Today in History: Robert Louis Stevenson Sets Sail for the South Seas
Where the golden apples grow;-
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lost,
And, watched by cockatoos and goats,
Lonely Crusoes building boats..
— Robert Louis Stevenson, “Travel”
A Child’s Garden of Verses
High seas, adventure, pirates, desert islands come to mind, but so do roses, tree swings, and cicadas– memories of a Midwestern childhood and grandmother’s house. For Hortense, more affectionately known as Bama, was not only an award-winning gardener, but avid reader of the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, especially A Child’s Garden of Verses. Content to let the boys play whiffle ball between the flowerbeds, she’d softly recite his work to me on those lazy Sunday afternoons in Northfield. We sipped cold lemonade on the terrace and listened to the intricate sounds of summer punctuated by the crack of the bat and creak of the bough, as a cousin sailed in an arc in the sky. “My Shadow” left its mark, day or night, like the silver jets from O’Hare that melted surreptitiously into the hemisphere and came back again — conveying a sense of life’s intrigue, hope, and journey.
On June 28, 1888 ailing Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his family departed from San Francisco in pursuit of the South Seas. Suffering from tuberculosis and in need of a healthier climate, Stevenson would journey on the yacht Casco for three years, eventually to settle in Vailima, Samoa in the exotic Polynesian Islands.
In addition to Kidnapped (1846) Treasure Island (1883), A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Robert Louis Stevenson wrote numerous travel essays and accounts, inspired by his love for adventure. His works continue to be popular and read in schools throughout the world. Stevenson died in Samoa at the age of 44, just six years after settling there.
Check out the following stories that describe Stevenson’s life in Samoa and the legacy he left. The articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers which serves to inspire research, as well as classroom learning and teaching.
- Klein, J. C. (1890, Sep 21). A Novelist in Samoa. The Washington Post (1877-1922)
- Robert Louis Stevenson. (1893, Jun 01). Courier-Journal (1869-1922)
- Moorman, R. M. (1896, Nov 22). Robert Louis Stevenson. The Nashville American (1894-1910)
- Comans, G. P. (1953, Sep 20). Teller of Tales. The Hartford Courant (1923-1990)
- Zinsser, W. K. (1956, Dec 06). Visit to Home and Grave of Robert Louis Stevenson. New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- By Reid Beddow. Robert, L. S. (1980, Sep 14). From the Highlands to the High Seas. The Washington Post (1974-Current File)
- Hilgers, T. (1989, Mar 12). Encountering Robert Louis Stevenson on Samoa. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File)
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