Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin, 1888

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Summary: RLS wrote Memoir in tribute to his professor of engineering at Edinburgh University, Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin. For more biographical information on Jenkin, see the page dedicated to him in the Friends section of website.

In Memoir, RLS discusses Jenkin’s family ancestry in detail, outlining their careers. He then tells the story of Jenkin’s life – his birth, early childhood, studenthood, marriage, and his accession to Chair at Edinburgh University. Stevenson also focuses on Jenkin’s professional triumphs, including his invention of telpherage (a system of using electricity to transport vehicles or goods).

The work indicates RLS’s strong feelings of admiration and affection for the stern and dry-humoured Jenkin. While Stevenson was often inclined to treat all professors as a joke he respected Jenkin and was anxious about disappointing him: “he was simply a man from whose reproof one shrank” (p. 280).

RLS recounts how as a student he had asked Jenkin for a certificate proving he had attended Jenkin’s class. Jenkin refused since Stevenson had certainly not attended, but when he explained he simply wanted it to show to his father, Jenkin agreed.

RLS was not only one of Jenkin’s students, he also fondly remembers participating in amateur theatricals that regularly took place in the Jenkin household. Indeed, Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin is a deeply personal biography of the man and Stevenson concludes “two years have passed since Fleeming was bid to rest beside his father, his mother, and his uncle John, and the thought and the look of our friend still haunts us” (p. 303).

Quotations from Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol ix (London: Chatto and Windus, 1911).