“Good thoughts can be absorbed
by reading and studying good books
and by contemplating them.”
“Prelude in C Major” by J.S. Bach (courtesy of Indialantic by the Sea~Shell):
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
When I have written about classics that have influenced generations of children and adults alike, I am delighted with the overwhelming response. Those who have read them were happy to relive the nostalgia of their childhood, and those who didn’t were intrigued and wanted to put the books on the list to buy them. This week by popular demand, I am going to tell you about another famous book.
“Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
“Wellerman” by Nathan Evans and Santiano:
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
1850 – 1894
Courtesy of TheNigelPlanerShow:
On a cold, rainy morning in 1881, Robert Louis Stevenson took pen and watercolour to a sheet of canvas and began to draw a map. Aged 30, he was living with his wife, Fanny, and his parents in a cottage in the Scottish Highlands. The weather was wretched; Stevenson had a painful chest cold and had begun to spit blood. Life was a struggle – nothing he had written so far had been successful. But the outline he was sketching on the canvas would mark his breakthrough. It was the map of Treasure Island.
“Opening Theme – Treasure Island” by The Chieftains:
His 12-year-old stepson, Lloyd, made suggestions; so did his father, who contributed the contents of the Dead Man’s Chest. Gradually, the map took shape – Skeleton Island, Spy-Glass Hill – and the story with it, whose real hero is not Jim Hawkins, the boy narrator, but the villainous, one-legged, smooth-talking Long John Silver. The 1950 Walt Disney film, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver, is the most memorable of dozens of other film adaptations.
Courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum:
Stevenson’s fame rests on two books, Treasure Island and The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. His literary reputation rests on a handful more, including Kidnapped. Yet he is celebrated the world over. At least ten islands claim to be the original Treasure Island. In San Francisco, there is a museum with Stevenson’s collection that includes Fanny’s shoes and two locks of his hair, and also a 5,000-acre Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, with a signposted pilgrim trail to the monument marking the site of the wooden cabin he stayed in.
The reason for his popularity is simple. Stevenson captivates everyone who reads him and learns about his life, which was as romantic, colourful, and heart-rending as any of his fiction. The only son of loving but stern Scottish parents, he was brought up by a nurse who filled his head with nightmarish stories of death and damnation. His rebellion against his father’s Calvinist strictures took the form of rejecting everything his father cherished, such as taking paid employment, despite graduating from Edinburgh University in 1872.
Sketches of Stevenson in these years single out his physical frailty, his smooth face, and his dark, compelling eyes. Dressed usually in a black velvet jacket and a straw hat or smoking cap, he charmed and fascinated men and women by the light-hearted brilliance of his conversation.
Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson, parents of Robert
Stevenson discovered a way to escape his parents when on the advice of a sympathetic doctor his parents sent their son to France for his health. There, in 1876, he was introduced to Fanny Osbourne, a married American who would change his life. Fanny was in France with her children, Lloyd and Belle, to escape from her husband and his infidelities. Tough yet nurturing, she had a frank sexual allure that set her apart. By the time she returned to her husband in 1878, Stevenson had fallen in love with her.
Inconsolable, he roamed the streets of London dressed as a tramp, contemplating suicide. Eventually, Fanny sent him a telegram asking him to come to her, so virtually penniless, he sailed for New York. He then took a train to California, where he was reunited with Fanny. But, depressed at the uncertainty of her divorce, he retreated into the hills. There he collapsed in a delirium. When two hunters found him, his clothes were hanging off his thin frame; they looked after him for four days until he recovered his senses.
The hills near San Clemente Creek in Monterey County, where Stevenson camped and was taken ill
“No.4 Piano Journey” by Esther Abrami:
Knowing that Stevenson’s love for her might kill him if she didn’t act, Fanny started divorce proceedings. The next six months, before he could set up home with her, were the grimmest of his life. In March 1880, Stevenson was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and for six weeks he lay close to death.
The French Hotel, now a museum Stevenson House, where Stevenson stayed while in Monterey
Once Fanny’s divorce came through, his father granted him an annuity, and Stevenson never again had money problems. He and Fanny married and spent their two-month honeymoon in a derelict cabin by a disused silver mine above Napa Valley.
Yet his weak constitution meant that death was never far from his thoughts. The mountain air of the Swiss Alps and Canada’s Adirondacks suited Stevenson but made Fanny ill.
