How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Master of Adventure

I thought that’d be a fitting nickname, for the time being, of one of my favorite authors, Robert Louis Stevenson, whose 164th birthday was Thursday, November 13. Unfortunately his birthday passed me by, or else I would have observed it by reading one of his short stories … I’m not sure which ones I’d be interested in right now, but I could do with a dose of his beautiful writing! (Any short story recommendations?)

I encountered Robert Louis Stevenson early on … I don’t remember quite when his name with its memorable ring first charmed my ears. But I didn’t read any of his books until high school, when I recommended Kidnapped for my homeschool literature club as something we could read. And my goodness, was I glad I did! The whole group enjoyed it, me perhaps most of all. Young, handsome, and vulnerable David Balfour, humorous and larger-than-life Alan Breck Stewart, evil uncle, mysterious house, ships, swordfights, danger, Scotland … that novel has lots of things to make me love it. I gained an even greater appreciation for the beauty of Stevenson’s writing when I read three more of his works: Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and finally, the sequel to Kidnapped, David Balfour (or Catriona, as it’s called across the sea). Kidnapped is still my favorite, but I loved the adventure of Treasure Island and the haunting brilliancy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the sweet romance and story continuation of David Balfour. Three other books of his that I would love to read include The Master of Ballantrae, The Black Arrow, and Travels with a Donkey.

Robert Louis Stevenson gave me some joy on my trip to England in September. I was looking for the perfect book for one of my dear bibliophile friends. At Berrington Hall, a country mansion in Herefordshire, I discovered (dressed in my Regency gown, too!) a used book shop in the gatehouse, a dusty room with tall ceilings, high windows, and uneven brick or stone floors. The antique books caught my eye, and low and behold there was: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson by Graham Balfour (who was his cousin). This edition was from the 1920s. Aha! Pam’s book! It cost only two pounds, and payment was on the honor system: put the correct amount in a little coin box by the open door. That was one of the most unusual places I’ve ever shopped for books, but I found something that absolutely thrilled my friend!

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Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1850. He was an only child and sickly, and did better with private tutors than at school. He told and wrote stories from young childhood … his father, who also had the bent, fully supported him, and made it possible for him to publish his first work, an account of the Scottish covenanters’ rebellion, on its 200th anniversary: The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666. Stevenson was 16. He was supposed to be a lawyer like his father, but he longed to be a writer, and his father became “wonderfully resigned” to it, as his mother put it. 

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Unfortunately, Stevenson drifted from this close relationship with his parents and from his faith. He became a traveler and an active member of the English literary world. His first actual book, An Inland Voyage, a travelogue, was published in 1878. He eventually married Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a divorced American woman with two children, in 1880. His health was suffering badly, and they tried living in many different places to find a suitable climate. I read about him in the Royal Diary story of Princess Victoria Kaiulani of Hawaii before I read any of his stories; he lived in Hawaii for a time and was friends with the royal family. He lived his final days on the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific, and died there on December 3, 1894. Though he was only 44, he had been writing practically his whole life, and so bequeathed a sizeable amount of enthralling stories, both fiction and nonfiction, for us to enjoy and dream with.

To close, how about a poem from his endearing A Child’s Garden of Verses? This is one of my favorites:

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Do you like Robert Louis Stevenson? What is your favorite book by him?

Note: I am indebted to wikipedia for my information about his life! 


  1. Stevenson! *hugs blog post* ^_^ He was SUCH a great writer, I've really enjoyed all I've read by him. Kidnapped and David Balfour are on my list of absolute favorite books ever. :D And ooh! Yes, you must read The Master of Ballantrae and The Black Arrow! The Black Arrow is just all around awesome. :D Master of Ballantrae... the first half just blew me away, it was SO... I don't know. So Stevenson. The second half declined for me a bit just because it got kinda sad/dark. But overall it was great too. :D Oh, and I once heard a song that was his poem "Block City" set to music. It was so pretty!!! ^_^

    Ahem. I get a little excited thinking about that book. ;)

    1. Ooh! Thanks for the recommendations! I will certainly need to get to The Master of Ballantrae and The Black Arrow ... which one first, I wonder!!! And I will have to check out that song.
      So glad you enjoyed the post! : ) Writing it made me really want to reread Kidnapped, too ...

  2. Stevenson is always one of my favorite authors, and Kidnapped my favorite of his works!
    I haven't read the sequel yet, but only because I haven't run across it. I really want to... and now I guess I'll have to add Master of Ballantrae to that list!
    The Black Arrow is good too... though I was disappointed by a few of the plot twists. So Kidnapped is definitely my fav. ;-)

    1. Yay! Another Stevenson fan! It's funny, both yours and Deborah's works remind me of his ... pretty writing, absorbing adventure, and great plot twists!
      I hope you do find the sequel, David Balfour. It had a slightly different feel because it's a sweet romance, and there isn't enough of Alan Breck Stewart in it, but I liked it. It is hard to find ... I had to borrow it from a friend.
      I'm anxious to see what I think of The Black Arrow and the Master of Ballantrae!
      Thanks for commenting!!