Robert Louis Stevenson

On this date in 1850, poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Probably suffering from lifelong tuberculosis, Robert, as a frail, often bed-ridden child, let his imagination soar. Stevenson's classic A Child's Garden of Verses perfectly evokes childhood. Stevenson studied law, took the bar in 1875, but never practiced due to ill health. His early rejection of Christianity created a schism with his father, a fanatical Scots Presbyterian, who raged at his son, the "orrible atheist," as Stevenson wrote his friend Charles Baxter (cited in Who's Who in Hell by Warren Allen Smith). Escaping to London, Stevenson began contributing to leading magazines. He also traveled despite frail health. A walking trip in France produced Travels with a Donkey in Cervenne (1878). His first novel, An Island Voyage (1878), was followed by Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped. Stevenson specialized in adventure and often dipped into the macabre, explaining: "But we are so fond of life that we have no leisure to entertain the terror of death. It is a honeymoon with us all through, and none of the longest. Small blame to us if we give our whole hearts to this glowing bride of ours, to the appetites, to honour, to the hungry curiosity of the mind, to the pleasure of the eyes in nature, and the pride of our own nimble bodies" ("Aes Triplex").

In search of a healthful climate, Stevenson, who married in 1880, sailed to Samoa in 1888 with his widowed mother as part of the entourage. Daily prayers were conducted at his house there, apparently at the request of his mother. Two biographers concluded that Stevenson, while not wishing to affiliate with rationalist groups, was an agnostic. Biographer F. Watt (R.L.S., 1913) wrote that Stevenson "was destitute of fixed creed or belief, and that he is properly described as an Agnostic." In The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1994, a love letter included a touching line: "I believe in you as others believe in the Bible" (cited in Who's Who in Hell). Stevenson died of a brain hemorrhage in Samoa. Although his family erected a tomb with some religious references, one side carries a bronze plaque with Stevenson's lovely and secular poem, "Requiem": "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 long'd to be;/ Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/ And the hunter home from the hill." D. 1894.

“I am religious in my own way, but I am hardly brave enough to interpose a theory of my own between life and death. Here both our creeds and our philosophies seem to me to fail.”

—Robert Louis Stevenson, quoted by biographer A. Johnston, R.L. Stevenson in the Pacific, cited in A Biographical Dictionary of Rationalists by Joseph McCabe.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

Contribute to Nonbelief Relief

FFRF privacy statement