Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5 | Island 6 | Island 7 | Island 8

Island 4: Stevenson as Poet and Essayist


A Child's Garden of Verses
London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1885.

Stevenson's interest in children's imagination, and his own memories of his invalid childhood, may have been stimulated by the success of his boys' adventures in the mid-1880s. The influence of Kate Greenaway's Birthday Book for Children (1880) is also notable. Many of the poems were written while the adult Stevenson was again confined to bed or convalescent at Hyères in Southern France in 1884 or in his new home at Bournemouth in 1885. The book was dedicated to his beloved Calvinist nurse, "Cummy," and the book testifies to the fears, fantasies and loneliness of Stevenson's childhood, not just to its pleasures.

A Child's Garden of Verses
London, John Lane/Bodley Head; New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1896.

This, one of Stevenson's most lastingly popular books (USCAN lists 23 editions published between 1885 and 1986), is also among the most frequently-illustrated of his works, its illustrations an index to changing taste and fashion. Ironically, the book never appeared with illustrations during Stevenson's lifetime. The 1896 edition, with the distinguished double imprint of Lane and Scribner, was illustrated by Charles Robinson (1870-1937), a fashionable book-illustrator of the period. Robinson's illustrations bear an understandable affinity to the work of his better-known younger brother, the illustrator and British Rube Goldberg, W. Heath Robinson, but there is strong stylistic relationship with the work of other contemporary illustrators and book-designers. Beardsley's influence, for example, is evident in the spare, strongly defined outline of certain vignettes. The binding, also designed by Robinson, is a pleasing and impressive specimen of a British transitional Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau style.

Ethelbert Nevin
Three Songs from "A Child's Garden of Verses"
London, Schott & Co., n.d.

Edith Swepstone
Robert Louis Stevenson's Songs for Children Set to Music
London, J. Curwen & Sons, n.d.

These illustrated settings of Stevenson's Child's Gardentestify both to his influence with adults and, perhaps, to the way early twentieth-century readers sentimentalized and softened his darker memories of childhood.

A Child's Garden of Verses
San Francisco, The Press in Tuscany Alley, 1978.

The 1978 Child's Garden, printed by the distinguished book-designer Adrian Wilson with woodblock illustrations and decorative initials by his wife, Joyce Lancaster Wilson, includes nine poems contained in the 1883 trial proof of Child's Garden but excluded from subsequent published editions. The introduction is by Janet Adam Smith, editor of Stevenson's Collected Poems. This book, and the Grabhorn Press R.L.S. to J.M. Barrie also included in the exhibition, are typical productions of the modern San Francisco fine press movement.

Moral Emblems and Other Poems Written and Illustrated with Woodcuts
London, Chatto & Windus, 1921.

This volume collected the small booklets of children's poems that Stevenson had written in Davos, Switzerland, in 1881-82, for his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, then aged 12, to print on a small handpress. The woodblocks were also by Stevenson, and the small pamphlets became hot items of sale among the hotel visitors. As Stevenson wrote:

A Stevenson Medley
London, Chatto & Windus, 1899.

This posthumous collection reproduced much the original format of the Davos pamphlets. The example displayed is from the second pamphlet ofMoral Emblems, "S. L. Osbourne & Company, Davos-Platz."

London, Chatto & Windus, 1890.

This volume collected some of Stevenson's longer poems, including The Song of RahéroThe Feast of FamineHeather Ale, A Galloway Legend; andChristmas at Sea. Perhaps most notable, though, isTiconderoga, A Legend of the West Highlands, a poem whose mysterious denouement in upstate New York provides an interesting parallel to that of The Master of Ballantrae. Stevenson expressed himself as bemused by the ballads' relative failure: "they failed to entertain a coy public...all the crickets sing so in their crickety papers...I don't think I shall get into that galley any more."

London, Chatto & Windus, 1887. One of 50 large paper copies.

Stevenson's best-known collection of poetry intended for an adult audience is divided into two books: poems in English and poems in Scots. The introduction discusses the orthographic difficulties of presenting Lowland Scots and argues against demanding a philological exactness in presenting the multiplicity of variant Scots dialects: "I simply wrote my Scots as well as I was able...And if it be not pure, alas! what matters it?" The poem displayed, Ille Terrarum, illustrates Stevenson's grasp of the traditional "standard Habbie" stanza-form and his affectionate treatment of Scottish landscape.

Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers
London. C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1881.

This first collection of Stevenson's periodical essays, mostly from the Cornhill magazine, was dedicated to his friend W. E. Henley. The long title essay, a gentle discursus on behalf of the younger generation about the emotional conflicts in accepting adulthood, marriage, and love, concludes with a passionate plea against Victorian hypocrisy and for "truth of intercourse." Stevenson, complained the British Quarterly Review on behalf of Victorian orthodoxy, "is too intensely sarcastic to be quite playful, and too self-conscious to be innocently amusing."

Familiar Studies of Men and Books
London, Chatto & Windus, 1882.

Along with essays on Victor Hugo, François Villon, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau, this collection reprints two essays on Scottish topics, "John Knox and Women" (from Macmillan's, September 1875) and his essay on Robert Burns, originally written for the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1875 but rejected and eventually reworked for the Cornhill in October 1879. The assertion that Burns "had trifled with life, and must pay the penalty" caused great controversy in Scotland, but, as David Daiches points out, shows the continuing dialectic of the poet and the Calvinist in Stevenson's writing.

Memories and Portraits
London, Chatto & Windus, 1887.

This heavily autobiographical volume is probably the best-loved of Stevenson's essay-collections. It reprinted, among others, his essays on his father, on his grandfather's manse and his childhood visits to the Pentland Hills, and on college life, as well as the important essay"A Humble Remonstrance" (originally in Longman's Magazine, December 1884), Stevenson's intervention in the debates between Henry James, William Dean Howells, and Walter Besant over the art of fiction.

Essays in the Art of Writing
London, Chatto & Windus, 1905.

This posthumous collection gathers Stevenson's important essays on authorship, "On Some Technical Elements of Style" (originally inContemporary Review, April 1885) and "The Morality of the Profession of Letters" (originally in Fortnightly Review, April 1881), as well as Stevenson's accounts of writingTreasure Island and The Master of Ballantrae.


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