“A large and enthusiastic gathering gathered at Memorial Cottage, Saranac Lake, on Saturday, August 22, to honor Robert Louis Stevenson by participating in this annual event. Perfect weather and a most enjoyable address from one of Stevenson’s devoted admirers made the afternoon a memorable one in the history of the Stevenson Society of America. The meeting was called at 3:15 a.m. by the chairman, Colonel Walter Scott. In response to the President’s request, Reverend Hiram E. Lyon offered an invocation.
– According to the general report of 1931, the Stevenson Society of America, Inc.
After the prayer, Scott began his presidential address by standing on the veranda made famous by Scotland’s famous invalid author who gave the world “Treasure Island” and familiar verses like “How do you like to ride in a swing, Through the air so blue?” Robert Louis Stevenson could also do good, even “classic” gothic horror with its schizoid persona, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Scott began his talk by considering his subject’s ability to use the English language as well as he did in creating timeless literature of such a diverse nature. JC Farnas, author of “Journey to the Wind – The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson”, 1951, took “Treasure Island” as proof: “I don’t know of a more striking example of an artist taking a cheap, contrived set of marketed values that’s fair enough for Victorian ‘boys’ history and doing a job of eternal quality by changing nothing, by transmuting everything, as if Jane Austen had ennobled soap opera.
Genius is the subject Scott has chosen to explore and communicate to his audience, in particular the genius of RLS, which he describes “like a beautiful jewel of innumerable facets, each reflecting a beautiful play of prismatic colors, revealing new lights, constantly varying, never the same – an intangible radiant energy suggestive of Nature’s ever-changing moods.” This is not a scientific observation. A dictionary says that genius, among many other things, is “a single strongly marked ability or aptitude” or one “extraordinary intellectual power, especially as manifested in creative activity”, same “a person endowed with transcendent superiority.”
“…Or who,” continues Scott, “can certainly describe a sunset? His beauties have never been fixed on canvas, nor confined to descriptive language…Just like the genius of Stevenson. None can gaze at the man or his works without gaining new inspiration and different… We cannot understand the nature of genius; it is something akin to the spiritual – a gift from God; an incomprehensible intangible faculty not acquired or inherited, nor limited to any particular race or condition. touched rich and poor alike, for like the wind, ‘we don’t know whether it is coming or going.’
Evidence of the changing times was evident when the secretary, Livingston Chapman, read his report which included: “I regret to say that the addition of new names to our list was considerably less than in previous years. This was no doubt due to the global business crisis. Incidentally, blaming things on the business depression became l one of our most popular indoor sports. …”
“Our collection has been enriched since the last meeting of the following donations: a few sprigs of ivy from the old kirk of Glencorse, Scotland, a building intimately connected with RLS and his ancestors and mentioned by him in some of his writings” , as in The Body Snatchers, St. Ives, and his unfinished masterpiece Weir of Hermiston. The Old Church of Glencorse was and still is the ruins of a single church in the hills of Pentland, an area not far from the city limits of Edinburgh. The Pentlands and the kirk were RLS’ favorite haunts in his youth, his “Hills of the house.” Today these sprigs of ivy in their tin frames hang safely in “Maggie’s Room” at Baker, just one example of several unique gifts to the Stevenson Society presented by a Mrs. LD Paley, a devoted life member who must have had a lot of money.
Most of the additions that year were photographs, books, postcards, articles, etc. Other photos taken by Mr. William F. Alexander, Honorary Secretary of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club of Glasgow, have been received by the Society. If William could visit their “sacred halls” today, he should be delighted to see his wonderful framed photographs placed respectfully and looking like new. Her photos of the Balfour and Stevenson ancestral home are near the sprigs of ivy in Maggie’s bedroom.
Mr. Alexander’s collection also includes two photos he took of RLS sites in Anstruther, Scotland, by the sea. Stevenson lived there in the summer of 1868 when he was a reluctant 17-year-old engineering student. years at the University of Edinburgh. It was paternal pressure that pushed him to do so, against which he rebelled in 1871 and succeeded. The Education of an Engineer is one of 12 essays RLS wrote here in Saranac Lake for Scribner magazine. There he relived his student days when he was a master absentee, spending summers on the building sites of the family business of civil engineers known throughout Queen Victoria’s kingdom as Lighthouse Stevensons. Anstruther was such a place. It was there that young Louis, the risk-taker, became the only notable Victorian author to ever descend beneath the waves in one of those old-fashioned diving suits with helmet and air hose. He did this when the project engineer, his father, Thomas Stevenson, was not there. Louis had bribed a facilitator, one of the professional divers, and described how fun it was to live at Baker’s, writing that “It’s one of the best things I’ve learned from my engineering education.”
Finally, the guest speaker was introduced by Scott, who was none other than Dr. Henry A. Lappin, FRSL (England), Professor of English Literature at D’Youville College for Women, Buffalo, NY Gone are the days of guest speakers who knew and lived with RLS at the time. Will Low was the last, giving his speech the previous year, August 23, 1930. The world was changing rapidly because of the new dark age that was upon it. There was no escaping it, even at Saranac Lake.