The Life Of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson
By Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez

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Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson during the English period. BY...


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ILLUSTRATED LONDON CHATTO & WINDUS 1920 Copyright, 1920, by Charles Scribner's Sons, for the United States of America Printed by the Scribner Press New York, U. S. A. TO ISOBEL FIELD IN TOKEN OF OUR COMMON LOVE FOR HER WHOSE LIFE STORY IS TOLD IN ITS PAGES THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED....


3 minute read

When I first set out to tell the life story of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson, I received the following letter from her old friend Mr. Bruce Porter: "Once when I urged your sister to set down the incidents of her life she listened, pondered, and then dismissed the suggestion as impossible, as her life had been like a dazed rush on a railroad express, and she despaired of recovering the incidental memories. The years with Stevenson have of course been adequately told, but the earlier period—Indianapolis and California—had a romance as stirring, even if sharpened by the American glare. This sharpness has already, for all of us, begun to fade, to take on the glamour of time and distance, and I cannot think of a better literary service than to make the fullest possible record now, before it utterly fades away." It was not only the difficulty of recalling events...


8 minute read

To arrive at a full understanding of the complex and unusual character of Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson, which perhaps played as large a part as her beauty and intellectual charm in drawing to her the affections of one of the greatest romance writers of our day, one must go back and seek out all the uncommon influences that combined to produce it—a long line of sturdy ancestors, running back to the first adventurers who left their sheltered European homes and sailed across the sea to try their fortunes in a wild, unknown land; her childhood days spent among the hardy surroundings of pioneer Indiana, with its hints of a past tropical age and its faint breath of Indian reminiscence; the early breaking of her own family ties and her fearless adventuring by way of the Isthmus of Panama to the distant land of gold, and her brave struggle against...


21 minute read

When Jacob Van de Grift arrived in Indianapolis in 1836 the first rawness of frontier life had passed away, and many of the comforts of civilization had made their way out from the East or up from New Orleans. When he married Esther Keen he took her to live in the little red house, which, as I have already said, he had built next door to Henry Ward Beecher's church, opposite the Governor's Circle. Seven children in all were granted to them, of whom the eldest, a daughter, was born on March 10, 1840, in this same little red house on the Circle. When the infant was two years old she and her mother were taken into the Second Presbyterian Church, and were baptized by Henry Ward Beecher in the White River, in the presence of a concourse of several thousand spectators. The record of this noteworthy occasion is still...


20 minute read

When at last the long voyage up the Western coast came to an end and the ship sailed into the broad bay of San Francisco, which lay serene and beautiful under the shadow of its towering guardian, Mount Tamalpais, Fanny Osbourne hung over the rail and surveyed the scene with eager interest. Yet it is altogether unlikely that any realization came to her then that the lively seaport town that lay before her was to become to her that magic thing we call "home," for men still regarded California as a place to "make their pile" in and then shake its dust from their feet. Her stay here was very brief, for her husband had gone at once to Nevada in the hope of getting a foothold in the silver-mines, which were then "booming," and she immediately followed him. From the level green corn-fields of Indiana, the land of her...


15 minute read

When they arrived on the other side, the Osbournes went directly to Antwerp, having decided to make a trial of that place first for their art studies. They landed at night in that most picturesque old city and took quarters at the Hotel du Bien-être , a quaint little old bourgeois inn where you walked in through the kitchen—full of copper pots and pans. It was in the days before "improvements"—broad avenues, street-cars, and the like—had robbed the old town of much of its distinctive charm, when at the corners of the narrow, stone-paved streets shrines of the Virgin and Child might still be seen. The passing crowds—peasant women in elaborate lace caps and long cloaks, groups of soldiers, milk carts drawn by dogs—all were intensely interesting to the newcomers from America, for whom this was the first foreign experience. The evening of their arrival they hung fascinated from their...


35 minute read

As the months passed, Stevenson, drawn by an irresistible desire to see the one who had become dearest in all the world to him, and having heard that she was soon to be freed from the bonds that held her to another, decided to take ship for America. After the long ocean voyage and the fatiguing journey from sea to sea, which he has himself so graphically described, he went straight to meet the family at Monterey. In the year 1879 there remained one spot in practical America where the Spirit of Romance still lingered, though even there she stood a-tiptoe, ready to take wing into the mists of the Pacific. It seems fitting that it should have been at that place that I first knew Robert Louis Stevenson. Although the passing of the years has dimmed the memory of those days to a certain degree, yet here and there...


