Robert Louis Stevenson born 165 years ago today

Robert Lewis Stevenson Picture: Knox Series

Robert Lewis Stevenson Picture: Knox Series

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1850

Robert Louis Stevenson had a tough childhood, constantly plagued by illness. His mother was of a similar disposition, and he inherited her tendency to coughs and fevers.

L-R: Lloyd Osbourne, Margaret Balfour, Isobel Strong, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Austin Strong, Fanny Stevenson, Joe Strong Picture: J. Davis circa 1891

L-R: Lloyd Osbourne, Margaret Balfour, Isobel Strong, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Austin Strong, Fanny Stevenson, Joe Strong Picture: J. Davis circa 1891

This lead to Stevenson being home schooled by tutors for a lot of the time, being too unwell to attend public school.

When Stevenson was well enough, he found it hard to fit into school, being too thin from childhood illness, with an eccentric look to him. He began to attend the Edinburgh Academy at age 11. Although he only lasted here for 15 months, Stevenson finally settled down at Robert Thomsons, where he stayed until attending the University of Edinburgh.

Enrolled on an engineering course, the family business, he showed little enthusiasm for the subject and devoted more time to avoiding lectures.

He met and married an American woman in May 1880, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Stevenson adopted Osbourne’s two rchildren when they married but decided not to inform his family about the marriage.

Stevenson’s health continued to be poor as he progressed in age and he spent his time between Scotland in the summer. and France in the winter, staying at Davos-Platz and the Chalet de Solitude at Hyères, where, for a time, he enjoyed almost complete happiness. “I have so many things to make life sweet for me,” he wrote in letters, “it seems a pity I cannot have that other one thing—health. But though you will be angry to hear it, I believe, for myself at least, what is best. I believed it all through my worst days, and I am not ashamed to profess it now.”

In spite of his ill health, he produced most of his best-known work during these years: Treasure Island, Kidnapped; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the story which established his wider reputation; The Black Arrow; and two volumes of verse, A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods.

On December 3, 1894, Stevenson was talking to his wife and straining to open a bottle of wine when he suddenly exclaimed, “What’s that!” Asking his wife “Does my face look strange?” and collapsed. He died within a few hours, of a suspected cerebral haemorrhage. He was forty-four years old.

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