Thursday, October 9, 2014

Finding Robert Louis Stevenson

Town of Saranac Lake
On a recent trip to Saranac Lake, NY, our favourite vacation spot in the Adirondack Mountains, I toured the Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage & Museum. Its four small rooms contain the world's finest collection of Stevenson memorabilia.

When I think of Robert Louis Stevenson I hear my dad reading Treasure Island to us as children, but I also remember some of Stevenson's poetry, particularly My Shadow, the first verse of which I still know by heart.

"I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head,
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed."

The Baker farmhouse. The Stevensons rented the section on the east side.

Robert Louis Stevenson rented part of this house, then owned by the Baker family, in 1887 when he came to Saranac Lake seeking a cure for what his doctors thought was tuberculosis.

In 1884 Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau had founded the first successful sanatorium in the US for the treatment of TB at Saranac Lake, and the town became the Pioneering Health Resort in the 1870s. Thousands of TB sufferers flocked to Saranac Lake for the tuberculosis cure, which featured lots of fresh air, a nutritious diet, a positive outlook, and long hours spent resting outdoors, even during the winter when they bundled up and slept outside on the porches.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850, Robert Louis Stevenson was the acclaimed author of Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1886). He was already famous when he sailed into New York Harbour from Bournemouth, England, bound for the clean mountain air of Saranac Lake.

Stevenson's writing desk in the cottage.

While he was living in Saranac Lake, Stevenson wrote twelve essays as the Scribner's series The Master of Ballantrae and The Wrong Box. 

RLS's smoking jacket, a sprig of heather in the pocket. 

Fireplace in the Stevenson cottage. Although RLS spent many hours writing in bed,
propped up on pillows, the mantle on the fireplace is scarred
  where Stevenson left cigarettes burning.  

Stevenson's wife Fanny found the mountain air very cold, and she writes of going to Montreal "to buy extraordinary garments made by the Canadian Indians."  She returned with buffalo skins, snow shoes, and fur caps.

"Louis wants to have his photograph taken in his, hoping to pass for a mighty hunter or sly trapper. He is now more like the hardy mountaineers, taking long walks on the hill tops in all seasons and weather." He also enjoyed skating on the ice of nearby Moody Pond.

A seasoned world traveller, it is said of Stevenson that always fancied himself a hunter, although he also dreamed of living in the South Seas. He prospered financially from his writing, and when he died in 1894 at the age of forty-four, he was living in the Samoan Islands.

Under a 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 the sea.

And the hunter home from the hill.

Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)

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