Beset for much of his life by ill health, it would have been excusable if Robert Louis Stevenson had retreated into imagination and lived his days in story and poem. He chose another route, travelling the Cévennes accompanied by a donkey, living in an abandoned mine in California with a divorcee 10 years older than him, and settling eventually with her in Samoa, where the locals christened him “Tusitala”, the teller of tales.
Stevenson had been born into smothering conformity. The rationalism and propriety of Edinburgh’s New Town were not to his liking, and he did not want to enter the family business of lighthouse engineer. Having qualified as a lawyer, he found his true self in writing, and proved a master of diverse forms such as poetry for children (A Child’s Garden of Verses), adventure stories for all ages (Treasure Island, Kidnapped) and chilling psychological horror (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). He trusted to reveries, saying “brownies” (spirits) had brought Jekyll and Hyde to him in a dream – albeit a dream affected by the experimental medication he was on at the time.
His most famous book owes a debt to a real-life Edinburgh character, William Brodie, who was gentleman by day and miscreant by night. The young Stevenson knew that a wardrobe in his bedroom had been crafted by Brodie. Bed-bound by childhood ailments, he had also peered down into the gardens below, imagining seas and islands and mysteries to be unravelled.(ack: RLS- My Hero/Ian Rankin-The Guardian of June,8.2012)
When one reads the nonfiction work of Robert Louis Stevenson along with the novels and short stories, a more complete portrait emerges of the author than that of the romantic vagabond one usually associates with his best-known fiction. The Stevenson of the nonfiction prose is a writer involved in the issues of his craft, his milieu, and his soul. Moreover, one can see the record of his maturation in critical essays, political tracts, biographies, and letters to family and friends. What Stevenson lacks, especially for the tastes of this age, is specificity and expertise: he has not the depth of such writers as John Ruskin, Walter Pater, or William Morris. But he was a shrewd observer of humankind, and his essays reveal his lively and perspicacious mind. Though he lacked originality, he created a rapport with the reader, who senses his enthusiastic embrace of life and art. If Stevenson at first wrote like one who only skimmed the surface of experience, by the end of his life he was passionately committed to his adopted land of Samoa, to his own history, and to the creation of his fiction.(www.people.brandeis.edu)
He died on Dec.3,1894