The Saranac Connection: Part I | News, Sports, Jobs

William Ernest Henley, the inspiration for Long John Silver. (Photo provided)

The Importance of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Often-Called Work “Adirondack Stay” is often underestimated or not understood by incompetent biographers where it is barely a footnote. The best discuss his literary achievements of that winter of 1887-88, namely, Scribner’s series of 12 essays and the first half of “The master of Ballantrae”, his first novel after “The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Also, there will be a few words about his relationship with his Adirondack doctor, Dr. EL Trudeau. For whatever reason, some of them choose to linger on the hiatus that winter between RLS and his longtime best friend and failed playwright, William Ernest Henley. Henley was a flamboyant character so when Stevenson fleshed out one of his famous literary villains he thought of him and after the post told Henley that “It was the sight of your mutilated strength (Henley had a strut from an amputation) and your mastery that spawned Long John Silver at Treasure Island.”

In March 1888, about a month before leaving Saranac Lake, Stevenson received a letter from Henley in England, in which the latter accused the wife of the former, Fanny Stevenson, of stealing news from Katharine DeMattos, Louis’ cousin. and Bob Stevenson’s sister.

Katharine and Bob were the children of Stevenson’s uncle, Alan Stevenson, the builder of the famous Skerryvore Lighthouse in the Irish Sea. Now Fanny had been falsely accused, because Katharine had given her permission to redo the story and since Fanny had apparently improved it, “The Nixie” appeared in the March 1888 issue of Scribners magazine which also featured her husband’s essay “Beggars,” one of 12 written by Baker. If being the wife of a famous author had anything to do with “The Nixie” with Scribner remains a subject of conjecture.

Stevenson was absolutely enraged by Henley’s accusation against his wife and he wasn’t Ted Cruz about it. Louis dumped him immediately and Henley never forgave him.

For Stevenson, it was an agonizing development as his letters show, and in the end he forgave Henley, but it was over nonetheless. Henley would never forgive, but instead, he nominated himself to be his ex-friend’s chief backstabber until the very end, even after Louis grew tropical daisies on top of his mountain in Oceania.

There is nothing unusual about friends breaking up, and you don’t have to be famous to do so. The fact that some writers prefer to explore Stevenson’s emotional state rather than Henley’s insensitivity to excluding or minimizing larger developments brings to mind the example of the art critic who could not see the situation in his together because he was too focused on a few brushstrokes. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because a lot of these academics are British and they blind themselves to the obvious because their Old World pride cannot or will not accept a farm. clapboard on the outskirts of a “American” The hamlet of Backwoods might never be the setting for a transformative scene in the life and career of a famous 19th century Victorian author, but it was.

How was it? Three factors converged or ‘connected’ in the existential experience known as Robert Louis Stevenson and in a fortuitous way, fate had brought him to Saranac Lake, a place he had never heard of, to let that happen. The day would come when William Ernest Henley bitterly summed up the events of the time by saying: “There were two Stevensons; the one who went to America in 1887 and the one who never came back.

The three ingredients that would come together at Saranac Lake to effect the transformation were: one, sudden wealth, two, better health, and three, a crazy new adventure for the author to pursue for the adventures of “Kidnapped,” one that would require numbers one and two to do so. For starters, it’s important to know that RLS during his lifetime was more popular in the United States than his native Scotland. They disowned him early on because of his colorful way of dressing and rebellious demeanor in an ultra-conservative society, but his big mistake was telling the truth in power regarding morality or the lack of it. , especially with women when he wrote his essay On Robert Burns, Poet and Symbol of National Pride. To quote Stevenson in the Adirondacks, an article by Livingston Chapman when he was secretary of the Stevenson Society of America at Saranac Lake in 1920:

“In his letters written from Saranac Lake, we can see how his financial situation improved because Stevenson, although an optimist, struggled to get along (most of the time) for a long time before that. To the credit of the United States, it must be said that they were the first nation to show full recognition and appreciation for his talent and by purchasing his writings to add to his depleted treasury and spread his fame.

This is all true, but he left out some important details. By 1887 Stevenson’s books featuring his classic tales and verses had sold millions in the United States, but he was not paid a dime for them. Back then, American publishers were sending agents overseas to research promising new literature to bring here to print and sell at 100% profit. It’s called theft – and since Congress had yet to pass a law to protect the interests of foreign authors, they could get away with it. So-called pirated editions of Stevenson’s works were commonplace across the country. It had started in 1878 when he was still “unknown.” During his first and dangerous voyage to the New World in 1879 as “The amateur emigrant”, Louis had gone to a New York bookstore to buy books on American history and do you think he was not surprised to see his second book, “Trips with a donkey”, for sale in there? Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president, bought several RLS pirated books and somehow ended up here in Saranac Lake, in the Stevenson Cabin.

This situation would have persisted if Stevenson had remained overseas. The timely death of his father, Thomas Stevenson, in the spring of 1887, was what started the ball rolling. This sparked the chain of events that would lead to Stevenson’s unexpected presence at Saranac Lake, five months later and a month into his transformation in New York City before he even left the Ludgate Hill steamboat ever since. London. On board he was surrounded by fans and journalists for the first time, making this day, September 7, 1887, the first day of the rest of his life, as the saying goes.

The timing of it all was crucial. Stevenson and his family were on their way to Colorado, and a stop in New York was to be just a typical tourist stopover. The first indication that this would not be typical was the sight of crowds of people fidgeting on the pier as their ship approached. Yes, Stevenson’s ship was coming, literally and figuratively. The city came to greet the author of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” just as the very first unauthorized stage production of it starring Richard Mansfield was due to premiere at the Madison Square Theater later in the week. The culture shock this Gothic horror novel had on the reading public was popular for some reason and within just a few short years the craze had spread around the world in hundreds of translations, and we are living today with Jekyll and Hyde as part of our cultural fabric.

To have arrived in the Big Apple when Stevenson’s fictional schizoid man in the 19th century was being talked about was too perfect a coincidence that reinforces the suspicion in some circles that RLS was held in high regard by a higher power, the same one that presumably saved his life on a camping trip to California eight years earlier. Henceforth, American publishers would no longer steal from Robert Louis Stevenson. Instead, they would stumble upon themselves to attack him with astronomical money offers.

From now on, Stevenson would finally be paid for his books by his biggest fan club, America. To appreciate this, you have to understand the context in which it happened. Until now, Louis had survived until the age of 36 because his father had supported him. With his medical issues, Louis could not be successful with his book sales in Britain and now, with Thomas leaving, the money would soon be gone too. His inheritance, limited to £ 3,000 by Scottish law, was a non-renewable commodity, a fact he no doubt reflected on aboard Ludgate Hill en route to Colorado with his family, including his mother.

What a relief her surprise reception in New York must have been for Louis, for with it relief from impending financial woes, to a degree he could never have imagined. He didn’t know it yet, but the new celebrity would soon be on her way to Saranac Lake to spend the winter adjusting to his new way of life, all while gazing at Andrew Baker’s blazing fireplace with the snow falling in. outside.

To be continued.

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