Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850, to a prosperous and respectable presbyterian family. He soon became impatient with his parents’ religion and bourgeois respectability, and in his years at university, where he studied law, adopted a Bohemien lifestyle. This led to painful clashes with his father.
He soon began to suffer from a respiratory illness, which was to trouble him for the rest of his life, and for his health’s sake travelled to the south of France. He returned on other occasions, and these journeys produced An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), written in the tradition of travel books.
It was also in France that Stevenson met Fanny Osbourne, an American lady separated from her husband, and fell in love with her. Much to his parents’ horror (she was ten years his senior) he married her, and the couple returned to Scotland to achieve reconciliation with his parents.
His health conditions compelled him to travel from one health resort to another, accompanied by his wife and his stepson.
Treasure Island appeared in 1883 and was an immediate success. In the same period he began The Black Arrow, a romance set in the period of the Wars of the Roses.
The Stevensons lived in Bournemouth from 1886 to 1887; here the writer made friends with Henry James, wrote Kidnapped, another romance set in the Scotland of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which estabilished his reputation.
Bournemouth was not mild enough for his health, so in 1887, the Stevensons returned to America where he began The Master of Ballantrae (published in 1889). Stevenson was to spend the rest of his life in the South and soon developed great interest in Samoan affairs and history, which inspired writings like In the South Seas, a memorabile book of impressions.
These years were happy and productive; most important of all is the unfinished Weir of Hermiston, a romantic historical novel on the theme of the conflict between father and son that he himself had experienced. This book, set in the writer’s native Scotland, promised to be his masterpiece but it was never completed because Stevenson died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage (1894). The people of Samoa honoured him and buried his body on a mountain-top like one of their chiefs.