The Doting Baby Book Kept by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mom

Robert Louis Stevenson, by Henry Walter Barnett (Wikimedia Commons)


You cannot read this little book without smiling. An only child, RLS has been described as “both strange looking and eccentric,” and he suffered frequent illnesses. But he had a mother who watched over him tenderly and noted each illness in his baby book, along with a list of his pet names and the dates when each of his teeth (baby and permanent) arrived in his gums. We spare you that in the excerpt below.


Stevenson’s Baby Book: Being the Record of the Sayings and Doings of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson


This Baby Record was meant by the young mother who wrote it, as all such Records

are to keep, for memory’s sake, an account of the first years of her adored child. A few of

the notes were added by her in later years. What gives this Record extraordinary value, what sets it apart from countless others, undertaken in the same sweet cause, is that it proved to be the first chapter of the biography of one of the best-loved men who ever lived; and, it will not need to be pointed out, the contents foreshadow in spirit, originality and imagination the great man the wee laddie was to become.

The mother was Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson and the babe was Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson.


•  •  •


Pet Names: Boulihasker, Smoutie, Baron Broadnose, Signor Sprucky, otherwise, Maister Sprook and many others, but Smoutie stuck to him until he was about 15.

September 1852: Smout begins to be fond of stories and sometimes asks to be told about “the big stick” meaning Cain and Abel, that, and Daniel among the “growlers” are his favourites.

January 31, 1853: Smout begins to walk up stairs like a biped.

December 8, 1853: Smout said “I don’t like that moon, it has got a bit broken off it.”

March 21, 1854: When I told Smout about the way the Americans used their slaves, he said “I think God might send them a punishment.”

January 5, 1855: Dear Smout’s curls cut off to-day. I was quite sorry to part with them. His hair is made very short and he is rather a fright.”

January 8, 1855: Ma “Butterflies don’t make butter.” Lou “Then what is the use of them?”

February 6, 1855: Lou dreamt that “he heard the noise of pens writing.”

February 23, 1855: Lou said “How can God give us his Holy Spirit and yet be good Himself? I’m at a loss.”

July 7, 1855: Smout was asked “What would you do if you were left on a desert island?” S. “I would come away.” “But if there was water all round?” S. “I would come away in a ship.” “But if there was no ship?” S. “I would send a letter by the post.” “If there was none?” S. “I would sit down and take a hearty [cry].”

April 18, 1856: Smout cannot understand the days getting longer and says “he would rather go to bed at the 7 o’clock that used to be.”

April 29, 1856: Smout discovered that he can make purple paint by mixing crimson and blue.

May 11, 1857: At Aberdown. Smout is improving very much here. He is getting very wild and like a boy.

January 18, 1858: “To-day Lou drew a picture of Sir Henry Havelock praying which he sent to David Alan before his Papa had seen it. When he heard that I was vexed, he drew two others, but neither was so good as the first. The next time I saw him he said “I’m blamed for kindness and get no encouragement for endeavour.”


Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.