Skip to main content

When Robert Louis Stevenson Was One Of Us

May 2024
21min read

Out of an agonizing American experience, the frail Scots author mined a treasure and carried it away with him



Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Scotland and spent the last years of his life in Samoa, but for a year he lived in California, and that year was a turning point in his life. It is not too much to say that he belongs at least as much to us as he does to Scotland or to Samoa.

Even today Americans who love books remember that Stevenson was often sick as a child “and lay abed,” tenderly cared for by his affluent and loving family. But few know that in August 1879 he traveled from Scotland to California, desperately sick and by his own choice almost penniless. He was in pursuit of Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, an American woman whom he had loved for three years and would marry in California.

No man is any use,” Stevenson wrote, “until he has dared everything.” He left for America to pursue Fanny without a word to his parents.

Stevenson had first met Fanny in 1876 at Grez, an artists’ colony in the Forest of Fontainebleau, near Paris, that he visited often while traveling through Europe. She had been separated from her philandering husband, Sam Osbourne, and had moved to France, but Osbourne was with her then, having rushed to her side when their youngest child died. In the summer of 1877 Fanny and Stevenson were again together at Grez, without Osbourne, and were in love. By 1878 all their friends and his family knew that they were lovers. Stevenson’s intentions were honorable, but Fanny was of two minds. Whatever Sam’s failings as a husband, he was a devoted and affectionate father to their two surviving children, Isobel and Samuel Lloyd. Stevenson was appealing and talented; he had written some essays and short stories and a book of travel, An Inland Voyage, that Henry James had called “charming,” but so far his yearly income was no more than a hundred pounds, and he spent it as fast as he earned it. He was as dependent on his family as a child. In fact, he was like a child, a sickly child who had always been supported and guided by apprehensive and adoring parents.

Yet he was now in his late twenties. If he was fit to marry Fanny Osbourne, he realized, he must prove that he could survive on his own. “No man is any use,” he wrote, “until he has dared everything.” The situation came to a climax when Sam Osbourne withdrew his financial support of his wife. In an agony of indecision Fanny left for California and returned to her husband; there, with worry and stress mounting, she fell ill. She sent Stevenson a cable that stirred him to leave posthaste to join her. On August 7, 1879, he set sail from Port Clyde, Glasgow, without a word to his parents. He would not ask them for help or risk a scene. Later, one of his Songs of Travel, entitled “Youth and Love,” recalled the moment of decision:


Hail and farewell! I must arise, Leave here the fatted cattle, And paint on foreign lands and skies My Odyssey of battle . . . .

Determined not to be “a consistent first-class passenger in life,” he took with him very little of this world’s goods: a change of clothes, an ulster, thick boots, a broad-brimmed hat, and a steamer rug in which were wrapped six volumes of American history. He would travel second class on the Devonia, whose steerage carried emigrants. His quarters on board would be cramped and comfortless, but he wanted them so. He hoped to find a publisher in New York for something written en route that could bring in a few dollars. If Fanny did not meet him in New York, he would go on by the cheapest train, hoping to reach San Francisco with a little money still in his pocket.

In The Amateur Emigrant, published in 1895, Stevenson told about his ten-day voyage aboard the Devonia. The ship met with high seas and heavy rain for most of the crossing: “The engine pounded, the screw tossed out of the water with a roar, and shook the ship from end to end; the bows battled with loud reports against the billows.” In the hellhole of steerage, close to his second-class cabin, men, women, and children were packed in like animals, “more or less unwashed, lying immersed together in the same close air all night, and their litter of meat, dirty dishes and rank bedding tumbled all day together in foul disorder.”

Stevenson spent the better part of each day writing, but he also joined in the life of the steerage passengers as if he were one of them, and because of the filth to which he was exposed or because of nervous strain, he developed a maddening itch on his hands and lost fourteen pounds. At five foot ten, he now weighed 105 pounds. He approached New York in a pitiable condition.

There was a faint hope that his journey would end quickly. Fanny might have returned to her parents’ home in Indiana; she might even meet him when he landed. If not, he wondered whether he could bear it. But he looked for Fanny among the crowds at the dock in vain.

