Roger G. Swearingen
829 Spring Street
707 542-5088 Ernest Mehew, 1923-2011
Roger G. Swearingen is a leading authority on the life and works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Personal Details
He is a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley (A.B., 1965) and of Yale University (Ph.D., 1970).
He has taught English Literature, Robert Louis Stevenson, and scientific and technical writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of California-Davis.
At the end of October 2007 he retired from his position as a web site architect and designer at Agilent EEsof EDA (Electronic Design Automation), part of Agilent Technologies, Inc., in Santa Rosa, California. Hired as a contract technical writer by Hewlett-Packard in January 1984, he worked almost twenty-four years at various information-management tasks for HP and, after it was spun off as a separate company in 1999, for Agilent Technologies.
The test and measurement divisions in Agilent Technologies on 1 August 2014 became Keysight Technologies. The principal products of the Agilent EEsof EDA division are technical software design tools for microwave, RF, and digital communications systems designers.
Swearingen's current scholarly project is a full-length biography of RLS for Faber and Faber Publishers, London, titled Robert Louis Stevenson: Spirit of Adventure.
He is also finishing an extensively annotated edition, Robert Louis Stevenson's The South Seas: The Original Opening Chapters, with Selections from his Day-to-Day Pacific Journals and Stevenson's Outlines. This edition publishes for the first time the recently-discovered opening chapters of the book that RLS called 'my big book on the South Seas: the big book on the South Seas it ought to be, and shall' (RLS to Marcel Schwob, 19 August 1890, Letter 2238) - chapters altogether unlike those published after his death as In the South Seas (1896).
Future projects include a second edition of his guide to Stevenson's prose writings and a guide to the many photographs, paintings, and sketches of Stevenson, for the moment titled Robert Louis Stevenson: The Pictorial Record. Typical of the riches available are the pictures of RLS at Bournemouth, 1884 - 1887.
• Invited by the Carmel Woman's Club (founded in 1919 and still in their original meeting place at Ninth and San Carlos) on 21 March 2022 Swearingen spoke on 'The Life and Times of Robert Louis Stevenson in Monterey'. He noted that compared to almost any of the other places that Stevenson lived except Edinburgh and Samoa, the Monterey Peninsula retains more of its original feel - the landscape, weather, places, and things - that Stevenson himself knew more than a century ago. Although he wrote for general publication only 'The Old Pacific Capital' (Fraser's Magazine, November 1880; Across the Plains, 1892), in that one essay Stevenson virtually created the sense of the Monterey Peninsula that we have today.
• Celebrating the 142nd anniversary of Stevenson's arrival in Monterey on 30 August 1879, Swearingen gave a talk to a joint gathering of the Historical Society of Pacific Grove and the RLS Club of Monterey on Saturday 28 August 2021: 'Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson – A Life-Long Treasure Hunt'. Looking back on his own fifty-plus years of reading and studying Stevenson, he explained with many illustrations that four features of Stevenson's writing have sustained, and continue to sustain, his interest.
Stevenson writes extraordinarily well. He took trouble over his writing, and it shows. Stevenson is versatile. As Henry James remarked in 1888, 'it is a delight to read him and ... he renews this delight by a constant variety of experiment. ... Each of his books is an independent effort - a window opened to a different view'. Stevenson never writes the same book twice.
Stevenson is engaged ethically, again and again giving substance and form to - rendering - the struggle to find one's way in a Darwinian universe; to endure although one cannot master situations in which no good deed goes unpunished and one's fate is not one's own; and to conflicts of duty and inclination, speaking and silence. Stevenson renders what he cannot master or explain ... creating parables rich in ethical substance but without ethical intent.
Finally, Stevenson's work continually surprises, the most recent instance of this for Swearingen being the importance of music to Stevenson, and in what he wrote. No better guide exists, he noted, than John Russell's masterful 'Music of Robert Louis Stevenson' web site:
Stevenson was a celebrity, in his own time and today. But what matters is what he wrote. As G. K. Chesterton remarked in 1927: 'His life really was romantic, but to repeat that romance is like reprinting the Scarlet Pimpernel or offering the world an entirely new portrait of Rudolph Valentino'.
