The First Treasure Island Illustrations
The thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island conjures up images of pirates and buccaneers of the sea. You would imagine that illustrations would be an essential addition to entertain readers of the book. In fact, the first publication of the story of Treasure Island contained only one illustration. This was in a seventeen weekly installment in the magazine, The Young Folks, from October 1881 to January 1882. Stevenson was a little known author then but he was keen to see the story in a book format. He approached several publishers with his draft. Cassell and Company of London realised it’s potential and published the first book version of Treasure Island in 1883, but without illustration!
The first illustrated version was said to be an American publisher, Roberts Brothers of Boston, who released the book in February 1884 with four illustrations by the artist F. T. Merrill. The print run was only 1,000 copies. Apparently Stevenson was not impressed by the drawings and describing them as “disgusting” to the American publisher, Charles Scribner, and for a later illustrated version encouraged the publisher to use the images of the later Cassell & Co edition.
The Cassell & Company employed a French artist, Georges Roux (1850-1929), who also illustrated Jules Verne, for this first English illustrated version. This was published in August 1885. There is some doubt about the authenticity of some of the illustrations and apparently two or three of Merrill’s pictures are reproduced, plus one unidentified picture opposite page 260 in this publication.
Stevenson wrote to his father just before the release of the first English illustrated edition saying, “An illustrated Treasure Island will be out next month. I have had an early copy, and the French pictures are admirable. The artist has got his types up in Hogarth; he is full of fire and spirit, can draw and can compose, and has understood the book as I meant it, all but one or two little accidents, such as making the Hispaniola a brig. I would send you my copy, but I cannot; it is my new toy, and I cannot divorce myself from this enjoyment.”
The importance of illustration for commercial purposes and reader delight was recognized in R. L. Stevenson’s time as much as it is today. The illustrations of Treasure Island have been reworked many times including the famous 1930 illustrations of N.C. Wyeth’s and Walt Disney’s iconic images. The writings and illustrations ensure the book remains a favourite read today although more than one illustration is demanded today!
For more early publications of Robert Louis Stevenson see here
Ref: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, 5: 145: Swearingen, Roger G. The prose writings of Robert Louis Stevenson. London, 1980.