I had read somewhere that Robert Louis Stevenson had bequeathed his birthday (13th November) to a girl who was born on Christmas Day. Lately I came across Katherine Miller’s poem “Stevenson’s Birthday”, reproduced below. Oddly, this poem seemed (to me) to imply the girl’s birthday was on February 29th rather than Christmas.
I had wondered if this was an urban myth, but it is anything but. Here is the formal (-ish, OK, very -ish) legal document wherein Stevenson passed his birthday onto Annie Ide, daughter of a U.S. Senator
I, Robert Louis Stevenson, Advocate of the Scots Bar, author of The Master of Ballantrae and Moral Emblems, stuck civil engineer, sole owner and patentee of the Palace and Plantation known as Vailima in the island of Upolu, Samoa, a British Subject, being in sound mind and pretty well I thank you in body:
In consideration that Miss A. H. Ide, daughter of H. C. Ide, in the town of St Johnsbury, in the County of Caledonia, in the State of Vermont, United States of America, was born, out of all reason, upon Christmas Day, and is therefore, out of all justice, denied the consolation and profit of a Proper Birthday;
And considering that I, the said Robert Louis Stevenson, have attained an age when O, we never mention it, and that I have now no further use for a birthday of any description;
And in consideration that I have met H. C. Ide, the father of the said A. H. Ide, and found him about as white a Land Commissioner as I require;
Have transferred, and do hereby transfer to the said A. H. Ide, All and Whole of my rights and privileges in the 13th day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide, to have, hold, exercise and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats and receipt of gifts, compliments and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors;
And I direct the said A. H. Ide to add to her said name of A. H. Ide the name Louisa – at least in private; and I charge her to use my said birthday with moderation and humanity, et tamquam bona filia familiae, the said birthday not being so young as it once was and having carried me in a very satisfactory manner since I can remember;
And in case the said A. H. Ide shall neglect or contravene either of the above conditions, I hereby revoke the donation and transfer my rights in the said birthday to the President of the United States of America for the time being.
In witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal this 19th day of June in the year of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-one.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Witness: Lloyd Osbourne
Witness: Harold Watts
I can’t find much about Katherine Miller online (possibly confounded by other Katherine Millers) but this poem is from only a few years after this occured:
“How I should like a birthday!” said the child,
“I have so few, and they so far apart.”
She spoke to Stevenson—the Master smiled—
“Mine is to-day; I would with all my heart
That it were yours; too many years have I!
Too swift they come, and all too swiftly fly”
So by a formal deed he there conveyed
All right and title in his natal day,
To have and hold, to sell or give away,—
Then signed, and gave it to the little maid. J
oyful, yet fearing to believe too much,
She took the deed, but scarcely dared unfold.
Ah, liberal Genius! at whose potent touch
All common things shine with transmuted gold!
A day of Stevenson’s will prove to be
Not part of Time, but Immortality.