November 13, 2012 - Happy birthday, Robert Louis Stevenson

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Is this a pirate song courtesy of Walt Disney?

Oh, no, long before the fine people of Disneyland “cute-ified” the violence and squalor of piracy, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote these words as the pirates' song in his book Treasure Island.

Born on this date in 1850, Stevenson was a Scottish writer. He became famous during his life, and at least three of his novels remain well known: Treasure Island, of course, and Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He also wrote beloved poems gathered in A Child's Garden of Verses.

Growing up in Scotland, Stevenson couldn't help but notice that the family business was lighthouse engineering and design. His father, great-grandfather, and uncles were all in the business of designing and building lighthouses, and his grandfather (also named Robert Stevenson) was famous for his lighthouse designs.

Stevenson learned to read late, but even before he learned to read, he'd been dictating stories to his mother and nurse. Once he learned to write on his own, he compulsively wrote stories. He was lucky because his dad was proud of his writing, and supportive. Stevenson's dad had loved to write, himself, when he was a kid, but he'd been told by his father to “give up such nonsense.” Luckily for the world, Stevenson's dad didn't make the same mistake. 

His dad even paid for the printing of Stevenson's first publication, when he was just 16 years old.

Still, Stevenson went to Edinburgh University to study engineering, as if he were going to go into the family business. When he wrote to his parents to tell them that he was going to be a writer instead of an engineer, they were not surprised.

Celebrate RLS today!

  • Here is the Robert Louis Stevenson website. 
  • Read RLS, or watch a movie based on one of his books. Or both! It's always fun to read, watch, and compare the two... Here is a sample of one of the film versions of Treasure Island
  • Garden of Praise has some links for Stevenson's three famous books, including online games, lesson plans, and radio dramatizations.
  • Here is a quote fromTreasure Island that I love: “Sir, with no intention to take offense, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.”

Also on this date:

Harvest Festival on the US Virgin Islands 

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