Which of these was the inspiration for the character Long John Silver in the novel "Treasure Island"?
Long John Silver, the main antagonist in the 1883 novel "Treasure Island," dominates the book; the image of the lively, one-legged pirate continues to influence popular culture. Where did the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, get the idea for this colourful and complex character?
Stevenson (1850-1894) spent his early life in Edinburgh, Scotland. Later, working in London, he met Leslie Stephen, the editor of "The Cornhill Magazine." Stephen took Stevenson to visit a patient at the Edinburgh Infirmary named William Ernest Henley.
Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet remembered for "Invictus" (1875). As a child he suffered from tuberculosis of the bone and had his left leg amputated below the knee. His brother recalled how William would "hop about the room, laughing loudly and playing with zest to pretend he was beyond the reach of pain."
Stevenson and William Henley became friends. Stevenson's letters reveal where the ideas behind "Treasure Island" originated. To Henley he wrote: "I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver ... the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you."
In line with this, Stevenson's stepson described Henley as "a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one's feet."