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Stevenson’s sick children: A Child’s Garden of Verses and the therapeutic imagination
  1. Christy DiFrances Remein
  1. Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC 20037, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Christy DiFrances Remein, Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC 20037, USA; cdremein{at}

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Growing up in the raw climate of 19th-century Edinburgh, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894, figure 1) was by his own admission a sickly child. Frequently afflicted by a confluence of maladies, he spent long hours confined to bed, listening to a medley of Highland legends, folk tales and narratives of Scottish religious history recounted by his doting nurse Alison Cunningham, whom he called “Cummy”. As an adult he recalled “my sufferings when I was sick, [and] my delights in convalescence at my grandfather's manse of Colinton, near Edinburgh” as being among the most “powerful impressions of my childhood”.1 Years later, Stevenson dedicated his renowned collection of children’s poetry, A Child’s Garden of Verses (CGV), to Cummy, with a retrospective acknowledgement of:

Figure 1

Photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson by Henry Walter Barnett (Ca. 1893). State library of New South Wales, Australia.

the long nights you lay awake

And watched for my unworthy sake:

[…] From the sick child, now well and old,

Take, nurse, the little book you hold!2

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the poems in CGV contain both overt and subtle references to childhood illness, doubtless a literary testimony to the author’s own experience.

In recent years, Stevenson’s work has experienced a resurgence in critical interest3 focused on a breadth of timely issues—from rich representations of Scottish cultural history4 to nuanced renegotiations of the dominant ethical codifications delineated by Victorian adventure narrative.5 Scholars note how his children’s poetry6 7 creatively explores that elusive “imaginative elsewhere” characteristic of the romance mode.8 (In one unpublished manuscript, Stevenson remarks: “a …

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  • Funding Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Grant: ‘Building Collaborative Partnerships Between Interfaith Leaders and Clinicians: Advancing Interprofessional Spiritual Care in Palliative Care’. John Templeton Foundation Grant: ‘Advancing Interprofessional Spiritual Care in Clinical Settings’. Kanarek Family Foundation Grant: ‘Advancing Interprofessional Spiritual Care in Pediatric Palliative Care’.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.