Robert Louis Stevenson is one of those intriguing writers, like Oscar Wilde, whose life often competes with his works for the critics’ attention. He was born Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh. He was the only child of Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella (née Balfour) Stevenson. His father, grandfather, and two uncles were harbor and lighthouse engineers who had hopes that Stevenson would follow in their profession. Stevenson, however, was a sickly child whose interest in lighthouses was of the romantic, rather than the structural, sort. Although he studied engineering, and then law, to please his family, it was apparent early that he was destined to become a writer.
Stevenson chose his companions from among the writers and artists of his day, such as William Ernest Henley, Sidney Colvin, and Charles Baxter. One friend, Leslie Stephen, editor of Cornhill magazine, published some of his early essays. His first book, An Inland Voyage (1878), was not published until he was twenty-eight years old.
While studying art in France, Stevenson fell in love with Fanny Van de Grift Osborne, who returned reluctantly to her San Franciscan husband, Samuel C. Osborne, in 1878. Stevenson pursued her to the United States, and after her divorce in 1880, they were married. Unfortunately, Stevenson’s tubercular condition was a constant difficulty for him; thus, the couple spent the first ten years of their...
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