The story so far
In January 2013, Robert-Louis Abrahamson and myself went to the Colindale Newspaper Library to try and identify possible unsigned articles by Robert Louis Stevenson in the weekly magazine London, edited by his friend W. E. Henley. We found a couple of possible candidates from early 1877 but didn’t have time to look through all the issues from 1877 to 1879, the period of the magazine’s short life.
It was only later that the significance of a list of 1878 publications made in the ‘Inland Voyage’ notebook became clear to me: four additional and unnamed ‘articles’ were listed along with payments for episodes of Stevenson’s ‘Arabian Nights’. Shortly after our visit, however, the British Library closed the Colindale Newspaper Library with no access to the collection for a year while it was moved to the new repository at Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
The new British Library Newsroom
The new Newsroom at the British Library is a pleasant, luminous space, extending down to the left of the first desks in the photograph (right), and looking down, on this long side, over a double-height lower level below. It wasn’t crowded, conditions were ideal, and at the end we made copies on a huge scanner ourselves: 45p each because we had paper copies, but even less if you copy onto a memory stick.
By an unfortunate chance, when preparing the trip I’d referred a file of my calculations based on the supposition that all the ‘Arabian Nights’ payments were in the Notebook list and that the additional articles must be located between August (when RLS had returned from France with Fanny and family) and October (before the start of what became ‘Providence and the Guitar’—not included in the list—in November).
So we started worked thrugh this period, turning over the pages, ignoring articles on political, financial and sporting subjects and looking at the others: RLA read the beginning paragraph while I looked at the last one on the page. This seemed a good way to do things with limited time. We then consulted and gave a vote from 0 (definitely not by Stevenson) to 5 (definitely by Stevenson). In this way we spent the morning with no vote going above 1 or 2 (= almost certainly not Stevenson).
Then we had lunch on one of the pleasant British Library terraces overlooking the atrium, and afterwards, still at the table, we looked again at image of the list of 1878 payments. It was then that the penny dropped: three of these articles are listed before ‘English Admirals’, published in the Cornhill in July 1878, and the fourth immediately after. So the period where we should be looking was June and July and perhaps early August. We returned to the Newsroom and started searching with renewed attention.
What we found
The first thing we found was a letter with the title ‘A Story-teller’ and signed ‘Rue Saint Jacques’, which we knew was Stevenson’s address in Paris at the time. It was in praise of a writer who we didn’t know Stevenson was familiar with, Sheridan Le Fanu. There is no mention of him in the letters or essays, and it is only in a letter of Henley to Colvin about 1885 that we learn that Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly was ‘a book for which R. L. S. had a profound respect’ and was the basis for the idea of the play ‘The Hanging Judge’. The article—not really a letter, as London had no regular correspondence column and this contribution was undoubtedy paid for (for which, see part 2)—also mentions a favourite character named ‘Jekyl’ and another book (Wylder’s Hand) which we know contains a minor character with the same name (and contains a troubling hand reminiscent of the hand of Hyde). An extract is given below.
We also found in the ‘Whsipering Gallery’ section of short news items a series of notes about Paris and the 1878 Exhibition which are clearly also by Stevenson and are in fact referred to in a letter of Henley in this period.
And that was it: we found some other pieces to which we gave a vote of 3 or 4. One of them was ‘The Ethics of Lying’ which did not seem to me to contain any stylistic clues, but which RLA thought could have set Stevenson thinking about ‘Truth of Intercourse’ written shortly after.
So there are still two ‘articles’ unfound—though we looked through every possible candidate and debated their merits. There was also poem called ‘Choice of a Profession’, the title of an unpublished essay written by Stevenson shortly after. We didn’t think it was by Stevenson, but thought perhaps Henley wrote it as a joke after having heard of Stevenson’s idea to write something. (We had noticed on the previous visit a poem with the title ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, which we thought might be a similar joke or kind of indirect promotion.)
To construct a story, Mr. Editor, is no very commonplace accomplishment. To be able first to construct, and then to tell, a story, is to be a man among ten thousand. Now, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was a man who could build up a fable on the eternal principles: not to irritate the mind for the first volume or so with a mystery which must sooner or later leak out and prove a disappointment, but to raise one picturesque and speaking situation on another, and to satisfy amply, as well as to suspend, the reader’s curiosity. His stories have a profile; he throws a sunset behind a situation with the hand of a master; the oddest things go on in the moonlight; and his old houses are filled with threatening whispers and events. Do you remember the fellow who was shipwrecked with the gold ring? or the butterfly of light that played over Lily Dogger as she lay half asleep in the cupboard off the kitchen? or Wylder’s hand appearing suddenly from the landslip? or the scuffle in the stable lane in Haunted Lives? I will hardily confess, Mr. Editor, and I call on you to confess, that this was a writer who had a mighty sensitive touch for the picturesque. I try all sorts of competitors against him in my mind; I try Wilkie Collins and his dry bones; I try Mr. Payn with his somewhat meagre execution. Again, I look on the other side of the water, and try Gaboriau, and try Féval, and try De Boisgobey, so skilful to begin, so incapable of finishing, his vast machines; and I say, without fear of contradiction, that Le Fanu possesses a sounder scheme of story-making and had better effects in his repertory than any man among the lot.
And then, after a fashion, he could write the things he fancied. He had a capital assortment of types; he had a young lady that was as good as new at the end of a dozen novels; he had an old lady with a temper who possesses all our sympathies from first to last; he was a dead hand with lawyers, clergymen, and horse-jockeys; and for the wicked squire he held a patent that has never been infringed. I am a cordial admirer of Le Fanu’s wicked country gentlemen. His temper is the genuine article; it is temper, and bad temper, too, and imposes on the respect of a timid man like me. And, then, he is never too wicked; he has always the raw material of goodness under his shooting-jacket; he is a true human being, and I do not find I weary of him after he has appeared under a dozen different pseudonyms and at a dozen different ages. All this without prejudice to the charming country houses, in which this luxurious writer makes a point of honour to instal him, and the admirable cigars with which he supplies him from the first page to the last.
Of course, Le Fanu’s writing is just where he sins. A man who could write so well ought simply to be well birched for not having written better. He was hurried, slovenly, unconscientious; positively dishonest to the public and the Smiling Providence who made him. And the man who could make Sir Jekyl Marlow converse so magisterially with his brother Dives, ought to have hidden his head in the nearest conduit whenever he remembered the disgraceful rubbish he suffered to escape his pen at other times. You must not judge Le Fanu from his foot, for it was of a very inferior sort of clay and carelessly prepared.
This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.
