Robert Louis Stevenson - 10 things you didn’t know

Hamish McKee unveils an RLS statue in Colinton last month. Picture: Greg Macvean
Hamish McKee unveils an RLS statue in Colinton last month. Picture: Greg Macvean
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As we prepare to celebrate Robert Louis Stevenson Day, here are ten things you didn’t know about one of the Capital’s favourite authors.

• He may have invented the sleeping bag in his late 20s as he travelled solo through the Cévennes mountains in France, with only a donkey named Modestine for company. Among the luggage carried by Modestine was a prototype sleeping bag devised by RLS himself.

• He had wooden teeth. Such was the dismal state of dental care in the 18th century that whilst in San Francisco RLS had his rotten teeth removed and replaced with false wooden ones.

• St Giles wouldn’t allow him to smoke A large bronze panel commemorating his work was erected in the Moray Aisle in St Giles’ Cathedral in 1904, showing him sitting down with a blanket over his legs and holding a quill. The original design showed the chain-smoking writer holding a cigarette but it was changed because the habit was considered inappropriate. You can see a picture of the original plaque in the Writers’ Museum.

• Robert Louis Stevenson’s only criminal conviction throughout his life was for throwing snowballs as a student.

• Long John Silver stayed at the Royal Infirmary. Treasure Island character Long John Silver was based on poet WE Henley, who RLS frequently visited at the Royal Infirmary. Henley suffered from tuberculosis of the bone and acquired a wooden leg after having his left leg amputated in 1868.

• His wife burned the original manuscript of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. RLS’s wife, Fanny, disliked the story of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and claimed that she burned the first draft. He, however, considered it his best work and re-wrote most of the story in three days.

• He wrote lines for Johnny Depp and the Muppets. Everyone knows the lyrics “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”, sung by among others Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and the Muppets in Muppet Treasure Island, but did you know that RLS invented the song for his novel Treasure Island? Stevenson found inspiration, including the words “dead man’s chest” in a book by Charles Kingsley.

• RLS gave away his birthday. In June 1891, in a mock legal document, Stevenson “gave away” his birthday to Annie Ide, the daughter of the American land commissioner in Samoa, because she was born on Christmas Day and therefore did not have a proper celebration of her birthday.

• RLS was a late reader. He first learned to read at the age of seven or eight, but before this he dictated stories to his mother and nurse.

• RLS died aged 44 while making mayonnaise. On December 4, 1893, RLS was in the kitchen of his home in Samoa with his wife when he collapsed and died. He was treated with great honour by the Samoans, who called him Tusitala, or Teller of Tales, and was buried on top of a nearby hill, Mount Vaea.

Sixteen exciting events are being held around RLS Day on Wednesday, including three films, five literary tours and three special readings. For full details go to cityofliterature.com.