When Robert Louis Stevenson Was One Of Us

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In 1887, after the death of his father, Stevenson returned to the United States in another stage of his long search for a healthful climate. Treasure Island, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and Kidnapped had appeared and become great successes; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had brought him a fortune. American readers adored him; the press lionized him. After a winter at Saranac Lake, New York, Fanny set off for California to find a yacht; S. S. McClure had offered to pay for its charter in exchange for the right to publish some Stevenson travel memoirs.

Fanny found the Casco and telegraphed to Stevenson. He answered, “Blessed girl, take the yacht and expect us in ten days.” On June 28, 1888, after an ebullient farewell party on board, a tug towed the Casco outside the Golden Gate, and she set sail with the Stevensons for the South Seas. Stevenson would remain on Pacific islands until his death in Samoa in 1894.

If the fates had been kinder, Stevenson might have fathered an American child. As it was, he had at least one American name-child, little Louis Sanchez, Fanny’s nephew, who was still living at Monterey when the Casco headed southward past that romantic shore. Stevenson had written an envoi, “To My Name-Child,” for A Child’s Garden of Verses:

. . . Now that you have spelt your lesson, lay it down and go and play Seeking shells and seaweed on the sands at Monterey, Watching all the mighty whalebones, lying buried by the breeze, Tiny sandy-pipers, and the huge Pacific seas. And remember in your playing, as the sea-fog rolls to you, Long ere you could read it, how I told you what to do; And that while you thought of no one, nearly half the world away Someone thought of Louis on the beach of Monterey!

Little Louis was not the only American child who would remember Stevenson. American children who had loved his books saw to it in after-years that memorials were raised to mark the places where he had lived in the United States. The San Francisco area is dotted with schools, roads, and parks named for or in some way honoring Robert Louis Stevenson. At St. Helena, in the Napa Valley, the Silverado Museum houses one of the world’s largest Stevenson collections, and certainly one of the most beautifully displayed. Robert Louis Stevenson has earned a special place in the hearts of those who still live where, for a while, he was one of us.