Stevenson was born on Nov. 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, the son of an engineer, and studied engineering and then law at the University of Edinburgh. Since childhood, however, Stevenson's natural inclination had been toward Literature; eventually he took up letters seriously, soon making his way into the first rank of contemporaneous writers by the excellence of his style.
Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis and often traveled abroad in search of more healthful climates. His earliest works are descriptions of his journeys: An Inland Voyage (1878), describing a canoe trip through Belgium and France in 1876; and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), an account of a journey on foot through mountains in southern France in 1878. Subsequent travels took him by immigrant ship and train to California (1879-80), where in 1880 he married Frances Osbourne (d. 1914), an American divorcée; across the South Pacific on a pleasure cruise (1889); and finally to Samoa (1889), where he and his wife settled (1889-94) in a final effort to restore his health. He died in Samoa on Dec. 3, 1894, and was buried on a mountaintop behind Vailima, his Samoan home.
Stevenson's popularity is based primarily on the exciting subject matter of his adventure novels and stories of the fantastic. Treasure Island (1883), a swiftly paced story of a search for buried gold, portrays good, in the form of the boy Jim and his friends, against evil, as personified by the pirate Pew and the one-legged Long John Silver.
In the horror story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the extremes of good and evil mushroom startlingly in one character when the physician Henry Jekyll discovers a drug that changes him, first at will and later involuntarily, into the monster Hyde.
The action in Kidnapped (1886) is triggered by a stolen inheritance, that of young David Balfour, who subsequently becomes party to the perilous escapades of the proud Highlander outlaw Alan Breck. Other high-adventure stories include The Black Arrow (1888) and The Master of Ballantrae (1889).
A versatile writer, Stevenson was capable of skillfully handling a variety of genres. He mastered the difficult forms of essay and criticism in Virginibus Puerisque (1881), Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882), and Memories and Portraits (1887). Also critically well received were such travel and autobiographical pieces as The Silverado Squatters (1883), which records Stevenson's impressions of his stay at a California mining camp; Across the Plains (1892); and In the South Seas (1896).
A Child's Garden of Verses (1885), containing some of Stevenson's best-known poems, is still regarded as one of the finest collections of poetry for children. His other verse collections include Underwoods (1887) and Ballads (1890). Stevenson's short stories were published in The New Arabian Nights (1882) and Island Nights' Entertainments (1893).