Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the great prose masters of the 19th century. He was born in Edinburgh, to a family known for producing lighthouse engineers. But he was not the most healthy child. Prone to illnesses, he would spend entire winters in bed, cast adrift into the wilds of his imagination.
And what wilds they were! From them, we receive the likes of Treasure Island
BTW, I love the book illustrations by NC Wyeth . Here is another one
But Stevenson also wrote prose. Travel essays and books. And he was very, very good at it. One wonders whether his nonfiction was even better than his adventure tales.
Travels with a Donkey is his masterpiece. It is guided by this idea
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future?”
And, yes, the donkey plays a major role in any jaunt in the Cévennes. Indeed, if you are tempted to repeat Stevenson’s trek, a donkey is essential.
Robert McCrum writes for the Guardian
The brilliance of Travels With a Donkey is to keep the reader always suspended in the moment, through a combination of wry and exquisite observation and an undercurrent of delight in the pleasures of the human comedy.
Hence the donkey.
Back in 1967, the Folio Society published an illustrated edition of this lovely book.
Edward Ardizzonedid the honors. Here is his frontispiece