.Summary: In this post, John F. Russell shows that ‘Come, Here is Adieu to the City’ (wrongfully titled ‘Schumann’s “Fröhlicher Landmann’ by Lewis) was originally grouped with ‘Spring Song’ (‘The air was full of sun and birds’) and ‘In Lupum’ as a group of three poems with a linked agricultural theme under the general title of ‘Schumann’s “Fröhlicher Landmann’. All three are inspired by melodies (though only ‘In Lupum’ is to the Schumann tune). He also demonstrates that the poems date not from the early 1870s but from 1888. . In an another draft, ‘Come, Here is Adieu to the City’ is grouped with ‘On Such a Day’ and ‘Sunday’. In both cases, the grouped poems can be seen as a record of Stevenson’s long escape from New York to the South Pacific in 1888, with the first group focussing on the return of spring and the possibility of leaving confinement for the country, and the second grouping adding a sense of release from the imprisoning past.
1. Happy Farmers
In his edition of the letters, Colvin said of Stevenson, “As always in cities, his health quickly flagged…” According to the poem Come, Here is Adieu to the City, cities were equally bad for his spiritual health, while the country was beneficial for creativity.
A rough manuscript copy can be found at the Beinecke Library,
and a fair copy at the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum:
The 1916 Bibliophile Society edition of poems says it “belongs to the early ‘70’s.” In Collected Poems (2003) Roger C. Lewis titles it Schumann’s Frölicher Landmann and indicates it may have been written in Edinburgh in 1872. He derives the date from a letter RLS wrote to Elizabeth Crosby on December 22, 1872:
However, in the letter Stevenson says only that he is promoting the music, not that he has written a poem about it. Toward the end of the sentence he also mentions a Gavotte en Ré but never writes a poem by that title.
The fair copy of Come Here is Adieu to the City is headed Schumann’s Frölicher Landmann. The note by Booth and Mehew under the letter points out, however, that it is a heading for a group of verses, not just Come, Here is Adieu. The rough copy shows no title and has the Roman numeral II, instead of I.
Schumann’s Fröhlicher Landmann
Beginning piano students know Schumann’s music in English as The Happy Farmer. Though an agricultural theme is shared, Stevenson’s poem has no musical relationship to the piano piece and is not intended as lyrics for that melody.
Fröhlicher Landmann is only one of 43 pieces in a collection by Schumann called Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young). In a letter to Anne Jenkin in April of 1887, Stevenson acknowledged,
Your packet arrived: I have dipped into the Schumann already with great pleasure. (Letters 5, 389 (Letter 1794))
By that time he had been playing the piano for a year and could attempt the easier Schumann piano pieces. Unfortunately he does not mention the title of the music he received. However, the more than 120 manuscript copies of music in Stevenson’s hand include only six Schumann pieces; Erinnerung (Memory), Ländliches Lied (Country Song), Matrosenlied (Sailor’s Song), Langsam (Slow Movement), Stückchen (Little Piece), and Träumerei (Dreams). The first five are all found in Album Für die Jugend. The last appears in the collection Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood).
On October 27th, 1887 Stevenson was in Saranac, New York and wrote a letter to Fanny’s nephew Fred Thomas (1870-1962), a young violinist who lived in Danville, Indiana. The letter concerned music RLS offered to send Fred as a Christmas present. A list of books which appears to be this Christmas shopping list has been found on the reverse of a manuscript for the fable The Reader.
For a detailed analysis of this document, see the Music of Robert Louis Stevenson. The seventh item on the list is marked “Schumann” and refers to a volume comprised of two piano collections, Album für die Jugend and Kinderszenen, together containing all six pieces which Stevenson copied in manuscript.
Stevenson’s Fröhlicher Landmann
The fair copy of Come, Here is Adieu has the number 19 at the top of the page. The reverse of the leaf is numbered 20 and contains the conclusion of the poem and a canceled version of Spring Song (“The air was full of sun and birds…”), which also has an agricultural reference but no relation to Schumann’s music:
No text appears under the Roman numeral III at the bottom of the page. Aside from the farming theme, why did Stevenson call this proposed cycle of poems Frölicher Landmann when none of the verse was appropriate as lyrics for the music?
In McKay’s A Stevenson Library Catalogue (1961) entry number 7008 refers to Stevenson’s not quite finished translation of Martial’s In Lupum, about the gift of a tiny farm.
On the right of the Roman numeral “xl” is the number 18. This is the notebook page previous to that which contains Come, Here is Adieu to the City. McKay corrects the Roman numeral to “XI” on p. 2605 of his catalog.
In Lupum is the poem that was written to Schumann’s music. Since it was already contiguous to the other two poems, RLS may have seen no reason to recopy it under the number III.
It seems that Stevenson’s Frölicher Landmann cycle initially consisted of three poems on agricultural themes which he intended as lyrics to three different melodies. Come Here fits well with the melody of Rosin the Bow (also known as The Old Settler’s Song). Spring Song fits with the Carnival of Venice, and In Lupum with Happy Farmer (“Fröhlicher Landmann”).
2. Across the Plains
Adieu to winter and the city
A complete transcription of the fair copy of Come, Here is Adieu to the City appears below. The second stanza does not appear in the rough copy.
Come, here is adieu to the city
And hurrah for the country again.
The broad road lies before me
Watered with last night’s rain.
O I that have slept all winter
Am wakened again today
And the breeze blows into my spirit
And brushes the cobwebs away
The tumbled country woos me
With many a hill and hough; [ hill ]
And again in the shining fallows
The ploughman follows the plough.
The whole year’s sweat and study,
And the whole year’s sowing time,
Comes now to the perfect harvest,
And ripens now into rhyme.
For we that sow in the Autumn,
We reap our grain in the Spring,
And we that go sowing and weeping
Return to reap and sing.
.An inspiration for it may have been a madrigal text by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656):
Adieu, ye city pris’ning towers,
Better are the country bowers.
Winter is gone, the trees are springing,
Birds on ev’ry hedge sit singing.
Hark, how they chirp, come, love, delay not,
Come, come, sweet love, O, come and stay not.
Stevenson used the surname Tomkins for a character in Ebb-Tide, as well as the full name of the poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a contemporary. RLS owned the complete works of Herrick, so he may also have been familiar with Tomkins, and though they have no relation to Tomkins’s poem, he wrote some verses called Madrigal.
Other indications that RLS was aware of Tomkins’ poem are the use of the imperative “come” in the first line of his poem and in the last line of Tomkins’, and the equating of the city with winter and constriction, and the country with spring, fertility and song.
Neither Stevenson nor Tomkins needed to use the French word “adieu” in the first line. “Farewell” is the English equivalent with the same stress and number of syllables, and there are no other French references in the poems that might justify a French expression. However “adieu” means “goodbye forever” and “farewell” does not. Apparently both poets wanted to emphasize the idea of leaving the city permanently.
The sense of Stevenson’s poem is that his creativity has been in hibernation but is reemerging. While in Saranac, New York RLS wrote to Anne Jenkin in February, 1888,
The climate is certainly repulsive; cruelly cold, bleak, sunless and windy … I should dearly like to cut and run … I go on patching away at work, not of the best. (Letters 6, 118-19 (Letter 2019))
We need only remember the Master of Ballantrae’s frightening emergence from suspended animation and his frozen grave in the “wilderness” of New York to confirm Stevenson’s feelings about Saranac.
