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About this poet

Born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson came from a long line of prominent lighthouse engineers. During his boyhood, he spent holidays with his maternal grandfather, a minister and professor of moral philosophy who shared his love of sermons and storytelling with him. Prone to illness, Stevenson spent many of his early winters in bed, entertained only by his imagination and a great love of reading, especially William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, John Bunyan and The Arabian Nights.

Encouraged to follow the family tradition of lighthouse engineering, he began studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1867, but quickly discovered he preferred a career in literature. To satisfy his father, he acquired a law degree and was admitted to the bar by the time he was twenty-five.

Stevenson spent the next four years traveling through Europe, mostly around Paris, publishing essays and articles about his travels. In 1876, he met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, a married woman ten years his elder. When she decided to return to San Francisco soon after they met, Stevenson followed, taking the long voyage across the Atlantic and across the United States against the advice of his friends and physician. To add to his adventure and inform his writing, he chose to travel in steerage and was near death when he arrived in Monterey, California, in 1879. After being nursed back to health, he continued to San Francisco that winter, though it cost him his health. Osbourne, who had since been divorced, helped him recover. They married the following May.

After several months in the U.S. with his wife and her young son, Stevenson brought his family back to Britain. Frequently sick, he continued to write seriously, producing the bulk of his best-loved work. His first successful novel, Treasure Island was published in 1884, followed by A Child's Garden of Verses in 1885, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886.

A representative of Neo-romanticism during the Modernist period of English literature, Stevenson was an incredibly popular and successful writer. Though many leading critics dismissed his work entirely, he was admired by many authors, including Jorge Luis Borges, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Vladimir Nabokov, and J. M. Barrie. He was also friends with Henry James, who was a vocal supportor his work.

Following the death of his father in 1887, Stevenson left again for the U.S. with his family, planning a move to Colorado. Upon landing in New York, however, they decided to spend the winter at Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. That summer he chartered a yacht and sailed through eastern and central Pacific, stopping for extended stays among the Hawaiian Islands. In 1890, Stevenson purchased a four hundred-acre estate in Upolu, one of the Samoan islands. He adopted the native name Tusitala (Samoan for "Story Writer") and soon became immersed in local politics.

By 1894, Stevenson had become increasingly depressed, convinced the best of his work was behind him. He wrote that he wished his illnesses would kill him. On the evening of December 3, 1894, he collapsed, possibly due to a cerebral hemorrhage, and died. He is entombed at Mt. Vaea, at a spot overlooking the sea, with a tablet on which his poem "Requiem" is inscribed.

Due in part to the rise of the modernist aesthetic, Stevenson's work fell out of favor. Criticized by figures such as Virginia Woolf, he was soon remembered only as a contributor to children's literature. For most of the 20th century he was excluded from the Oxford and Norton anthologies of literature entirely, though he is now included. According to an index of translated authors kept by UNESCO, Stevenson is ranked the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of fellow Victorians Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)
Underwoods (1887)
Ballads (1890)
Songs of Travel and other Verses (1895)

Pirate Story

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 - 1894
Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,   
  Three of us aboard in the basket on the lea.   
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,   
  And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.   
   
Where shall we adventure, to-day that we’re afloat,
  Wary of the weather and steering by a star?   
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,   
  To Providence, or Babylon, or off to Malabar?   
   
Hi! but here’s a squadron a-rowing on the sea—   
  Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we’ll escape them, they’re as mad as they can be,   
  The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

Born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson

by this poet

poem
Summer fading, winter comes—   
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs   
Window robins, winter rooks,   
And the picture story-books.   
   
Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;   
Still we find the flowing brooks   
In the picture story-books.   
   
All the pretty things put by,   
Wait upon the
poem
When I was sick and lay a-bed,   
I had two pillows at my head,   
And all my toys beside me lay   
To keep me happy all the day.   
   
And sometimes for an hour or so     
I watched my leaden soldiers go,   
With different uniforms and drills,   
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;   
   
And sometimes
poem
How do you like to go up in a swing, 
             Up in the air so blue? 
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing 
             Ever a child can do! 

Up in the air and over the wall, 
             Till I can see so wide, 
River and trees and cattle and all 
             Over the countryside—

Till I look down