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Originally designed as a story for boys, Stevenson's novel is
narrated by the teenage Jim Hawkins, who outwits a gang of murderous
pirates led by that unforgettable avatar of amorality, Long John
Silver. But Treasure Island has also had great appeal for adult
readers and was admired by Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and
(reluctantly) Henry James. The story has a dreamlike quality of a fairy
tale and has worked its way into the collective imagination of more
than five generations of readers, gaining the power of myth.
About The Author
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. The son of a
prosperous civil engineer, he was expected to follow the family
profession, but was allowed to study law at Edinburgh University.
Stevenson reacted strongly against the Presbyterian respectability of
the city's professional classes and this led to painful clashes with
his parents. In his early twenties he became afflicted with a severe
respiratory illness from which he was to suffer for the rest of his
life; it was at this time that he determined to become a professional
writer. The effects of the often harsh Scottish climate on his poor
health forced him to spend long periods abroad. After a great deal of
travelling he eventually settled in Samoa, where he died on 3 December
Stevenson's Calvinistic upbringing gave him a preoccupation with
pre-destination and a fascination with the presence of evil. In Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde he explores the darker side of the human psyche,
and the character of the Master in The Master of Ballantrae
(1889) was intended to be 'all I know of the Devil'. Stevenson is well
known for his novels of historical adventure, including Treasure
Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886) and Catriona
(1893). As Walter Allen comments in The English Novel, 'His
rediscovery of the art of narrative, of conscious and cunning
calculation in telling a story so that the maximum effect of clarity
and suspense is achieved, meant the birth of the novel of action as we
know it.' But these works also reveal his knowledge and feeling for the
Scottish cultural past. During the last years of his life Stevenson's
creative range developed considerably, and The Beach of
Falesá brought to fiction the kind of scene now associated
with Conrad and Maugham. At the time of his death Robert Louis
Stevenson was working on his unfinished masterpiece, Weir of
Hermiston. He also wrote works of non-fiction, notably his
descriptive and historical books on the South Seas area, A Footnote
to History (1892) and In the South Seas (1896), as well as
his celebrated defence of Father Damien, the Belgian priest who devoted
his life to caring for lepers, in Father Damien; an open letter to the Reverend
Hyde of Honolulu (1890).
The Old Sea Dog at the 'Admiral Benbow'
Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen
having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure
Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the
bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure
not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17 —, and go back
to the time when my father kept the 'Admiral Benbow' inn, and the brown
old seaman, with the sabre cut, ﬁrst took up his lodging under our roof.
I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the
inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow; a tall,
strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the
shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with
black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid
white. I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself
as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang
so often afterwards: –
'Fifteen men on the dead man's chest – Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of
in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and
broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of
stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared,
called roughly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he
drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste, and still
looking about him at the cliﬀs and up at our signboard.
'This is a handy cove,' says he, at length; 'and a pleasant
sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?'
My father told him no, very little company, the more was the pity.
'Well, then,' said he, 'this is the berth for me. Here you, matey,'
he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; 'bring up alongside and
help up my chest. I'll stay here a bit,' he continued. 'I'm a plain
man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for
to watch ships oﬀ. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain.
Oh, I see what you're at – there;' and he threw down three or four gold
pieces on the threshold. 'You can tell me when I've worked through
that,' says he, looking as ﬁerce as a commander.
And, indeed, bad as his clothes were, and coarsely as he spoke, he
had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast; but
seemed like a mate or skipper, accustomed to be obeyed or to strike.
The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the
morning before at the 'Royal George;' that he had inquired what inns
there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I
suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his
place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.
He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove,
or upon the cliﬀs, with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a
corner of the parlour next the ﬁre, and drank rum and water very
strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to; only look up sudden
and ﬁerce, and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the
people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day,
when he came back from his stroll, he would ask if any seafaring men
had gone by along the road? At ﬁrst we thought it was the want of
company of his own kind that made him ask this question; but at last we
began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman put up at the
'Admiral Benbow' (as now and then some did, making by the coast road
for Bristol), he would look in at him through the curtained door before
he entered the parlour; and he was always sure to be as silent as a
mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret
about the matter; for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had
taken me aside one day, and promised me a silver fourpenny on the ﬁrst
of every month if I would only keep my 'weather-eye open for a
seafaring man with one leg,' and let him know the moment he appeared.
Often enough, when the ﬁrst of the month came round, and I applied to
him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me, and stare
me down; but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it,
bring me my fourpenny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for 'the
seafaring man with one leg.'
