Jorge Luis Borges claims, in his Book of Imaginary Beings, that the author Robert Louis Stevenson attributed some of the stranger ideas in his writing to fantastical creatures such as brownies who inspired him. This quote from Borges can be found for example here:

The famed author Robert Lewis Stevenson declared that he'd trained his Brownies to be writers. As he slept, they would whisper fantastic plots in his ear -- for example, the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and the diabolical Mr. Hyde, and that episode in "Olalla" when a young man from an old Spanish family bites his sister's hand.

Did Stevenson actually say this? Or is it just part of Borges's storytelling?

1 Answer 1



Stevenson writes in his A Chapter on Dreams, which you can see a book scan at that link, and a text version at Project Gutenburg:

Well, as regards the dreamer, I can answer that, for he is no less a person than myself;—as I might have told you from the beginning, only that the critics murmur over my consistent egotism;—and as I am positively forced to tell you now, or I could advance but little further with my story. And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies’ part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then. Here is a doubt that much concerns my conscience. For myself—what I call I, my conscious ego, the denizen of the pineal gland unless he has changed his residence since Descartes, the man with the conscience and the variable bank-account, the man with the hat and the boots, and the privilege of voting and not carrying his candidate at the general elections—I am sometimes tempted to suppose is no story-teller at all, but a creature as matter of fact as any cheesemonger or any cheese, and a realist bemired up to the ears in actuality; so that, by that account, the whole of my published fiction should be the single-handed product of some Brownie, some Familiar, some unseen collaborator, whom I keep locked in a back garret, while I get all the praise and he but a share (which I cannot prevent him getting) of the pudding. I am an excellent adviser, something like Molière’s servant. I pull back and I cut down; and I dress the whole in the best words and sentences that I can find and make; I hold the pen, too; and I do the sitting at the table, 188 which is about the worst of it; and when all is done, I make up the manuscript and pay for the registration; so that, on the whole, I have some claim to share, though not so largely as I do, in the profits of our common enterprise.
Stevenson, A Chapter on Dreams (emphasis added)

(I found this by Googling stevenson "Brownies", finding this British Library page, looking at the scan, seeing the quote I mentioned above, then Googling stevenson a chapter on dreams and finding a link to the Project Gutenburg page.)

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    Nice reference. N.B. for the curious: fondly = foolishly Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 5:36

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