Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish essayist, poet, man of letters, novelist and travel writer, became an international celebrity for his classic tales Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
November 13th is RLS Day. It commemorates the day of the author's birth in Edinburgh in 1850.
The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust plans dozens of special RLS day events, walking tours, screenings, talks, poetry and storytelling events across the city. Many RLS events are free and aimed at families.
From Stevenson’s birthplace at Howard Place, Inverleith, the family soon moved to 17 Heriot Row. Due to childhood illness, he spent many days in bed looking out over Queen Street Gardens, or at dusk waiting for Leerie the lamplighter, and began to write poems and stories.
As a young man, his lifelong love affair with Edinburgh was based on its history and architecture, the social duality side by side - the conservative, professional life of the New Town compared to the rough, tough bawdy taverns of the Old Town.
Breaking free from his middle class conventional background, Stevenson dismissed the tyranny of the tail coat as a protest: “his brown eyes shining in a swarthy face, his lean body adorned with a black velvet jacket - velvet to match a preference of beauty.”
As an Edinburgh University student, he was a dandyish Bohemian figure of fashion, well ahead of his time, distinctive with an easy elegance and touch of bravura.
He graduated in law but did not practice as his dream was to be a writer and gentleman adventurer, which many of his famous quotations illustrate:
“My mistress was the open road and the bright eyes of danger”. “ I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.
His spirit of adventure began with holidays to France and exotic escapes to the Caribbean. In 1888 RLS and his wife Fanny chartered a schooner in San Francisco to set sail for the South Sea islands finally settling on Upolu, Samoa where he spent the rest of his life.
Their house at Vailima overlooking the ocean was his haven of happy rest, where he was known as Tusitala, the Teller of Tales. Here he died in 1894 aged just 44: “Our beloved Tusitala. The stones and the earth weep”.
Inspirational, exciting, romantic travel around the world was his passion but as the Scot Abroad, far from home, Edinburgh was forever in his memory, imagination and heart.
Edinburgh or Auld Reekie
"And though I would rather die elsewhere, yet in my heart of hearts I long to be buried among good Scots clods. I will say it fairly, it grows on me with every year: there are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps. When I forget thee Auld Reekie, may my right hand forget its cunning!"
Fly a Pirate flag to celebrate RLS on 13 November with poetry, stories, quotations, music - and wear a velvet jacket in true Stevenson dapper style!.