Stevenson’s enduring scientific concerns — about the nature and direction of evolutionary change, and the relations of savagery and civilization, progress and degeneration, heredity and environment, and individual and race — converged in a contemplative and wide-ranging letter to his cousin Bob, written shortly before he died.1 The letter opens by discussing the nature of Scottish racial divisions, contesting the theory that the Piets ‘were blacker than other Celts’ (361). Declaring that all British skins are becoming increasingly ‘pigmented’, Stevenson asserts that ‘colour is not an essential part of a man or a race’, and cites his observations of South Sea islanders:

[t]ake my Polynesians, an Asiatic People probably from the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf. They range through any amount of shades, from the burnt hue of the Low Archipelago islander which seems half negro, to the ‘bleached’ pretty women of the Marquesas (close by on the map) who come out for a festival no darker than an Italian; their colour seems to vary directly with the degree of exposure to the sun. (362)


Asiatic People Savage Heritage Primitive Life Intellectual Agenda Singular Thing 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Stevenson to R. A. M. Stevenson, September 1894, in The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew, 8 vols (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1994–95), 8: 361–6. Page references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stevenson, ‘Pulvis et Umbra’ (1888), in Across the Plains: With Other Memories and Essays (London: Chatto and Windus, 1907), 289–301, 290.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Julia Reid 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Reid

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations