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STEVENSON'S "TREASURE ISLAND"
Now and then it is given to a man not fancy himself a sort of re-incarnation of only to create, through his books, a world one of his heroic ancestors centuries before of rich variety and never-ending adven- his own time. His letters, and the Life ture, but also to live in this world himself by Lockhart, give abundant evidence of and thus to become in a way the hero of this. Outwardly it was as though a man his own stories. Such a man was Walter nowadays should try to imitate in his home Scott, who re-created in his romances the and his way of living the life led in Colonlife of past times and who also became ial or Revolutionary times. But the true himself a sort of feudal lord, dispensing parallel is seen in the way in which Scott bounty to his retainers, living the large and met life.
When disaster came upon him, generous life of his own heroes. Such a
and he manfully discharged his obliga. man, also, was the author of Treasure tions, like the knight at arms that he was: Island, who wrote, in his own youth, the when in the crisis and indeed throughout story of a boy's wonderful adventures on a his whole life he lived up to his own ideals mysterious island in search of pirate gold, of the chivalry that he praised in his and at length himself set out in a small romances, the parallel between the man yacht to seek and to find hidden treasure and his books became a living thing. It of a different kind in the islands of the was not a spectacular sort of heroism South Seas.
that he exhibited; it was only the sort of In a sense, this parallelism between the heroism that is another name for duty, books and the lives of these two great men that made him sit down to unceasing work is only an illustration of a fact that may in order that innocent people should not be constantly observed. Any great book suffer through the business failure of his is the expression of the innermost person- partners. There is a similar connection ality of its author. It reflects his interests, between the story that you are now to his views of life. Ivanhoe, The Lady of the read and the life of its author. Though Lake, and the rest of Scott's heroic ro- the hidden treasure that Robert Louis mances are only manifestations of the Stevenson sought and found, in a search personality that found another expression that took him on a longer journey than in the life at Abbotsford, about which you Homer's Ulysses ever knew, was not pirate will read later in this book. And Treasure gold, Treasure Island is a sort of unconIsland, a boy's search for hidden treasure, scious prediction of the kind of life its with its delightful suggestion of the mys- author was destined to lead. terious and all the other qualities that
I make it the best story of its kind ever written, is just an expression of Stevenson Robert Louis Stevenson was born in himself. He did not go after pirate's gold, Edinburgh, November 13, 1850. His but the whole life of this boy who once father and grandfather were civil engineers studied law in Edinburgh and who, still of distinction, their special work being a young man, died in far-off Samoa, was lighthouse construction, and from his not unlike the quest on which Jim Hawkins father the young writer learned much set forth. The great book is an epitome of about nautical terms and the language that the great life.
gives raciness to his story of the sea. From It is not merely an imitation, however, his mother, who belonged to a family of this life that seems to parallel the book. scholars and ministers, the boy inherited For example, it is true that Scott liked to much of his literary instinct.
As a boy he was handicapped by bad position. Most of what he wrote he health that made his schooling somewhat destroyed. He planned a history of Scotirregular and prevented him from joining land, and in preparation for this made a in the sports of his fellows. He was fond study of the old documents and other of the out-of-doors, however, and spent historical materials that served him well much time in the country. He became a in his later stories of Scottish life. In great reader, especially of tales of adven- this respect, as in many others, he reminds ture and of English poetry. His instinct us of Sir Walter Scott. Like Scott, too, toward self-expression showed itself even he was finding adventures both in books before he could write. In his sixth year, and in life. he dictated a “History of Moses,” and at His family expected him to follow his nine was the author of a manuscript to father and grandfather in the profession of which he gave the title “Travels in Perth.” engineering, and he carried on his studies Between his eleventh and sixteenth years in this direction to such effect that in 1871 he wrote, edited, and illustrated many he won a silver medal given by the Edin"magazines.” When he was sixteen, he burgh Society of Arts for an essay on an wrote a historical essay which was printed. improved lighthouse. His interest in the
This early interest in writing became a sea and in out-of-doors employment was a dominant force in his life. He tells us that point in favor of his choice of engineering he rarely took a walk without two books as a profession, but he lacked the physical in his pocket, one for reading and the other strength for it, and decided upon the law. a blank book in which to note down some This study he began in 1871, and four years observation or to write a bit of description. later he was admitted to the bar. He was especially interested in descrip- Stevenson never practiced law. His tion, since, as he said, the materials were health was precarious; his law studies had everywhere. He says that he was ambi- been interrupted because of a nervous tious to become a writer, but that the chief attack and trouble with his lungs that thing he wanted was to know how to write. necessitated a year of foreign travel. AlThe story of these formative years in the ways he was writing, destroying, writing life of a great writer is a convincing proof again. It is interesting to observe that he that skill in the art comes not by birth planned to be an engineer, later studied or by chance, but by incessant practice. law and was admitted to practice, and still The young Stevenson wrote constantly, later was a cardidate for a professorship criticized his own writing severely, pub- of history at Edinburgh, all of them sublished almost nothing. He studied words stantial professions of the sort that would as if they were jewels. He tried various appeal to a young man of parts, but he was ways of saying what he thought he had to not destined to follow any of them. He say, until he could say it as he wanted to was gradually drawing nearer to the one say it. In his masterpieces his style is so thing he had most at heart, and was comsimple, so easy and graceful, that the pelled to follow it by a force outside himreader is apt to forget what long and self. patient practice preceded the writing of In 1876 his career really began. He what seems as natural as talking.
