I always wanted to be a pirate. That is, let me be honest, the reason why I travel. Discover the unknown, have adventures, find hidden treasures and drink lots of rum with like-minded pirates. Responsible for this unusual dreamjob is Robert Louis Stevenson and his famous story Treasure Island.
In Edinburgh, the birthplace of Stevenson, I went treasure-hunting, paid tribute to the hero of my childhood and found out that young Robert and I have a lot more in common than I knew.
For all his life Stevenson held that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” But funny enough, he wrote my favourite travel story before he even started travelling to far-away-countries.
It was the drawing of a map by his step-son showing a secret island that inspired him to write the novel published in 1883 and originally named The Sea Cook, that would fire the fantasy of thousands of children down the ages.
picture via follow-me-now.de
Nontheless, his quest for adventure and his belief that “we all belong to many countries” remained with him all his life. In his early work Travels with a donkey (a travel narrative about his journey through the forest country of France), he pretty much nailed down the nuts and bolds of a traveller’s life:
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.”
Growing up in Edinburgh, Stevenson developed the ability to observe what surrounded him from an early age and included all these images in his later work. But the city was to prove both his heaven and his hell.
This love-hate-relationship was fostered in his youth. He hated the Scottish weather which was bad for his health, hated the middle class manners and rebelled against them. But also the city of Edinburgh fuelled his imagination and had a hold over him for the rest of his life.
Born in 1850, he was a much-loved only-child. Like me, he grew up being read to at night before bedtime and his love of reading flowered into the desire to one day become a writer himself. Just because he wanted to please his father he entered Edinburgh University to train as a civil engineer, hated it and studied law instead.
But as soon as he had his degree in his pocket, he decided to sample life abroad and start his literary career at the age of 26. From that moment on, young Stevenson never looked back. A writer had most certainly been born.
For my part, I believe that the twenties are there to travel, to grow and to get lost. And apparently, so did Stevenson: “Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other, both in mind and in body, to try the manners of different nations.” And flashing he went.
After travelling intensly all over Europe, he crossed the ocean and moved to America to be with the woman he loved. But because of his bad health he finally settled on the warm beaches of Samoa, where he soon gained a local reputation as “the story teller.” It was here, on the other side of the world and at a late day of his age, that he came back to his memories of Scotland and the city that had inspired him to become a writer in the first place:
“Yet, in my heart of hearts, I long to be buried under good Scots clouds. I will say it fairly… there are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps.”
He never returned to Scotland, but his heart made it home at last, his body rests in Samoa still and his spirit travels with his stories in our minds forever.
Yo-ho-ho… Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest… Yo-ho-ho… and a bottle of rum…