1 January 2022 Susannah

Robert Louis Stevenson & The Lamplighter

R.L. Stevenson's childhood home

Let’s begin the year with a youthful favourite. I felt very emotional on the day I stood outside R.L. Stevenson’s childhood home in Edinburgh and saw the old lamppost on the street, the very one which Stevenson watched being lit when a boy. There are words from the poem on the post. It’s just so special!

The Lamplighter by Robert Louis Stevenson

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
Oh Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!

The poem was published in his 1885 collection A Child’s Garden of Verses. In 1881 Stevenson published an essay A Plea for Gas Lamps – he preferred their soft glow to the glare of electric lights. His poem captures so brilliantly the child’s world – he doesn’t want to be a banker like father, he wants freedom and the adventure of walking the streets. Stevenson was a sickly child and had to spend many hours in bed. As a young boy, he has no choice, but he can dream of future choices as well as strength and health.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the late 20th century. He was not a cheerful poet – in fact, he once remarked that deprivation for him was what daffodils were for Wordsworth.

Can you visualise the child Stevenson watching out his window? Have you visited his house in Edinburgh? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment.

You can listen to the poem being read here:

And there is a musical version of it here:

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Featured image credit- R.L. Stevenson’s childhood home in Heriot Row, Edinburgh, By Kim Traynor, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12958102

Comments (3)

  1. Wendy Gray

    The streets were busy with all manner of services coming to you, the lamplighter, the delivery boys from local shops etc. One of the occupations that struck me the most of this sort was the ‘knocker up’ who would come and tap on your window with a long pole to get you up for work. Far less romantic than the lamplighter bringing light to a darkening evening.

    As part of a tour, I was lucky to spend a day in Edinburgh in August 2017 and go to the Tattoo but we didn’t get to see much beyond a quick ‘shiftie’ up the Royal Mile and a pat for Greyfriars Bobby. We also went to see the Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith which was quite amazing and had the best gift shop ever. I happily took pictures of rows of little plush corgis in tartan jackets and the most beautiful tableware.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also visited the Royal Yacht which was just fascinating. I adore Edinburgh – I was lucky enough to live there for a year and try and get back whenever possible. I have not stayed in the RLS house, but that is on my bucket list. I have had dinner there though! The owners are very charming people. It’s so moving to see the light and think of the sick boy looking out to see the lamplighter come along.

  2. Melody Lord

    I haven’t visited Edinburgh, but I have been to Stevenson’s home in Samoa and his grave on the mountaintop there. His lingering presence in the house at Vailima is undeniable and I often think of the view from the verandah over the lush tropical gardens down to the bay and remember the line: ‘Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill’.

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