There was to come a time when Stevenson would, in his own words, “adore America,” but his first impression could hardly have been worse. He was tormented by the itch and was feverish from lack of sleep. The rain fell in such torrents that he was soaked to the skin as he hurried about New York all day long, “to banks, post-offices, railway offices, restaurants, publishers, booksellers, money-changers,” and he had got bad news at the post office. Fanny was critically ill in Monterey, south of San Francisco; it seemed to be “inflammation of the brain.” A modern diagnosis might have suggested acute migraine or epilepsy, but this is not at all certain. There were to be periods throughout Fanny’s life when her senses blurred because of illness. In 1879 anxiety and stress must have contributed to her condition.


Stevenson knew now that he must indeed “push on far by rail,” and he wrote to his friend Sidney Colvin, “I go on my way tonight, if I can; if not, tomorrow: emigrant train ten to fourteen days’ journey; warranted extreme discomfort.”

Discomfort was too mild a word. Stevenson never fully recovered from the effects of the trip that followed. After a sleepless night on the floor of a room in a cheap hotel in New York, he joined a dense crowd of men, women, and children being tunneled through a long, dark, and windy shed into a ferryboat for Jersey City. “Driven stupidly crazy” by their fatigue and confusion, the mob of passengers panicked when they reached Jersey City. Stevenson, exhausted, sat down on his valise to wait for the doors of the emigrant train to be unlocked.

He sat up all that night in the train. Because of some accident farther along the line, there were no meals the next day, but RLS felt “like a man who had come into a rich estate”: the sun was shining, the Pennsylvania hills charmed him, and he fell in love with the name Susquehanna. This euphoria passed. By the time the train reached Ohio, Stevenson was so tired he no longer knew who he was.

It was night again when the passengers reached Chicago and were transferred to another crowded train. Stevenson sank down onto a seat “like a bundle of rags,” nearly fainting.

At Council Bluffs, Iowa, a third train awaited the westbound emigrants, and the passengers were reshuffled. Families were put into one car. Another was entirely filled with Chinese, the only men aboard who kept themselves clean, Stevenson noted. White men, like Stevenson, overflowed a third car. Wooden boards and straw-filled pads could be bought to make rough bunks of the seats, and on these bunks the men lay two by two at night, snoring or tossing restlessly. RLS found the floor preferable. On the floor at least he could breathe. In Nebraska, to get the fresh air his lungs craved, he climbed to the roof of a freight car and sat by the hour while the train crawled over the unchanging plains.

In spite of the crowd in the men’s car, in spite of his unquenchable friendliness, it was a lonely trip. One day, as they crossed Nebraska, Stevenson felt so ill he could swallow nothing but tea and enough laudanum to give him an hour or so of sleep. Incredibly, his fellow passengers thought this funny and played practical jokes on him. He wrote to his friend Sidney Colvin, “I smile rather sickly at their jests.” These men were “mostly lumpish fellows,” many of them “broken men,” European or American, who had already failed several times farther east; some were chronic drinkers. Perhaps it entertained them to see this Scot stretched out unconscious after a drink from his little bottle.

Stevenson seldom realized how strange he looked. He was unnaturally thin, refused to wear the conventional clothes bought for him by his parents, and chose instead odds and ends so bizarre that most people took him for a lunatic or a tramp. But however he appeared, he knew he was a gentleman. At home in Edinburgh his speech and manner marked him as a gentleman. He was the son of the eminent Mr. Thomas Stevenson, a gentleman. But the word meant something more to him; it meant gentleness, kindness. He cared very much about kindness. Now it partly amused and partly mystified him that coarse and uncouth Americans saw nothing in him but a comical scarecrow. Two men on the train even refused to share a bunk with him. Yet time and time again, after giving him harsh or arrogant words, Americans gave him kindness. He spoke of it as “that uncivil kindness of Americans.”

From Ogden, Utah, the travelers had a newer and cleaner train, but desert alkali, sand, and burning heat were nearly killing Stevenson. He had almost reached the limit of his endurance when the emigrant train began to descend the slopes through California’s fragrant pine forests and over rushing mountain rivers. “All the passengers on board threw off their sense of dirt and heat and weariness and bawled like schoolboys, and thronged with shining eyes upon the platform, and became new creatures within and without.” On August 30, 1879, Stevenson crossed San Francisco Bay by ferry. He saw ships loaded with gold and wheat for the ports of the whole world. The sun shone on Mount Tamalpais. “The air seemed to awaken, and began to sparkle. . . . The Bay was lit from end to end with summer daylight.”