wrote, 1876-8, a series of essays and short In November of 1867 Stevenson entered papers for the Cornhill Magazine. In the the University of Edinburgh. He found same years three of his best known stories little in the course of study that attracted appeared in the magazines: "A Lodging for him. He described himself as an idler and a Night,” “The Sire de Maletroit's Door,” a truant, but he was making the best pos- and “Will o' the Mill.” His first book, sible use of his time in the light of what An Inland Voyage, appeared in 1878 and he was to do. Foreign travel had sharp- was followed soon after by The New ened his powers of observation; he was Arabian Nights' Entertainment, and Travels curious about life; he made many ac- with a Donkey. All these—the essays for quaintances. All the time he kept on with Cornhill, the stories, and the books—were his reading and with his practice of com- notable experiments in story, description,
and essay, the forms of writing in which he rum' (at the third Ho you heave at the excelled. He won no immediate fame, capstan bars), which is a real buccaneer's except among a few keen-sighted men who song, only known to the crew of the late saw that a great new writer was appearing, Captain Flint?” How deeply fascinated but this "fit audience, though few," loved he was by his work appears in another his work for the same reason that we love letter: "It's awful fun, boys' stories; you it today, for its rare personal charm, its just indulge the pleasure of your heart, keen observation, its humor, and its clear that's all; no trouble, no strain.” and delightful style.
What made this book a masterpiece, of
course, was this zest, this spirit of keen II
enjoyment, flowing through a pen that had And now Stevenson began, like Jim been trained by years of incessant toil. It Hawkins, his search for the hidden trea- seemed to write itself, as its author says,
In 1879 he made the long journey but the mastery was the mastery of a man from Scotland to San Francisco. His love who comes to a tennis match in the perof adventure, satisfying a roving disposi- fection of form won through years of tion that had been born in him; the thought practice. Such a player seems unconscious that he might improve his health, now a of any effort, any strain; but sight and source of constant concern; and a desire to nerve and muscle work in perfect harmony be independent, all combined to influence because of the training they have underhim. He made the journey by emigrant gone. ship and emigrant train, to save money, Some account of the plot, the characteriand also that he might observe life at first zation, and the style of this book will be hand. He gathered the materials for his given in connection with your study of it. book, The Amateur Emigrant, and wrote At this point our story need be interfor magazines and for California papers. rupted only long enough to show that There is no space here to tell the fascinat- something besides the writer's craftsmaning story of his adventures: how he was ship comes in to make the book significant. seized by an illness in San Francisco that The story begins, you have just read, nearly cost his life; how he came near “in the Admiral Benbow public-house on starving because he would not let his Devon coast," and "it is about bucrelatives know he was out of money; how caneers.” These words take us back at great happiness came into his life when, once to the days of Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1880, he married Mrs. Osbourne. The who was a Devon man, and recall his next year he returned, with his bride, to raids on the Spanish treasure ships, his Edinburgh, and a little later began work marvelous voyage to Guiana and the upon Treasure Island. With this book, equally marvelous account that he wrote which first appeared as a serial and in 1883 of it, and his story of the Revenge. Some was reprinted in book form, he won fame. of this material you doubtless already The story grew out of a suggestion by his know. If you like Treasure Island, step-son, Lloyd Osbourne, and was thus you might read Tennyson's ballad "The written for a boy and therefore for all Revenge," or Sir Walter's account on boys. It was planned around a map, which which the ballad is based, and you might you will find reproduced on page 187. To try to find Raleigh's story of his journey a friend he wrote, while he was developing to Guiana. Treasure Island, of course, the story: “Will you be surprised to learn belongs to a later time, but it is all of a that it is about buccaneers, that it begins piece, in a way, for the buccaneers themin the Admiral Benbow public house on selves are related to the times and the Devon coast, that it's all about a map, adventures in which Raleigh, Drake, and and a treasure, and a mutiny, and a derelict the other Elizabethan "knights errant of ship, and a current, and a fine old squire the sea” had a part. For the privateers Trelawney