Stevenson with his family
When he returned to England for his 34th birthday, the fevers and haemorrhages continued – although Stevenson did manage to keep working despite being bedridden.
Villa Vailima, the former home on Samoa, now the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
The couple travelled restlessly throughout their marriage, but their final Pacific cruise would see them settle in Samoa for the short remainder of Stevenson’s life. Believing that his health was improving, he bought a plantation estate on the island in 1890 and oversaw the building of his new home. There, he entertained friends and corresponded with admirers from all over the world, and set to work on his masterpiece, Weir Of Hermiston.
He died suddenly, at the height of his creative powers, in 1894, after a cerebral haemorrhage. Samoan chiefs, who venerated him as Tusitala, the Teller of Tales, hacked a path up Mount Vaea through the undergrowth so pallbearers could carry his coffin to its final resting place on the summit. In the 109 years from then, for millions of his readers, Stevenson never descended from the heights he achieved.
“Requiem for a Poet” (courtesy of Le Faleo’o):
The shadows of his illness cast on Stevenson’s imagination and his power of invention captivated as clouds, transporting countless readers on a voyage of exhilarating, riveting excitement. His achievement has surprising scope and strength; his stories have the pulse and energy of the best modern thrillers. The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde contains the ever-expanding realm of psychological and paranormal horror. Why a Child’s Garden Of Verses brings to readers the sheer pleasure of sophistication, ingenuity, and intelligence. On the list of the best adventure stories ever written, Treasure Island deserves a place at the very top. With a taut narration, it ripples with vibrations and pulls the reader headlong into a fantastic realm of incredible adventures of pirates and buried treasures. Read the first few pages and see if you can stop.
Here is an extract from Treasure Island:
“‘And now,’ said the squire, ‘for the other.’
The paper had been sealed in several places with a thimble by the way of a seal; the very thimble, perhaps, that I had found in the captain’s pocket. The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island, with latitude and longitude, soundings, names of hills, and bays and inlets, and every particular that would be needed to bring a ship to a safe anchorage upon its shores. It was about nine miles long and five across, shaped, you might say, like a fat dragon standing up, and had two fine landlocked harbours, and a hill in the center part marked “The Spy-glass.” There were several additions of a later date; but, above all, three crosses of red ink – two on the north part of the island, one in the south-west, and besides this last, in the same red ink, and in the small, neat hand, very different from the captain’s tottery characters, those words: – “Bulk of treasure here.”
Over on the back, the same hand had written this further information: – “Tall tree, Spy-glass shoulder, bearing a point to the N, of N.N.E.
“Skeleton Island E.S.E. and by E.
“The bar silver is in the north cache; you can find it by the trend of the east hammock, ten fathoms south of the black crag with a face on it. The arms are easy found, in the sand hill, N, point of north inlet cape, bearing E, and a quarter N.
That was all; but brief as it was, and to me, incompressible, it filled the squire and Dr Livesey with delight.
‘Livesey,’ said the squire, ‘you will give up this wretched practice at once. Tomorrow I start for Bristol. In three weeks’ time – three weeks! – two weeks – ten days – we will have the best ship, sir, and the choicest crew in England. Hawkins shall come as cabin-boy. You, Livesey, are ship’s doctor; I am admiral. We’ll take Redruth, Joyce, and Hunter. We’ll have favourable winds, a quick passage, and not the least difficulty in finding the spot, and the money to eat – to roll in – to play duck and drake with ever after.’
‘Trelawney,’ said the doctor, ‘I will go with you; and, I’ll go bail for it, so will Jim, and be a credit to the undertaking. There is only one man I’m afraid of.’
‘And who is that?’ cried the squire. ‘Name the dog, sir, sir!’
‘You,’ replied the doctor; ‘for you cannot hold your tongue. We are not the only men who know of this paper. These fellows, who attacked the inn tonight – bold, desperate blades, for sure – and the rest who stayed abroad that lugger, and more, dare I say, not far off, are, one and all, through thick and thin, bound that they’ll get that money. We must none of us go alone till we get to sea. Jim and I shall stick together in the meanwhile; you’ll take Joyce and Hunter when you ride to Bristol, and, from first to last, not one of us must breathe a word of what we’ve found.’
‘Livesey,’ returned the squire, ‘you are always in the right of it. I’ll be as silent as a grave.’