How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. On
stormy nights, when the wind shook the four corners of the house, and
the surf roared along the cove and up the cliﬀs, I would see him in a
thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg
would be cut oﬀ at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous
kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the
middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge
and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty
dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable
But though I was so terriﬁed by the idea of the sea faring man with
one leg, I was far less afraid of the captain himself than anybody else
who knew him. There were nights when he took a deal more rum and water
than his head would carry; and then he would sometimes sit and sing his
wicked, old, wild sea-songs, minding nobody; but sometimes he would
call for glasses round, and force all the trembling company to listen
to his stories or bear a chorus to his singing. Often I have heard the
house shaking with 'Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum;' all the
neighbours joining in for dear life, with the fear of death upon them,
and each singing louder than the other, to avoid remark. For in these
ﬁts he was the most over-riding companion ever known; he would slap his
hand on the table for silence all round; he would ﬂy up in a passion of
anger at a question, or sometimes because none was put, and so he
judged the company was not following his story. Nor would he allow any
one to leave the inn till he had drunk himself sleepy and reeled oﬀ to
His stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful
stories they were; about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at
sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish
Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the
wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea; and the language in
which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as
much as the crimes that he described. My father was always saying the
inn would be ruined, for people would soon cease coming there to be
tyrannised over and put down, and sent shivering to their beds; but I
really believe his presence did us good. People were frightened at the
time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a ﬁne excitement
in a quiet country life; and there was even a party of the younger men
who pretended to admire him, calling him a 'true sea-dog,' and a 'real
old salt,' and such like names, and saying there was the sort of man
that made England terrible at sea.
In one way, indeed, he bade fair to ruin us; for he kept on staying
week after week, and at last month after month, so that all the money
had been long exhausted, and still my father never plucked up the heart
to insist on having more. If ever he mentioned it, the captain blew
through his nose so loudly, that you might say he roared, and stared my
poor father out of the room. I have seen him wringing his hands after
such a rebuﬀ, and I am sure the annoyance and the terror he lived in
must have greatly hastened his early and unhappy death.
All the time he lived with us the captain made no change whatever in
his dress but to buy some stockings from a hawker. One of the cocks of
his hat having fallen down, he let it hang from that day forth, though
it was a great annoyance when it blew. I remember the appearance
of his coat, which he patched himself up-stairs in his room, and which,
before the end, was nothing but patches. He never wrote or received a
letter, and he never spoke with any but the neighbours, and with these,
for the most part, only when drunk on rum. The great sea-chest none of
us had ever seen open.
He was only once crossed, and that was towards the end, when my poor
father was far gone in a decline that took him oﬀ. Dr Livesey came late
one afternoon to see the patient, took a bit of dinner from my mother,
and went into the parlour to smoke a pipe until his horse should come
down from the hamlet, for we had no stabling at the old 'Benbow.' I
followed him in, and I remember observing the contrast the neat, bright
doctor, with his powder as white as snow, and his bright, black eyes
and pleasant manners, made with the coltish country folk, and
above all, with that ﬁlthy, heavy, bleared scarecrow of a pirate of
ours, sitting far gone in rum, with his arms on the table. Suddenly he
– the captain, that is – began to pipe up his eternal song: –
'Fifteen men on the dead man's chest –
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest –
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!'
At ﬁrst I had supposed 'the dead man's chest' to be that identical
big box of his up-stairs in the front room, and the thought had been
mingled in my nightmares with that of the one-legged seafaring man. But
by this time we had all long ceased to pay any particular notice to the
song; it was new, that night, to nobody but Dr Livesey, and on
him I observed it did not produce an agreeable eﬀect, for he looked up
for a moment quite angrily before he went on with his talk to old
Taylor, the gardener, on a new cure for the rheumatics. In the
meantime, the captain gradually brightened up at his own music, and at
last ﬂapped his hand upon the table before him in a way we all knew to
mean – silence. The voices stopped at once, all but Dr Livesey's; he
went on as before, speaking clear and kind, and drawing briskly at
his pipe between every word or two. The captain glared at him for a
while, ﬂapped his hand again, glared still harder, and at last broke
out with a villainous, low oath: 'Silence, there, between decks!'
'Were you addressing me, sir?' says the doctor; and when the ruﬃan
had told him, with another oath, that this was so, 'I have only one
thing to say to you, sir,' replies the doctor, 'that if you keep on
drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!'
The old fellow's fury was awful. He sprang to his feet, drew and
opened a sailor's clasp-knife, and, balancing it open on the palm of
his hand, threatened to pin the doctor to the wall.
The doctor never so much as moved. He spoke to him, as before, over
his shoulder, and in the same tone of voice; rather high, so that all
the room might hear, but perfectly calm and steady: –
'If you do not put that knife this instant in your pocket, I
promise, upon my honour, you shall hang at the next assizes.'
Then followed a battle of looks between them; but the captain soon
knuckled under, put up his weapon, and resumed his seat, grumbling like
a beaten dog.
'And now, sir,' continued the doctor, 'since I now know there's such
a fellow in my district, you may count I'll have an eye upon you day
and night. I'm not a doctor only; I'm a magistrate; and if I catch a
breath of complaint against you, if it's only for a piece of incivility
like to-night's, I'll take eﬀectual means to have you hunted down and
routed out of this. Let that suﬃce.'
Soon after Dr Livesey's horse came to the door, and he rode away;
but the captain held his peace that evening, and for many evenings to
ISBN: 9780141194967 ISBN-10: 0141194960 Series: Popular Penguins Audience:
Number Of Pages: 268 Published: 28th June 2010 Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd Country of Publication: GB Dimensions (cm): 17.9 x 11.1
Weight (kg): 0.15
Edition Number: 1 Edition Type: Illustrated