Crossing the Plains
He did “cut and run” on Saturday, June 2, 1888, leaving on a six day train journey to San Francisco. Across the Plains (1883) described the sufferings of his first crossing of the United States by rail in 1879, and so he would have arrived this second time, perhaps again “dog-tired” in the “great and gloomy city” of Chicago sometime Monday, immediately having wearily to drag his belongings to another station four blocks away. He must gladly then have bid “adieu to the city, and hurrah for the country again.”
After travelling across Illinois and Iowa, he found himself “at sea” in Nebraska, “a world almost without feature,” yet “the broad road” still lay before him.
The state below Nebraska is Kansas and around the middle of the 19th century, winter wheat from Russia was introduced there. It was planted in September, sprouted and grew a little during the fall, lay dormant during the winter and was finally harvested in June.
For we that sow in the Autumn,
We reap our grain in the Spring,
And we that go sowing and weeping
Return to reap and sing
“To cross such a plain,” he wrote about Nebraska, “is to grow homesick for the mountains. I longed for the Black Hills of Wyoming.”
The tumbled country woos me
With many a hill and hough;
By Friday he had arrived in the longed for Wyoming, only to be disappointed,
We traveled through these sad mountains … hour after hour it was the same unhomely and unkindly world about our onward path; tumbled boulders, cliffs that drearily imitate the shape of monuments…
After 90 hours of travel, hope rekindled at Ogden, Utah, where he changed from the cramped, now stinking cars of the Union Pacific to those twice as high and airy of the Central Pacific Railroad. Soon he was greeted by a huge pine forested ravine, a foaming river and a fiery sky.
At every turn we could see farther into the land and our own happy futures. For this was indeed our destination; this was ‘the good country’ we had been going to so long.
3. San Francisco
At the bottom of the leaf containing the rough copy of Come Here is Adieu is a short, unpublished poem.
On such a day as this day is,
So morning fresh and clear,
The titan on the bald hill top
Sat piping far and near [watching]
They saw him from the plains below–
A castle on a hill!
At first the meaning is obscure, however the last paragraph of Across the Plains sheds unexpected light.
Stevenson has only slightly misquoted Spenser’s description of morning in the Faerie Queen.
Now when the rosy-fingered morning fair,
Weary of aged Tithon’s saffron bed,
Had spread her purple robes through dewy air,
And the high hills Titan discovered.
RLS’s poem ends with an exclamation point because what he saw on the “bald hill top” was not there the first time he came to San Francisco in 1879.
The titan on the bald hill top
Sat piping far and near
They saw him from the plains below–
A castle on a hill!
In 1883 Frederick O. Layman built a wooden castle on Telegraph Hill as a cable car terminus for a proposed observatory (“piping far and near”) and restaurant. Known as “Layman’s Folly,” it was destroyed by fire in 1903. This is what “they” (RLS, Fannie, Lloyd, Margaret and Valentine) saw from the plains below, “a castle on a hill!”
Stevenson returned to England from his first trip to the U.S. in 1880, three years before the castle was built. The poem On Such a Day could only have been written in 1888, when he returned to San Francisco on his second trip. Since Come, Here is Adieu to the City and On Such a Day are written on the same page, in the same casual handwriting and are consecutively marked II and III, they must have been written around the same time, and so Come here is Adieu to the City must also have been written in 1888.
To see a castle on Telegraph Hill when there wasn’t one there before must have startled Stevenson all the more because it reminded him of others from his past he was so impressed with that he had taken the trouble to draw them.
In Kidnapped (1886) Stevenson used the phrase “castle on the hill” to refer to the now destroyed Costorphine Castle to the west of Edinburgh and “castle on a hill” to refer to Stirling Castle, which had often been used as a prison. What may have startled him even more was the reawakened memory of the castle with which he was most familiar and would never see again.
A remarkable coincidence of words appears in Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878).
In this description of “the tall, black city” which was so harmful to his health, two adjoining sentences use a word and a phrase which appear on the same page as the two poems just discussed. “Tumbled” is used in line 9 of Come, Here is Adieu and “On such a day” is part of the first line of the following poem. It is as if the sudden sight of the castle on Telegraph Hill reawakened the memory of his description of Edinburgh and echoed through these verses ten years later.
4. The South Pacific
On Thursday, June 28, 1888 the Casco was docked at North Beach near Telegraph Hill and at 5 a.m. was towed to the Golden Gate to begin its Pacific cruise.
On the reverse of the leaf containing Come, Here is Adieu to the City and On Such a Day is an unpublished and unfinished poem. It lacks a Roman numeral designation, but the number 4 appears in the upper right corner.
Sunday. And I, good Calvinist,
Drop anchor for the day of rest,
And with all trouble, all dismissed
Out of my tranquil breast,
I smoke my weed about the deck, …………….5
Or on the tafrail, lean my head
To watch, far on the smiling sea, some speck
In the clear morning air, the chimes
That flutter up around me seem,
Peals loosened from the city of old times ….10
That long in dream,
And I, good Calvinist
Have all my mariners dismissed
Far on the smiling backward sea I trace
The wake of my past life. ………………………..15
I bring the gully too, and smoke,
I idly patrol the deck and smoke
An idle eye far from fancy’s puppet folk,
Canceled lines and words have not been transcribed and the last line is uncertain. Capitalization and misspellings have been corrected. Lines 12-18 are apparently another attempt at the poem. A gully is a knife.
In this verse Stevenson is recording an experience on the yacht Casco in the Pacific. Because it is Sunday, he orders the anchor to be dropped and sends everyone ashore. With his heart at peace, he wanders the deck and smokes. He follows something far off in the distance, his past life, and hears a church bell, which reminds him of “the city of old times.”
In the poem he says, “I … dropped anchor,” and had “all my mariners dismissed.” If he were writing about his lighthouse steamship voyage of 1872, where he was only a passenger, he couldn’t have made these claims, and they certainly wouldn’t apply to his canoe trip in the Arethusa in 1878. Though he was not the captain, only on the Casco and no other boat was he in a position to order the anchor dropped and to send the crew and his family, “all my mariners”, ashore.
The poem must therefore have been written about any Sunday from July 22, 1888, when the Casco docked at Nukahiva, to December 30, 1888, just before the voyage finished in Hawaii.
There may be corroboration for this in his mother’s entry for September 12, 1888 at the Paumotus Islands in From Saranac to the Marquesas (p. 148-150) where she records,
Our house stands beside the little church, but the priest is away just now and there is only a native catechist left in charge. I would fain go to the service, but twenty minutes to six A.M. (when the bell rings) is rather much of a good thing in the way of early rising for me … As soon as we cast anchor on Sunday, a M. Donat came on board to welcome us.
