Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In Memoriam Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is the anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's birth. I've posted about Stevenson once before, to mention A Child's Garden of Verses, a still-used collection of poems written for children.

Stevenson led an interesting life, to say the least. He was a noted Scots author who wrote in both English and Scots, although his English writings remain famous. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Stevenson was born into a well-to-do Scots family; his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all noted lighthouse designers and engineers. Both their profession and proximity to the North Sea contributed to Stevenson's lifelong love of the sea. Stevenson suffered from "weak lungs" his entire life; it is possible that he had tuberculosis, but whatever the cause, his health kept him indoors during the winter. From a young age he was put in the care of a nurse (then a word for nanny), Alison Cunningham. Like his parents, Cunningham was a Calvinist, and told him many stories about hell-fire and damnation. She also included stories about witches and ghosts, which doubtless influenced his later writings, particularly Jekyll and Hyde, written long after he'd repudiated many of the tenets of his Calvinist upbringing. But I digress.

After completing university, Stevenson toured Europe for several years, looking for a climate more beneficial to his lungs. While in France, he spied a woman in a restaurant and made a rather grand entrance (leaping through a window) in order to make her acquaintance. Alas, Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne was at the time a married woman, but that did not prevent her from falling in love with the smitten Stevenson. When she wrote to him after she returned to her home in San Francisco and reported that she was ill, Stevenson set off after her in a rather gallant (if ill-thought-out) manner, arriving at her door years later nearly dead himself. The now-divorced Osbourne nursed him back to health, and married him in May, 1880. She and her child moved to the Napa Valley with him for a while, and then eventually back to Scotland with him. (Later moves included various places in Britain, France, the United States, Hawaii, and other South Pacific Islands, eventually making one of the islands of Samoa his final stop.) Stevenson died in Samoa at age 44.

In addition to poetry, his life's work included these still-read classics: Treasure Island, written for his step-son; Kidnapped, a historical novel; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the result of a remembered dream/nightmare, the first draft of which novella was written in three days. He also wrote other novels and novellas, short stories, and nonfiction, including a number of travelogues.


Picture-books in Winter
by Robert Louis Stevenson
(from A Child's Garden of Verses)


Summer fading, winter comes—
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?


As it is now Autumn, and Stevenson's birthday, I thought I'd share another of his seasonal poems (for the above poem is decidedly wintry*, no?).

Here's the text of "Autumn Fires", from A Child's Garden of Verses:

In the other gardens
  And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
  See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
  And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
  The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
  Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
  Fires in the fall!



* For another winter poem by Stevenson, see my earlier post, which includes his poem, "Winter-time".

In other news: This is the last week of featured snowflakes for the Robert's Snow for the Cure project. Following this final flurry, everyone involved with the project is hoping to see an avalanche of bids on the various snowflakes. The first "batch" o'flakes opens for auction on Monday, November 19th at 9 a.m. EST and runs through Friday, the 23rd at 5 p.m. EST. You can see precisely which flakes will be on the block next week over at The Robert's Snow page. While there, you can find information on how to register to be a bidder, and can check out the bidding rules.

To check out the snowflakes featured in today's blogosphere, click on the Robert's Snow button. Jules at 7-Imp has posted two! brand new! 2007 snowflakes. One from Vladimir Shpitalnik (in spectacularly Russian form) and another by Yuyi Morales called "Little Night", which is actually a little sculpture perched atop a snowflake platform (which is, itself, atop a music box). In addition, Jules and Eisha have also been keeping an ongoing list of blog posts thus far featuring snowflakes and the artists who created them.

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