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The Health Biographies Of Alexander Leeper, Robert Louis Stevenson, And Fanny Stevenson

The Alexander Leeper hypochondria controversies


 The Robert Louis Stevenson And Fanny Stevenson Health Controversies ©

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh Scotland 13-11-1850 and became one of the world's most famous writer's with books such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He died in his mansion home of Vailima on the South Pacific island of Samoa on 3-12-1894 at the age of 44.

Some modern biographers have presented a picture of Robert Louis Stevenson as a whinging, sympathy seeking hypochondriac, who spent most of his life complaining about trivial or imagined illnesses.

I can only assume that such writers have lead lives of privilege and good health which has left them ignorant of the realities and complications of disease.

I can also make two other statements.

The first reflects a comment by Louis wife Fanny who noted that he seemed, from a superficial view of his life, to have been constantly plagued by ill health, but, in fact, in his short 44 years, he was probably only ill for an average of 6 weeks per year.

My second statement is so obvious that I hope I am not insulting the intelligence of people who read this page . . . Despite his health problems, Robert Louis Stevenson achieved more than all of his biographers put together, and that is something that any future biographer should think about.

Who is this webpage written for ?

If you have read Treasure Island and have ever wondered what type of man wrote it, and if you have since seen him portrayed as a whinging, sympathy seeking hypochondriac who complained excessively about trivial or imaginary ailments, and if you have found this to be in contrast to what you would have expected, then this web page may be for you.

On this web page I summarise the findings of a new book in which I have re-examined the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and found that he was suffering from the severe effects of the industrial pollution and the devastating plagues of the nineteenth century, yet despite this, he was an adventurer who sailed the high seas and travelled the world where he obtained the ideas for his stories which were so novel that they fascinated his readers back home in Scotland, and have enteretained readers in every country of the world ever since.


The new book entitled "The Health Biographies Of Alexander Leeper, Robert Louis Stevenson, And Fanny Stevenson" has been written in relation to some recent controversial claims about the health of these people. I think that it would be of great interest to many people in Scotland as R.L.S. is one of that countries most famous writers, and I am critical of the claims that his family were weak chested whinging hypochondriacs, and have provided evidence that they were actually dealing with very real and severe illnesses. This should restore his reputation as a great adventurer and writer.
Robert Louis Stevenson died in 1894 and in the centenary year of his death there was a renewed interest in his life, with some writers questioning the long established evidence that he had severe relapsing bouts of tuberculosis, and claiming that he was a neurotic who complained about trivial illnesses brought on by depression and stress, and that his wife was a selfish, sympathy seeking hypochondriac.

 The weak chested Stevenson family controversy
Robert Louis Stevenson has been described as descending from a family of weak chested hypochondriacs. However he was born into a family of Lighthouse engineers, who built and supervised the lighthouses around the Scottish coast. This required working in cold, wet, and arduous conditions, and also in the grinding of granite blocks for the lighthouse towers. This commonly produced occupational illnesses related to working in very rough weather, and to chest diseases resulting from the inhalation of granite dust. For example, late in life, Louis uncle, Alan Stevenson (the weak chested hypochondriac ?) developed a bout of rheumatism after rowing a boat thirty six miles across the sea during a storm, and then climbing 200 feet up a rock cliff to reach a lighthouse.

When Louis was 12 his father was spitting blood, which is a symptom of tuberculosis and one of several possibilities is that Louis first contracted the condition then because, after weakened lungs have become infected, the illness, which is contagious, is often passed on to close family members. His father may have recovered but Louis condition became chronic.

 Robert Louis Stevenson's gangly physique controversy

RLS had a gangly physique which other writers have attributed to thyroid problems but it is unlikely that he had that illness, and his physique can be easily accounted for in other ways. As an infant he had many infectious illnesses related to the pollution of the river, drinking water, and food supply, and the industrial air pollution of Edinburgh, and Chicken pox, whooping cough, feverish colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, digestive upsets and gastric fever, and probably diphtheria and infantile cholera were among his feverish ailments which are commonly accompanied by a loss of appetite which would adversely affect the physical development of a growing child.

In this illustration he can be seen as thin and stooped and he has one shoulder lower than the other indicating sideways curvature of the spine. With this physique his lungs would be compressed and poorly ventilated and easily congested, disposing to the contraction and persistance of respiratory infections in adulthood.



Robert Louis Stevenson's tuberculosis was probably the result of the combined factors of his thin and stooped physique which compressed his lungs, and the smoky and dusty atmosphere of the cities of the industrial revolution, and bacteria which more readily infected lungs that were already congested. His birthplace was Edinburgh and he grew up in that city which had the nickname of Auld Reekie, which is Scottish for Old Smoky, which comes from the fact that the houses and factories were heated by coal and wood fires which billowed smoke out of their chimneys and filled the surrounding atmosphere. The problem would have been made worse by the fact that Louis was a chain smoker.

The following quote comes from the website . . . "The young Stevenson spent much of his time away from Edinburgh's smoky atmosphere in the hope that fresher air would alleviate his chest complaints" here

 The RLS neurosis controversy
Other writers have suggested that the ailments that RLS had as an adult were psychosomatic and depressive illnesses which were part of a neurosis which was related to the nightmares which he had when he was a young boy and was told biblical horror stories by his nurse Cummy. One writer said that his adult illnesses were always and without exception preceded by stress. However nightmares in childhood are a common accompaniment of many feverish illnesses because the infection sometimes spreads to the brain. Furthermore, as an adult Louis was a fearless adventurer compared to most people of his day. Nevertheless he sometimes reported that he suffered from depression but this was almost always the result of the distressing aspects of his relapsing bouts of tuberculosis, and not the cause of them, and although he suffered from rare instances of depression for other reasons, as occurred briefly when his father died, these are normal responses to a death in the family etc. However, for the majority of the time Louis was cheerful and resilient in the most harrowing situations. Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that the adult illnesses which he survived were part of epidemics which killed millions of less resilient people.

