Reference Entry

Stevenson, Robert Louis

in American National Biography Online

ISBN: 9780195146561
Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697
Stevenson, Robert Louis

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writer, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Thomas Stevenson, a civil engineer, and Margaret Isabella Balfour. An only child, Stevenson was chronically ill throughout his childhood. His nurse Alison Cunningham, to whom he dedicated A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), both entertained and frightened him with stories of Scottish martyrs that left him with a lifelong fascination with folklore and diablerie. Stevenson’s family was famous for lighting the coastline of Scotland (his grandfather Robert built the Bell Rock lighthouse), and he himself spent time as a young man of nineteen on Earraid, off Mull (“Memoirs of an Islet,” 1887), where his father supervised the construction of the Dhu Heartach lighthouse (Records of a Family of Engineers, 1896). Earraid was the model island for a stunning story of the sea, “The Merry Men” (1882), and the island later reappeared as the site of David Balfour’s marooning in Kidnapped (1886). Although Stevenson was bound to study engineering on entering Edinburgh University in 1867, he quickly separated himself from the family tradition. To appease his father he agreed to study law, and in 1875 he passed the bar and became an advocate. Although he never practiced, he still made immeasurable use of his legal scholarship.

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