Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Author For The Ages

The son and grandson of noted lighthouse designers, Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburg, Scotland in 1850. He was always sickly as a child and most months, except for summer, were spent in bed, attended by a nurse. Chronic health issues affected him for most of his life, and he often travelled to find suitable climates.

From the sheer power of his imagination, he created such timeless classics as "Treasure Island", "Kidnapped", "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Black Arrow". His books were successful and popular, admired greatly by Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling and other authors of their caliber, but ignored for most of the 20th century by the likes of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which didn't even mention him until 2006. Incredibly, he was often disparaged by "modern" authors who thought his books were too popular and considered them "books for children". On the contrary, his colorful adventures have literary depth, characters who live and breathe, and stories that are as fresh today as when first written.

In 1888, he chartered a yacht for himself and his family, and sailed for three years, exploring the Pacific. There were extended periods in Hawaii, where he became close to King Kalakaua and his niece, Princess Kaiulani. He spent time in Tahiti and Samoa as well, and in 1890, he purchased 400 acres on a Samoan island, where he spent the rest of his life. He died there, at the age of 44, of a cerebral hemmorage. His beloved islanders bore his body on their shoulders to where they buried him on Mt. Vaea, overlooking the sea. His epitaph, which he wrote for himself, and is engraved on his tomb, reads in part:

"Here is where he wanted to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea"

The portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson was painted in 1887 by John Singer Sargent. The illustrations for "Treasure Island" were painted by N.C. Wyeth, still the most famous painter of pirates.

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