What they may not know is that Stevenson credited his love of the South Seas to his visits and conversations with poet and travel writer Charles Warren Stoddard in Stoddard's curiosity-filled house on San Francisco's Rincon Hill.
When the two writers met, Stoddard had recently returned from a five-year ramble in Europe, was writing a weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle, and lived in a faded Gothic mansion on Rincon Hill, a formerly-wealthy neighborhood south of Market.
Rincon Hill's glory days had begun to slide when the city flattened the sand dune at Second and Harrison and the houses began their slow slip into the resulting slot. The wealthy homeowners moved to other quarters, and those looking for cheap rent moved in. Stoddard described his ten-dollar-a-month mansion in his book, The Footprints of the Padres: "Every winter the rains beat upon it and drove through and through it, and undermined it, and made a mush of the rock and soil about it. Portions of real estate deposited themselves, pudding fashion, in the yawning abyss below."
He set out to sketch the city each morning, and one day discovered Rincon Hill, which he described as "the most San Francisco-ey part of San Francisco." On the first day he sketched, he saw "a youngish, good-looking fellow" watching him from a ground floor window. On the second day, the fellow nodded and Stevenson nodded back. On the third day, Stoddard invited Stevenson inside "with the impromptu cordiality of artists."
"There came to me a lean, lithe stranger," said Stoddard. "I knew him for a poet by his unshorn locks and his luminous eyes, the pallor of his face and his exquisitely sensitive hands."
Stevenson found Stoddard "lively and engaging," and was most impressed with the décor in Stoddard's parlor. "I sat presently in the midst of a museum of strange objects,—paddles and battle-clubs and baskets, rough-hewn stone images, ornaments of threaded shell, cocoanut bowls, snowy cocoanut plumes—evidences and examples of another earth, another climate, another race, and another (if ruder) culture."
Stevenson looked out the bay view window as Stoddard told stories of the tropics and showed his artifacts of adventure. Stoddard had traveled to Hawaii and Tahiti and written about his escapades for the Overland Monthly. He collected his tropical essays in South-Sea Idylls, a book that, according to Stoddard's biographer Roger Austen, characterized his coming out.
Sources: Genteel Pagan: The Double Life of Charles Warren Stoddard, Roger Austen; Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California's First Poet Laureate, Aleta George; and More San Francisco Memoirs, 1852-1899, The Ripening Years, Malcolm E. Barker, ed.