Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis (Balfour) Stevenson (November 13, 1850December 3, 1894), was a novelist, poet, and travel writer.



Stevenson was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Thomas Stevenson and grandson of Robert Stevenson, both successful lighthouse engineers, and Margaret Balfour. He studied at Edinburgh Academy in his youth. His parents were both very religious. Robert gave up the religion of his parents while studying at Edinburgh University, but the teaching that he received as a child continued to influence him.

Although ill with tuberculosis from childhood, Stevenson had a full life. He began his education as an engineer but, despite his family history, he showed little aptitude and soon switched to studying law. At the age of 18 he dropped the name Balfour and changed his middle name from Lewis to Louis (but retaining the original pronunciation); from this time on he began styling himself "RLS". He turned to the law because of poor health, but he never practiced. He ended as a tribal leader (called by his tribe Tusitala) and plantation owner at his residence "Vailima" in Samoa, all this in addition to his literary career.

Stevenson's novels of adventure, romance, and horror are of considerable psychological depth and have continued in popularity long after his death, both as books and as films.

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Stevenson's grave on Mt Vaea, Samoa

His wife Fanny (ne Osbourne), whom he married in 1880, was a great support in his adventurous and arduous life.

Stevenson made several trips to the Kingdom of Hawaii and became a good friend of King David Kalakaua with whom Stevenson spent much time. Stevenson also became best friends with the king's niece Princess Victoria Kaiulani, also of Scottish heritage. Since the tragic deaths of both Stevenson and Kaiulani, historians have debated the true nature of their relationship as to whether or not they had romantic feelings for each other. Because of the age difference, such stories have often been discredited. In 1888, Stevenson travelled to the island of Molokai just weeks after the death of Father Damien. He spent twelve days at the missionary priest's residence, Bishop Home at Kalawao. Stevenson taught the local girls to play croquet. When Congregationalist and Presbyterian ministers began to incite slander against Father Damien out of spite for his Catholicism, Stevenson wrote one of his most famous essays in defense of the life and work of the missionary priest.

Stevenson died of a brain (cerebral) haemorrhage in Vailima in Samoa, aged 44. In his will, he bequeathed his birthday to a little girl who had been born on Christmas Day.



  • A Child's Garden of Verses (1885), written for children but also popular with their parents. Includes such favorites as "My Shadow" and "The Lamplighter". Often thought to represent a positive reflection of the author's sickly childhood.

Travel Writing

Island Literature

Although not well known, his island fiction and non-fiction is among the most valuable and collected of the 19th century body of work that addresses the Pacific area.

Non-fiction works on the Pacific

  • In the South Seas. A collection of Stevenson's articles and essays on his travels in the Pacific.
  • A Footnote to History, Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

Island fiction

  • The Beach at Falesa, one of his most mature works, it explores the relationship between white traders and islanders in a way that anticipates Conrad and Maugham.
  • An Island Nights' Entertainment. Three great stories: The Bottle Imp, The Beach at Fales and The Isle of Voices.
  • The Wrecker with Lloyd Osbourne
  • The Ebb Tide with Lloyd Osbourne

Works in Scots

Stevenson also wrote poetry and prose in Scots. See ScotsteXt (

External links

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