Stevenson, Stoddard and Simoneau: A Three-Way Friendship

Copyright © 2017 by Lindy Perez

In the historic San Carlos Cemetery in Monterey, approximately eight paces separate the grave markers of Charles Warren Stoddard (1843-1909) and Jules Simoneau (1820-1908). Both men were friends of Robert Louis Stevenson and had a significant influence on his life. Stoddard paid tribute to Simoneau when he died in 1908; seven months later Stoddard himself was eulogized in Monterey.

In the late nineteenth century, three men were ranked as the best writers of tales from the South Seas: Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Charles Warren Stoddard. Stevenson and Stoddard were not only contemporaries, they had intersecting lives. As described by RLS in The Wrecker, their first meeting was in the bohemian district of San Francisco at a time when Stevenson was just beginning his life of travel and Stoddard was well into his. It was in conversation with Stoddard about his adventures in Hawaii and Tahiti that Stevenson first “fell under the spell” of the Islands. Stoddard wrote his version of this 1880 encounter in his book In the Footprints of the Padres. 

Several years earlier, Stoddard was in Europe with friend Joe Strong who was studying art in Munich and would later become Stevenson’s step-son-in-law. In 1878, Stoddard and Strong enjoyed the bohemian lifestyle while staying in Monterey with other artist friends from San Francisco. They “breakfasted at Simoneau’s in the inner room with its frescos done in beer and shoeblacking.” Later Stoddard lived in Hawaii with Strong and wife Belle. He visited the Leper Colony on Molokai in 1884 and corresponded with Father Damien some 6 years before Stevenson wrote his famous open letter to the Rev. Hyde, defending Damien’s truer Christianity.

Jules Simoneau, an educated and well-read Frenchman, immigrated to California and settled in Monterey by the 1870’s. He became the proprietor of the Lyon’s Ale Depot and French Restaurant, which soon became a favorite haunt for artists. This is where Stevenson had his meals as a newcomer to Monterey in 1879. Simoneau became close friend, chess partner, and guardian angel to the ailing, near-penniless writer.   Stevenson never forgot this kindness and nurtured the friendship for the rest of his life by sending Simoneau affectionate letters and autographed first editions of his books.

After the death of RLS, Fanny Stevenson and Belle Strong kept in touch with both Jules Simoneau and Charles Warren Stoddard. They visited Stoddard in Manhattan in 1903, the year he published Exits and Entrances, containing sketches of famous writers he knew. The first chapter is a reflection on Robert Louis Stevenson. See this site for Stoddard’s account. By 1905, Stoddard had returned to California and visited Monterey to learn more about Stevenson’s stay. As it turned out, he remained in Monterey for the rest of his life. Like so many other writers and admirers of RLS, Stoddard would stop by the cottage on Van Buren Street where Simoneau had lived for decades. The old man delighted in talking about his special friendship, proudly showing the books and letters he had received from RLS and Mrs. Stevenson. He told Stoddard precisely which room RLS rented in the Stevenson House. Based on these conversations and his journals, Stoddard wrote an article about Stevenson and Simoneau for The National Magazine. The original journals and letters from Stoddard’s last years in Monterey are in the archive collection of the Stevenson House. His writing expresses a longing for a bygone era –

Monterey that I loved so dearly has gone clean, or unclean, to the devil. The curse of progress in modern improvements has robbed it of its only charm – it was the ideal haunt of Poets, Artists, Bohemians. All that made it picturesque, restful, charming has utterly vanished.                           

-and recalls Stevenson’s prediction about Monterey in The Old Pacific Capital.

Lindy Perez

October 2013

Copyright © 2017 by Lindy Perez