Friday, June 4, 2010

Poetry Friday: Robert Louis Stevenson Gives Away His Birthday

Don't you love listening to Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story." Getting a look into the back story of famous writers and little tidbits of their everyday lives has always been fun for me. Here's a delightful story I found in an old book called, Children's Letters, published in 1905.

A young friend of Robert Louis Stevenson regretted having been born on Christmas Day. Stevenson agreed to give her his birthday in November if she would, in return, add part of his name to hers. Here's the agreement:

I, Robert Louis Stevenson, Advocate of the Scots Bar, author of "The Master of Ballantrae" and "Moral Emblems," stuck civil engineer, sole owner and patentee of the Palace and Plantation known as Vailima in the island of Upolu, Samoa, a British subject, being in sound mind, and pretty well, I thank you, in body:

In consideration that Miss Annie H. Ide, ... was born, out of all reason, upon Christmas Day, and is therefore out of all justice denied the consolation and profit of a proper birthday;

And considering that I, the said Robert Louis Stevenson, have attained an age when we never mention it, and that I now have no further use for a virthday of any description;

...Do hearby transfer to the said Annie H. Ide, all and whole my rights and privileges in the thirteenth day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said Annie H. Ide, to have, hold, and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine rainment, eating of rich meats, and receipt of gifts, compliments, and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors;

And I direct the said Annie H. Ide to add to the said name of Annie H. Ide the name Louisa--at least in private...

Stevenson must have liked Annie's reply. He wrote her letter in return:

My dear Louisa,--...I am now, I must be, one of your nearest relatives; exactly what we are to each other I do not know. I doubt if the case has ever happened before...I think I ought to call name-daughter.

...You are quite wrong as to the effect of the birthday on your age. From the moment the deed was registered...the 13th of November became your own and only birthday, and you ceased to have been born on Christmas Day...You are thus become a month and twelve days younger than you were, but will go on growing older for the future in the regular and human manner, from one 13th November to the next. The effect on me is more doubtful; I may, as you suggest, live forever; I might, on the other hand, come to pieces, like the one-horse shay, at a moment's notice; doubtless the step was risky, but I do not the least regret that which enables me to sign myself your revered and delighted name-father, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Stevenson's Birthday
by Katherine Miller

"How I should like a birthday," said the child,
"I have so few and they are so far apart."
She spoke to Stevenson -- the Master smiled,
"Mine is to-day, I would with all my heart
That it were yours; too many years have I,
Too swift they come, and all too swiftly fly."

So by a formal deed he then conveyed
All right and title to his natal day,
To have and hold, to sell or give away--
Then signed and gave it to the little maid.

Joyful yet fearing to believe too much,
She took the deed but scarcely dared unfold.
Ah, Liberal Genius at whose potent touch
All common things shine with transmitted gold,
A day of Steven's will prove to be
Not part of time, but Immortality.

Read more Poetry Friday posts at The Cazzy Files.


  1. Doraine,

    How very intriguing and funny! Loved the poem, too.

    Laura Evans

  2. Thanks, Laura. I love seeing the connection of the writer/poet to his audience of children.