In 1891, 8 years after his classic novel, Treasure Island, was first published in book-form, author Robert Louis Stevenson learned that the 12-year-old daughter of Henry Clay Ide — then U. S. Commissioner to Samoa, where Stevenson lived — was unhappy that her birthday fell on Christmas Day. Stevenson immediately hatched a charming plan, and soon sent the following letter and accompanying "legal" document to the family — a document in which he transferred the rights to his own birthday to young Annie.
(Source: Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson; Image: Robert Louis Stevenson, via The Guardian.)
19 June 1891
Dear Mr Ide,
Herewith please find the DOCUMENT which I trust will prove sufficient in law. It seems to me very attractive in its eclecticism; Scots, English and Roman law phrases are all indifferently introduced and a quotation from the works of Haynes Bayly can hardly fail to attract the indulgence of the Bench.
Yours very truly,
Robert Louis Stevenson
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