Full of renewed strength and hope, Stevenson took the first available train to Salinas and a narrow-gage from there to Monterey, the picturesque little Spanish-Mexican town that had once been the capital of California. He found Fanny in a pleasant house owned by the respectable Señora Bonifacio.

The woman he had come so far to find was no beauty by any standards his parents could have understood. Instead of being patrician, young, tall, slender, and fair, she was plain Hoosier, forty, short, and dumpy, her skin swarthy. Her curly dark hair was turning gray, and she had cut it short. She smoked cigarettes, and she took off her shoes and stockings at the least excuse. Stevenson adored her. Years later he wrote of her:

Dark as a wayside gypsy, Lithe as a hedgewood hare, She moves a glowing shadow Through the sunshine of the fair;

And golden hue and orange, Bosom and hand and head She blooms, a tiger lily, In the snowdrift of the bed . . . .

Fanny had first been called a tiger lily by her staid Presbyterian family in Indianapolis. They regretted her dark skin and her tomboy ways, but despite these defects, she was an acknowledged beauty in her teens. S. S. McClure, the American publisher, admired her exotic looks in later years and gave her credit for much more: “a wealth of experience, a reach of imagination, a sense of humor ... a fair-mindedness, a large judgment, a robust . . . philosophy of life.” She lived her life with great intensity and had a fiery temper. Stevenson once called her “a violent friend, a brimstone enemy.”


At Monterey, Fanny was surrounded by the group that was to be Stevenson’s adopted family for the rest of his life. Nellie Van de Grift, Fanny’s young sister, was being courted by Adolfo Sanchez, a wellborn and delightful man who, for want of a better job, ran a local saloon. Fanny’s daughter, Isobel, known as Belle, resembled her mother both in appearance and in her choice of a suitor. She had just made a runaway marriage with a talented but penniless artist, Joe Strong. The youngest member of the family, Sam—known by his middle name, Lloyd—was a tall, gangling, blond boy of twelve; he mattered most in the question of his mother’s divorce. Nellie and Isobel were no longer children, but Lloyd could still be torn apart by rough handling. He had sincerely loved Stevenson since their first meeting at Grez three years before. Now he might see this friend as the villain of the piece in the breakup of his mother’s marriage. Stevenson resolved to do his best for Lloyd.

But it seemed for a while that there might be no divorce. Sam Osbourne still saw Fanny on occasional weekend visits, and Lloyd once heard her say through a closed door, “Oh, Sam, forgive me!” After an emotional reunion with RLS in Señora Bonifacio’s parlor, Fanny had second thoughts. She was appalled at his extreme emaciation and obvious illness; she soon found that he had voluntarily cut himself off from his one dependable source of income, his parents. Fanny was not at all mercenary, but she might still need to help Nellie and Belle, and Lloyd was completely dependent on her. Having summoned her lover from the other side of the world, Fanny now put him off while she thought about her situation.

Stevenson was baffled. He wrote with wry humor to his Scottish friend Charles Baxter: “My news is nil. I know nothing. I go out camping . . . and now say goodbye to you, having had the itch and a broken heart.” He hired a horse and a buckboard, intending to spend a week or so in the mountains above Carmel Valley. But he had overestimated his strength. On the second day of his camping trip he fell under a pine tree, and he lay there half-conscious for two nights, with goat bells and tree toads sounding like some crazy hallucination in his ears. He was found by Jonathan Wright, a retired man, now a goat herder, who carried Stevenson to the cabin where he lived with a friend, Capt. Anson Smith.

As soon as RLS was able to write again, he worked on a poem that was to be called “Requiem.” We know that he expected to die, but we do not know “where he longed to be.” Perhaps it was Scotland; perhaps he thought of a grave in the Santa Lucia hills of California. In 1879 he wrote three verses, each with this refrain:

Bury me low and let me lie Under the wide and starry sky Joying to live, I joyed to die, Bury me low and let me lie.

Five years later in the south of France, he wrote the final version, which became perhaps his best-known poem:

Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be, Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.

