Robert Louis Stevenson
Scottish author and poetby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the greatest writers the world has ever known. He brought us classics like "Treasure Island," "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and "Kidnapped," along with many other works of poetry and prose. However, he wrote these books, which have delighted generations of readers, while lying in bed sick in a variety of exotic locations. This man gave us some of the world's greatest adventure stories from the drudgery of a sickbed.
Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His grandfather, Robert, was Britain's most famous lighthouse builder. Later in life, Stevenson would alter and shorten his name to Robert Louis Stevenson. However, he would later name the protagonist in his famous book "Kidnapped" David Balfour after the name he dropped.1
Young Stevenson was a sickly child, but he began writing stories at a very young age. His parents were staunch Calvinists, and his nurse, Allison Cunningham, was even stricter in her religion. She cared for Stevenson in his frequent illnesses, and read him the Bible and other literature. Throughout his whole life, Stevenson had a disease that was most likely tuberculosis. A search for healthier air for his troubled lungs caused Stevenson to travel extensively throughout his life.2
At age 17, Stevenson entered the University of Edinburgh to study engineering. However, he soon tired of that and switched to law. By 1871, however, Stevenson had decided to pursue writing as a career. He continued his study of law, though, and passed the Scottish bar in 1875. For his health, he continually traveled to France at this time. In 1876 in France he met Fanny Osbourne, an American woman with two children. She was separated from her husband, and Robert fell in love with her. By 1880, she divorced her husband and married Robert, who followed her to San Francisco. 3
By 1878, Stevenson had published his first book, "An Inland Voyage," a travelogue about a canoe trip during one of his many journeys in France. He continued to write successful travel books until 1881, when "Treasure Island," birthed from stories he told his stepson, Lloyd, was serialized in a children's magazine. This marked the start of one of the world's greatest careers in fiction writing. In 1883, "Treasure Island" was published in book format, and its success encouraged Stevenson to continue writing works of fiction. 4
Finally, the Stevensons returned to Scotland in 1880. Robert, Fanny, and his two stepchildren traveled throughout Europe until 1887. During this time, Stevenson wrote two of his most famous novels: "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Kidnapped." The first, a bizarre incursion into human nature, achieved instant popularity in the Victorian world and assured Stevenson's place in literary history. In the same year, 1886, Stevenson published "Kidnapped," a historical fiction novel about the Jacobite rebellion of the 1740s. Additionally, he wrote a collection of poems called "A Child's Garden of Verses" in 1885.5
In 1887, the Stevensons moved to New York, then San Francisco. Finally, in 1888, they hired a ship and sailed to the Pacific. Stevenson bought an estate in the Samoan islands. Here he settled down with his family in a large house, which he called "Vailima," meaning "five rivers," with twenty native servants. While at Vailima, Stevenson wrote "The Master of Ballantrae," "Catriona"-a sequel to "Kidnapped"-a number of stories about the Pacific Islands, and "Weir of Hermiston," which he failed to finish before his death.6
On December 3, 1894, Stevenson suddenly passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only forty-four. However, this Scot, bedridden for much of his life, was one of the greatest writers the world has ever known. Many of his tales of adventure were written while in bed sick. He had a knack for conveying a sense of adventure to his readers, even when he was prostrated by continual illness. Millions, if not billions, of readers have enjoyed his writings throughout the world in many languages.
Despite his literary achievement, Stevenson failed to become a Christian. Turning his back on his Calvinist upbringing, Robert joined a club in 1872 that had as its founding principles atheism and disregard for what one's parents taught. He was also characterized as promiscuous as a young man. However, throughout his life, Stevenson continued to allude to the Bible in his writings. He seems to have acknowledged God's existence, yet he failed to come to know His Son. 7
up1Wadsworth, Frank W. "World Book: Robert Louis Stevenson." Field Enterprises Educational Corporation: Chicago, 1976.
up2Liukkonen, Petri. "Robert Louis Stevenson."
up3Merriman, C.D. "Robert Louis Stevenson."
up7Townsend, James. "Robert Louis Stevenson: So Near, Yet So Far."
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