and a doctor, and that preyed on Spanish commerce became a sea-cook with one leg, and a sea-song pirate ships; their crews
were called with the chorus 'Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of "brethren of the coast.” Their chief provision was dried goats' meat, called islands that dot the South Pacific. After “boucan,” and the name buccaneer comes visiting several groups of islands, they from this word. In the eighteenth century went to Samoa, and finally to Sydney. there were thousands of these pirates in Here Stevenson found he could not stay, the West Indies and along the Atlantic as the climate aggravated his trouble, so Coast, degenerate followers of Sir Walter, in April of 1890 he returned to Samoa, who had not his patriotic aims; and the where he bought four hundred acres above stories of Captain Kidd, Morgan, Black- Apia and gave to his estate the name of beard, and Bonnet are illustrations of the Vailima. After a few months of further extent of this unlawful trade.
journeying among the islands, he returned, Because of its stirring quality, boys of in September, to build the home that he all ages read eagerly Treasure Island. It was to occupy for the few remaining years was translated into many languages, and of his life. is the most famous of pirate stories. Though an exile, he was happy. The Stevenson immediately set to work upon natives loved him and his stories. They another boys' story, Black Arrow, which called him Tusitala, “teller of tales.” A appeared in 1883. Two years later a col- new period of intense literary activity lection of verses for children that grown- began and lasted until his death. He ups also like to read was published under began work at six in the morning, and the title of A Child's Garden of Verses, and except for a brief interval at noon, kept has become the classic of its kind. Kid- at it until four or five o'clock in the afternapped, a story of the Highlands, followed noon. His letters to English friends show in 1886, together with the famous Dr. his happiness and his apparent health. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Then this period One of the books that he worked upon, of intense literary activity was brought to Weir of Hermiston, was the most mature of an end by another failure of the author's all the volumes that you see in that long health and his second and final pilgrimage row of books named “The Complete from home.
Works of Robert Louis Stevenson,” but
it was never finished. On the third of III
December, 1894, after a particularly hapThe winter of 1887-8 was spent at py day, the end came without warning and Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks, where without pain. it was hoped that Stevenson might be cured of his lung trouble. He spent the days
IV out-of-doors in the intense cold of a mountain winter. What writing he was Tusitala, teller of tales, was dead. In able to do was sent to Scribner's Magazine this far-off country the exile had written and attracted the attention of S. S. books that will be read as long as the McClure, who offered the author $10,000 English language endures. He had also for a series of letters from the South Seas. made himself a sort of divinity to the And so, a few years after the story of the Samoans. Like the heroes of the old cruise of the Hispaniola had been written, myths and epics, he had told them stories the author of the story was fitting up a and had taught them the arts of life. He small ship in which to sail farther from showed them that it was better to work his Scottish home than Jim Hawkins ever their farms than to spend themselves in sailed from Devon, to a destination as feuds and petty wars. He was instrumenremote and mysterious, viewed from Edin- tal in securing the release of a number of burgh, as the treasure island itself. old Samoan chiefs who had been impris
In June, 1888, the yacht Casco sailed oned by Germany, England, and the through the Golden Gate. After a long United States because of an uprising. So cruise in the southern Pacific, the Steven- great was their love for him that they sons put in at Honolulu, where, six months built a road from Apia through the forests later, they took passage in a rough trad- and up the mountain to Vailima. They ing schooner en route for the myriads of called it “The Road of the Loving Heart,"