I read on Wikipedia that:

During the same period, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, "MS Found in a Bottle" (1833) and the intriguing tale of buried treasure, "The Gold-Bug" (1843). All of these works influenced Stevenson's end product. [...] Stevenson also admits that he took the idea of Captain Flint's skeleton point from Poe's "The Gold-Bug," and he constructed Billy Bones'[s] history from the pages of Washington Irving, one of his favorite writers.

Unfortunately, the good 'pedia provides no source for this claim, so I turn to SE for better results.

Was Stevenson's Treasure Island influenced by Poe's "The Gold-Bug"?

Either textual evidence (strong enough to be more than a mere reuse of common tropes), or an exact source for Stevenson's admission cited by Wikipedia, would make a good answer.

  • Have you tried looking up who added it to Wikipedia, and asking that user on their talk page? Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:28
  • It was added in this edit by this user who unfortunately has no other edits on Wikipedia. So that's a dead end too. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:34
  • The sentence that you left out in the […] says “In a July 1884 letter to Sidney Colvin…”. Look up that letter maybe? Here's a book (cited on Wikipedia) though unfortunately that page isn't part of the Google Books preview (at least when I tried it just now). Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:40
  • Nevermind, it's not in the same letter. That letter only has the part about “T. I. came out of Kingsley's AT LAST, where I got the Dead Man's Chest - and that was the seed - and out of the great Captain Johnson's HISTORY OF NOTORIOUS PIRATES.” Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:44
  • @ShreevatsaR Found it! :-) After this had gone unanswered for so long, I finally broke down and posted a self-answer. It saddens me that this was necessary, but oh well. (My other Treasure Island question is still unanswered though ... <hint hint> ...)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 21:54

1 Answer 1


Stevenson's admission of the earlier stories and authors he'd plagiarised borrowed ideas from comes in My First Book - his little-known preface to Treasure Island, first published in McClure's Magazine in September 1894.

First Stevenson acknowledges very readily some minor ideas and motifs taken from other writers:

It is not to be wondered at, for stolen waters are proverbially sweet. I am now upon a painful chapter. No doubt the parrot once belonged to Robinson Crusoe. No doubt the skeleton is conveyed from Poe.

... but goes on to say that these small acts of 'plagiarism' are unimportant and that his greatest debt is to Washington Irving, from whom he took almost wholesale the character of Billy Bones. (I won't go into this in too much detail since it's not the main subject of the question here; if you're interested in more evidence for the Irving connection, you can read My First Book in full here and also see very similar descriptive passages from Treasure Island and Irving's Tales of a Traveller reproduced together in Appendix C of this edition of Treasure Island.) Later on, he returns to Poe by saying:

The map was the chief part of my plot. For instance, I had called an islet
Skeleton Island, not knowing what I meant, seeking only for the immediate picturesque; and it was to justify this name that I broke into the gallery of Mr Poe and stole Flint's pointer.

Both of these nods to Poe must refer specifically to "The Gold-Bug", in which the famous real-world pirate Captain Kidd left signposts to his fictional treasure which included a skull and two skeletons, presumably belonging to some of his former crewmen.

How I found this: after some failures at looking for answers on the internet using various different search terms, I finally discovered here a direct quote from Stevenson, which I could then paste into Google to find its source.

  • 1
    Good searching :-) Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 21:56
  • Maybe add the citation to Wikipedia, and save someone a search? (Can you cite this page? I don't know WP's policies.)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:14
  • @Shokhet Which citation? The only time I used Wikipedia in making this answer was the page I already linked to near the end.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 22:06
  • You misunderstood; my comment was unclear. Your answer is fine; WP is incomplete. I was suggesting that someone should edit WP, and possibly cite your answer as a source, there. (Although it's probably better to cut out the middle man and just cite My First Book, tbh.)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 22:07
  • @Shokhet Oh right! I thought about that, but I think I'll wait until this question's moved off the front page ;-) Once the Wikipedia page is edited, my question seems pointless or poorly researched because "eh, the answer's right there on Wikipedia".
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 22:29

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