 The RLS tuberculosis controversy
Some writers have questioned whether RLS actually had tuberculosis or some other less severe lung disease and some nineteenth century writers have even suggested that tuberculosis was a psychosomatic disorder with no organic basis. However many of the top tuberculosis experts in the world diagnosed Louis as having, or as being in remission of severe tuberculosis. Their medical experience would have given them the ability to diagnose the condition with some certainty, despite the fact that there were no x-rays or blood tests available at the time to absolutely confirm this. The suggestions that Louis had some other lung disease are speculative and have much less evidence to support them. Of course, the nineteenth century idea that tuberculosis had no organic basis was ridiculous and has since been discredited by advances in medical knowledge and technology, and further discredits any claims that Louis had psychosomatic complaints. (If some doctors believed that tuberculosis had a psychosomatic basis, then the modern evidence of biological basis proves that the entire foundation of modern psychosomatic theory is defective).

 The RLS death controversy
Some authors have argued that if RLS actually had tuberculosis he should have died of it, but, as he died of a stroke, he therefore did not ever have tuberculosis, and that his stroke was brought on by stress. However the main reason that Louis did not die of tuberculosis like many others, was because he was intelligent and wealthy and could afford to leave the industrial pollution of Edinburgh and go to a country with a clean air environment, such as Samoa, to relieve the strain on his lungs, as was recommended by every top tuberculosis expert in the world at that time. It is highly unlikely that he died as the result of stress, because at that time he was 44 years old, living as a virtual millionaire by today's standards, in a mansion, with 19 servants, in the Pacific island paradise of Samoa, doing the work that he enjoyed. The family disputes which were said to bring on his stroke were rather petty and very common, and would not produce a stroke in a healthy person. However, Louis was a chain smoker, and a prolific drinker of alcohol and coffee. He was a whiskyfied Scot, and in Samoa he had a cellar which was stocked with the finest French wines that money could buy and he died with a glass of claret in his hand. Smoking and drinking causes hardening of the arteries which commonly results in heart attacks or strokes which kill people in their mid forties. Furthermore Louis had many feverish illnesses which terminated in meningitis, which also damages the arteries of the brain and can cumulatively result in a stroke.


The Fanny Stevenson neurosis controversy

Fanny Stevenson suffered from many illnesses which some other authors have suggested were due to a neurosis which can be traced back to the giddy spells, blackouts, and hallucinations which she had after the death of her infant son Hervey. However, her son died of Scrofulous tuberculosis which was one of the Antwerp fevers. Most doctors of that time could not easily distinguish between illnesses such as scrofula, typhoid, and typhus, and all were highly contagious. Fanny probably had one of those illnesses which produced the giddy spells at the time of her sons death, and the illnesses which she had later in life can be reasonably easily accounted for in other ways as the infectious ailments of the nineteenth century. It has also been suggested that her so-called neurotic or depressive illnesses which only occurred after she married Louis were related to the conflicts in her relationship with him. However a review of her biography reveals that she was unhappy with her former husband, and very happy with her relationship with Louis.

The Fanny Stevenson hypochondria controversy
There have been suggestions that Fanny Stevenson was a hypochondriac who would become ill whenever Louis became ill because she was a neurotic sympathy seeker. However, the illnesses which Louis contracted were related to his travels through many exotic countries at a time when immunisations and antibiotics were not available, and as Louis had poor health due to his chronic tuberculosis he also contracted many other infections. These were contagious and were commonly passed on to close family members because of body contact etc. Furthermore, when Louis became ill, his infections would have had an incubation period of days or weeks, and Fanny had to nurse him, so it would be expected that during or shortly after that period she would succumb to the illness herself. Also, often when Louis and Fanny were ill, the maid, servants, or visitors also became ill, indicating the highly contagious nature of these epidemic ailments.

The Fanny Stevenson temporary insanity and spectacular mental breakdown controversy
Fanny Stevenson has been described as having an 18 month period of temporary insanity which terminated in a spectacular mental breakdown in 1893, and which she suddenly snapped out of. However, she probably had a severe relapsing fever, such as typhoid or typhus, or a series of different opportunistic feverish illnesses. Each of these infections, or relapses of the same infection, can spread to the brain to cause the delirium of meningitis in which people can become quite belligerent and have fits and hallucinations, and meningitis characteristically ends abruptly in death or rapid recovery. M.B.

Book Details And Costs

The Health Biographies Of Alexander Leeper, Robert Louis Stevenson, And Fanny Stevenson


250 PAGES with 18 pages on Alexander Leeper, 90 on Robert Louis Stevenson, and 95 on Fanny Stevenson and a 29 PAGE INDEX FEATURING MORE THAN THREE THOUSAND ENTRIES

Costs: A$34.90 within Australia, NZ$49.90 to New Zealand, U.S$24.90 to the United States, & U.K.£17.90 to the United Kingdom (cost per book includes postage).

Orders to: M.A.Banfield, Unit 6, No.6, Hartman Ave., Modbury, South Australia 5092

Phone/Fax +61 (08) 82635735 - - - - - - - - - email:

*** Alternatively this book is available in many Australian Public Libraries. ***

I invite you to add this webpage to your favourites, and link it to your website. M.B.

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