Friendship Poems

Robert Louis Stevenson Biography

Stevenson was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson on November 13, 1850 at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh, Scotland, to Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887), a leading lighthouse engineer, and his wife Margaret, born Margaret Isabella Balfour (1829-1897).Lighthouse design was the family profession and most of the men in the Stevenson family were involved.

Stevenson seemed to inherit a “weak chest” and often needed to stay in warmer climates for his health. This tendency toward extreme sickness in winter remained with him until he was eleven though illness would be a recurrent theme throughout his adult life, and because of this, he was extraordinarily thin. Historical experts believe that he had tuberculosis.

Stevenson’s parents were both devout Presbyterians, but the household was not unusually strict. However, early on, Stevenson showed a precocious concern for religion.

An only child, who was strange-looking and eccentric, Stevenson found it hard to fit in when he was sent to a nearby school at six, a pattern that was repeated at eleven, when he went on to the Edinburgh Academy; but he mixed well in lively games with his cousins in summer holidays at the Colinton manse. Despite this, his frequent illnesses often kept him away from his first school, and he was taught for long stretches by private tutors. He was a late reader, first learning at seven or eight though, even before this, he dictated stories to his mother and nurse. Throughout his childhood he also was compulsively writing stories. His father paid for the printing of Robert’s first publication at sixteen, an account of the covenanters’ rebellion, published in 1866, on its two hundredth anniversary, The Pentland Rising: a Page of History, 1666.

It was expected that Stevenson’s writing would remain secondary to his career joining the family business. In November 1867, he entered the University of Edinburgh to study engineering. From the beginning, he demonstrated a complete lack of enthusiasm for his studies and devoted much energy to avoiding lectures. This time was more important for the friendships he developed with other students. In April 1871, he announced his decision to pursue a life of writing to his father . Years later, in his 1887 poetry collection, Underwoods, he looked back on how he turned away from the family profession.

It was at this time Stevenson rejected his family heritage and religion in favor of a more Bohemian attitude in behavior and dress. He also began to write in earnest, producing a prolific body of work that would cover the next 20 years. While his health would often interfere with his writing, and sometimes force him to move to warmer climates, he steadily wrote as much as possible.

On one of his travels he met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne (1840-1914), who had three children from another marriage. Despite being ill and nearly penniless in May, 1880, Stevenson married Fanny. They honeymooned in Napa Valley and then returned to Europe. Between 1880 and 1887, Stevenson searched in vain for a place of residence suitable for his state of health.

In 1890, he finally found what he was searching for when he purchased four hundred acres of land in Upolu, one of the Samoan Islands. His influence spread to the natives, who consulted him for advice. He soon became involved in local politics as he was widely popular among the natives. In addition to building his house, clearing his land and helping the natives in many ways, he found time to write.

During the morning of December 3, 1894, he had worked hard as usual on Weir of Hermiston. During the evening, while conversing with his wife he was 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 from a cerebral hemorrhage, at the age of 44. The natives insisted on surrounding his body with a watch-guard during the night and on bearing him upon their shoulders to nearby Mount Vaea, where they buried him on a spot overlooking the sea.


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