English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Richard Doddridge Blackmore
Sir Walter Besant
Robert Louis Stevenson
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
Robert Louis Stevenson
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The life of Robert Louis Stevenson was spent in the constant pursuit of health and happiness. Early doomed to death by consumption, that scourge of the Scotch race, he struggled manfully to stave it off by traveling and residing in the most favorable climates. In spite of this incubus, he was diligent in writing and left a large number of delightful volumes in prose and verse. He belonged to a family famous from his great-grandfather down to his father, for the erection of light-houses. He was in-tended to be an engineer himself, but fate by his physical and mental constitution decided otherwise. He was born at Edinburgh in 1850, studied there at school and university, was called to the bar, but did not practise law. From his boyhood he had been a persistent cultivator of style in writing, not originally for publication, but for its own sake. He imitated various authors, from Sir Thomas Browne to Hawthorne, and then became expert in the choice and collocation of words. For the sake of his health he went to the South of France in 1873, leading a seemingly idle life. He had begun to publish essays in the "Cornhill Magazine," which were afterwards gathered in two volumes. His first books were "An Inland Voyage" (1878) and "Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes" (1879). He crossed the Atlantic as a steerage passenger in 1879 and went to California, where he married Mrs. Osbourne, whom he had first met in France. She took special care of his health and collaborated with him in some stories. His "Treasure Island" (1883) first gave him wide reputation. It is just such a story as boys delight in, full of adventure, pirates and fights. Quite as entertaining are the short stories of the "New Arabian Nights" and "Prince Otto," which introduces a few fine poems. Some of his stories were written in collaboration with his stepson.
In 1886 Stevenson created wide sensation by his "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," in which the chief personage is transformed at intervals, physically and mentally, so as to appear and act in entirely different ways. The story is told in a restrained, measured way, which helps to retain the reader's belief in the good faith of the narrators. In the same year came another adventurous story, "Kidnapped," which the author considered his best in fulfilling the purpose intended. It is a story of the early Eighteenth Century, full of grim and terrible scenes and characters, in dealing with which lay, as he believed, his forte. "The Black Arrow" is an historical romance of the War of the Roses. "The Master of Ballantrae" (1889) is another of the powerful stories with terrible scenes. Before this Stevenson had begun his voyages in the Pacific, which resulted in his making his home in Samoa. There some measure of health came to him again, and he was able to spend much time out of doors. His "Vailima Letters" (published after his death) and "A Foot-Note to History" show what interest he took in the strange people among whom his lot was cast. Their fond regard for this new friend was proved by their making, at his suggestion, the Road of the Loving Heart, which was the name they bestowed on him. One more novel the invalid lived to complete, "David Balfour" (1893) ; one he left unfinished, "Weir of Hermiston." Both are reckoned among his best achievements. After the many years of watchful care of a frail, diseased body, he died suddenly December 3, 1894.
Besides his prose writings, Stevenson wrote considerable amount of verse, which is gathered in "Underwoods" (1887), "Ballads" (1891), and the earlier "Child's Garden of Verse" (1885). These are all simple in style and metre, and especially the last has won much favor. They seem to be the spontaneous expression of his thoughts, while his prose is distinctly labored. He has told in full detail how he wrought to obtain a perfect style, and admitted that he had not always succeeded. While most critics award him high praise, a few have alleged against him an occasional strain after effect. It has also been objected that his stories are not brought to a close as carefully as the case demanded. Yet his story-telling faculty remains unimpeached, and the general verdict pronounced him the most delightful of essayists and most fascinating of romance-writers of his time.
While the story of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was terribly tragical, another story of transformation was entirely comical. This was Frederic Anstey's "Vice Versa," which showed a respectable middle-aged, common-place father metamorphosed into his small son at school, while the boy takes the father's place. The joke was received with loud laughter throughout England.