• To the magazine of the Club Cévenol, Causses & Cévennes, 24:1 (Jan-Feb-Mar 2019), Swearingen contributed a short article, 'La réputation de Robert Louis Stevenson en Ècosse et dans le monde' ['Robert Louis Stevenson's Reputation - in Scotland and Worldwide'] and a transcription of a previously unknown and unpublished passage from Stevenson's day-to-day journals in the Marquesas, not used by him in The South Seas (4 August 1888; Huntington Library 2412), 'Le regard de Robert Louis Stevenson sur les Cévenols, les Écossais des Hautes Terres et les habitants des îles du Pacifique Sud' ['Robert Louis Stevenson on the Cevenols, Highlanders, and South Sea Islanders'].
In his day-to-day journal, Stevenson wrote: 'I have found three populations entirely delightful: in the high Cévennes, in the Scottish Highlands and Isles, and here in Anaho.' In some respects they differ significantly.
'But there are two conditions common to all three, which I must thus suppose to be, in whatever proportion, the efficient occasion of their charm and kindliness. All three are remotely situate, cut off by the sea, or by rude mountains, from neighbours more advanced. And all three have issued but recently from a prolonged and almost chronic state of war. Where also it was not modern war, where fatigue and disease are the chief enemies; but the war of the field and the back garden, where a man fights for his land, and his enemy is his next neighbour.'
Stevenson's reputation, especially as an exemplary figure never losing hope, endured twenty years after his death, as is well shown by the many complete collected editions and reminiscences. The people, places, and values that he celebrated in his writings, the paradoxical optimism of his philosophy of life, and what was known of his own personal and public behaviour, all resonated deeply with the prosperous late-Victorian and Edwardian middle-class reading public in Britain and America (and worldwide) during the anxious transitional decades before, during, and after the First World War.
But with his wife Fanny Stevenson's death in Santa Barbara, California, on 18 February 1914, two months before her seventy-fourth birthday, immediately a new line of comment on Stevenson was opened up. It was now possible - so it was said - to tell the truth about aspects of Stevenson's life and behaviour that for at least two decades had been concealed in silence.
Clayton Hamilton, George S. Hellman, and J. A. Steuart made the most of the fact that no one now was left who could refute their supposed revelations that RLS was a highly-sexed reincarnation of Robert Burns.
• As part of the 'RLS Week' celebration sponsored by the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, St. Helena, California, on 15 November 2018 Swearingen offered an illustrated audio and pictorial presentation titled 'Stevenson's Scotland: Shaping the Modern Myth'.
He contrasted the prevailing Victorian view of 'Scotland', epitomized by Queen Victoria (RLS's neighbor at Balmoral when he and his family stayed at Braemar in August and September 1881), and Stevenson's inward and subjective view, one that also took in the darker sides of Scottish history and religion.
The contrast is easy to see comparing the Victorian lyrics to the 'Skye Boat Song' written and first published by Harold Boulton in 1885 (audio: The Corries, 1970) and RLS's version a few years later, 'Sing Me a Song of a Lad That is Gone', now used as the theme of the television program Outlander. Another recording uses parts of both versions (audio: The McCalmans, 2006).
• In a talk sponsored by the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and given on 10 May 2018 at the St. Helena Public Library, “Robert Louis Stevenson, A Scot Abroad in Napa Valley: Some Often-Forgotten Details About The Silverado Squatters”, Swearingen suggested taking a fresh look at The Silverado Squatters, written at Davos early in 1882, just after RLS finished Treasure Island.
Drawing upon Stevenson's 1880 journal now in the Huntington Library (available in a splendid, highly useful edition by John E. Jordan, Book Club of California, 1954) and contemporary newspaper accounts, he noted that second-hand summaries do little justice to Stevenson's enthusiasm for the different-ness, charm, and oddity of America and invariably smooth over the roughness and hardships of the stay. Its main purpose was convalescence in the sunshine, away from San Francisco, not a fairy-tale honeymoon of a neglected, struggling author and his blushing bride.
• In a talk sponsored by the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and given on 7 November 2017 at the St. Helena Public Library, “Two Pieces of Paper and Why They Matter: Original Manuscript Pages from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum”, Swearingen surveyed of the many ways in which Stevenson's most famous story has been presented and adapted, in print and in various media from comic books and toys to motion pictures. Practically from the beginning, the story has had a life of its own.
Turning then to two manuscript pages now in the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum - one from RLS's notebook version, the other from the final version - Swearingen showed how Stevenson's revisions move the story away from simple conclusiveness toward indeterminacy, mystery, and tightly-controlled narration presenting details only as and when the characters themselves learn them.
