Stevenson, Robert Louis Balfour (1850-1894), Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet, who contributed several classic works to children’s literature. Born in Edinburgh, Stevenson studied engineering and then law at the University of Edinburgh. Since childhood, however, Stevenson’s natural inclination had been toward literature, and he eventually started writing seriously.
Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis and often traveled in search of warm climates to ease his illness. His earliest works are descriptions of his journeys—for example, An Inland Voyage (1878), about a canoe trip through Belgium and France in 1876, and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), an account of a journey on foot through mountains in southern France in 1878. In 1879 he traveled to California, where in 1880 he married Frances Osbourne, an American divorcée. They returned to Europe in 1880 but moved to Saranac Lake, New York, in 1887. In 1888 they sailed from San Francisco on a cruise across the South Pacific. In 1889 they settled in Samoa on the island of Upolu in a final effort to restore Stevenson’s health, but he died there five years later.
Stevenson’s popularity is based primarily on the exciting subject matter of his adventure novels and fantasy stories. Treasure Island (1883) is a swiftly paced story of a search for buried gold involving the boy hero Jim Hawkins and the evil pirates Pew and Long John Silver. In the horror story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), the extremes of good and evil appear startlingly in one character when the physician Henry Jekyll discovers a drug that changes him, first at will and later involuntarily, into the monster Hyde. Kidnapped (1886) recounts the adventures of young David Balfour and the proud outlaw Alan Breck. Stevenson’s other adventure stories include The Black Arrow (1888) and The Master of Ballantrae (1889).
Stevenson wrote skillfully in a variety of genres. He employed the forms of essay and literary criticism in Virginibus Puerisque (1881), Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882), and Memories and Portraits (1887). Also critically well received were such travel and autobiographical pieces as The Silverado Squatters (1883), which records Stevenson’s impressions of his stay at a California mining camp; Across the Plains (1892); and In the South Seas (1896). A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), containing some of Stevenson’s best-known poems, is regarded by many as one of the finest collections of poetry for children. His other verse collections include Underwoods (1887) and Ballads (1890). Stevenson’s short stories were published in The New Arabian Nights (1882) and Island Nights’ Entertainments (1893). He also collaborated with his stepson, American writer Lloyd Osbourne, in writing the novels The Wrong Box (1889) and The Wrecker (1892).