Today’s entry is in honour of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894), who has given me so much literary pleasure over the years. As a child, immersed in the world of Treasure Island (1883), I would have given anything to take to the seas with Long John Silver on a voyage of discovery and adventure.
A lover of Victorian horror, I also thoroughly enjoyed the novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), which explores the conflicting duality of the human psyche – the potential for both good and evil, which exists in us all. The portrait of Stevenson (pictured), painted by Girolamo Nerli in 1892, shows the writer’s face split between light and shadow.
The character of Mr Hyde has been portrayed many times on film, often as a hulking, hairy monster, but Stevenson’s original description of Hyde is far more subtle. The fact that Stevenson’s Hyde is a regular man, though with an uncomfortable yet indefinable oddness about him, makes him far more disturbing. When he first emerges, he is physically smaller than Jekyll, but he grows in size and power as his evil is let loose. Mr Enfield describes his first impression of Hyde, after seeing him indifferently trample a young child in the street:
“He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point. He’s an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.”
But one of Stevenson’s most beautiful and best loved passages is the following poem, which is inscribed on his grave. It brings a little comfort to those in grief, as the poet views death, without fear or sadness, as a coming home.
Requiem (by Robert Louis Stevenson)
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 longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.