Robert Louis Stevenson

Painting of RLS by Count Girolamo Nerli (1892)

Born 13 November 1850

Stevenson went from the writer of ‘Boy’s Own’ stories and developed into an accomplished and beloved writer who is likely to have got better and better had he not died from chronic ill health aged 44.

J. P. Priestey wrote in Literature and Western Man (1960) “Stevenson’s enormous popularity, partly the result of his narrative gift but also the reward of his style, which has an unusual and very personal grace and charm (and some of his sourer critics might try to learn something from it before dismissing it as a mere trick), has now lasted a long time, so long that only prejudice would deny this continuing popularity a hard core of genuine literary acceptance.”


His ‘kid’s books’ were pretty sensational and still cast mythical shadows, even with those unfamiliar with the books themselves:

Treasure Island (1883): “I do not know what it rightly is to faint, but I do know that for the next little while the whole world swam away from before me in a whirling mist; Silver and the birds, and the tall Spy-glass hill-top, going round and round and topsy-turvy before my eyes, and all manner of bells ringing and distant voices shouting in my ear.”

The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (1886): “I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard, and my soul sickened at it; and yet, now when that sight has faded from my eyes, I ask myself if I believe it, and I cannot answer.”

Kidnapped (1886): “Never a word he said, but set off running again for his life, and I must stagger to my feet and run after him. I had been weary before, but now I was sick and bruised, and partly drunken with the brandy; I kept stumbling as I ran, I had a stitch that came near to overmaster me; and when at last Alan paused under a great rock that stood there among a number of others, it was none too soon for David Balfour.”

The Black Arrow (1888): “Three of their own company sat at the table, greedily eating. Their daggers, stuck beside them in the board, and the black and menacing looks which they continued to shower upon the people of the house, proved that they owed their entertainment rather to force than to favour.”

The Master of Ballantrae (1889): “Mr. Henry laid down his cards. He rose to his feet very softly, and seemed all the while like a person in deep thought. ‘You coward!’ he said gently, as if to himself. And then, with neither hurry nor any particular violence, he struck the Master in the mouth. The Master sprang to his feet like one transfigured; I had never seen the man so beautiful. ‘A blow!’ he cried. ‘I would not take a blow from God almighty!'”

May be an illustration

The Ebb-Tide (1894): “The captain had come upon this errand for any one of a dozen reasons, the last of which was desire for its success. Superstition rules all men; semi-ignorant and gross natures, like that of Davis, it rules utterly. For murder he had been prepared; but this horror of the medicine in the bottle went beyond him, and he seemed to himself to be parting the last strands that united him to God.”

Weir of Hermiston (1896): “Over against him, my Lord Hermiston occupied the bench in the red robes of criminal jurisdiction, his face framed in the white wig. Honest all through, he did not affect the virtue of impartiality; this was no case for refinement; there was a man to be hanged, he would have said, and he was hanging him. Nor was it possible to see his lordship, and acquit him of gusto in the task.”


‘Will Hyde die upon the scaffold?’

Walter Allen wrote in The English Novel: “…one is tempted to say that his distinctive contribution to the English novel is that he successfully married Flaubert to Dumas, the latter standing as a convenient symbol of the novel of romantic adventure…It was only in the last years of his life that he found his true material; he had to go to Samoa before he really discovered Scotland, and going to Samoa, he discovered the South Seas too.”

From R.S.L’s Requiem:

This be the verse you grave for me:

Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.”


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