Six facts you didn’t know about Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (sleeping bag not pictured) Picture: Getty

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (sleeping bag not pictured) Picture: Getty

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AS Scotland celebrates 165 years since his birth, how much do you you know about Robert Louis Stevenson?

1. He (kind of) invented the sleeping bag

Stevenson has as good a claim as any to inventing the snug camping necessity. In Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, one of his earliest works, Stephenson talks of crafting a “sleeping sack” which was “six feet square” in size (large enough that it he had to be transported by donkey) made of “green waterproof cart cloth without and blue sheep’s fur within”.

2. He nearly died before writing his most famous works

Despite likely battling with tuberculosis for most of his adult life, a bout of malaria nearly killed Stephenson in California shortly before his marriage to Fanny Vandergrift Osborne in 1880. This bout of poor health preceded some of his most iconic works, including Treasure Island (1882) and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

3. Half of his original manuscripts are currently lost

Half of Stevenson’s original manuscripts are currently missing. The manuscripts are believed to have been sold off by the Scots writer’s descendants around World War I, a time which saw the writer’s works fall out of fashion. Among the missing works are the original copies of The Black Arrow, The Master of Ballantrae and Treasure Island.

4. He wrote over 123 musical compositions

Despite his success as a writer, Stephenson began to study piano and composition at the age of 36. He also took up playing the penny whistle two years later and went on to write 123 original compositions. Stevenson’s musicianship was not as sought-after as his literature – only three compositions were ever published.

5. He has a state park named after him in California

Having travelled to the American state to marry Osborne, the Scot was honoured with a park in his name. The mountainous area was the location of a cabin where Stevenson and his new wife spent their honeymoon in 1880. Although nothing of the cabin remains, it has been marked on the trail to the summit of Mount Saint Helena.

6. There is a museum in his honour in Samoa

In his later life, Stevenson and his family moved permanently to the South Pacific island of Samoa. His connection with the island’s people was so great that he was given the name of Tusitala (‘Teller of Tales’) by the locals. When Stevenson died in 1894, he was buried at the top of Mount Vaea. A musuem of his possessions and works was opened in the town of Apia.

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