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Remember Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson (1850-1894) was born in Edinburgh. He was the only son of Thomas Stevenson, a prosperous joint-engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses, and Margaret Balfour, daughter of a Scottish clergyman. Thomas Stevenson invented, among others, the marine dynamometer, which measures the force of waves. Thomas's grandfather was Britain's greatest builder of lighthouses.

Stevenson was largely raised by his nanny, Alison Cunningham, whom he devoted A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES (1885). Since his childhood, Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis. During his early years, he spent much of his time in bed, composing stories before he had learned to read. At the age of sixteen he produced a short historical tale. As an adult, there were times when Stevenson could not wear a jacket for fear of bringing on a haemorrhage of the lung. In 1867 he entered Edinburgh University to study engineering. Due to his ill health, he had to abandon his plans to follow in his father's footsteps. Stevenson changed to law and in 1875 he was called to the Scottish bar. By then he had already started to write travel sketches, essays, and short stories for magazines. His first articles were published in The Edinburgh University Magazine (1871) and The Portofolio (1873).

In a attempt to improve his health, Stevenson travelled on the Continent and in the Scottish Highland. However, traveling on boats was not always easy for him. In letter, written on his journey across the Atlantic in 1879, he complained: "I have a strange, rather horrible, sense of the sea before me, and can see no further into future. I can say honestly I have at this moment neither a regret, a hope, a fear or an inclination; except a mild one for a bottle of good wine which I resist". Later Stevenson spent much time in warmer countries. These experiences provided much material for his writings.

Among Stevenson's own early favorite books, which influenced his imagination and thinking, were Shakespeare's Hamlet, Dumas's adventure tale of the elderly D'Artagan, Vicomte de Bragelone, and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, "a book which tumbled the world upside down for me, blew into space a thousand cobwebs of genteel and ethical illusion, and having thus shaken my tabernacle of lies, set me back again upon a strong foundation of all the original and manly virtues." (from Reading in Bed, ed. by Steven Gilbar, 1995) Also Montaigne's Essais and the Gospel according to St. Matthew were very important for him.

An account of Stevenson's canoe tour of France and Belgium was published in 1878 as AN INLAND VOYAGE. It was followed by TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY IN THE CERVENNES, based on his walking trip in France. "I travel for travel's sake," Stevenson wrote. "The great affair is to move." With his friend William Ernest Henley he wrote several plays. While in France Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, a married woman with two children, Belle and Lloyd. She returned to the United States to get a divorce. In 1879 Stevenson followed her to California where they married in 1880. After a brief stay at Calistoga, which was recorded in THE SILVERADO SQUATTERS (1883), they returned to Scotland, and then moved often in search of better climates.

Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.
(from Songs of Travel)

Stevenson gained first fame with the romantic adventure story TREASURE ISLAND, which appeared first serialized in Young Folks 1881-82. Before it was published in book form Stevenson revised the text. The central character is Jim Hawkins, whose mother keeps an inn near the coast in the West Country. Jim meets an old pirate, Billy Bones, who has in his possession a map showing the location of Captain Flint's treasure. Bones dies after a second visit of his enemies. Jim, his mother, and a blind man named Pew open Bones's sea chest and finds an oilskin packet, which contains the map. Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, Jim, and a small crew with Captain Smollett sail for Treasure Island. Jim discovers that the crew of the Hispaniola includes pirates, led by a personable one-legged man named Long John Silver, the cook of the ship. On a journey to the island interior, Jim encounters Ben Gunn, former shipmate of the pirates. After several adventures the pirates are defeated, Jim befriends with Long John, and the treasure is found. Jim and his friends sail back to England. Long John Silver manages to escape, taking as much gold as he can carry. The famous poem from the novel ("Fifteen men on the dead man's chest / Yo-ho-ho, and the bottle of rum!/ Drink and the devil had done for the rest - Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!) could have originally been "Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest... referring to a Caribbean Island Dead Chest. According to a tale, the notorious pirate Edward Teach left fifteen men on the island of Dead Man's Chest, with a bottle of rum and a sword.

Stevenson's father died in 1887. From the late 1880s Stevenson lived with his family in the South Seas, where he had purchased an estate in Vailima, Samoa. During this Stevenson enjoyed a period of comparative good health. With his stepson Lloyd Osbourne he wrote THE WRONG BOX (1889) and other works. He had nearly 20 servants and was known as 'Tusitala' or 'Teller of the Tales'. The writer himself translated it 'Chief White Information.' Fanny was called 'Flying Cloud' - perhaps referring to her restlessness. She had also suffered a mental breakdown in 1893.

