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Dr. Trudeau remembers RLS

No two individuals did more to put this village on the map than Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau and Robert Louis Stevenson. The appearance of the latter’s letter in the New York Evening Post in March 1888 had put the world on notice that a new, improved and affordable fountain of “Juventus” was in the making at the upper reaches of a river valley somewhere in the mountains of the American Northeast. It was the place RLS called his “little Switzerland in the Adirondacks,” the town four generations of lungers would call Saranac Lake.

Just like the health resorts in Europe, Dr. Trudeau’s open-air experiment here drew an international clientele. How much influence Stevenson’s letter to the Post contributed to that success is incalculable, but there was probably no better source of free publicity for Trudeau’s efforts than this expert on TB resorts, who was also the most popular writer of his time. Out of all the doctor’s patients, only this chain-smoking spectre from Scotland got his own chapter in Trudeau’s autobiography. In his own words, the Saranac Lake physician to Robert Louis Stevenson shares memories of his most famous patient. Two sources supply the following quotes: “An Autobiography,” by Trudeau, and an article from The Journal of the Outdoor Life entitled “Stevenson and Saranac: Reminiscences of the Celebrated Author’s Stay in the Adirondacks.”

“Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson spent the winter of 1887-88 at Saranac Lake, having been advised to do so by his New York physicians. … He remained in Saranac Lake until the following April, and although the snow and ice, the gray skies and the intense cold didn’t appeal to such a temperament as Mr. Stevenson’s, his health was nevertheless much improved by his stay.”

“He used to rail in such forcible but beautiful language at the cold, the snow, the succession of cloudy days, and the lack of color and sunshine, that had his remarks been written down they surely would have made Saranac Lake famous, at any rate, as having furnished an inspiration to such beautiful and picturesque language.”

“The big, cheery fireplace of crackling logs in the sitting room of the Baker Cottage appealed to him much more than the cold, bleak, and snow-covered world outside, and I usually found him indoors long before darkness had closed in, with his feet to the fire and a cigarette in his mouth, ready for a chat on any subject that I might care to bring up. As we held very different ideas on many subjects, the discussions were often most animated, and I remember one occasion, at least, on which the limit of parliamentary language was almost reached.”

“It was really a great privilege to meet him in this informal way, and even if we didn’t always agree, the impression of his striking personality, his keen insight into life, his wondrous idealism, his nimble intellect and his inimitable vocabulary in conversation has grown on me more and more as the years roll by. … I know quite well I could not discuss intelligently with him the things he lived among and the masterly works he produced, because I was incompetent to appreciate to the full the wonderful situations his brilliant mind evolved, and the high, literary merit of the works in which he described the flights of his great genius.”

“During his stay, Mr. Stevenson was at home on Saturday afternoons to all who wished to see him, and throughout the winter many of the visitors in Saranac Lake availed themselves of this privilege. … In the sitting-room of the Baker Cottage, Stevenson received the visits of many prominent men who journeyed to Saranac Lake to see him.”

“Mr. Stevenson was my patient, but as he was not really ill while here I had comparatively few professional calls to make on him. … We were excellent friends. … When he left Saranac Lake he sent me a beautiful set of his works which he had bound with a special binding for me, and in each book he had written in his own hand a verse dedicating the volume to some member of my family and to me, and even to my dog Nig. These dedicatory verses follow:”

“A Child’s Garden of Verses”

To win your lady (if, alas! it may be),

Let’s couple this one with the name of Baby!

“Treasure Island”

I could not choose a patron for each one:

But THIS perhaps is chiefly for your son.

“Kidnapped”

Here is the one sound page of all my writing,

The one I’m proud of, and that I delight in.

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

Trudeau was all the winter at my side:

I never spied the nose of Mr. Hyde.

“Underwoods”

Some day or other (’tis a general curse)

The wisest author stumbles into verse.

“The Dynamiter”

As both my wife and I composed the thing,

Let’s place it under Mrs. Trudeau’s wing.

“Memories and Portraits”

Greeting to all your household, small and big,

In this one instance, not forgetting — Nig!

“The Merry Men”

If just to read the tale you should be able,

I would not bother you to make out the fable.

“Travels with a Donkey”

It blew, it rained, it thawed, it snowed,

it thundered —

Which was the Donkey? I have often wondered.

“Prince Otto”

This is my only love-tale, this Prince Otto,

Which some folks like to read and others NOT to.

“Memoir of Fleeming Jenkins”

The preface mighty happy to get back

To its inclement birth-place, Saranac!

“Familiar Studies of Men and Books”

My other works are of a slighter kind:

Here is the party to improve your MIND!

“Virginibus Puerisque”

I have no art to please a lady’s mind,

Here’s the least arid spot,

Miss Trudeau, of the lot,

If you’d just try this volume, t’would be kind.

“New Arabian Nights”

No need to put a verse on this; I dipped

Into it, and see p. 39.

“An Inland Voyage”

My dear Trudeau, there is not one

Other rhyme left in me, so please

Accept in prose the assurance of my

Gratitude and friendship.

“This invaluable gift alas, was destroyed when my house and laboratory were burned to the ground in 1893.”

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