How to Tell if an Author Knows Latin

Tony Sig

Consider these, the first two sentences of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island. The length, the structure, the use of verbs and syntax; these are the lines of someone who knew something about Classical languages.  Enjoy:

Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17–, and go back to the time when my father kept the “Admiral Benbow” inn, and the brown old seaman with the saber cut first took up his lodging under our roof.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea chest following behind him in a handbarrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black broken nails; and the saber cut across one cheek; a dirty, livid white.



  1. Stevenson was considered one of the greatest masters of language and dialect. “Kidnapped” was his greatest work. But if you can locate a copy of “Prayers Written at Vailima,” then you have found Stevenson’s real treasure. A very devout Christian, Stevenson’s faith, as well as his knowledge of classical languages, was evident in everything he wrote. To think he only lived to the age of 44…


  2. Stevenson is absolutely one of my favorite authors – though, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde would be my favorite work by the author


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