Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. His best-known books include Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A literary celebrity during his lifetime, Stevenson now ranks among the 26 most translated authors in the world.
It was in the end of 1856 that Louis was for the first time experiencing 'the toils and vigils and distresses' of composition. His uncle, David Stevenson, offered to his children and nephews a prize for the best history of Moses...A Bible picture-book was given to him as an extra prize, and, adds his mother, 'from that time forward it was the desire of his heart to be an author.'
I prefer to remember that Stevenson the artist never quitted his task until the piece of work in hand was as near perfect as he could make it. Sick or well, travelling or sitting at home, though the inspiration tarried, though he must write and rewrite, and remodel from top to bottom, though he were deprived of speech and the power to hold his pen, and must dictate upon his fingers, the indomitable maker still toiled to attain perfection, until there was left no stroke untried, and the voice of inspiration had found complete utterance.
He wrote essays, plays, novels, short stories, lyrics and blank verse, fables, lay sermons, and prayers; and his work shows as great a diversity in matter and manner as in form. That the same man wrote A Child's Garden of Verses and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; that Treasure Island is by the same hand as Ordered South; that the charming egoist who gave us Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes could pass to the grim horror of The Ebb Tide; that the man who keeps us chuckling as he shows us David Balfour naively making his way through many dangers and difficulties toward happiness and prosperity, can make our hearts hot with futile rage as we follow the House of Durisdeer to its slow-approaching, inevitable doom, ---these things seem almost beyond belief; and the wonder grows as the reader recognizes that each work is in its class a masterpiece.
Stevenson married a motherly woman a decade older than himself, and became a kind of elder brother to her young son, who eventually was to be co-author, with Stevenson, of The Wrong Box. Rather deliberately, Stevenson resisted growing up.
Conventional persons and conventional entertainments never had any attraction for him, and from general society in Edinburgh he was not long in withdrawing himself. There were exceptions of course; for several years after 1871 he took part in the private theatricals at Professor Fleeming Jenkin's house: at first as prompter, and afterwards in some minor parts, for he never was proficient as an actor.
Stevenson's father intended him for a lawyer, and with that end in view carefully educated him at private schools and at the University of Edinburgh. He went far enough with his legal studies to be entered at the Scottish bar, and then changed the whole course of his life. He began to travel for his health, and in this found such enjoyment that he took to writing of the things he saw.
In order to fully understand the world in which Stevenson was raised, it is necessary to understand that there were two Edinburghs, both which played a part in molding his personality and outlook. On one hand was New Town, respectable, conventional, deeply religious, and polite. On the other was a much more bohemian Edinburgh, symbolized by brothels and shadiness. The juxtaposition of the two aspects in contrast to each other made a deep impression and strengthened his fascination with the duality of human nature, later providing the theme for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He suffered from infancy from great fragility of health, and nearly died in 1858 of gastric fever, which left much constitutional weakness behind it. From the age of six he showed a disposition to write. He went to school, mainly in Edinburgh, from 1858 to 1867, but his ill-health prevented his learning much, and his teachers, as his mother afterwards said, "liked talking to him better than teaching him."
Romance, he wrote, is not concerned with objective truth but rather with things as they appear to the subjective imagination, with the "poetry of circumstance." Romance, according to Stevenson, avoids complications of character and morality and dwells on action and adventure.
Treasure Island (1881, 1883), first published as a series in a children's magazine, ranks as Stevenson's first popular book, and it established his fame. A perfect romance, according to Stevenson's formula, the novel tells the story of a boy's involvement with murderous pirates. Kidnapped (1886), set in Scotland during a time of great civil unrest, has the same charm.