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Significant Scots
Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson has a special place in the hearts of readers. He's one of those writers people feel they've become friends with through their books. He inspires great fondness as well as admiration and his popularity has, if anything, grown, perhaps because his outlook was remarkably modern.

Born in Edinburgh in 1850, he was a frail little boy who often had to stay in bed while other children were playing out of doors, and through force of circumstance he developed his imagination to entertain himself. His delightful book of poetry for children, A Child's Garden of Verses, recalls those days in Heriot Row.

The Stevensons were a family of great engineers, but Robert disappointed them by his absence of enthusiasm for a solid professional career. He was never happy to conform for the sake of conformity. His marriage to a woman who was considerably older than him raised eyebrows - even present-day commentators sometimes suggest that Fanny Osbourne was primarily a mother figure to him.

Stevenson studied at Edinburgh University, in the Old Quad situated directly opposite James Thin's bookshop on South Bridge. Though he loved books and reading and his passionate ambition was to become a writer, he wasn't interested in formal learning. He studied engineering for a session in 1867, then transferred to law, becoming an advocate in 1875. But his heart just wasn't in it. As a student, he found fun and distraction in Edinburgh pubs. One of his favourites was Rutherford's - it's still there in Drummond Street, busy as ever.

Much as he loved Scotland, he felt stifled there by social and family demands. A free and restless spirit, he became a great traveller despite chronic ill health, and never failed to write up his experiences in books such as Inland Voyage and Travels on a Donkey in the Cevennes. He and Fanny made good travel companions, finally settling in 1889 on the gentle island of Samoa. The people there loved him and called him Tusitala - teller of tales. He died in 1894 on his estate, Vailima, at the age of forty-four, leaving unfinished Weir of Hermiston (published posthumously in 1896), which some think would have been his masterpiece.

Stevenson is most strongly associated with Edinburgh, a city whose dualism he chillingly characterised in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). However far away he travelled, images of life in Edinburgh filled his mind, as he describes vividly in the following letter to his friend, Charles Baxter from Yacht Casco, at sea, near the Paumotus in 1888:

'Last night as I lay under my blanket in the cockpit, courting sleep all of a sudden I had a vision of - Drummond Street. It came on me like a flash of lightning; I simply returned thither, and into the past. And when I remembered all that I hoped and feared as I picked about Rutherford's in the rain and the east wind: how I feared I should be a mere shipwreck, and yet timidly hoped not; how I feared I should never have a friend, far less a wife, and yet passionately hoped I might; how I hoped (if I did not take to drink) I should possibly write one little book I should like the incident set upon a brass plate at the corner of that dreary thoroughfare, for all students to read, poor devils, when their hearts are down.'

Stevenson's most famous adventure books, Treasure Island and Kidnapped, first published in 1883 and 1886 respectively, are regarded as classics. His work has inspired a remarkable diversity of interpretations from book illustrators, from Charles Robinson's intriguing art nouveau drawings for A Child's Garden of Verses to the dreamy dark images Mervyn Peake produced for Treasure Island. Many of Robert Louis Stevenson's books are still in print, enthralling generation after generation, and there are several first-rate RLS biographies available.

Treasure Island

Click here for a list of his books in EText format

Read an article about Robert Louis Stevenson by James Barrie

Chapters 1 - 7
Chapters 8 - 11
Chapters 12 - End

Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson

Introduction and Bibliography
On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places
An Apology for Idlers
Ęs Triplex
Talk and Talkers
A Gossip on Romance
The Character of Dogs
A College Magazine
Books which have Influenced Me
Pulvis et Umbra

Chronological List Of The Writings Of Robert Louis Stevenson
By His Cousin Graham Balfour


Chapter I. His Ancestors
Chapter II. His Parents
Chapter III. Infancy and Childhood 1850 - 59
Chapter IV. Boyhood 1859 - 67
Chapter V. Student Days 1867 - 79
Chapter VI. Life at Five and Twenty 1873 - 76
Chapter VII. Transition 1876 - 79
Chapter VIII. California 1879 - 80
Chapter IX. Davos and the Highlands 1880 - 82
Chapter X. The Riviera 1882 - 84
Chapter XI, Bournemouth 1884 - 87
Chapter XII. United States 1887 - 88
Chapter XIII. South Sea Cruises, The Eastern Pacific June 1888 - June 1889
Chapter XIV. South Sea Cruises, The Central Pacific, June 1889 - April 1891
Chapter XV. Vailima 1891 - 94
Chapter XVI. The End 1894
Chapter XVII. R.L.S.

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