• For more than a century, Stevenson's The Silverado Squatters (first published in late 1883), especially 'Napa Wine' and 'The Sea Fogs', has attracted California's finest printers, beginning with Paul Elder and Company in San Francisco in 1907. Never has the result been more successful than in the edition of 'The Sea Fogs' by Nawakum Press in October 2016. Swearingen contributed a brief introduction. Details. Sadly, the then-remaining inventory of copies was lost to the 9 October 2017 Sonoma County firestorm.
• In September 2014 Stevenson's unfinished comic novel - 30,000 words in nine chapters, begun in 1877 when RLS was twenty-six - The Hair Trunk or The Ideal Commonwealth: An Extravaganza appeared for the first time in English. details TLS review - 30 January 2015
Transcribed, introduced, and annotated by Swearingen, The Hair Trunk now takes its place among Stevenson's memorable early works of fiction.
Published by humming earth, an imprint of Zeticula, Ltd., in Scotland, The Hair Trunk is available worldwide from all booksellers locally and from amazon.com in the United States and amazon.co.uk in the United Kingdom, as well as from other Amazon sites - all with free delivery. ISBN 978-1-84622-050-0.
On Saturday 8 November 2014, "The Hair Trunk" was featured in The Scotsman, Edinburgh, with an excerpt reprinting the whole of the first chapter - all of this in celebration of the annual "RLS Day" on his birthday, 13 November. Feature Story Chapter 1
• Swearingen spent the month of March 2014 at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, on a month-long Huntington Fellowship, working there on Stevenson's journals and manuscripts for The South Seas, to produce the first complete rendering of the work as it stood at the time of Stevenson's death at the end of 1894. He returned with more than 40,000 words transcribed from Stevenson's day-to-day journals in the South Seas. Much of this is unpublished new material; all of it shows Stevenson's ways of working and the tremendous investment of time, attention, and talent that he made in the work.
• In July 2013, Swearingen prepared a lengthy handout/keepsake for the Seventh Biennial Stevenson Conference held in Sydney, Australia. Titled Robert Louis Stevenson in Australia: Treasures in the State Library of New South Wales, it comments on four Stevenson-related items in a special exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales mounted expressly for the conference. The result was featured in the library's special displays area and online, AMAZE: The Michael Crouch Gallery. Swearingen also prepared for the conference a PowerPoint slide show and voice-over commentary both on the handout and recalling the late Ernest J. Mehew.
• In November 2011, Steele Roberts Publishers, Wellington, New Zealand, published the first edition of Stevenson's 1891 story The Bottle Imp to contain both the English and the Samoan texts. The latter is the translation by the Rev. Arthur E. Claxton on which Stevenson himself collaborated within the limits of his knowledge of Samoan - the only work of his translated into a Polynesian language during his lifetime. The English text is edited by Robert Hoskins, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand, and contains the original illustrations from Island Nights' Entertainments (1893). Swearingen contributes a lengthy introduction with much new information on the sources and history of the story, especially on the stage play and German tale(s) upon which it is based. » Steele Roberts
• On 8 November 2011, for the annual celebration of Stevenson's un-birthday in Monterey, Swearingen gave at the Monterey Public Library an enhanced and revised version of his talk on Stevenson and Mark Twain, given originally at the RLS Silverado Museum in April.
• Saturday 7 May 2011 marked the 100th aniversary of the placement of a monument to Stevenson at the site of the miners' cabin on Mt. St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Here Stevenson, his wife Fanny, her stepson Samuel Lloyd Osbourne, Fanny's dog ChuChu, and others spent five or six weeks of RLS's and Fanny's honeymoon in June and July 1880. Swearingen was the principal speaker at the re-dedication ceremony at the site and at a program held afterwards at the site of the mining town just below their platform on the mountain.
• On 6 April 2011, Swearingen gave a talk at the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California, titled Did Robert Louis Stevenson Ever Meet Mark Twain? - And Other Biographical Byways. He explored the special status of autobiographical writings such as travel, humor, reflection, and reminiscence in both authors' work, especially the close affinities between their aims and approaches; the personal and literary relations between Stevenson and Mark Twain, who did meet and conversed at length in New York sometime during the last week of April 1888; and the special status that autobiographies have in writing the biographies of such writers.
• Beginning a new series in Journal of Stevenson Studies called Uncollected Stevenson, Swearingen prepared for its first publication a reading text of On the Art of Literature, a 3,800-word beginning of an essay that Stevenson wrote sometime in the early 1880s. The manuscript is in the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California.
