Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson, Robert Louis Balfour. An eminent poet, novelist, essayist, and miscellaneous writer; born in Edinburgh, November 13, 1850; died at Samoa, December 4, 1894. His father and grandfather were famous lighthouse engineers and he was at first intended for the family profession. But he soon gave up the idea and turned to law. After duly qualifying for this calling he was admitted to the bar, but his career as a lawyer was short. Soon he found his true calling in the craft of letters and rapidly found his way into the front rank of contemporary writers, by the beauty and perfection of his style, no less than by a most charming personality, which shone through all he wrote. Some experiences which supplied impulse and material were leisurely trips through Europe by canoe and on foot, a voyage across the Atlantic in an emigrant ship, and, following this, a journey across the American continent in an emigrant train. Four masterpieces of English style followed these experiences—Travels with a Donkey, An Inland Voyage, The Amateur Emigrant and Across the Plains. They are all models of graceful and perfect English. From his childhood, he had drunk deep at the richest wells of English, and from the first his writings showed a distinct individuality and a most subtle art. From early childhood his health was precarious, and having married an American lady (Mrs. Osborne), and sojourned in the Adirondack mountains a year or so in the hope of improving his health, he set sail with his wife and two stepchildren for an extended voyage in the tropical seas. After cruising about for some time, he finally settled in the island of Samoa, where he lived in great happiness and comparative health for five years. Here, among the simple natives who had grown to worship him, and who called him TUSITALA, which, in their language, meant "teller of tales," the greatest writer of his time, and one of the greatest of all time, died on the fourth of December, 1894, in the forty-fifth year of his age. But his books live. And through them shines one of the most winning personalities that mankind has known. If ever a writer was loved, that writer is Stevenson. If ever there was a literary model for young writers to study and emulate, that model is Stevenson. His work stands alone in literature as an illustration of what genius can do when reinforced by infinite pains. Money could not tempt him to write anything commonplace. He did not depend too much on his genius. He was a master of pathos but, like the true literary artist he was, he used it sparingly. There was something about his books which endeared their author to the world. This cannot be explained nor described. When you read Treasure Island or Kidnapped, you are amazed that you can so love an author whom you have never seen. And when you read Will o' the Mill, which is given here, you will feel the same way. Many have not the taste and training to appreciate Stevenson's technique, and to understand and be able to explain why he was such a master. These things can be left to the critics. But one does not need to know much of architecture to appreciate the beauty of a cathedral. And the general run of readers find the greatness of Stevenson in his personal charm. They care but little for the tools he used, and only see the structure which he reared. And leaving aside the question of "style," is it not wonderful that a sick man, far off in some savage island of the south Pacific ocean, could make the whole world love him and feel a personal bereavement in his loss?