Some additional evidence can be assumed from the word “tafrail” (line 6) which Stevenson only used in Master of Ballantrae (begun in 1887), The Wrecker (1891), St. Ives (1893), and Ebb Tide (1893).
Come, Here is Adieu to the City, On Such a Day and Sunday do indeed form a cycle of poems. They are on the same leaf of manuscript, they are in the same casual handwriting, they are consecutive, and they all were written within the same year. However they are not from the 1870’s, and they are not linked by an agricultural theme as Stevenson had once planned, but instead are a record of his long escape from New York to the South Pacific in 1888 and share the themes of freedom and release from the imprisoning past.
The significance of Sunday is that, although he is not yet the captain of his ship, Stevenson is now the captain of his soul, and he finally bids adieu to the city forever.
This post is contributed by Roger G. Swearingen, author of The Prose Works of Robert Louis Stevenson etc., presently working on a biography of Stevenson and an edition (not for EdRLS) of The South Seas.
.Note: John F. Russell in his recent post Wandering Willie Changes His Tune establishes that Stevenson’s ‘Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?’, though subtitled ‘To the Tune of Wandering Willie’, is actually written to another tune (‘Bonie Dundee’), mistakenly titled ‘Wandering Willie’ in a music book he owned: Beauties of Caledonia.
The song-book titled Beauties of Caledonia: or, Gems of Scottish Song (1845) was later expanded by the addition of pages at the end, from 99 pages originally to a total of 200 pages, in a new edition first published as Gems of Scottish Song in 1866. The musical details of ‘Wandering Willie’ and Stevenson’s version of it – the heart of John Russell’s brilliant discovery and analysis – are the same in both editions. So it doesn’t matter, musically, which edition Stevenson had. But it does seem likely that he had some version of the expanded edition first published in 1866.
Both editions were published by the firm of Oliver Ditson & Co. in Boston. An advertisement for the expanded edition from the newspaper Golden Era, San Francisco, 9 December 1866, describes the expanded edition as follows:
Copies of the plain and the full gilt versions are in the G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns at the University of South Carolina and are listed in the Illustrated Catalogue of that collection, ed. Elizabeth A. Sudduth and Clayton Carlyle Tarr (2009), 121.
A copy of Gems of Scottish Song previously owned by Stevenson was sold in the Isobel Field Sale, Anderson Galleries, New York, 24 November 1914, Part I, Lot 237, and later in the George S. Hellman sale, Anderson Galleries, 26 November 1919, Lot 28. It was among nine books formerly in Stevenson’s library at Vailima that were given by a later owner to the then Head of State of Samoa, Tupua Tamasese, in recognition of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The present location of these books is unknown.
According to The Journal of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club (London), February 1954, RLS’s copy of Gems of Scottish Song had the stamped impression of Gray’s Music Store, 623 and 625 Clay Street, San Francisco. Established in 1852, Matthias Gray’s music business was at this address from at least 1869 until he left for other premises on 1 October 1875, ultimately moving to 206 and 208 Post Street around 1882. In 1879 and 1880 Gray was at 117 Post Street.
This date stamp suggests that Stevenson may have bought the song-book during his first stay in San Francisco during the winter of 1879-1880, possibly to enjoy with musically-inclined friends there such as Chares Warren Stoddard and Frank Unger. He would have had it shipped home to Edinburgh with their other possessions when he and Fanny and Lloyd returned to Britain in August 1880. John Russell’s suggestion that Stevenson bought Gems of Scottish Song on the eve of the Casco voyage in June 1888 is also, of course, entirely possible. His analysis of Stevenson’s handling of the song is unaffected.
I am always impressed by those translators who can produce a phrase in the target language that is syntatically different from the source text, but which immediately impresses you as ‘just right’. An example would be the Chinese translator of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman who took Willie Lowman’s very American expresson ‘Yeah. I’ll put it to him straight and simple.’ and turned it into the Chinese phrase ‘I’ll tell him: Open door, see mountain’.
A teacher once told me of an translation class for advanced Italian students in which they were faced with the sentence ‘Did not Our Lord die for us upon the cross?’. After various attempts to translate this with a question, all of which seemed too direct or even querulous in Italian, someone hit upon ‘Anche il nostro Signore è morto per noi sulla croce’ (‘Even Our Lord died for us upon the cross’)—which everyone found ‘just right’.
Stevenson and translation
Stevenson several times complained of unimaginative literal translations. In his copy of the Robert Arnauld’s French translation of Augustine’s Confessions (Yale), which he read in February 1884, he wrote in the margin ‘Arnauld is a common ass, he misses every merit of his author; I speak as a writer by trade’ (L4, 239). In the following month he comments on ‘a dreadful French crib’ of Tacitus, ‘which helps me along and drives me mad’ (L4, 247).
In 1874 he had planned to write an essay on ‘Bohn’s Cribs’, the literal translations of Greek and Latin classics, which no doubt would have developed his ideas on the matter. (The title is in a list of essay titles in Notebook A 265, back sequence p. 11; Beinecke 684 1, 37.) One of the Bohn’s Library translations he owned was Theodore Buckley’s translation of the Iliad, sold at the Safford sale 1926, since untraced. According to the auction catalogue, against Buckley’s ‘fertile and populous Phthia’, Stevenson has added an alternative translation: ‘big-clodded, man-producing Phthia’.
We have also seen in his translations of odd phrases in his edition of Montaigne how he tended to avoid literal choices: for example, he glosses Montaigne’s ‘les corps raboteaux [rough, uneven, bumpy, rugged] se sentent’ (Vol. 3, p. 33)—which Cotton had translated as ‘Rough bodies make themselves felt’—as ‘knotty surfaces are sensible‘. Although here he produced a ‘knotty’ Stevensonian translation, but he was also capable of elegant finesse when translating odd sentences and phrases.
Pierre Jean de Béranger
One such example appears in his Enyclopædia Britannica article on the French poet and songwriter, Pierre Jean de Béranger (who would have appealed to Stevenson for his praise of the humble Bohemian life and his condemnation of respectable hypocrisy). When he was making notes from Béranger’s Correspondance he came across this sentence in a letter:
Je suis un bon petit poète, habile ouvrier, travailleur consciencieux, à qui de vieux airs et le coin où je me suis confiné ont porté bonheur, et voilà tout !
and decided to copy it out and translate it at the same time:
I am a good little bit of a poet, a clever craftsman and conscientious <hard l> worker, to whom old airs and <the chimney corner ^to which he has confined himself^>, he says to Chateaubriand.
Corresp. II. 63.
a modest choice of subjects—le coin où je me suis confiné.
Here we can see how he changed his first more literal translation of ‘the chimney corner to which he has confined himself’ to the completely different, but just right, ‘a modest choice of subjects’.
