Robert Louis Stevenson: A Memorial HTML version
The Child Father Of The Man
R. L. STEVENSON was born on 13th November 1850, the very year of the death of his
grandfather, Robert Stevenson, whom he has so finely celebrated. As a mere child he
gave token of his character. As soon as he could read, he was keen for books, and, before
very long, had read all the story-books he could lay hands on; and, when the stock ran
out, he would go and look in at all the shop windows within reach, and try to piece out
the stories from the bits exposed in open pages and the woodcuts.
He had a nurse of very remarkable character - evidently a paragon - who deeply
influenced him and did much to form his young mind - Alison Cunningham, who, in his
juvenile lingo, became "Cumy," and who not only was never forgotten, but to the end
was treated as his "second mother." In his dedication of his CHILD'S GARDEN OF
VERSES to her, he says:
"My second mother, my first wife,
The angel of my infant life."
Her copy of KIDNAPPED was inscribed to her by the hand of Stevenson, thus:
"TO CUMY, FROM HER BOY, THE AUTHOR.
"SKERRYVORE, 18TH JULY 1888."
Skerryvore was the name of Stevenson's Bournemouth home, so named after one of the
Stevenson lighthouses. His first volume, AN INLAND VOYAGE has this pretty
dedication, inscribed in a neat, small hand:
"MY DEAR CUMY, - If you had not taken so much trouble with me all the years of my
childhood, this little book would never have been written. Many a long night you sat up
with me when I was ill. I wish I could hope, by way of return, to amuse a single evening
for you with my little book. But whatever you think of it, I know you will think kindly of
"Cumy" was perhaps the most influential teacher Stevenson had. What she and his
mother taught took effect and abode with him, which was hardly the case with any other
of his teachers.
"In contrast to Goethe," says Mr Baildon, "Stevenson was but little affected by his
relations to women, and, when this point is fully gone into, it will probably be found that
his mother and nurse in childhood, and his wife and step-daughter in later life, are about
the only women who seriously influenced either his character or his art." (p. 32).
When Mr Kelman is celebrating Stevenson for the consistency and continuity of his
undogmatic religion, he is almost throughout celebrating "Cumy" and her influence,
though unconsciously. Here, again, we have an apt and yet more striking illustration,