You just indulge the pleasure of your heart, that’s all; no trouble, no strain

The following records the beginning of work upon Treasure Island, the name originally proposed for which was the Sea Cook. Lloyd (Fanny’s son, then aged 13) on holiday from school had joined the Stevensons at Braemar. Treasure Island had its origin in the map of an island which RLS drew and embellished while playing with Lloyd. RLS tells the story in My First Book (1894).

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 843.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 59-61]

[Braemar, August 24, 1881.]

My dear Henley,

Of course I am a rogue. Why, Lord, it’s known, man; but you should remember I have had a horrid cold […]. Now, I’m better, I think; and see here – nobody, not you, nor Lang, nor the devil, will hurry me with our crawlers. They are coming. Four of them are as good as done, and the rest will come when ripe; but I am now on another lay for the moment, purely owing to Lloyd, this one; but I believe there’s more coin in it than in any amount of crawlers: now, see here, The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island: A Story for Boys.

Lloyd Osbourne (RLS’s stepson) aged 12, 1880 []

‘Treasure Island, or The Mutiny of the Hispaniola’, by ‘Captain George North’ (RLS), as first appeared in ‘Young Folks’, Oct. 1881 – Jan. 1882 []

If this don’t fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day. Will you be surprised to learn that it is about Buccaneers,

Th. Buttersworth (1768-1842), Buccaneers Chase of the Pirate Lugger ‘Will Watch’ []

that it begins in the ‘Admiral Benbow’ public-house on the Devon coast,

Admiral John Benbow (1653-1702), English officer in the Royal Navy. In 1702 a number of his captains refused to support him while commanding a squadron of ships; and so he instigated the trial of a number of them []

that it’s all about a map,

Treasure Island’s map []

and a treasure,


and a mutiny,

Mutiny on HMS Bounty, 1789 []

and a derelict ship, and a current


and a fine old Squire Trelawney (the real Tre, purged of literature and sin, to suit the infant mind),

The real Edward John Trelawney (1791-1881), the swashbuckling friend of Byron and Shelley, who died on 13 August, 1881 (by J. Severn, c. 1830 []

and a doctor,

Doctor David Livesey and Squire Trelawney inspecting the map of Treasure Island []

and another doctor, and a sea-cook with one leg,

Long John Silver, in ‘Treasure Island’, 1885 illustrated edition []

and a sea-song with the chorus ‘Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum’ (at the third Ho you heave at the capstan bars), which is a real buccaneer’s song, only known to the crew of the late Captain Flint (died of rum at Key West, much regretted, friends will please accept this intimation);

Captain Flint is said to have died in Savannah, shouting “Darby M’Graw – fetch aft the rum….” The only person Flint was said to fear was his quartermaster John Silver, who later even called his parrot “Captain Flint” in mockery []

and lastly, would you be surprised to hear, in this connection, the name of Routledge?

George Routledge (1812-88) was the London publisher of the ‘Railway Library’, which numbered over a thousand volumes at a shilling each []

The Railway Library, edited by George Routledge []

That’s the kind of man I am, blast your eyes. Two chapters are written, and have been tried on Lloyd with great success; the trouble is to work it off without oaths. Buccaneers without oaths bricks without straw. But youth and the fond parient have to be consulted.

Fanny Stevenson.

Fanny Stevenson.

[25 August 1881]

And now look here – this is next day – and three chapters are written and read. (Chapter I. The Old Sea-dog at the ‘Admiral Benbow.’ Chapter II. Black Dog appears and disappears. Chapter III. The Black Spot.)

Treasure Island, 1883 ed., Chapter I []

Treasure Island, 1883 ed., Chapter II []

Treasure Island, 1883 ed., Chapter III []

All now heard by Lloyd, Fanny, and my father and mother, with high approval. It’s quite silly and horrid fun, and what I want is the best book about the Buccaneers that can be had – the latter B’s above all, Blackbeard and sich, and get Nutt or Bain to send it skimming by the fastest post.

The English pirate Edward Teach or Thatch, known as Blackbeard (c.1680-1718) (c. 1736 engraving used to illustrate Johnson’s General History)[]

And now I know you’ll write to me, for The Sea Cook’s sake.

Your Admiral Guinea is curiously near my line, but of course I’m fooling; and your Admiral sounds like a shublime gent. Stick to him like wax – he’ll do.

Henley had written about his ideas for the play which he and RLS finally wrote in collaboration in 1884, ‘Admiral Guinea’ (ed. 1892) []

My Trelawney is, as I indicate, several thousand sea-miles off the lie of the original or your Admiral Guinea; and besides, I have no more about him yet but one mention of his name, and I think it likely he may turn yet farther from the model in the course of handling. A chapter a day I mean to do; they are short; and perhaps in a month The Sea Cook may to Routledge go, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! My Trelawney has a strong dash of Landor, as I see him from here.

Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864), English writer and poet with a rumbustious character and lively temperament []

No women in the story, Lloyd’s orders; and who so blythe to obey? It’s awful fun boys’ stories; you just indulge the pleasure of your heart, that’s all; no trouble, no strain. The only stiff thing is to get it ended – that I don’t see, but I look to a volcano.


O sweet, O generous, O human toils. You would like my blind beggar in Chapter III.

The blind beggar, in Treasure Island iIllustrated by L. Rhead, 1915 []

I believe; no writing, just drive along as the words come and the pen will scratch!

R.L.S., Author of Boys’ Stories

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