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ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Scottish

"Life is not a matter of holding good cards,
but of playing a poor hand well. "

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born on the 13 November 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland, into a family profession of lighthouse design, his father being a leading lighthouse engineer. Stevenson inherited a tendency to coughs and fevers in his youth, and ill health plagued him throughout his adult life, recurrent illness leaving him extraordinarily thin. Contemporary views were that he had tuberculosis, but more recent views are that it was bronchiectasis or even sarcoidosis.

Whilst ill as a child, Robert’s nurse used to read the Bible to him and tell him tales of the Covenanters. Stevenson recalled this time of sickness in the poem The Land of Counterpane, in A Child’s Garden of Verses and dedicated the book to his nurse.

An an only child, strange looking and eccentric, Stevenson found it hard to fit in when he was sent to a nearby school aged six. His frequent illnesses often kept him away from school, and he was taught for long stretches by private tutors. He did not learn to read until he was seven or eight, but even before this, he dictated stories to his mother and nurse. Throughout his childhood he compulsively wrote stories. His father was proud of his interest and paid for the printing of Robert’s first publication, The Pentland Rising: a Page of History, 1666 (1866) when he was sixteen.

It was expected that Stevenson’s writing would remain a sideline, and in November 1867 he entered the University of Edinburgh to study engineering. He showed no enthusiasm for his studies from the start and devoted much energy to avoiding lectures. In April 1871, he announced to his father his decision to pursue a life of letters. To provide some security, it was agreed that Stevenson should read Law and be called to the Scottish bar.

Robertson spent a number of years travelling, in search of a climate that would be beneficial for his health. It was during this period that he made the most of his lasting friendships and met his future wife, Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, an American who was ten years his senior and married at the time.

In May 1880, Stevenson married Fanny, and for the next seven years searched in vain for a place of residence suitable to his state of health. He spent his summers at various places in Scotland and England, and his winters in sunny France. It was during this time, despite his ill health, that he produced the bulk of his best-known works, Treasure Island (1883), his first major success, Kidnapped (1886), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, (1886), A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods (1887). On the death of his father in 1887, Stevenson felt free to follow the advice of his physician and try a complete change of climate. Whilst staying at Saranac Lake, during the intensely cold winter in the Adirondacks, Stevenson wrote a number of his best essays.

In 1890 he purchased four hundred acres of land in Upolu, one of the Samoan islands. Stevenson himself adopted the native name Tusitala (Samoan for Story Writer). Whilst living in Upolu, Stevenson wrote The Beach of Falesa (1891), Catriona (1893), The Ebb-Tide (1894), and the Vailima Letters (1895) and began work on Weir of Hermiston.

During the morning of the 03 December 1894, he had worked hard as usual on Weir of Hermiston. During the evening, while conversing with his wife and straining to open a bottle of wine, he suddenly exclaimed, “What’s that!” He then asked his wife, “Does my face look strange?” and collapsed beside her. He died within a few hours, probably of a cerebral haemorrhage, at the age of 44.

***Stevenson wrote the first draft of 'Jekyll and Hyde' in three days, let his wife read it, then burnt it!***

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