During the two weeks of his convalescence, Stevenson gave reading lessons to the “ranch children,” two little girls whose ill mother was away from home. A less patient and warmhearted man would have turned his face to the wall, but RLS could never say no to a child. He sat up in bed, paper and pencil in hand, a robe over his knees, as Augustus Saint-Gaudens was later to picture him on a famous medallion. Stevenson had a lively and resonant voice, astonishing in one whose lungs were so delicate, and he made learning into play.

The newlyweds needed a place where they could live rent-free; they found a bunkhouse at an abandoned California mine called Silverado.

At the end of the two weeks he was able to return to Monterey, looking more than ever like a tramp. There he found that Fanny had made up her mind. She could not give him up; she would go through with the divorce. Presumably the grounds were Sam’s various infidelities. It was uncontested.


Meanwhile, Stevenson’s daily visits to Fanny raised problems at Monterey; landladies there were dubious about renting a room to a man with a rash. At last he found a pleasant room in the French Hotel, a two-story adobe house. The room was small and cheap, only fortyfive cents a day, but it was clean and comfortable. Light poured in from a balcony that looked down on a warm and aromatic garden on the sheltered landward side of the house. The other side faced the sea; the distant roar of the waves could always be heard “in the clean, empty rooms of Monterey as in a shell upon the chimney.” Stevenson’s letters and essays from this time were full of the sea: “The waves come in slowly, vast and green, curve their translucent necks, and burst with a surprising uproar, that runs, waxing and waning, up and down the long keyboard of the beach.” He and Lloyd walked for miles, skirting the beaches among the strangely contorted live oaks and seaswept pines. They shared their excitement when an old coin was dug up and there was talk in the town about buried treasure.

The circumstances of his leaving California healed old wounds. By the time he visited America again, he was rich and famous.

When an explanation to the twelve-year-old boy could be postponed no longer, RLS chose the beach for the crucial conversation. One afternoon he asked Lloyd to go for a walk. As Lloyd remembered it years later, they tramped silently, side by side, for some time. At last Stevenson, with perfect tact and straightforward sympathy, said, “I want to tell you something. You may not like it, but I hope you will. I am going to marry your mother.” Lloyd could find no words for an answer. A few moments later he put his hand into that of his friend. A pact of confidence and loyalty had been sealed for a lifetime.

Stevenson tried to hide his anxiety from Fanny, but it came out in his letters to friends in Scotland and London: “At times I get terribly frightened about my work, which seems to advance too slowly. I hope soon to have a greater burthen to support, and must make money a great deal quicker than I used.” He was working obsessively and begging his friends to find publishers for his manuscripts, but no one at home wanted him to succeed in California. His friends were convinced that his only salvation lay in the failure of the whole American adventure. Money arrived only in driblets, and letters were full of criticism. It was all calculated to break his spirit and bring him home. But nothing could do that. However unconventional his relationship to Fanny had been so far, Stevenson was committed heart and soul to supporting her in a totally orthodox way. “What else should I do?” he wrote to Colvin. “Do I not want to have all rights to protect my darling?” He also meant to protect Lloyd, and even Nellie and Belle if need be. Furthermore, he might, at long last, become a father himself.

In the middle of October Fanny took Nellie and Lloyd to the house Sam Osbourne still owned jointly with her in Oakland. Her divorce became final on December 15, 1879, and Stevenson moved to San Francisco to be closer to her. He found a cheap room in a decent boardinghouse run by an Irish pair, William and Mary Carson, at 608 Bush Street.

In January he wrote to Colvin in cheerful spirits about the schedule and budget he had set up for himself: “Any time between eight and half-past nine in the morning, a slender gentleman in an ulster, with a volume buttoned into the breast of it, may be observed leaving No. 608 Bush and descending Powell with an active step.” He was on his way to a ten-cent breakfast of coffee, roll, and butter. A noon dinner was fifty cents, and supper duplicated the breakfast menu. Otherwise, he worked alone from morning until almost midnight or took solitary walks, often sitting in the sunshine of Portsmouth Square on the edge of Chinatown.

After Fanny’s divorce the lovers intended to postpone their marriage for a decent interval, but Stevenson made friends even in his solitude. In Portsmouth Square children gathered around him while he told them stories. Fanny came from Oakland when she could, and RLS saw her at the homes of artist friends like Dora and Virgil Williams, who arranged for Stevenson to use the library of the prestigious Bohemian Club. Other congenial souls gathered in the studio of Joe and Isobel Strong. Stevenson enjoyed an occasional meal there, and whenever he had a little money he returned their hospitality with a dinner at one of the many small, good, and inexpensive restaurants for which San Francisco was already famous.

