1830–35. doi:10.1378/chest.128.3.1830. PMID 16162793. 
  17. "Stevenson's Nurse Dead: Alison Cunningham ("Cummy") lived to be over 91 years old" (PDF). The New York Times: p. 3. 10 August 1913. 
  18. Furnas (1952), 28–32; Mehew (2004)
  19. Available at Bartleby and elsewhere.
  20. Furnas (1952), 29; Mehew (2004)
  21. Furnas (1952), 34–6; Mehew (2004). Alison Cunningham's recollection of Stevenson balances the picture of an oversensitive child, "like other bairns, whiles very naughty": Furnas (1952), 30
  22. Mehew (2004)
  23. Balfour (1901) I, 67; Furnas (1952), pp. 43–5
  24. Stephenson, Robert Louis (1850-1894) - Childhood and schooling Publisher: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved: 1 August 2013.
  25. Furnas (1952), 51-54, 60-62; Mehew (2004)
  26. Balfour (1901) I, 86-8; 90-4; Furnas (1952), 64-9
  27. Balfour (1901) I, 70-2; Furnas (1952), 48-9; Mehew (2004)
  28. Balfour (1901) I, 85-6
  29. Underwoods (1887), Poem XXXVIII
  30. Furnas (1952), 69-70; Mehew (2004)
  31. Furnas (1952), 53-7; Mehew (2004.
  32. Theo Tait (30 Jan 2005). "Like an intelligent hare - Theo Tait reviews Robert Louis Stevenson by Claire Harman". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 August 2013. "A decadent dandy who envied the manly Victorian achievements of his family, a professed atheist haunted by religious terrors, a generous and loving man who fell out with many of his friends - the Robert Louis Stevenson of Claire Harman's biography is all of these and, of course, a bed-ridden invalid who wrote some of the finest adventure stories in the language. [...] Worse still, he affected a Bohemian style, haunted the seedier parts of the Old Town, read Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, and declared himself an atheist. This caused a painful rift with his father, who damned him as a "careless infidel"." 
  33. Furnas (1952), 69 with n. 15 (on the club); 72-6
  34. Furnas (1952), 81-2; 85-9; Mehew (2004)
  35. Furnas (1952), 84-5
  36. Furnas (1952), 95; 101
  37. Balfour (1901) I, 123-4; Furnas (1952) 105-6; Mehew (2004)
  38. Furnas (1952), 89-95
  39. Balfour (1901) I, 128-37
  40. Furnas (1952), 100-1
  41. Author of the influential 1887 book The Art of Golf
  42. Balfour (1901) I, 127
  43. Furnas (1952), 122-9; Mehew (2004)
  44. Balfour (1901) I, 145-6; Mehew (2004)
  45. Furnas (1952), 130-6; Mehew (2004)
  46. Balfour (1901) I, 164-5; Furnas (1952), 142-6; Mehew (2004)
  47. Letter to Sidney Colvin, January 1880, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1, Chapter IV
  48. "To Edmund Gosse, Monterey, Monterey Co., California, 8 October 1879," The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1, Chapter IV
  49. "To P. G. Hamerton, Kinnaird Cottage, Pitlochry [July 1881]," The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1, Chapter V
  50. Isobel by this time was married, to artist Joseph Strong.
  51. Terry, R. C., ed. (1996). Robert Louis Stevenson: Interviews and Recollections. Iowa City: U of Iowa P. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-87745-512-7. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  52. Stevenson, Robert Louis (1907) [originally written 1877]. "Crabbed Age and Youth". Crabbed Age and Youth and Other Essays. Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher. pp. 11–12. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  53. The physician who treated Stevenson there was Dr. Carl Rüedi.