In the Encyclopædia article, he uses this revised version:
‘I am a good little bit of a poet,’ he says himself, ‘clever in the craft, and a conscientious worker, to whom old airs and a modest choice of subjects (le coin où je me suis confiné), have brought some success.’
Although he also includes the French phrase as well, no doubt because of its untranslated connotations of modest domesticity, I find his ‘modest choice of subjects’ a remarkably elegant translation.
Notice that the original contains no equivalents of ‘modest’, ‘choice’ or ‘subjects’. Stevenson has arrived at his translation by translating ‘le coin où je me suis confiné’ (‘the small space I have confined myself to’), as ‘a choice of subjects’, and then added the connotations of the same phrase—’coin’ (‘small, unpretentious space’), and ‘où je me suis confiné’ (‘beyond which I have chosen not to go’)— in the single word, ‘modest’.
This is the sort of translation that could never be made by a translation programme: it combines an understanding of the original with the audacity to leave the original structure behind—a first step in achieving an equivalent formulation of witty concision.
Note also how he skilfully translates ‘un bon petit poète, habile ouvrier, travailleur consciencieux’ as ‘a good little bit of a poet, [...] clever in the craft, and conscientious worker’.
Here, Béranger’s ‘habile ouvrier, travailleur consciencieux’ consists of two sequences of adjective and noun—but varied in their order: adjective-noun, noun-adjective. As this is not possible in English, and Stevenson’s original literal choice in his notes (‘a clever craftsman and conscientious worker’) has a dull repetetiveness, he has introduced a compensatory variedness by changing ‘a clever craftsman’ into the adjectival ‘clever in the craft’.
This also produces one of Stevenson’s phrasal inventions that are new but look traditional and idiomatic (‘clever in the craft’) together with a sentence sequence with the ‘breaks and turns’ that give his own prose its distinctive quality.
This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.
.Summary: In this post, John F. Russell shows that Stevenson’s poem ‘Home, no more home to me’ (Songs of Travel XVII) with its subtitle ‘To the Tune of Wandering Willie’ was not written to the tune generally known by that name and used by Burns for ‘Here awa’, there’s awa’, Wandering Willie’ (the words of which clearly inspired Stevenson for his poem). Stevenson used a different tune given the title of ‘Wandering Willie’ in a music book he possessed—the tune of ‘The Cooper O’ Dundee’, used by Burns for his song ‘Bonie Dundee’.
“To write with authority about another man, we must have fellow-feeling and some common ground of experience with our subject,” Stevenson writes at the very beginning of “Some Aspects of Robert Burns” (1879). This common ground is revealed throughout the essay and is first evident in a description of Burns’ appearance as a young man:
Already he made a conspicuous figure in Tarbolton church, with the only tied hair in the parish, and his plaid, which was of a particular color, wrapped in a particular manner round his shoulders. Ten years later … we shall find him out fishing in masquerade, with a fox-skin cap, belted great-coat, and great Highland broadsword. He liked dressing up, in fact, for its own sake.
In The Quest for Robert Louis Stevenson (2004), John Cairney quotes a fellow-student of RLS as saying,
His whole appearance was a shock to a puritan neighbourhood. His chestnut hair fell in limp strands over his shoulder. He did not hesitate to dress as a Bohemian; he wore a velveteen jacket like a workman and a grey, flannel shirt to hide his thin arms. And to warm his thin body, he swathed himself like his claimed ancestor, Rob Roy Macgregor, in a dramatic mantle with flowing folds.
According to Rosaline Masson in I Can remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922), he delighted in dressing up for the Jenkin theatricals:
I play Orsino every day, in all the pomp of Solomon— splendid Francis-the-First clothes, heavy with gold and stage jewellery. I play it ill enough, I believe ; but me and the clothes, and the wedding wherewith the clothes and me are reconciled, produce every night a thrill of admiration. Our cook told my mother (there’s a servants’ night, you know) that she and the housemaid were “just prood to be able to say it was oor young gentleman.” To sup afterwards with these clothes on, and a wonderful lot of gaiety and Shakespearean jokes about the table, is something to live for.
Burns and Stevenson declared their individuality and altered their identities with their clothes, and this is also reflected in their name changes. At the age of eighteen Stevenson went from Lewis to Louis, and he says of Burns,
His father wrote the family name Burnes; Robert early adopted the orthography Burness from his cousin … and in his twenty-eighth year changed it once more to Burns.
Both had unconventional views on religion and both died young, Burns at 37 and Stevenson at 44.
RLS was a whistling vagabond, not a fiddling philanderer, but Burns and he were both tone poets and it is their songs that demonstrate their fellow-feeling. Those who are familiar only with Stevenson’s original lyrics to Over the Sea to Skye or To the Tune of Wandering Willie should know that he also wrote verse to at least 25 other tunes, even supplying original words to Auld Lang Syne. This is nowhere near Burns’ 361 lyrics, but he wrote over a twenty year period, while Stevenson only began in earnest to put words to music at the age of 37.
Burns always associated music with his songs and never wrote a lyric until he could sing the melody. Stevenson was a modern poet, so not all his songs were meant to be sung, and he made it a challenge to find the ones that were by generally not identifying the music at all.
Although Burns was competent on the violin, an instrument that requires an excellent sense of intonation and relative pitch, biographer James Currie said the poet’s voice was “untunable, and that it was long before he learned to distinguish one tune from another,” while Evelyn Blantyre Simpson in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh Days (1898) makes a similar comment about Stevenson:
Many of the artists were musical, but Louis Stevenson took no part in their impromptu concerts. He liked their songs and rattling refrains, but he was no singer, nor had he much of an ear for music.
In Songs of Robert Burns (1903) James C. Dick says,
His songs are the epitome of Scottish music, still known and still admired. Considering this it is the more remarkable that Burn’s biographers should with one accord have ignored or omitted a description of his musical perception and his treatment of music.
If Stevenson’s biographers mention his music at all it is limited, as Simpson’s remarks indicate, to a sentence or two about supposed poor musicianship. Stevenson wrote more than 120 short pieces, almost 1/3 of which were original. His compositions consisted of songs, dances, instrumental works, counterpoint exercises and at least ten pieces that used piano. He wrote in 19 different keys, including five modes. Using six different meters he wrote at least 65 solo pieces, 27 duets, 14 trios and two quartets for various combinations of flute, flageolet, clarinet, violin, piano, guitar, mandolin and voice. He frequently transposed pieces and knew how to modulate from one key to another. He played piano, Boehm flageolet and penny whistle. Never having studied music or any musical instrument as a child, and never having studied music formally in any way as an adult, he accomplished all this in about six years. This is not a description of someone who, as Graham Balfour wrote in his biography, “failed to master the rudiments” and whose “knowledge of music was not very profound.”
Although RLS did all that, his music was completely ignored until Robert Murrill Stevenson’s essay “Robert Louis Stevenson’s Musical Interests” (PMLA, 72.iv (1957), 700-04) nothing has appeared in print since.
