Welcome, as ever, dear readers,
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94)
—or, rather “Captain George North”, as he called himself– had had some success publishing “Treasure Island; or, the Mutiny of the Hispaniola” in Young Folks in 1881-82.
(for a wonderful description by Stevenson of the origins of the story, see: “My First Book: ‘Treasure Island’, originally published in Britain in The Idler, August, 1894,and in the US in McClure’s Magazine for September, 1894, but which you can find here: https://readandripe.com/my-first-book-treasure-island-by-robert-louis-stevenson/ or, if you’d prefer to read the American publication—I recommend it, not only for the article itself, but for seeing how impressive a late-Victorian magazine could be–here it is: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015009324834&view=1up&seq=291 )
In 1883, he published it as a book, his first commercial success, as he tells us, although he had published a good deal previously (for a man who had only begun serious publication at 21 and died at 44, he created at a furious rate, the Scribner edition of 1907, for example, is in 27 volumes—if you’d like a complete list of his work—and much more, see: https://robert-louis-stevenson.org/ )
Stevenson was very candid about his influences and sources, beginning with “Captain Charles Johnson’s” A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates
(first edition 1724, with a number of subsequent editions—you can read the first volume of the second edition at: https://archive.org/details/generalhistoryof00defo/page/n3/mode/2up?view=theater and the second volume of the fourth edition at: https://digital.lib.ecu.edu/encore/ncgre000/00000018/00017002/00017002.pdf I’ve put the author’s name in quotation marks because this is believed to be a nom de plume, perhaps for the period author Daniel Defoe, who had published his own sea-adventure story, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner… in 1719.),
and including everyone from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug”
(1843—which you can read transcribed from the original publication here: https://www.eapoe.org/works/tales/goldbga2.htm)
to Washington Irving’s Tales of a Traveler,
(1824, which has, in Volume II, Part IV, both “Kidd the Pirate” and “Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams”—which you can read, in a later edition, here: https://gutenberg.org/cache/epub/13514/pg13514-images.html )
to Charles Kingsley’s At Last: a Christmas in the West Indies (1871,
which you can read here: https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10669/pg10669-images.html ).
For us, in this posting, however, it’s not the sources and influences so much as it’s the desire either to keep the story going, either with sequels or—but we’ll come to that soon—which is of greater interest.
There is a remarkable list of sequels to be found at: https://robert-louis-stevenson.org/wp-content/uploads/retellings.html , which begins with Sir Arthur Quiller Couch’s—himself a writer of adventure fiction– imitation, Poison Island (1907—and here it is: https://archive.org/details/poisonisland00quil ), then there’s a gap, but sequels pick up in 1935, with H.A. Callahan’s Back to Treasure Island (unless you care to include Floyd Gottfredson’s 1932 “Mickey Mouse Sails for Treasure Island” comic strip), and then, with a second gap, we find everything from Leonard Wibberly’s Flint’s Island (1972) to Andrew Motion’s second sequel The New World (2014)—where this list stops, but I’m willing to bet that there are more subsequently, as it seems that, unlike the silver mines of the New World, which the Spanish eventually exhausted, Treasure Island still beckons to would-be future Stevensons.
The list also has a few “prequels” (a silly word, since “sequel” comes from the Latin verb sequor, “to follow”, whereas there’s no verb prequor, but it’s still a useful term), of which there is one, the first, which I would recommend. This is A. D. Howden Smith’s (1887-1945)
(an image of Smith as a young man at the time of the Balkan Wars—the later image one sees of him appears to be actually a picture of Woodrow Wilson which someone has seemingly whimsically inserted, perhaps because there is no surviving later picture of him?)
1924 Porto Bello Gold.
(Here it is: https://archive.org/details/portobellogold0000unse/ )
Smith was such an admirer of Stevenson and the original book that he wrote to Stevenson’s stepson and executor, Lloyd Osbourne (who, as the school boy in “My First Book”, mentioned above, had been involved in the initial creation of the novel), and asked permission to use some of the characters from the original book. Osbourne was so impressed that he agreed and so we see Long John Silver, Blind Pew, Billy Bones, and Black Dog, in particular, appear, along with Captain Flint, long dead by the time of Stevenson’s book, but a vivid memory for surviving members of his crew on The Walrus, and whose name also turns up as the name of Long John Silver’s parrot.
The story also introduces new characters, in the form of the main protagonist, Robert Ormerod, his friend (and sometime protector), Peter Corlaer, a potential love interest, Moira O’Donnell, and, to me, the most interesting character, Andrew Murray, Robert’s great-uncle. Murray is elegant, beautifully spoken, and deadly, suggesting that, in another context, he might be a protagonist, instead of the main antagonist. He is also a committed Jacobite.
In case “Jacobite” isn’t in your vocabulary, these are people who believed that the Stuarts were the eternally-rightful rulers of Great Britain, the last Stuart to sit on the throne being James II,
(reigned 1685-1688), who had been ejected from his kingdom by a coalition of English and Dutch conspirators, the Dutch being led by William of Orange, who had married James’ daughter, Mary. Mary herself went along with the plot and, after James was removed, ruled Great Britain with her husband as William (III) and Mary (II).
There were several attempts by the followers of James and his son, James, “the Old Pretender”,
to return to England and take back the throne, from 1689 to 1746, all of them failures, the last, from 1745 to 1746 coming the closest to success, but ending with a spectacular final defeat at Culloden, on April 16, 1746.
The Latin for “James” is Jacobus, and so the followers of James and his family were called “Jacobites”.
In brief, Murray, who is partners with Captain Flint, kidnaps Robert, both to make him his heir, and to help him in his dealings with Flint, who is suspicious of his partner. Murray plans to attack a Spanish treasure galleon,
plunder its riches,
keep some for himself, give some to Flint, and the rest will go to further the Jacobite cause.
(The Spanish had been looting the New World since Cortes had arrived in Mexico in 1519, most years sending fabulous riches back to Spain in one or more ships. It was the dream, both of pirates and hostile governments, to capture a whole fleet, or even one of these ships, as the wealth in one alone could be enormous. In 1687, a Bostonian treasure hunter, William Phips, excavating the remains of Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, sunk in 1641, recovered over 34 tons of treasure, valued then at L205,536, which would be nearly 14 million dollars in today’s money, although the buying power of a single pound in 1681 would have been far greater than in 2022, the British pound of 1680 having the value of about 172 pounds today. See this excellent site for more: https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ukcompare/relativevalue.php )
No spoiler here—just that, although the plan succeeds, Murray’s ambitious scheme ultimately fails, and, although the treasure reaches the island which is the center of Murray’s plot, it is left there, to become the focus of Stevenson’s novel.
For reasons unexplained, Tolkien did not enjoy Treasure Island (see Carpenter, Tolkien, page 24), but perhaps, if he had read Porto Bello Gold first, he might have changed his mind.
As ever, thanks for reading.
Remember International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19),
And know that, as always, there’s