Happy Birthday, Robert Louis Stevenson!

Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 8:00 AM

"The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish."

Robert Louis Stevenson (source: LIFE Magazine)

He did it once with Treasure Island (1883), and did it again with Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and then again with Kidnapped (1886) — delighting readers with journeys into mystical lands and chance encounters with mysterious people. These were masterpieces of the creative genius of none other than the famous nineteenth century poet and novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Born in 1850, Stevenson spent a rather protected childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland. But, his wanderlust and story-writing instincts distinguished him from his peers and family. At the tender age of sixteen, he published his first work, The Pentland Rising: A Page of History (1866), commemorating two hundred years of the Covenanters' rebellion.

However, in an attempt to follow in his father's footsteps and support the family business, Stevenson pursued a degree in engineering at the University of Edinburgh. He enjoyed travelling to his family's engineering works over summer not because of technical interests, but because it gave him new insights for his writings. In April 1871, Stevenson finally declared his decision to pursue a career in literature, much to the disappointment of his family.

In 1880, he married Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne and spent an idyllic honeymoon at Napa Valley, north of San Francisco, California. He recounted his experiences in The Silverado Squatters (1883).

The Samoan home of author Robert Louis Stevenson (source: LIFE Magazine)

In the following years, Stevenson penned his immortal tales of adventure, publishing Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde alongside Prince Otto (1885), The Master of Ballantrae (1889) and Catriona: A sequel to Kidnapped (1893). From shipwrecks and exotic islands to stealthy pirates and split personalities — all made up the colorful canvas of his novels.

Illustration from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (source: LIFE Magazine)

He also published collections of short stories including New Arabian Nights (1882) and The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables (1887). Stevenson even composed anthologies of poetry such as A Child's Garden of Verses (1885) and Underwoods (1887).

Robert Louis Stevenson enriched English literature with his singular contributions to the classics. His works inspire wonder, while eloquently entertaining our dreams of adventure.

Here's a toast to you, Mr. Stevenson, for following your dream! Happy Birthday!


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