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Robert Louis Stevenson as a Lawyer

Robert Louis Stevenson as a Lawyer (Illustration) Law and Politics Biographies Famous People

Robert Louis Stevenson wanted to be a writer even in his childhood. His Father—Tom Stevenson—had other plans for his son, however. He wanted him to join the family's engineering firm.

Neither cut-out to be an engineer nor to design lighthouses like his Father, R.L.S. agreed to attend law school. We learn how that choice came about from Stevenson's cousin, Etta Younger:

I happened to be in the house when Lou [as R.L.S. was called by his family] told his father he did not want to continue to be a civil engineer.

This was a great blow and a terrible disappointment to Uncle Tom, as for generations the Stevensons had all been very clever civil engineers; and already Lou had gained medals for certain inventions of his in connection with lighthouses. And Uncle Tom was more disappointed still when Lou declared that he wanted to go in for a literary life, as Uncle Tom thought he would make nothing at that - in fact that it was just a sort of excuse for leading a lazy life!

Eventually it was well talked over, and Uncle Tom said that if he agreed to read for the Bar in order to become an advocate, after passing the examination, if he still persisted in wishing to go in for literature, he would not prevent it, for then he would have a good sound profession at his back. (Included in I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Rosaline Masson, published in Edinburgh, during 1922, by W. & R. Chambers, Limited, at page 64.)

Even though R.L.S. never wanted to practice law, he was ecstatic when he learned he'd passed the final exams. His cousin, Etta, tells us what happened after he learned the news:

The excitement and joy was tremendous when he heard that he had passed, and was a full-blown advocate. We were driving in that big, open barouche, and nothing would satisfy Lou but that he would sit on the top of the carriage, that was thrown back open, with his feet on the seat, between his father and mother, where they were sitting;—and he kept waving his hat and calling out to people he passed, whether known or unknown, just like a man gone quite mad. (Etta Younger, at page 65 of I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson.)

It is likely that “Lou” was so ecstatic because he could now do what he really wanted to do ... write stories (not practice law). What makes this likely? He was given legal work to do but turned it down:

After this Lou used to go and walk up and down the Parliament House, in his wig and gown...and during this time he was offered two briefs, both of which he refused, much to his father’s sorrow. Then he declared as he was not a briefless barrister, he was going to retire from the law, and devote himself entirely to literature. So, of course, then his father did nothing more to prevent it. (Etta Younger, at page 65 of I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson.)

When he was finally given the freedom to write, R.L.S. threw himself into his work:

Well do I remember sometimes how anxious his mother used to be about him in Heriot Row [the family’s home in Edinburgh], when the fever for writing was on him, and he would stop for no one; and how, when he refused to come down for meals, she used to send them up on a tray-which, long afterwards, I used to see outside his study door, not touched. He took the precaution to lock this door when the said literary fever was on him. (Etta Younger, at page 65 of I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson.)

In this image, we see R.L.S. wearing a lawyer's wig and robe. Etta tells us that his Mother was very proud of this picture (and her son's accomplishment at achieving his law degree).

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 19, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Nov 04, 2016


Media Credits

Image, described above, included in the 1922 book "I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson." The picture was provided to the book's editor by Etta Younger, a cousin of R.L.S.

 

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