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The First Treasure Island Illustrations

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.Treasure-Island-Robert-Louis-Stevenson-first-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.

Treasure Island First Edition by Robert Louis StevensonStevenson 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.


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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – The fascination continues

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:

The UK television of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has started with dramatic scenes of horror and intrigue. Holding the early edition book of this tale prompted a re look at the origins of the story and it’s publication. The plot recounts the investigation by a London lawyer into strange occurrences between his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde who, as we probably know, turn out to be the same person. The themes of the two extremes of good and evil run throughout the story.

The Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, was interested in the personality traits between good and evil at an early age. In his teenage years he produced a play about the double life of the thief, Deacon Brodie. In 1884 he wrote “Markheim” another plot about a respectable murderer. His family members included a religious minister, a professor of philosophy, engineers and scientists and they all influenced his thinking about ideas of how personalities can affect a human. In addition, the scientific and religious climate in England was ripe for his macabre tales.

In 1859, when Stevenson was nine years old, Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species” introducing the Theory of Evolution. The idea that all humans had evolved from more primitive forms challenged the belief of God creating the world in seven days. Many believed that science was dangerous. It was meddling with the natural order of things which only God had control over. This pull between science and religion was the backdrop in which the characters of the Jekyll and Hyde were set.

In addition, the Victorians increasing conflict between science and religion was compounded by the ideas that humans have a dual nature. On one side was the calm and rational way of life and on the other was violence and destruction. A split between the supernatural and nature; the good versus evil. The famous Jack the Ripper struck in 1888 igniting these issues. The stories of the murderer being of Royal blood or highly educated fueled ideas of the Jekyll and Hyde double nature of mankind yet further.

Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published by The New York firm of Charles Scribner’s Sons on January 5 1886. Four days later the first UK edition was published by Longmans Green Company. A Times review of 25th January 1886 gave it a favourable review and after that the book became an instant success. Over the next six months over forty thousand copies were sold. By 1901 it has sold a reputedly 250,000 copies in the United States. Stevenson’s biographer, Graham Balfour, commented in 1901 that the book’s success was probably rather to the “moral instincts of the public” than to any conscious perception of the quality of the writing. “It was read by those who never read fiction… quoted in multiple sermons and in religious papers”.

The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde novella is a remarkable tale set in remarkable times. Ratings for the first UK television production are high, proving that the fascination of the divide between good and evil continues to captivate people now. Holding an early edition of this intriguing story is a reminder of the Victorian interests and social issues of the time.

Dr-Jekyll-Mr-Hyde-3rd-Edition-R.L.StevensonStrange-Case-of-Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde-R.L.Stevenson-1895 (2)

Rare and Antique books holds two copies of the early editions of The Strange Case of Dr Jeykell and Mr Hyde. The first is a third edition by Longman in 1886 and the second book is a twentieth edition dated 1895, both in very presentable condition.