Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish poet, essayist, author and travel writer best known for his masterpieces Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Master of Ballantrae. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850 and was the only child of Thomas and Margaret Balfour Stevenson. He was actually named Robert Lewis Stevenson but later, for reasons unknown, changed the spelling of his middle name to Louis.
It appears that his family was quite wealthy and Louis’ devoted nurse Allison Cunningham “Cummy” read to him and encouraged him at an early age to write his own stories which he did throughout his childhood. He later dedicated his collection of children’s poetry, “A Child’s Garden of Verses”, to her.
At the University of Edinburgh, he tried studying civil engineering which was his father’s occupation but found he was ill suited for it. He then began to study law for a time but decided to become a writer instead. His father insisted that he complete his law studies to have something to fall back on, which he did, but he never practiced law. Stevenson suffered from chronic illnesses throughout his life. It is believed today that his illness was tuberculosis. He often traveled to warmer climates for his health and it was during these trips that he wrote numerous novels, stories and essays based on his travels.
It was on one of these visits to France that he met Fanny Osbourne, an American artist, who was vacationing with her two children but without her husband. Stevenson and Fanny fell in love and he later traveled to San Francisco to be with her. They were married in 1880 after Fanny had obtained a divorce. The two, along with Fanny’s children went to Europe, spent time in England where Stevenson became acquainted with Henry James, and eventually the Stevensons traveled to the South Seas where they called Samoa their home for the remainder of their lives.
Although he gained fame for his writings during his lifetime, he fell out of favor during the early 20th century when he was regarded as a second class writer. In the latter part of the century, Stevenson gained new stature and now ranks as the 28th most translated author in the world, ahead of writers Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe and just below Charles Dickens.
Robert Louis Stevenson died at home on the island of Samoa of a stroke on 3 December 1894 at the young age of 44 with his beloved Fanny by his side. His body of work includes 13 novels, at least 20 short stories not including those he co-authored with Fanny and his stepson Lloyd. Travel writing and poetry including “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” as well as his musical compositions indicate his broad knowledge and talent in the profession which he chose early in his life.