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When the newly married pair reached Scotland all the fears of the American bride vanished like mist before the sun, for her husband's parents instantly took her to their hearts as though she had been their own choice. In The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson Sir Sidney Colvin says: "Of her new family Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson, brought thus strangely and from afar into their midst, made an immediate conquest. To her husband's especial happiness, there sprang up between her and his father the closest possible affection and confidence. Parents and friends, if it is permissible for one of the latter to say as much, rejoiced to recognize in Stevenson's wife a character as strong, as interesting, and romantic as his own; an inseparable sharer of all his thoughts, and staunch companion of all his adventures; the most open-hearted of friends to all who loved him, the most shrewd and...


55 minute read

After boarding the Ludgate Hill , the tramp steamship on which they had taken passage for New York, chiefly on account of her unusually spacious cabins, they discovered, somewhat to their discomfiture, that the cargo, listed by the agent as "notions," really consisted largely of live stock—horses to be taken on at Havre, and a consignment of monkeys. All their party were of the sort, however, who have a "heart for any fate," so they agreed to regard this as only an added adventure. As it turned out, they were not disappointed, for, as the elder Mrs. Stevenson writes, "It was very amusing and like a circus to see the horses come on board," while Jocko, a large ape, which soon struck up a warm friendship with Mr. Stevenson, furnished them with a vast amount of entertainment. The exceptional freedom which they enjoyed on board, too, more than counterbalanced any...


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It was in Samoa that the word "home" first began to have a real meaning for these gypsy wanderers, lured on as they had been half round the world in their quest of the will-o'-the-wisp, health. Having bought the land, which lay on rising ground about three miles from the town of Apia, it was then necessary to find the money to build a house on it. After some thought, Mrs. Stevenson suggested that they might sell Skerryvore in England, and thus turn the one house directly into the other. As Skerryvore had been a gift to her from her father-in-law, Louis said, "But this money is yours," and he then said he would make it all right by leaving her the Samoan place in his will, which he did, "with all that it contained." The next thing was to choose a name, and they finally decided upon the native...


44 minute read

As the slow, empty days passed, the weight of her sorrow bore more and more heavily upon her and she grew steadily weaker. Finally, the doctors said the only thing was change, so, in April, 1895, she set sail with her family for San Francisco. On the way a stop was made in Honolulu, where Mrs. Stevenson was deeply distressed to find the provisional government in control and her old friend, Queen Liliuokalani, imprisoned. The deposed queen was kept in Iolani Palace under close guard, and ostensibly debarred from all visitors, but one must presume the guard not to have been so strict as it seemed, for Mrs. Stevenson was able to gain entrance and secure an audience with the royal prisoner through the not very dignified avenue of the kitchen-door of the palace. When she gave expression to her profound sympathy and indignation at the turn affairs had taken,...


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For six months or more before Mrs. Stevenson's departure for England in 1898, she had been suffering severely from an illness which finally necessitated a surgical operation. This operation, which was a very critical one and brought her within the valley of the shadow for a time, was performed in London by Sir Frederick Treves, the noted surgeon and physician to the King. Treves asked no fee, saying that he considered it a privilege to give this service to the widow of Stevenson. While the family were in Dorking, where they had taken a house for the summer, Mrs. Strong received a letter of sympathy from Mrs. Stevenson's old friend, Henry James, which is so characteristic that I am impelled to quote it: " Dear Mrs. Strong : "I have been meaning each day to write to you again and tell you how much, in these days, I am with...


22 minute read

Eight years, divided between the house "like a fort on a cliff" in San Francisco and the sylvan solitude of the little ranch tucked away in its corner in the mountains of the Holy Cross, slipped by happily enough. Now and again the wandering mood came back, but, except for one visit to France and England, Mrs. Stevenson confined her journeyings to the American continent. One of these excursions led her to Mexico—a country that she found more interesting than any she had ever visited in Europe. Sometimes I think this may have been because of some primitive element in her own nature that responded to the traditions of that strange land—so aged in history, so young in civilization—but, anyway, she told me that she felt a genuine thrill there such as she had never experienced in any of the historic places of the Old World. At the tomb of...


11 minute read

Of all the beautiful places of the earth where it was Fanny Stevenson's good fortune to set up her household gods at various times, perhaps the loveliest of all was this spot on the peaceful shore of the sunset sea, under the patronage of the noble lady, Saint Barbara. In the Samoan gardens tropical flowers flamed under the hot rays of the vertical sun; in San Francisco geraniums and fuchsias rejoiced and grew prodigiously in the salt sea fog; but at Santa Barbara, where north and south meet, the plants of every land thrive as though native born. The scarlet hibiscus, child of the tropics, grows side by side with the aster of northern climes; the bougainvillæa flings out its purple sprays in close neighbourhood to the roses of old England; the sweet-william, dear to the hearts of our grandmothers, blooms in rich profusion in the shade of the pomegranate;...