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Robert Louis Stevenson

  • Name  : Stevenson
  • Born  : 1850
  • Died  : 1894
  • Category  : Writers
  • Finest Moment : Writing of Treasure Island (1882)

Perhaps one of Scotland's best-loved writers, Stevenson was born in Edinburgh on 13 November 1850, the only child of a devout Presbyterian father. His health was never good, and he wanted to be a writer. His father, Thomas Stevenson, was a Civil Engineer who invented the Stevenson Screen (used to protect thermometers), and a form of condensing lights which advanced lighthouse design. So Robert started out at Edinburgh University studying engineering, but the two compromised and he did law instead. He never practiced, and the domestic atmosphere was as tight as a drum for some time.

With the aid of friends, his writing slowly took off, at first with collections of short stories, then with travel books, including Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879). In 1876, Stevenson had fallen in love with an American 10 years his senior, Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne. Unfortunately she was married at the time, but was separated from her husband. To the great displeasure of her father, Stevenson followed her to California in 1879, travelling cheaply by immigrant ship then train across America. Naturally he used these experiences to write several books later.

The hardships of travel and poverty hammered his health, and in San Francisco he suffered the first of many lung haemorrhages which would plague him for the remainder of his life. He was in fact diagnosed as having tuberculosis, which meant having to spend much time bed-bound. The good news was that Fanny had by now divorced her husband, so that they were able to get married in San Francisco, in May 1880. His father blessed them with a promise of financial support, and they returned to Edinburgh for a happy reunion.

The rest of Stevenson's life was spent looking for the climate which best suited his delicate health. It took him to Switzerland, Scotland, Bournemouth and, ultimately, Samoa in the Pacific. This was in 1890, and here he found that the climate suited him. In the interim, he had gained recognition with the publication of Treasure Island (begun in Braemar, and published in 1882), The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Kidnapped (also published in 1886), and The Master of Ballantrae (1889).

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has a strange twist to it, as Stevenson claimed the idea had come to him in a dream. He surely was being forgetful here though, as there existed in Edinburgh the well known and true case of Deacon Brodie, who had lived a double life in Edinburgh in the late 18th century, being a well-off cabinet maker by day, and robbing merchants at night.

He was working on his unfinished masterpiece, Weir of Hermiston, based on the ferocious Scottish judge Lord Braxfield, when he died, suddenly and unexpectedly, of a cerebral haemorrhage on 3 December 1894. His wife Fanny had mental illness now, and overwork in order to maintain his estate may well have contributed to his end. His writings are well worth exploring beyond his best selling novels; he was also a good poet.

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