• Published in the December 2009 issue of The Journal of The Polynesian Society is Swearingen's essay titled A Tale of Two Tapa: Their History, Legend and Celebrity Ownership by Robert Louis Stevenson tracing the complicated history of fact, legend, and belief associated with tapa(s) in the Beinecke Library at Yale and Monterey State Historic Park, California. Online Text. RLS was elected as the 178th member of the The Polynesian Society a year after its founding in 1892.
• Among the letters in the 13 November 2009 issue of the Times Literary Supplement is a comment by Swearingen Herbert Spencer at billiards on an anecdote in the Oxford Companion to English Literature mistakenly associated with Stevenson that actually traces to the philosopher Herbert Spencer.
• Published during the autumn of 2007 in Volume 38 of Dickens Studies Annual is a detailed review of research on Stevenson during the last thirty-five years, Robert Louis Stevenson: Recent Biographical and Critical Studies - 1970 - 2005.
The first part, Recent Studies in Robert Louis Stevenson: Letters, Reference Works, Texts - 1970 - 2005, appeared in Volume 37 (2006) of DSA.
• In July 2006, Swearingen collaborated with British journalist Nicholas Rankin on a plenary session titled The Master of Ballantrae: A Conversation at the fourth Biennial Robert Louis Stevenson Conference held this year at Saranac Lake, New York, 18-20 July 2006. » Conference Program: Transatlantic Stevenson
• At the end of August 2005, as part of the weekend-long celebration of the official re-opening of Stevenson House at Monterey State Historic Park, California, Swearingen gave an illustrated slide lecture, "Some Early Visitors to Monterey: Artistic Monterey in the 1870s," tracing the emergence of Monterey as an artist's colony during the middle and late 1870s.
Swearingen was also honored with the "California Poppy Award" for "Exemplary Service to California State Parks" for his help in developing the new furnishing and interpretive plans for Stevenson House - the first major revision of these plans in forty years.
• During the month of October 2004, Swearingen was honored as a visiting fellow at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, as the recipient of a John D. and Rose H. Jackson Fellowship. This enabled him to advance significantly his research for Robert Louis Stevenson: Spirit of Adventure, taking in many newly-acquired items, and to assist the library and fellow scholars in the identification and cataloguing of Stevenson's notebooks and other manuscript materials.
Swearingen's current project is a full-length biography of RLS for Faber and Faber Publishers, London, titled Robert Louis Stevenson: Spirit of Adventure.
He is the author of the authoritative guide to the writing and publication of Stevenson's many prose works: The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: A Guide (1980). He has also published articles and reviews on Stevenson over the space of more than twenty-five years.
With his wife, Sarah, he edited for publication the complete, original manuscript of The Amateur Emigrant, now in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. This is Stevenson's own account of his trip in 1879 across the Atlantic and the American continent to California.
Swearingen also discovered Stevenson's first published work of fiction, An Old Song. Published anonymously in the short-lived magazine London in 1877, the story was not known to be Stevenson's until Swearingen identified it on the basis of manuscript evidence 100 years later at Yale University.
In October 2001 the City of Edinburgh Libraries and Museums Department published Swearingen's Robert Louis Stevenson's Edinburgh: A Concise Guide for Visitors and Residents - the first detailed guide to places in and near his native city especially associated with Stevenson. It is illustrated with photographs and maps from Stevenson's time; the text consists almost entirely of quotations from Stevenson's letters and reminiscences and recollections by his contemporaries. » The Writers' Museum - Edinburgh
Swearingen's complete updating and expansion of the Stevenson entry for the third edition of the Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature was published by Cambridge University Press on 13 January 2000. "The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature is accepted internationally as the single most important reference work in its field."
Published by the Silverado Museum and three other institutions in November 1995 is Swearingen's edition of Stevenson's previously unpublished manuscript, "The New Lighthouse on the Dhu Heartach Rock, Argyllshire" (1872, Huntington Library). This is a work by the young Stevenson that Swearingen re-assembled after 100 years from sources in two locations in California and two others in Edinburgh. A special feature of this edition is the publication, in color, of the painting by the Scottish artist Sam Bough of the Dhu Heartach lighthouse during its construction. Bough made sketches for the painting when he and RLS visited the rock in August 1870.
