The Army of Georland

The Army of Georland

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson - An Intimate Portrait of RLS by Lloyd Osbourne 1924


The second source identified by Karl G Zipple and published in the Wargamers Yearbook by Don Feateherstone was:

AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF R L S
by his Stepson Lloyd Osbourne
New York
Chars. Scribner’s Sons 1924

But best of all were our “war games”, which took weeks to play on the attic floor.

These games were a na├»ve sort of “Kriegspiel”, conceived with an enormous elaboration, and involving six hundred miniature lead soldiers. The attic floor was made into a map, with mountains, towns, rivers, “good” and “bad” roads, bridges, morasses, etc. Four soldiers constituted a “regiment”, with the right to one shot when within a certain distance of the enemy; and their March was twelve inches a day without heavy artillery, and four inches with heavy artillery. Food and munitions were condensed in the single form of printers’ “Ms” twenty to a cart, drawn by a single horseman, whose move, like that of all cavalry, was the double of the infantry. One “M” was expended for every simple shot; four “Ms” for every artillery shot – which returned to the base to be again brought out in carts. The simple shots were pellets fired from little spring-pistols; the artillery shots were the repeated throws of a deadly double sleeve-link.

Here absurdity promptly entered, and would certainly have disturbed a German staff-officer. Some of our soldiers were much sturdier than others and never fell as readily; on the other hand, there were some disheartingly thin warriors that would go down in dozens if you hardly looked at then: and I remember some very chubby and expensive cavalrymen from the Palais Royal whom no pellets could spill. Stevenson excelled with the pistol, while I was a crack shot with the sleeve-link. The leader who first moved his men, no matter how few, into the firing range was entitled to the first shot. If you had thirty regiments you had thirty shots; but your opponent was entitled to as many return shots as he had regiments, regardless of how many you had slaughtered in the meanwhile.

This is no more than a slight sketch of the game, which was too complicated for a full description, and we played it with a breathlessness and intensity that stirs me even now to recall. That it was not wholly ridiculous but gave scope for some intelligence is proved by the fact that R L S invariably won, though handicapped by one-third less men. In this connection it may be interesting to know what a love of soldiering R L S always had. Once he told me that if he had had the health he would have gone into the army, and had even made the first start by applying for a commission in the yeomanry – which illness had made him forego. On another occasion he asked me who of all men I should most prefer to be, and on my answering “Lord Wolseley” he smiled oddly as though somehow I had pierced his own thoughts, and admitted that he would have made the same choice.

One conversation I heard him have with a visitor at the chalet impressed me irrevocably. The visitor was a fussy, officious person, who after many preambles ventured to criticise Stevenson for the way he was bringing me up. R L S, who was always the most reasonable of men in an argument, and almost over-ready to admit any points against himself, surprised me by his unshaken stand.


“Of course I let him read anything he wants”, he said. “And if he hears things you say he shouldn’t, I am glad of it. A child should early gain some perception of what the world is really like – its baseness.”

1 comment:

  1. Having read (and printed off) a copy of Lloyd Osbourne's 1898 magazine article (Stevenson at Play), this small excerpt fills in some of the gaps concerning the mechanics of their war games. Thanks!

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