Dick says Burns “never heard a symphony or a string quartette” and his musical education began in his youth during church music rehearsals. For Stevenson, “wealth is only useful for two things: a yacht and a string quartette,” and as a young man he went to concerts at the Edinburgh Choral Society and heard music in friends’ homes but only studied theory and harmony when he was 36. Burns destroyed the music for the single song he composed at 23 because it displeased him so much, but a third of Stevenson’s works are original and accessible.
Both their lyrics were written to fit the music, but Burns only used popular airs. Stevenson’s verses in this genre include:
1. Come Here is Adieu to the City (Rosin the Bow)
2. Early in the Morning (Early One Morning)
3. Fine Pacific Islands (British Grenadiers)
4. Madrigal (The Harp that Once)
5. Nous n’ron plus au bois (children’s song)
6. Over the Sea to Skye (Scottish folksong)
7. Over the Water wi’ Charlie (Scottish folksong)
8. She Rested by the Broken Brook (Drink to Me)
9. Song of the Road (Over the Hills and Far Away)
10. Stormy evening (Oldfield)
11. Student Song (Auld Lang Syne)
12. Topical Song (Poor Old Joe)
13. Wandering Willie (Scottish folksong)
More broadly educated than Burns, Stevenson also wrote to European art music:
1. Air de Diabelli (Diabelli Sonatina)
2. Come My Little Children (anonymous gavotte, 1700)
3. Ditty (Bach keyboard suite)
4. Early in the Evening (Rinaldo, Handel)
5. Infinite Shining Heavens (Bach, Pentecostal Air)
6. Home from the Daisied Meadows (Beethoven piano variations)
7. I Will Make you Brooches (Schumann, Ländliches Lied)
8. In Lupum (Schumann, Happy Farmer)
9. Tempest Tossed (Beethoven piano variations)
10. To You Let Snow and Roses (Mozart, Clemenza di Tito)
11. Vagabond (Schubert)
Since Stevenson rarely indicated what music inspired his verses, the fact that he occasionally did must mean something special. Number XVII in Songs of Travel has the subtitle To the Tune of Wandering Willie in parentheses, so there should be no doubt about what music inspired it. The standard lyrics to the tune, more properly known as Here awa’ there awa’, are by Burns, so in boldly naming the song, Stevenson implies that he is not afraid to be compared.
To the Tune of Wandering Willie was written in 1888 at Tautira, Tahiti, where Stevenson suffered a long illness. He sent the poem to Charles Baxter in a letter that explains his motivation:
That he is familiar with the music called Wandering Willie is assumed from his references to it in his writings throughout his life. He first mentions it in a letter to his mother in 1874 while staying at Mentone.
Willie reappears in the essay “A Night in France” (1875):
It is sung in Deacon Brodie (1888):
With so many references to Wandering Willie in his works, we must believe that RLS had no doubt he was referring to the version made famous by Burns, especially since he challenges him outright in his letter to Baxter.
The Real Willie
Every major source of Scots songs, Wandering Willie shows some variation of the tune found in James C. Dick’s Songs of Robert Burns. An arrangement by Haydn can be heard by clicking here, and a portion of a recording from the Linn edition of complete songs by clicking here.
Probably as a reference for his own poem, RLS wrote out what he assumed was the music. Click here to listen to a recording.A comparison of the first four bars of both tunes shows they are not the same. The difference is clear when both melodies are in the same key.
Burns’ song is in waltz time, while Stevenson’s has a two beat measure. The pitches and the shapes of the melodies are different. Even though he mentions the song many times throughout his life and seems to be thoroughly familiar with it, Stevenson is obviously not using the same tune as Burns.
RLS wrote Wandering Willie while recovering from a severe illness. It is easy to believe he was not always in his right mind. The simplicity of the melody he notated indicates he may have written it from memory and this could also have led to mistakes, but the inconsistencies in the two songs are greater than what would be caused by illness or bad memory.
This is not the first time RLS has mistaken a piece of music. In Hammerton’s Stevensoniana (1903) J. Cuthbert Hadden quotes Stevenson as remarking,
He never could remember the name of an air, no matter how familiar it was to him.
Proof of this assertion is found in a letter he wrote to his mother in 1872:
Unfortunately Lang, lang ist’s her is not the German version of Auld Lang Syne but of Long, Long Ago.
In Stevenson’s defense it should be noted that in German, English and Scots the words “lang” and “long” sound alike and the association could easily have misled his hand in a hurried letter.
Beauties of Caledonia and the Caledonian Companion
However, it is not because of illness, a faulty memory, or a confused hand that Stevenson worked from the wrong melody.
Probably in June of 1888 when he was in San Francisco preparing for his journey across the Pacific on the yacht Casco, he bought a music book called Beauties of Caledonia, first published in Boston by Oliver Ditson in 1845. Stevenson’s Library Database identifies it as part of his personal library and says that,
According to the Journal of the Robert Louis Stevenson Club (London), no.15, (Feb 1954), pp.9-10, this has the stamp of Gray’s Music Store, 623 & 625 Clay Street, San Francisco, and is one of the nine books previously in RLS’s library at Vailima that were returned to Samoa in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Beauties of Caledonia contains all but one of the tunes Stevenson said he knew and loved in his letter to his mother in 1874; Auld Lang Syne, My Boy Tammie, Jock O’ Hazeldean, and Scots wha’ hae. Wandering Willie was listed in the table of contents both as Here awa’ there awa’ and under the title:
The note in small print reads,
The beautiful air of ‘Here awa’, there awa,’ is preserved in Oswald’s collection of Scots tunes. Burns, who was fond of the melody, wrote the following fine verse to it.
The collection referred to is James Oswald’s Caledonian Companion, and the tune appears as the first piece in volume eight.
One glance at the melody called Wandering Willie in Beauties of Caledonia shows they are different. The tune in Caledonian Companion is the same one referenced in every major source of Burns songs, but the one in Beauties of Caledonia does not appear in any source as Wandering Willie.
Below is a comparison between the melody Stevenson used, the melody from Beauties of Caledonia (BOC), and the tune Burns used from the Caledonian Companion (CC).
Stevenson’s rhythmically simplified melody is the same as that in Beauties of Caledonia. Burns’ tune from Caledonian Companion is completely different not only in rhythm but in melody.
As previously mentioned, the note under the title of Wandering Willie in Beauties of Caledonia reads, “The beautiful air of ‘Here awa’, there awa,’ is preserved in Oswald’s collection of Scots tunes. Burns, who was fond of the melody, wrote the following fine verse to it.” Although it is the inappropriate melody for Here awa’, there awa, it is in Oswald (CC), it is still a beautiful air, and in fact Burns was fond of it because he wrote lyrics to it called Bonie Dundee (first version, 1792), which appears in volume one of Scots Musical Museum:
O whar did ye get that hauver-meal bannock? [oatmeal cake]
O Silly blind body, O dinna ye see?
