Robert Louis Stevenson, W. E. Henley, and the Magazine of Art: Authorial and editorial tension

Richard Hill
Chaminade University of Honolulu

This paper is a case study of a significant cultural journal, The Magazine of Art, an important editor, the poet W. E. Henley, and a writer of importance to both Scottish and global literary culture, Robert Louis Stevenson.

I propose a paper that addresses a significant passage of the professional lives of two famous friends, Stevenson and Henley, during which Henley became the editor of The Magazine of Art. Henley, a talented poet in his own right, transformed the Magazine from a conservative publication of the British artistic establishment into a progressive critical journal with a focus on European and Japanese trends in painting, printmaking and illustration. Stevenson wrote several insightful pieces about the relationship of art, literature and illustration for the Magazine during the period in which he produced Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In addition to these essays, Henley and Stevenson shared ideas and critical opinions through private correspondence, in which Stevenson often offered critiques of the numbers of the Magazine to its editor.

The correspondence sheds light on the tension that inevitably arose between the writer and editor pertaining to these ideas about art and literature. Matching private correspondence against close readings of Stevenson’s essays – and most importantly their illustrations – in the Magazine reveals the power of the editor over the author, authorial resistance within the essays to editorial constraints, and a creative friendship that would ultimately fray and sever over these years. Henley helped launch Stevenson’s literary career, championing Treasure Island at Cassell and Co., and himself being a model for Long John Silver. However, as their interactions reveal through the Magazine of Art, the protégé would outgrow his master in critical faculty and fame, although not before the production of some enlightening essays on contemporary art and literature.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900