Literary Anniversaries: 13 November
Robert Louis Stevenson, sometimes described as the first ‘superstar’ author, was born today in 1850.
If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons,
And buccaneers, and buried gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:
— So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave:
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie! (‘To the hesitant purchaser’, RL Stevenson)
Whilst as an adult I think I prefer the Gothic wonder of “Jekyll and Hyde“, and I’m jealous of the Year 11 pupils reading it for the first time, as a boy I was absolutely mesmerised by “Treasure Island“. I still am, I suppose, as I own four different copies of the book simply because I love the cover art.
My childhood copy of Treasure Island had an introduction by the author in which he talked about how the book came to be written – largely to entertain an invalid boy under his care. His advice to us, when writing, was to start with a map, because this would suggest plot elements to the budding author.
Following his own advice, Stevenson had a map which, if I remember rightly, was drawn either with or by his father. But disaster struck – when the manuscript was posted to the publishers, the original map was lost in the post, and he had to redraw one from memory. Similarly, that copy of the novel has been lost, and I’ve never been able to find it again since in any of the versions I have seen or bought, sadly. Like Stevenson, I’ve had to reproduce that story from memory …