The Carsons’ two little boys became special friends. RLS wrote to Colvin, “The youngest child of his landlady remarks several times a day, as this strange occupant enters or quits the house, ‘Dere’s de author.’” Robbie, aged four, was old enough to carry up the mail to the boarder in the second-floor front room, announcing, “Here, author, is some letters.”


As another month passed, Stevenson’s self-imposed penury took its toll. Not willing to use available family funds, he no longer allowed himself his fifty-cent dinner but had to find one for a quarter. The time came when the morning and evening meals were too expensive. Yet when Fanny came to see him, he was full of jokes and animated chatter. The situation had all the romantic irony of a tragic play: He too proud to take his parents’ help but nonetheless hoping against hope that his Scottish friends would tell them of his plight; his parents, grieved by his disregard for their standards and feelings, longing for a letter from their son; his friends sure they knew what was best for him.

In March 1880 there was an epidemic of influenza and pneumonia. Stevenson wrote to Colvin: “My landlord and landlady’s little four-year-old is dying in this house; and O what he has suffered! It has really affected my health. O never, never any family for me! I am cured of that.” Dora Williams later wrote, “He sat up with the child night after night and would bring me daily bulletins of his condition.” RLS was sure that the doctor was neglecting Robbie. But Robbie recovered; it was Stevenson who, in March, came close to death, as the result of long nights of nursing Robbie. In his sickness—high fever, coughing, cold sweats, and complete prostration—he harked back to his childhood. “Death is no bad friend,” he wrote, “a few aches and gasps, and we are done; like the truant child, I am beginning to grow weary and timid in this big, jostling city, and could run to my nurse, even though she should have to whip me before putting me to bed.”

In spite of Stevenson’s best efforts at concealment, Fanny eventually discovered the whole state of his affairs. As soon as he could be moved, she found a room for him at a hotel in Oakland. Soon afterward he had one of the hemorrhages that were to threaten his life repeatedly in the coming years. With sweeping disregard of what Oakland might think, Fanny brought RLS to her own house and, although she was not yet strong herself, began the nursing care that was never to relax as long as he lived.

She installed Stevenson in the parlor at 554 East Eighteenth Street. From his bed he looked out through the rose-covered piazza of the white frame cottage, along the garden path, to the dusty road and the pleasant rural scene beyond. There were cats and two dogs, of which Chuchu, “a setter crossed with a spaniel,” was Lloyd’s favorite pet. RLS welcomed pets and children into his room. As his health improved, he began to play a game with the younger generation. It was a sort of round-robin storytelling in which Lloyd inevitably twisted the plot to an adventure on the sea.

Stevenson was at last able to sit out in the garden. Meanwhile, Edinburgh friends had told the senior Stevensons that their son was desperately in need of help, and a telegram came from them: “Count on two hundred and fifty pounds annually.” RLS found out then that his parents had twice sent money, which had never arrived. At any rate the worst of his troubles were now over. On May 19, 1880, he and Fanny were married in a private ceremony.

It seemed unlikely that Stevenson would live through another year, and a honeymoon of lovemaking was probably out of the question. He later wrote to a friend in Scotland, “It was not my bliss that I was interested in when I was married; it was a sort of marriage in extremis; and if I am where I am, it is thanks to the care of that lady, who married me when I was a mere complication of cough and bones, much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom.” Fanny set off with him on her wedding trip more as a nurse than as a bride. Lloyd soon joined them.

They went first to the Springs Hotel, at Calistoga, in the Napa Valley, below Mount St. Helena. Calistoga was highly recommended by invalids who went there to bathe in the hot springs, but the Stevensons could not afford to stay there for long. They needed a place where they could live rent-free and found one on the mountain at an abandoned mine called Silverado. There stood a derelict bunkhouse, a forge, and debris from the mine. Not far away were a few buildings, the remains of a once flourishing mining town. The mine site was to be the setting of The Silverado Squatters, one of Stevenson’s most vivid pieces of writing about his American adventure.

