The Lantern Bearer Essay - Critical Essays

James Playsted Wood


Wood portrays Stevenson throughout the biography as the boy who would not grow up, and his works are seen as the fruit of childhood. Indeed, Stevenson’s youth was so pleasant that one can hardly wonder that he would seek to perpetuate the ideal of what childhood should be. His wealthy parents were devoted to their only child, cosseting a frail son who was provided love, comfort, and plenty of holidays, where he frequently enjoyed the company of droves of cousins. His nanny, Alison Cunningham, was so committed to her charge that she became, in his words, “my second Mother, my first Wife.” Long after most children had left the nursery, he enjoyed the almost undivided attention of parents and a nanny who prolonged his childhood as long as possible.

Although Thomas Stevenson encouraged his son in a professional career, it had little effect, for he was determined from the first to lead a bohemian life. Freed from the constraints of financial want, Stevenson could roam the underworld haunts of Edinburgh and London while playing at education. He indulged his interests while refusing the discipline that an uncertain future might have encouraged. The fact that he never worked at a job enhanced his attractiveness to those already inclined to like the jovial, witty, and carefree dandy from Scotland. Wood emphasizes, however, that not everyone liked him, as many found him affected, vain, and frivolous.

Wood argues that Stevenson’s writing clearly reflected his personal philosophy of life, and it led to sharp division among critics regarding his work. Until the publica-tion of Treasure Island assured his fame, he wrote mostly travel literature, including An Inland Voyage (1878), Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), and The Silverado Squatters: Sketches from a California Mountain...

(The entire section is 754 words.)