February 24, 2016

Struth! Robert Louis Stevenson's birthday gift

IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis wonders if anyone has ever given a gift so unique as that bestowed by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson upon a 12-year-old American girl in Samoa in 1891.

For his gift to her was his birthday.

In the hope of improving his poor health Stevenson, his wife Fannie Osbourne and her son Lloyd from a previous marriage had gone to Samoa after living in Sydney for a short time, and there met America's local Land Commissioner, Mr Henry C. Ide – who confided how sad his daughter Annie was that she had never had a real birthday because she had been born on Christmas Day.

So Stevenson penned her a letter commiserating as to how she had been "denied the consolation and profit of a Proper Birthday," and added this deed:

I do hereby transfer to A.H. Ide, All and Whole of my rights and privileges in the 13th day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide, to have, hold, exercise and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats and receipt of gifts, compliments and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors.

… and I charge her to use my said birthday with moderation and humanity, the said birthday not being so young as it once was and having carried me in a very satisfactory manner since I can remember.

I hereto set my hand and seal this 19th day of June in the year of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-one.

- Robert Louis Stevenson.

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