A Year: Day to Day Men: 13th of November

Blackwork and Cigarette

November 13, 1850 was the birthdate of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of a noted lighthouse builder and harbor engineer. Though healthy at birth, Stevenson soon became a victim of constant breathing problems that later developed into tuberculosis. These persistent health problems made him extremely thin and weak most of his life.

By the time Stevenson entered Edinburgh University at the age of sixteen, he had fallen under the spell of language and had begun to write. For several years, he attended classes irregularly, developing a bohemian existence. At the age of twenty-one, he openly declared his intention of becoming a writer, against the strong opposition of his father. Having traveled to the European mainland several times for health and pleasure, he now traveled between Scotland and a growing circle of artistic and literary friends in London and Paris.

Stevenson’s first book, “An Inland Voyage” published in 1878, related his adventures during a canoe trip on Belgium and France’s canals. In 1879, Stevenson stayed in an abandoned mining camp in the United States, later recounted in the 1883 “The Silverado Squatters”. A year later, he was back in Scotland; however, the climate in Scotland proved to be a severe hardship on his health. Stevenson and his wife soon moved and lived in Switzerland and the south of France. Despite his health, these years proved to be productive. The stories Stevenson collected at that time, ranging from detective stories to Scottish dialect tales, were published as “The New Arabian Nights” and “The Merry Men”.

“Treasure Island”, first published as a series in a children’s magazine, ranks as Stevenson’s first popular book, and it established his fame. A perfect romance, according to Stevenson’s formula, the novel tells the story of a boy’s involvement with murderous pirates. “Kidnapped” published in 1886, set in Scotland during a time of great civil unrest, has the same charm. In the 1886 “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr, Hyde”, Stevenson dealt directly with the nature of evil in man and the hideous effects that occur when man seeks to deny it. This work pointed the way toward Stevenson’s more serious later novels.

In 1889 Stevenson and his family set out on a cruise of the South Sea Islands. When it became clear that only there could he live in relatively good health, he settled on the island of Upolu in Samoa. He bought a plantation, built a house, and gained influence with the natives, who called him Tusifala or “teller of tales”. By the time of his death on December 3, 1894, Stevenson had become a significant figure in island affairs. His observations on Samoan life were published in the 1896 collection “In the South Seas” and in the 1892 “A Footnote to History”.

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