I gat it frae a brisk sodger laddie,
Between Saint Johnstone and Bonie Dundee.
O, gin I saw the laddie that gae me’t!
Aft has he doudl’d me on o’ his knee.
May Heaven protect my bonie Scots laddie,
And send him safe hame to his babie & me.
Because the lyrics hint at illegitimacy, the Boston music publisher Oliver Ditson may have found them offensive and so substituted the words of Here awa’ there awa, or he may have known the music from another version called The Cooper O’ Dundee in the Burns collection Merry Muses of Caledonia, shown below in a transcription by MacColl in Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland (1965). A few moments spent reading the lyrics will explain why Ditson would never have used them.
Why Ditson did not use the appropriate tune for Wandering Willie remains a mystery, but it must have been unthinkable in 1845 to include the scurrilous text from The Cooper o’ Dundee. Perhaps he felt that even though the lyrics were changed, the tune would remind people of the The Cooper o’ Dundee and he decided to disguise the melody too. He did this by changing the meter from 6/4 to 2/4, altering some pitches, and imposing characteristic Scotch rhythms.
The result was that in Beauties of Caledonia Ditson fitted Burns’ text from Wandering Willie to a highly altered version of the melody of Bonie Dundee. For mistakenly writing his poem from a memory of this corrupted music while recovering from a severe illness, Stevenson deserves understanding.
Although written to a different melody, RLS’s poem is still related to Burns’.
[roof-tree=ridgepole, highest horizontal timber in a roof]
The similarities between the two lyrics include:
The principle technical differences between the works are the rhythm and language. Burns’ poem is in Scots and a four beat triplet rhythm (dactylic tetrameter) that gives it a feeling of warmth and the effect of Nannie rocking Willie in her arms or of a boat swaying on the water.
Stevenson’s work is in an eight beat, duplet rhythm (trochaic octameter) and in English. The lines are twice as long as Burns’, many begin with monosyllables, and there are pauses at the middle and end of each, resulting in a hesitant, plodding feeling and an appropriate sense of wandering, weariness and desolation.
RLS never mentions Willie in his poem, but Burns repeats the name six times. Stevenson’s wanderer narrates while the loved ones are absent; Burns’ lover narrates and the wanderer is absent.
By their titles the two lyrics indicate some association with Sir Walter Scott’s poem Wandering Willie (1806) or Wandering Willie’s Tale in Redgauntlet (1824). In the story the blind fiddler Wandering Willie recounts the inability of tenant Steenie Steenson to prove that he has paid his rent until he is given the receipt and is guided to the money by the ghost of his former landlord Sir Robert Redgauntlet. Stevenson knew Redgauntlet, and though not a ghost story, his poem has its own eeriness and a theme of loss.
Scott’s poem is essentially a longer version of Burns’ with similar themes and description. A woman’s heroic lover goes to sea to do battle, but her natural doubts about his faithfulness are resolved when he returns. The similarities of Scott’s and Burns’ poems emphasize the difference with Stevenson’s. His bleak, unnamed wanderer never leaves land, never performs any heroics, never unites with his loved ones, and is finally left hopelessly alone amongst the desolation of his house.
Both poets read themselves into their verse. Burns is Willie, and Bonie Dundee, Here awa’ there awa’ and The Cooper o’ Dundee are all about unfaithfulness, the particular Burns trait of “professsional Don Juan” that Stevenson objected to most in his essay.
Stevenson is the wanderer in his poem, although in real life illness and hunger for adventure drove him from home. The poem was written in “the most beautiful spot,” warm, luxuriant Tautira, yet he repeatedly longs for the hills, heather and moorland of Scotland. In Scott’s story Steenson is threatened with the loss of his home, while Stevenson is in fact homeless, ill and stranded in Tahiti, pitifully regretting the loss of his former friends. The prophetic last line defies any hope of a return,
But I go for ever and come again no more.
Though their poems were written to different music and different stories, Stevenson and Burns shared common ground in their conspicuous clothing, individualism, conversational ability and writing. They shared fellow feeling as amateur musicians, collectors of melody, and in their devotion to molding words to the music they loved.
Their lives were entangled in their texts, but while Burns was consistently the Wandering Willie, Stevenson not only changed his tune but altered his identity from that of an unfaithful, absent lover to a lonely, pining, remorseful adventurer.
New Stevenson publication
The appearance of a previously-unpublished work by Stevenson is always an event, and this edition of The Hair Trunk edited by Roger Swearingen (and published by a small specialist publisher in Ayrshire), is no exception. This posting does not pretend to be be a review, but I can say that the book will appeal to those interested in Stevenson’s life, ideas and works; in addition, all who appreciate his prose will find much to enjoy.
The edition is based on the 1879 fair-copy MS in the Huntington Library, which must be closely based on an earlier good copy MS made sometime after the first beginnings in April or early May 1877.
Since the text is unknown to most people, I will give a summary, followed by a series of quotations of passages that struck me as I read, and some sample pages. Finally (of interest for EdRLS editors) I will outline Swearingen’s editorial principles.
The story itself, of the slightly-absurd and satiric style not too far removed from The New Arabian Nights, is unfinished, so is perhaps not the main attraction, but I’ll try to summarize it. ‘[T]he Strange Adventure of the Hair Trunk’ (p. 13) starts with five students and a friend, Blackburn, disoriented just after their period at University has ended—their joking conversations in which they make fun of everything while planning to avoid the grip of conventional existence and perhaps remain young forever (ch. I-III).
They hit on the idea of setting up an ideal commonwealth on the Navigator Islands, i.e. Samoa (pp. 19–20) and before that to spend the summer and winter in an island off the West coast of Scotland, sailing and preparing for the greater project. We never get to either of these places, as the lack of money has first to be faced; Blackburn proposes that they appropriate a hoard of gold in a hair trunk (a horsehair-covered trunk) which he just happens to know about. Their right to appropriate it is argued by Blackburn as similar to that of colonizers, seeing that they have declared independence and are bound not by civic but by international law (ch. IV). They decide to break into the house with black ‘masques’. A scene with Blackburn in his rooms reveals more enigmatic details about him (ch. V).
The adventure to take possession of the treasure occupies the remaining 4 chapters of the unfinished Book II (ch. V consists of no more than the title). The six walk across a forested ridge in the west of Scotland and stop at at cottage inhabited by Blackburn’s old nurse (no further explanation supplied), and go to reconnoiter the grounds of nearby Tufto Castle (ch. II). Inside (ch. III), we find the formidable Mrs Lemesurier, her son Hugo , and Major Cunningham (‘family friend’ and constant inmate of the castle). Hugo wants to know the identity of the stranger who his mother entertained to lunch; she takes umbrage and orders him to leave the house. At the inn, Hugo meets Blackburn, recognises him as the stranger, stealthily follows him on his night-time sortie, is captured by the others in the grounds of the Castle and is forced to agree to stay where he is for several hours while the others make off with the treasure (ch. IV).