  54. "To Sidney Colvin, Pitlochry, August 1881," The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1, Chapter V
  55. References to Skerryvore come from Leon Edel's Henry James: A Life, c. 1985, pp. 309-310
  56. "To W.E. Henley, Pitlochry, if you please, [August] 1881," The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1, Chapter V
  57. Quoted from Stevenson's diary in Overton, Jacqueline M. The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson for Boys and Girls. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933
  58. In the South Seas (1896) & (1900) Chatto & Windus; republished by The Hogarth Press (1987). A collection of Stevenson's articles and essays on his travels in the Pacific
  59. 59.0 59.1 In the South Seas (1896)& (1900) Chatto & Windus; republished by The Hogarth Press (1987)
  60. "Damien Father Damien - Letter". Retrieved 2012-05-14. 
  61. The Cruise of the Janet Nichol Among the South Sea Islands, Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1914
  62. The Cruise of the Janet Nichol among the South Sea Islands A Diary by Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson (first published 1914), republished 2004, editor, Roslyn Jolly (U. of Washington Press/U. of New South Wales Press)
  63. Hadden is described as being based upon Jack Buckland (‘Tin Jack’) a well-known remittance man and copra trader in Sydney. Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Ernest Mehew (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2001) p. 418, n. 3
  64. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Wrecker, in Tales of the South Seas: Island Landfalls; The Ebb-Tide; The Wrecker (Edinburgh: Canongate Classics, 1996), ed. and introduced by Jenni Calder
  65. ‘Memories of Vailima’ by Isobel Strong & Lloyd Osbourne, Archibald Constable & Co: Westminster (1903)
  66. Letter to Sidney Colvin, 17 April 1893, Vailima Letters, Chapter XXVIII
  67. Taylor Erwin Gauthier (October 1923). "For Stevenson Lovers". The Rotarian (Rotary International) 23 (4): 38. ISSN 0035-838X. 
  68. Ann C. Colley (2004). Robert Louis Stevenson and the colonial imagination. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-7546-3506-2. 
  69. Letter to Sidney Colvin, 3 January 1892, Vailima Letters, Chapter XIV.
  70. "Robert Louis Stevenson - Bibliography: Detailed list of works". Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  71. Letter to Sidney Colvin, December 1893, Vailima Letters, Chapter XXXV
  72. "To W.E. Henley, [Trinity College, Cambridge, Autumn 1878]," The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 1, Chapter III
  73. Letter to Sidney Colvin, May, 1892, Vailima Letters, Chapter XVIII
  74. Stevenson, Robert Louis (2006). Robert Allen Armstrong. ed. An Inland Voyage, Including Travels with a Donkey. Cosimo, Inc.. p. xvi. ISBN 978-1-59605-823-1.'s%20so%20good%20that%20it%20frightens%20me%22%20-wikipedia%20-%22citation%20needed%22%20-%22For%20a%20time%20during%201894%20Stevenson%20felt%20depressed%22&pg=PR16#v=onepage&q=%22It's%20so%20good%20that%20it%20frightens%20me%22&f=false. 
  75. "To H. B. Baildon, Vailima, Upolu [undated, but written in 1891].," The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume 2, Chapter XI
  76. Balfour, Graham (1906). The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson London: Methuen. 264
  77. "Stevenson's tomb". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  78. from Sidney Calvin, "Critical Introduction: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Mar. 28, 2016.
  79. Alphabetical list of authors: Shelley, Percy Bysshe to Yeats, William Butler. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  80. Stephen Arata, "Robert Louis Stevenson" in David Scott Kastan, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Vol. 5: 99-102.
  81. "Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial". St Giles' Cathedral. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  82. "Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Grove". City of Edinburgh Council. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  83. "Royal Bank Commemorative Notes". Rampant Scotland. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  84. "Our Banknotes: Commemorative Banknote". The Royal Bank of Scotland. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  85. 85.0 85.1 (27 October 2013) Robert Louis Stevenson statue unveiled by Ian Rankin BBC News Scotland, Retrieved 27 October 2013
  88. Search results = au:Robert Louis Stevenson, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 23, 2013.

External linksEdit

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).