This Day In Writing History
On June 28th, 1888, the legendary Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson left San Francisco and set sail for the South Seas. Stevenson was searching for a new home with a healthier climate, as he was suffering from tuberculosis. He and his family would settle on a Samoan island, where Stevenson would spend the last six years of his life.
No stranger to such voyages, Stevenson was an avid traveler and adventurer. He began his writing career authoring travelogues. His first, An Inland Voyage (1878), was an account of his 1876 canoeing trip through France and Belgium. He followed it with Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), a memoir of his twelve-day, 120-mile solo hike through the Cévennes Mountains in France.
Though he would write several more travelogues, Stevenson made his name as a writer of fiction, first with his short story collections, then with his adventure novels. His most famous adventure novel was the classic Treasure Island (1883). Set in mid-18th century England, it told the story of Jim Hawkins, a young boy from a seaside village who works at his parents' inn.
One of the lodgers at the inn is Billy Bones, a rum guzzling ex-pirate whom Jim comes to like. Bones is hiding out from his former crew mates, but one of them, a sailor called Black Dog, tracks him down. They come to blows and Black Dog flees. Another man, a blind fellow named Pew, arrives with a message for Bones - a pirate's summons that causes the rum-soaked Bones to have a stroke and die.
Jim and his mother then open Bones' sea chest, hoping to find enough money to cover the rent that Bones owed them. Later, they discover something unexpected in the chest - a detailed map of an island where Bones' former commander Captain Flint buried his treasure. Soon, Jim finds himself on a ship bound for the island, where he runs afoul of other pirates, including the legendary Long John Silver.
Robert Louis Stevenson later wrote another seafaring adventure, Kidnapped (1886), set amidst the intrigues of the Jacobite movement in 18th century Scotland. David Balfour, an orphaned young man, arrives to stay with his Uncle Ebenezer. David's stingy, money hungry uncle, scheming to steal his inheritance, sells the boy to Captain Hoseason of the brig Covenant, who forces him to work as cabin boy. Hoseason plans to resell David to another slavemaster.
Other classic Stevenson novels include The Black Arrow (1883), an adventure novel set during the Wars of the Roses - the English civil wars that took place in the 15th century - and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), the celebrated horror tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a respected doctor and scientist who invents a drug to remove the evil side of the human psyche. Instead, it causes Jekyll's evil side to emerge as a separate personality - Edward Hyde, a depraved, murderous psychopath who terrorizes London.
After Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Samoa, they settled on the island of Upolu, where they lived on a 400-acre parcel of land in the village of Vailima. Stevenson took the native name Tusitala, which meant teller of tales in Samoan.
The Samoans came to love him and often turned to him for advice. He became active in local politics, and, believing that the European rulers of the Samoan Islands were incompetent, blasted them publicly in a non-fiction book called A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (1892).
The book caused such an uproar that Stevenson feared he might be deported. He wasn't. The scandal blew over and he remained in Samoa until he died from his tuberculosis in 1894 at the age of 44. Of the European leaders whom he had blasted for their mismanagement of Samoa, Stevenson would famously quip, "I used to think meanly of the plumber; but how he shines beside the politician!"
Quote Of The Day
"Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life." - Robert Louis Stevenson
Today's video features a reading of the first chapter of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure novel, Treasure Island (1883). Enjoy!