Grace in the Arts: Robert Louis Stevenson: So Near, Yet So Far -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 12:1 (Spring 1999)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Robert Louis Stevenson: So Near, Yet So Far
Author: James A. Townsend


Grace in the Arts:
Robert Louis Stevenson: So Near, Yet So Far

James A. Townsend

Bible Editor
Cook Communications
Elgin, IL

I. Introduction

The only occasion as a child when I nearly stayed up all night long was when I had gotten behind on the deadline for my elementary school book report. Thankfully, the book I had chosen was riveting, adventure-filled, and unforgettable. It was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. To this day the tap-tap-tapping of Blind Pew’s cane, as he approached the lonely-locationed Admiral Benbow Inn, is etched on my mind. Many seminary graduates who have received a traditional evangelical education are familiar with the name of Alexander Whyte, the Scot who wrote two volumes on Bible Characters. Whyte had been introduced to Robert Louis Stevenson’s books by a man named Patrick Campbell. Campbell was present one evening when young Alexander Whyte was introduced to the father and mother of Stevenson. “I can never forget the astonishment of the father when he heard the unstinted praises of his son from [this] serious-minded young clergyman,” said Campbell.1

Was the famed Stevenson a Christian? How did the Bible influence his writings? These and related spiritual issues will be surveyed in this article.

II. Literary Laurels

One measure of greatness is the appraisal given by contemporaries in one’s own field of specialization. If that is the case, then the tributes paid to RLS by the literary lights of that time speak for themselves. Edmond Gosse called him “the most beloved of all the authors of our time”2 Sir James Barrie (author of Peter Pan) claimed that the initials “ ‘R.L.S.’ were the best-loved initials in the English language.”3

Though the two authors never met, Rudyard Kipling thought of Robert Louis Stevenson as “his idol.”4 His friend and faithful correspondent, Henry James, called RLS “the only man in England who can write a decent English sentence.”5 Jack London wrote, “His Treasure Island will be a classic to go down with [DeFoe’s] Robinson Crusoe, [Lewis Carroll’s] Through the Looking Glass and The Jungle Book [of Kipling].”6 The inventor of Sherlock Holmes, A. Conan Doyle, wrote to RLS of “all the pleasure you have given me during my lifetime-more than any other...

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