Swearingen's article, "'A Scotsman of the World': Robert Louis Stevenson after 100 Years," appeared in the June 1994 issue of the University of Edinburgh Journal.
Talks and Other Appearances
Swearingen has appeared on BBC television and radio and on National Public Radio in the United States. He has given papers and talks on Stevenson before the Modern Language Association, at the Silverado Museum, Schramsberg Winery, the St. Andrews Society of San Francisco, the Napa Valley Historical Society, the Old Monterey Preservation Society, the Gleeson Library Associates of the University of San Francisco, the Yale Club of San Francisco, and the Sacramento Book Collectors Club.
For the University of North Carolina Program in the Humanities and Human Values Adventures in Ideas weekend seminar titled Spirit of Adventure, 29 - 31 July 2004, Swearingen gave the keynote presentation and a presentation on Robert Louis Stevenson, supporting both of these with an extensive collection of web links: Web Links - Spirit of Adventure.
Aired at 2:00 AM (!) on 9 December 2003 on the Learning Channel in the United States was Judith Dwan Hallet's hour-long program on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in the Cronkite-Ward "Great Books" series. This program includes parts of a conversation with Swearingen filmed in Washington, DC, in December 2001. He also served as a consultant on the project. More Information
On 10 November 2003, at the Book Club of California, Swearingen gave an introduction to the film Notes on the Port of St. Francis (1951) by Frank Stauffacher, narrated by Vincent Price, and using the text of Robert Louis Stevenson's essay "A Modern Cosmopolis" (1882).
In November 2002, he was the featured speaker at a celebration of Robert Louis Stevenson at the Monterey Public Library, Monterey, California. He also serves there as a consultant to Monterey State History Park helping create the new exhibit layout and interpretive plan for Stevenson House, the two-story adobe in which Stevenson lived at the end of 1879.
In November 2000, among other activities and appearances during the week, he spoke to students and faculty at the University of Edinburgh as part of the week-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's birth on 13 November 1850.
In August 1999, Swearingen was the "Book Buddy" on the US National Public Radio program, Talk of the Nation, discussing Treasure Island with host Ray Suarez and callers from all over the United States. A Real Audio version of the whole program is available online in the Archive of Talk of the Nation under the date of August 19, 1999, "Book Club of the Air."
On 3 December 1997, Swearingen delivered the address at the annual Robert Louis Stevenson memorial service at Stevenson's home, Vailima, in the Independent Republic of (Western) Samoa. He spoke on Stevenson's vision for Samoa, and the Samoan people - a feature of Stevenson's relation to his adopted nation that is obscured by looking only at his well-known complaints about officials published in the London Times and elsewhere.
In November 1997, he was the invited speaker at the Autumn Meeting of the Gleeson Library Associates at the University of San Francisco. He spoke on Stevenson's transition in the last hundred years from author to classic, on the occasion of welcoming to USF the Alan and Janet Coleman collection of Stevenson first editions and other materials, a collection that he had catalogued for sale by Bernard Rosenthal almost twenty years earlier, in 1979.
In November 1995, he spoke on "Stevenson and Lighthouses" at the Maritime Museum, Stanton Center, in Monterey, beginning the annual Stevenson celebrations there. In February 1996, he repeated this illustrated talk at the Silverado Museum in St. Helena, California.
In January 1995, he spoke on "Stevenson in Fine-Printing Editions" before the Book Club of California in San Francisco, and, also in January 1995, on "Why Monterey Still Matters" for the annual meeting of the Old Monterey Preservation Society.
He also appeared in the BBC-Scotland television program, "Stevenson's Travels", that was broadcast for the first time in November and December 1994.
During the centenary year of Stevenson's death, in 1994, Swearingen spoke on Stevenson at the "Stevenson Family of Engineers" conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, and at Schramsberg Winery in the Napa Valley, California.
In 1978, Swearingen spoke at the international centenary conference on Stevenson's Travels With a Donkey held in Alés, France.
Swearingen lives with his wife Sarah, a now retired elementary-school librarian, in Santa Rosa, California an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Their older son Taylor graduated in June 2008 from UCLA with a degree in History and Political Science. He now lives and works in Los Angeles, where he raises money for athletic scholarships at UCLA as Associate Athletic Director, Development. Their younger son James graduated in June 2012 from the University of Oregon, majoring in psychology, and in May 2016 graduated from the UC-Davis School of Law. He passed the California State Bar in November 2016 and now works as an attorney.
Updated: RGS 9 April 2022