In his short story 'The Bottle Imp', set on the island of Hawaii, Stevenson asked the question, does a sudden luck of fortune wipe out one's problems. Keawe, a poor man, buy's a bottle, tempered in the flames of hell. An imp lives inside it and is at the buyer's command fulfilling all desires. "'Here am I now upon my high place,' he said to himself. 'Life may be no better; this is the mountain top; and all shelves about me toward the worse. For the first time I will light up the chambers, and bathe in my fine bath with the hot water and the cold, and sleep above in the bed of my bridal chamber.'" Fascinated by the Polynesian culture, Stevenson wrote several letters to The Times on the islanders' behalf and published novels ISLAND NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENTS (1893), which contains his famous story 'The Beach of Falesá', and THE EBB-TIDE (1894), which condemned the European colonial exploitation.

Pacific Islands have long attracted the dispossessed, those fleeing past lives or souls in search of adventure and romance. Many of those from other parts who have made the long voyage to remote islands have found the reality of day-to-day life daunting: isolation, limited resources and the difficulty of fully integrating into local culture.

This was not the case for Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scot who, by 1889, had already made an international name for himself as the author of such tales as Treasure Island and Kidnapped. It was no doubt because Stevenson was a man of means that his South Pacific sojourn was, in nearly all respects, considerably more comfortable than was usual for the beachcombers and sailors who washed up on distant islands.

Stevenson, his wife Fanny, and an entourage that included her children from a previous marriage, arrived in Apia, the capital of Samoa, in 1889. The writer was in search of a climate that would help him cope with his tuberculosis. The Stevensons had spent time in Hawaii before sailing through the South Pacific for two years, a voyage that ended in Samoa.

Then, as now, Samoa was a place of striking beauty, its lush islands thick with coconuts, taro and fruit trees. The sea provided a bounty of fish. And Samoans, justly proud of their rich culture, took to the slightly-framed writer, a man they called Tusitala, the “teller of tales.”

The Stevensons spent their first year in Apia in a two-story home fronting the harbor. The building still stands today, and its upper floor houses Sails, a highly-regarded restaurant whose ambiance suggests the 19th century.

But it was in the hills above Apia that Stevenson and his family put down roots. He acquired a large parcel, and in 1890 built a two-story home that he called Vailima. The Stevenson estate became something of a cultural center in Samoa, attracting the Samoan elite and expatriates of all persuasions.

Stevenson also wrote a number of stories at Vailima, including Island Nights’ Entertainments: Consisting of The Beach of Falesa, The Bottle Imp, The Isle of Voices and Ebb Tide. Stevenson died in December 1894, at his beloved Vailima. He was buried on the summit of Mt. Vaea, a mountain that overlooks his estate.

While much has happened to Samoa—and Vailima—since 1894, Vailima is more than ever imbued with Stevenson’s spirit. The home, which was expanded after Stevenson’s death, housed a series of German and then British colonial administrators. After independence in 1962, it became the official residence of Samoa’s head of state. In the mid-1990s, Vailima was turned into the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, run by a non-profit agency to preserve the estate and Stevenson’s contributions to Samoan history and culture.

Vailima is open Monday through Friday, and half a day on Saturday. It is a must see for anyone traveling to Apia, and it can be reached in a few minutes by taxi from all hotels in the city. Well-trained docents weave Stevenson’s life story into the various rooms, most using recreations of the furniture that would have graced the home late in the 19th century. These are intimate tours; the docents are knowledgeable and happy to share their insights into the man and property.

Whether it is the wallpaper made of tapa, the open verandas that surround the home, or the parlor cooled by trade winds blowing up Mt. Vaea, it is easy to imagine Stevenson and his family at work and play at Vailima.

The more adventurous traveler will also make the time to hike to Stevenson’s grave. It takes some effort—and time—but is well worth the muddy walk. There, at the summit, Stevenson and Fanny (who died in the United States, but whose remains were returned to Samoa) rest in peace.

Look carefully on Stevenson’s grave, and you’ll find the oft-repeated lines:

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 game for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in Apia, Samoa is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon

Stevenson died of a brain haemorrhage on December 3, 1894, in Vailima. Fanny Stevenson died in 1914 in California. Her ashes were taken to Samoa and buried alonside her husband, on the summit of Mount Vaea. Stevenson's last work, WEIR OF HERMISTON (1896), was left unfinished, but is considered his masterpiece.

Stevenson house as we know him and now a museum in Vailima, Samoa
Both side parts were build on later when he was gone.

The original stevenson house without both side-parts on it.

Stevenson tomb at the top of mount Vaea