You may know him as one of literature's most famous writers. Or for his timeless classics Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But did you know Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's American wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne was a cigarette-rolling, pistol-owning firecracker of a woman? My new book, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, ranges from the artists' colonies of Europe and the mining camps of Nevada to the mountains of Switzerland and the shores of Polynesia. It explores the Stevensons's unusual relationship and the ways in which they changed the literary and artistic landscape around them. Read on for even more revealing facts about writing legend Robert Louis Stevenson!
He invented the sleeping bag.
An enthusiastic traveler, Stevenson enjoyed sleeping under the stars. In 1878, the Scottish writer designed a six-foot square sleeping sack, made of "green waterproof cart-cloth without and blue sheep's fur within" for a 12-day hike through a mountainous region of southern France. He was nursing a broken heart, for the American woman he loved had left him. By writing a travel narrative, he hoped to earn enough money to pursue her and persuade her to marry him. The adventure and the sleeping bag are memorialized in his book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.
He almost died on a goat ranch in Monterey, California.
Seeking the hand of Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, who was married with children when he'd first met her at a French artists' resort three years earlier, Stevenson set out in 1879 for America, crossing the Atlantic in steerage conditions, then traveling by emigrant train from New Jersey to California. He had been bedridden with lung illness during long periods in his life, but the grueling journey to Monterey, where Fanny was staying, nearly killed him. Emaciated, lacking money for shelter, and rebuffed once again by an uncertain Fanny, Stevenson rode out into the countryside near Monterey to camp. A goat farmer found him unconscious the next day, and carried him back to his family's cabin where he nursed the severely ill writer for three weeks.
He married an Indiana woman 10 years his senior.
Fanny Osbourne was 40 by the time she divorced her philandering husband and wed Stevenson. She was not the sort of bride the writer's upper crust parents had imagined for him. Fanny carried a pistol, rolled her own cigarettes, and had lived in Nevada mining camps with her first husband. But Louis, as he was called by friends and family, loved her for her beauty, adventurous spirit, and strong character traits, not the least of which was grit. Nearly broke and seeking clean air and sunshine for Louis's lungs, they spent their honeymoon in an abandoned mining shack on Mt. St. Helena in Napa.
He used a pseudonym when Treasure Island was first published.
Stevenson's romantic pirate novel began as a rainy day amusement to entertain Fanny's 12-year-old son, Lloyd Osbourne, while the family was vacationing in Scotland in 1881. RLS drew a map of an island, and in short order imagined the characters of Long John Silver and Billy Bones. Soon he was publishing chapters of the story under the nom-de-plume of Captain George North in a children's periodical called "Young Folks." The pseudonym may have been an attempt to give the impression the author was a salty sea captain. When the material was published as a book, Stevenson's proper name was on the cover.
He wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days while confined to bed.
Three days, actually, using pen and ink pot. According to Lloyd Osbourne, however, RLS tossed the manuscript--some 30,000 words-- into the fireplace when Fanny objected that the story's allegory was not evident enough. In the next three days, he wrote a second draft of the story, which is the version we know today. While Treasure Island brought him notice, Jekyll and Hyde brought him fame. By the time of his death at age 44 in 1894, Stevenson was a towering literary figure. His output included some 13 novels, as well as volumes of essays and short stories, plays, poetry, and music.
He gave away his birthday to a 12-year-old girl.
While Stevenson lived in Samoa, he met the daughter of the country's U.S. Commissioner, Annie Ide. Distraught over having to share her birthday with a major holiday - Christmas - Annie received a surprise from the witty author; Stevenson wrote a detailed "legal" letter reassigning his birthday to the young girl:
I, Robert Louis Stevenson, Advocate of the Scots Bar, author of The Master of Ballantrae and Moral Emblems, stuck civil engineer, sole owner and patentee of the Palace and Plantation known as Vailima in the island of Upolu, Samoa, a British Subject, being in sound mind and pretty well I thank you in body:
Have transferred, and do hereby transfer to the said A. H. Ide, All and Whole of my rights and privileges in the 13th day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide, to have, hold, exercise and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats and receipt of gifts, compliments and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors;
He is buried on a mountaintop in Samoa.
Having lived a life together as adventurous as those of RLS's most romantic characters, the Stevensons built a home called Vailima near Mt. Vaea in Samoa. When Stevenson died in 1894, his body was carried to the top of the mountain for burial. On his tombstone is carved the poem he began in 1879 when he was crossing America on the emigrant train and feared he might be dying. It is called "Requiem."
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Quotes from the man himself:
"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."
"The habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or be largely freed, from the domination of outward conditions."
"The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect the reader, but affect him precisely as you wish."
by Robert Louis Stevenson.....
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow -
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there's none of him at all.
He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
A Good Boy
I woke before the morning, I was happy all the day,
I never said an ugly word, but smiled and stuck to play.
And now at last the sun is going down behind the wood,
And I am very happy, for I know that I've been good.
My bed is waiting cool and fresh, with linen smooth and fair,
And I must be off to sleepsin-by, and not forget my prayer.
I know that, till to-morrow I shall see the sun arise,
No ugly dream shall fright my mind, no ugly sight my eyes.
But slumber hold me tightly till I waken in the dawn,
And hear the thrushes singing in the lilacs round the lawn.
Bed in Summer
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
A Good Play
We built a ship upon the stairs
All made of the back-bedroom chairs,
And filled it full of soft pillows
To go a-sailing on the billows.
We took a saw and several nails,
And water in the nursery pails;
And Tom said, 'Let us also take
An apple and a slice of cake';'
Which was enough for Tom and me
To go a-sailing on, till tea.
We sailed along for days and days,
And had the very best of plays;
But Tom fell out and hurt his knee,
So there was no one left but me.
The Land of Counterpane
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.
Every night my prayers I say,
And get my dinner every day;
And every day that I've been good,
I get an orange after food.
The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure -
Or else his dear papa is poor.
The friendly cow all red and white,
I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with apple-tart.
She wanders lowing here and there,
And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
The pleasant light of day;
And blown by all the winds that pass
And wet with all the showers,
She walks among the meadow grass
And eats the meadow flowers.
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside -
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown -
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
(source: www. best-book-for-kids.com)
Little long today but hopefully informative and fun. Now you know about this poet and I hope you learned a few interesting facts and you will share some of his poems listed here with your kids. Have an awesome Saturday and see you back here again on Monday morning.
Read on and read always...preferably a lot of poetry this month as April is "National Poetry Month." Have an awesome day everyone.