Sam McClure, part II

Sam McClure socializes at the 1922 Annual Meeting of the Stevenson Society of America.

“Over three hundred persons attended the annual meeting held at the Cottage on Saturday afternoon, August 26th. The presiding officer, Dr. Hugh Kinghorn, welcomed the audience who represented all parts of the United States as well as Canada, Mexico and over-seas countries. After the reports of the Secretary and Treasurer a short musical programme was given, followed by the election of officers. … Letters and telegrams congratulating the Society on its progress were read and announcements of gifts to the collection of Stevensonia, after which Dr. Kinghorn introduced the principal speaker and guest, Mr. Samuel S. McClure, an intimate friend of Robert Louis Stevenson.” — The Stevenson Society of America, Inc., General Report for 1922

Shortly before this annual meeting, Sam McClure had received a letter from another old friend of departed Robert Louis Stevenson, Will Low, the author’s American painter friend. Low wrote on “August 17th — I see you are to go to Saranac on the 26th to talk about our RLS. I wish that I …” Low then gave his excuse for not going and then added, “It is upon this basis of personal association that the Stevenson Society is founded and you particularly must be now almost the only one left who saw Louis in the house at Saranac, which the pious effort of the Stevenson Society seeks to perpetuate.”

Low was right. McClure had visited RLS in Saranac Lake on several occasions in the fall and winter of 1887-88. One of those visits went down as a game-changer in the life and times of Robert Louis Stevenson. What follows is McClure’s eyewitness account straight out of the transcript of his speech, which he delivered from a corner of Baker’s veranda on a sunny Saturday afternoon a long time ago:

“Then I began to think about getting a new novel from Stevenson, and I came up here to talk to him again. He told me that he had two novels in mind, one of them a sequel to ‘Kidnapped.’ After some conversation, I asked him how much he wanted for his serial rights; he said 800 pounds. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I am going to pay you $8,000.’ He was somewhat reluctant and blushingly said that he didn’t feel he ought to take so much money, and was I sure he was worth it? I told him the matter was all settled. Well, he said he must consult his wife and Mr. Low and if they approved, he would make the contract. We were right in this room here (pointing) with the fireplace. Gradually he became reconciled to the offer; but still he felt he was rather greedy and wanted to explain and apologize. He was unlike almost any other author I ever met, singularly loveable as an author, and as a man.

“He wouldn’t be tempted to take as much money as that for a novel, he said, but for a plan that he had in mind. Then he explained to me that he was always better at sea than anywhere else, and he wanted to fit up a yacht and take long cruises and make his home at sea for awhile. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s easy. If you get a yacht and take long sea voyages and write about them, stories of adventure and so forth, I will pay all the expenses of the yacht.’ I was young and bold, as I said. I wonder if I could have been that youth he wrote about?

“I think the South Seas must have been mentioned that evening for I remember that after I returned to New York I sent him a number of books about the South Seas, including a South Pacific directory. The next time I came to Saranac, we actually planned out the South Pacific cruise, talking until late into the night. That was one of the most extraordinary evenings of my life. Mr. Stevenson walked up and down that room with the fireplace, or stopped occasionally to lean his elbow on the mantelpiece and we made the most splendid plans and arrangements. We planned that when he came back he was to make a lecture tour and talk on the South Seas; that he was to take a phonograph along and make records of the sounds of the sea and the winds, the songs and speech of the natives. We planned the yacht and the provisioning of the yacht — and a good deal that man could never accomplish, but it was all real that night. And out of that talk came the South Seas cruise.”

“You see,” explained Mr. Lloyd Osbourne, stepson of Robert Louis Stevenson, “it was not that we were so glad to get away from Saranac Lake, but Mr. McClure had suggested the great South Sea trip, and it appealed most urgently to Mr. Stevenson’s love of wandering and adventure.” Osbourne is here explaining his version of events to an audience in the Saranac Lake Free Library in the winter of 1917. “I remember he was so full of it that he promptly sent for all sorts of directories, maps, and books on the subject of harbors, soundings, strange islands and their anchorage. It amuses me while it touches me still to think of him in those days, loaded up with directories, living in a dream as it were — a dream of the coming great adventure. That is why the departure from Saranac Lake is such a pleasant, exciting recollection. Yet afterward in Samoa he continually drifted back in conversation to the days and acquaintances of Saranac Lake.”


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