Stevenson wrote to a friend that the scene of Treasure Island, which began in play with Lloyd, was part California, part imagination.

The bunkhouse had three rooms, stacked against the side of the mountain. It faced a platform of earth as flat and bare as a stage, looking forth “into a great realm of air, and down upon tree-tops and hill-tops, and far and near on wild and varied country.” “A great streaming gale” poured ceaselessly over the mountain, and Stevenson hoped that in this mountain hermitage, if anywhere, he could be well again.

The first day at Silverado was strenuous. It was “a world of wreck and rust, splinters and rolling gravel.” Physically Stevenson could do little; as a handyman he was hopelessly inefficient. Apparently Fanny did not expect much help from Lloyd either and ended by clearing out the rubbish herself. Nothing more could be done until their trunks and boxes and some hay for mattresses were carted up the mountain, but as night fell, no wagons had appeared. The “squatters” had eaten their picnic lunch hours before and were famished. Halfway down the mountain was a tollhouse; since neither Fanny nor Lloyd had any sense of “locality,” Stevenson set off in the gathering dusk to buy some bread and perhaps get some news about the missing baggage. In his pocket was Lloyd’s watch, a treasured possession. The chain was broken, and Lloyd had given him the watch for safekeeping.

Stevenson bought the bread and, as he wrote, “returned up the trail, a breathing wreck, the mere offal of myself.” Since the hay had not arrived, there was nothing to do but settle their bones against the cold, bare wooden boards of the bunks and make the best of it. At that point RLS discovered that Lloyd’s watch was missing.


“Lloyd’s face became a picture. ... I saw myself face to face with another excursion down the canyon, not to speak of coming up again, and a hunt by lantern light for an object about two inches and a half in circumference.” But down he went without hesitation, bent over, searching every foot of the way, until against all probability he saw the watch lying in the path not far above the tollhouse.

At last they were settled, each with his own chosen activities. In the mornings at Silverado Stevenson was the first up and would carry a bucket of fresh water from the spring, make porridge and coffee, and split some kindling. This ended his work for the day. Lloyd did no work except for “some nightmare encounters over Euclid and the Latin Grammar,” which seem to have left him relatively unscarred but sent his kind tutor to bed in a state of collapse. It was Fanny, a born camper, who nailed white calico across the empty door and window frames, shutting out the wind but leaving the old bunkhouse full of light and air. She contrived furniture, cooked appetizing meals, and made Silverado an appealing home, “with the beds made, the plates on the rack, the pail of bright water behind the door, the stove crackling in a corner, and perhaps the table roughly laid against a meal.”

Lloyd installed a toy printing press in the top room of the bunkhouse and became expert enough to think he might someday print real books for real money. The printing press had come supplied with several cuts that could be used to illustrate stories of the Wild West. The following winter in Switzerland, Lloyd was to collaborate with RLS on a tiny volume of poems and new woodcuts printed on the toy press. The book, Not I and Other Poems, is among the rarest of all Stevensoniana.

Their greatest collaboration lay ahead. There came a dreary day in Scotland in the rainy summer of 1881 when RLS drew the map of a “treasure island” to amuse Lloyd. Later they disagreed about which of them had really started the map, but certainly Stevenson finished it. As he pored over it, “the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting, and hunting treasure. ... It was to be a story for boys, no need of psychology or fine writing; and I had a boy at hand to be a touchstone.” He also had his memories of the beaches where he had so often walked at Monterey; later he wrote to Sidney Colvin that the scene of Treasure Island was part California, part imagination. The dedication to Samuel Lloyd Osbourne read: “To S. L. O., an American gentleman, in accordance with whose classic taste the following narrative has been designed, it is now, in return for numerous delightful hours, and with the kindest wishes dedicated by his affectionate friend, THE AUTHOR.” Other boys would see some “treasure island” of their own, but Lloyd would always see RLS and Monterey. So out of the long hard American year of 1879 to 1880 Stevenson had mined the treasure and carried it away with him.


The circumstances of his leaving California healed old wounds. His father and mother were begging him to bring Fanny home, and Fanny’s sensitive, tactful letters to the elder Stevensons prepared the way for a happy meeting. They left by train, traveling first class, and sailed from New York on August 7, 1880, a year to the day after his hurried departure from Scotland.

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.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.