Dr. Hugh Kinghorn, Part III

Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage (Photo provided)

From the annual address of President Dr. Hugh Kinghorn of the Stevenson Society of America, Aug. 22, 1942:

“Ladies and Gentlemen:

“The 1941 Annual Meeting of the Society was held at the Stevenson Memorial Cottage, August 30th. The afternoon was beautiful, and the meeting was held, as usual, out of doors, the speaker standing on the veranda and addressing his audience, which was gathered on the lawn.

“The Reverend Paul Austin Wolfe, D.D., of the Brick Presbyterian Church of New York City, was the guest speaker. He told the gathering that the famed author lived and wrote about qualities which made for real living, as contrasted with what he called the cynicism of modern realism. Stevenson looked at Youth, and found in Youth the clue to the explanation of life. A keen sense of conscience and a strong conviction that life is good — qualities all too rare among modern writers — marked Stevenson’s words.

“Dr. Wolfe also emphasized the fact that mankind cannot go forward until it feels again what Stevenson and his contemporaries felt, namely that life is good; the path may lead over sharp rocks and through tangled underbrush, but the way is upward, and the summits are there.

“I mentioned last year that it was our hope that the village of Saranac Lake would take over the Stevenson shrine. Each month during the summer a great many persons visit the shrine in order to see where Stevenson lived and to see the relics which are in the cottage. It is one of the show places of the town. A small band of enthusiasts have maintained the cottage, but we feel that it is more of a town affair. … Unfortunately, we have been unable to do any repairs on the cottage; only such repairs have been done which were absolutely necessary.”

The “hard times” for the Stevenson Society, first mentioned as a reality by Dr. Lawrason Brown in 1937, had not gone away. In fact, history in the making at that time only made things harder for Dr. Kinghorn’s efforts to preserve their precious shrine on Stevenson Lane. Students of history and/or very old people know that in August 1942, the world was on fire. The so-called “Pacific War” which pitted the U.S. against Japan was boiling over that very moment that Dr. Kinghorn and those assembled in the Stevenson Cottage were indulged in their lawn party.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world — and down under, too, where it was night — a ferocious battle was raging up and down the Ilu River, taking lives by the second on a previously unheard-of island in Oceania and leaving behind a windfall feast for crocodiles. Within months, moviegoers among the Stevenson-philes gathered that day would be treated to a Hollywood version of this engagement in “Guadalcanal Diary.”

Meanwhile, small-town rural life without night attacks continued in Saranac Lake and its suburbs while the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage survived its second world war, mainly because its resident curator, Mrs. C.H.E. Griffith, wasn’t subject to the draft.

In those days Dr. Kinghorn was reaching out to any person or organization that showed any sign of affiliation or sympathy for the cause. For example, a form letter was mailed to all of the active St. Andrew’s Societies that his secretary could dig up. After explaining the situation Dr. Kinghorn concludes his appeal by stating that “This is a national shrine, and it has come to a few of us who are interested in a great writer and a great Scot to support it. When you have your next meeting, would you bring this up and see if it’s possible to aid us?”

From the annual statement of President Kinghorn of the Stevenson Society of America, at the Stevenson Cottage, Aug. 21, 1943:

“Ladies and Gentlemen … On Saturday afternoon, August 22, 1942, our annual open air meeting was held at the Stevenson Cottage. The day was fine … The guest speaker was the Reverend William B. Lusk, of the Episcopal Church of Ridgefield, Connecticut. Mr. Lusk was formerly rector of the Church of St. Luke, the Beloved Physician in Saranac Lake a number of years ago. He is an ardent admirer of Stevenson.

“The audience was gathered on the lawn of the famous Stevenson Cottage. Mr. Lusk mentioned the fact that as a man Stevenson set a wonderful example to many millions of persons treading the dark and dreary path of pain. As an author whose writings have inspired, cheered and consoled multitudes, Mr. Lusk stated that Stevenson helped them play their parts with courage in a world that demanded the best we have of the stability and characteristics of our human nature.”

Just like the year before, the financial report was simple and dismal: “You will note from the appearance of the cottage that it is sadly in need of repair. Unfortunately we haven’t money to make these necessary repairs; in fact, it is all we can do to pay our debts. As a matter of fact we have not entirely paid our debts, as we owe about $750.00. However, there is no mortgage.” However, Dr. Kinghorn left out an important detail that was mentioned in the Watertown Daily Times on March 5, 1948, that “for many years the main source of financial assistance for the Stevenson Cottage has been from the personal income of Dr. Kinghorn.”

From the Stevenson Society’s Annual Report for 1944:

“On Saturday afternoon, August 21, 1943, our Annual Open Air Meeting was held on the lawn of the Stevenson Cottage. The weather was rather overcast, but there was no rain and the temperature was comfortable. A large number of persons were present to pay tribute to a great writer.

“The guest speaker was Mr. Earl MacArthur, President of Paul Smith’s College, Paul Smiths, N.Y. … Mr. MacArthur took as his subject Treasure Island, and stated that since Treasure Island was a tale of adventure, it was not considered literary art by art critics. He quoted Matthew Arnold’s definition of what makes a great book, and explained his belief that a ‘moral idea’ was one which gave a better idea of life. Therefore he said he felt that Treasure Island could be classed as a work of art, and a great book.

“Mr. MacArthur said that in improving the world through literature there are two avenues of approach — the positive and the negative. After giving several examples of realistic writing of the negative approach, he held up the positive as being ‘true to life, because it is the truest kind of life,’ and showed that such a book contributes toward making a better world because it ‘inspires us and gives us something to look up to.’

“Criticizing Treasure Island, he emphasized Stevenson’s prose style, which he describes as ‘musical,’ his dialogue which he showed was heightened just slightly for effectiveness, and Stevenson’s choice of words and names which were connotative, as well as denotative all the way through the book. The action, Mr. MacArthur said, avoided the common pitfall of being stopped by a mass of detail.”

Dr. Kinghorn would rank this guest speaker’s performance as “of a very high quality, and was one of the best of the many good addresses we have heard.”

The Stevenson Society’s Annual Report for 1944 ends with Dr. Kinghorn still lamenting “the appearance of the Cottage that it is sadly in need of repair.” He told them the society was on the rocks financially while they still carried a debt of $644.98. In conclusion, the report states that:

“The cottage is maintained by the donations given at this Annual Meeting, and by other donations which are sent to us. There is no mortgage on the Cottage. We hope that some day in the near future the Village of Saranac Lake will take over the land and property of the Stevenson Society, and still maintain it as a shrine. It is the show place of our village.”


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