Gathering at Stevenson Cottage, 1932

Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage (Photo provided)

In 1932, the annual meeting of the Stevenson Society of America was held, per custom, at the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage in Saranac Lake, on Aug. 25. The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m. by Col. Walter Scott, president. Following the obligatory religious invocation, Col. Scott read some telegrams, one of which came from Stephen Chalmers, charter member and honorary secretary, also author of “The Penny Piper of Saranac: An Episode in the Life of Robert Louis Stevenson” (1907). The message came from Bear Valley, California: “The beloved vagabond society of ex-soldiers, sailors, aviators, correspondents, novelists and poets and just plain lovers of far sails dine together once a month — the November gathering always dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, patron saint of beloved vagabonds — from them and myself, greetings to the Stevenson Society Of America. (signed) Stephen Chalmers.”

The meeting went by the customary pattern with election of officers and reports from same. The guest speaker, Dr. William Starr Meyers of Princeton University, discussed the messianic aspect of R.L.S., speaking from the famous veranda: “Because when we realize that we have a man, a native-born Scotchman who lived part of his life in the United States; the fact that his writings are the common heritage of all people, the thought comes to my mind of the common objective out of which world peace and happiness inevitably depend. And then again it has a meaning of peculiar value that in this Adirondack village there is a shrine such as this house …

“I believe that history shows, if it shows anything, that it is usually following a period of great stress and strain that you have the greatest flowering of art, literature, and culture. … There is no growth excepting for pain, and just as nations must go through their times of difficulties if they are to accomplish anything, so it is the same with people. This is the particular lesson brought to us through Robert Louis Stevenson …” etc.

From his vision of RLS as an avatar for world peace and harmony to his subtle suggestion that the Stevenson Cottage is actually a portal to a better dimension, Dr. Meyers turned his attention to his subject’s literary style:

“I think we are all well aware of the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson had a peculiar clear-cut style of writing in addition to his ability at almost any form of writing. One realizes his genius when one thinks how Stevenson could write children’s verses, essays, poems, simple things to the two-fold nature of every human being, which he characterized in ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ … I read a verse from one of the modern poets:

To every man there openeth a way and ways

And the high soul claims the high way

And the low soul grabs the low

And in between on the mystic flats, the rise drifts to and fro

And every man decideth the way his soul should go.

“And I think if the life and character of Robert Louis Stevenson have a meaning for you and me, it is that we have confidence that the way he has gone is the ‘High Way’ that leads to something higher and beyond and it’s a way that is open to every person, high or low, rich or poor.”

The meeting ended in the usual fashion with music and refreshments. This time it would not be followed up with a General Report for 1932, Stevenson Society of America Inc., printed en masse by the Currier Press on the best glossy paper and distributed to their international membership. All that was gone.

If the annals of the Stevenson Society of America were stratified in the geologic sense, then 1932 would be the boundary between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, the year of the dinosaur-killing comet, represented by a thin gray line in the fossil record, they say.

Many misinformed and willfully ignorant people in today’s confounded world think that the Great Depression (providing they are not Depression deniers) hit world commerce like the proverbial asteroid, doing its worst on one bad day in October 1929. Closer examination, they will tell you, always shows that the real pain began in 1932. Henceforth, starting that year, all annual reports would be typewritten on cheap paper, with plenty of errors and corrections, some doodles and downright depressing to look at when placed next to their counterparts from the “golden age,” the one that just ended.


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