What was to happen next? The clues (which are scattered around without stressing their importance, so that everything seems to happen by a series of absurd chance events and coincidences) point to the solution that Michel Le Bris provides in his conclusion (La Malle en cuir, 2011): Blackburn is the illegitimate child of Mrs Lemesurier, half-brother of Hugo. Whether the group were intended to reach Samoa we do not know, but we may suppose that the Ideal Commonwealth did not prove a great success. In his May 1877 letter announcing the start of the story, Stevenson says ‘the trunk is the fun of it – everybody steals it’, which suggests that the conclusion was to be reached via a plot like that of The Wrong Box.
Passages that struck me as I read
Swearingen remarks that in reading The Hair Trunk we are constantly reminded of ‘characters and jokes and comic paradoxes in the essays and stories that Stevenson was writing and publishing at the same time’ (xvi), and cites passages with affinities to cited passages in The New Arabian Nights, and An Inland Voyage. As might be supposed, I was struck by the passages that reminded me of the essays. Each of the following, I thought, could easily come from one of Stevenson’s essays (here, as elsewhere, references are to pages of the volume not of the MS, and the editor’s intercalated MS page numbers have been removed; ellipses not in square brackets are Stevenson’s).
Here is the author’s comment on the dismay of students at having to enter ‘the Babel of Society’—something we also find in ‘An Apology for Idlers’ (1877) and its view of ‘the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces’. The thoughts in the second half of the quoted passage, on the sad departure from scenes of happy experiences, are related to those in section VII of ‘Fontainebleau: Village Communities of Painters’ (1884), where Stevenson has the more consoling idea of somehow leaving something behind: ‘those thrilling silences and whispers of the groves, surely in Fontainebleau they must be vocal of me and my companions?’.
To say farewell to the past, and go forth into the bleak world with no friend but the one below your own hat, and no object but the vain abstraction called Success—is something in the nature of a surgical operation even for the pluckiest of men. And Cambridge, emptied of its jolly companions, swept by a fitful wind and dabbled with Spring showers, struck cold and heavy on their hearts. This was the last bivouac before the battle. Tomorrow, they would be down in the heart of the enemy’s country, among bawling Q.C.’s and obscene financiers; tomorrow, youth with all its agreeable dallyings about the brink, would be forever at an end, and they must take up life with its solemn absurdities and run, with hunger at their heels, in the great race for a bald head and a bedeviled conscience. Nor was it merely a certain natural chill, before entering on the unpleasant Babel of Society; there was also a touch of something not unlike remorse among their feelings. For we cannot take away our own rich, vital and benificent personalities from any place we have long honoured with our presence, without unfeigned pity for what we leave behind us. How solitary will be our morning’s walk, with nothing moving in it all forenoon but birds and shadows! How will even the oldest inhabitant support the burthen of his existence, when he lacks our animating countenance? It seems really sad to snuff out the life and light from a whole unoffending countryside—to take away the many coloured lanthorn by which it saw itself, the brains by which it had an intelligent knowledge of its own existence, the centrepoint about which it turned, the admirable being for whom it sang, and shone, and decked itself in Spring Novelties at Easter! (15)
Blackburn meditates on the lack of convictions in the young men of today and their consequent exposure to dogmatic atheists like Herbert Spencer (though the poor and the Bohemian artist are immune). In ‘Lay Morals’ (1879) he will return to this lack of a morality and sketch out his own non-Bible based system.
[These young men] had been thoroughly unsettled, and nowise edified, by modern theories. From these, they had learned nothing positive but a taste for theorising. They had given up their old ideas without faithfully embracing any others; and now they hung in the wind, a cock-shot [= target] for enterprising dogmatists. Indeed the combination of Bohemianism with what are called modern ideas, produces quite a remarkable immunity from all convictions. The morality of current unbelief, suitable enough for highly respectable Professors, is promptly repudiated by the whole army of social freelances. Its virtues are not their virtues; and where they have need of indulgence, the atheistic rabbi meets them with uncompromising words and a countenance of iron. I can imagine almost any number of consecutive vestrymen falling in tears upon the neck of Mr Herbert Spencer; but I cannot for the life of me imagine a single landscape painter in the same graceful attitude. A Gospel which may be said to consist of equal parts of teak-wood and compound arithmetic, will never have much vogue among the slums and studios. Whether for good or ill, it will remain a dead letter for the outcast and the insubordinate. Its missionaries may succeed, for a time, in destroying other systems, but they will never be men enough to substitute their own. (39-40)
Blackburn analyses the methods of colonialism, a surprising anticipation here of comments that we find in Stevenson’s writings in the 1880s. Here, it is a justification for the group’s appropriation of the treasure (‘we shall treat the trousered proprietor in England exactly as we should treat the nude proprietor in Queensland’—with Stevenson unable to resist a play on the Latin law term ‘nude proprietor’ (titular owner of a property presently occupied by someone else).
As soon as [colonists] arrive … with their guns and hymn-books, their missionaries and their new diseases … they take possession of the land around them: and in the old civil law formula, ‘by force or fraud or on an insufficient grant’ … vi, clami vel precario … they steadily extrude the inoffensive aborigines. If these prove refractory, the settler shoulders his gun and passes round his rum bottle. And what with lead, and fire-water, and imported epidemics, civilisation advances with gigantic strides. Missionaries look on smiling. M.P.’s, vested in their integrity, compliment each other on our Colonial Empire. Christian manufacturers turn out the deadliest rum and the most imperfect hand-mirrors, literally by the ship load. ’Tis a vast conspiracy; theft and midnight murder are the ingredients of the bowl. (42)
Here are thoughts on Bohemianism (a subject considered for an essay c. 1876-78 and touched on at the end of ‘Lay Morals’), distinguishing the Bohemian from the ‘aesthetic soul’; the associated comments enter into the psychology of perception (especially aesthetic perception), an interest for several 1870s essays from ‘Roads’ (1873) onwards. The heterogeneous mixing (‘the destiny of humankind [...] bitter beer’) is also typical of Stevenson’s essays, as are the cheeky presuppositions (‘the pratical advantages of robbery and murder’).
[A] truly aesthetic soul is not usually to be found in a Bohemian. The trick of looking upon things and apartments, as a whole, instead of seeing them in spots by the focus of a man’s natural eyes, is one only to be acquired after some trouble and by considerable exercise of the will. It is usually found in combination with some particular notions about the destiny of humankind, and a distaste for bitter beer. To a fellow who goes running about the world with a crop for all corn [=willing to eat everything], who likes green fields and slums at about an equal rate and can enjoy the society of that least and lowest of mankind, the billiard-marker, such a faculty is unnecessary and would end by being vastly disagreeable. Research in pleasures is not in his way, and research in furniture tenfold less. The man who can contentedly wear a fine coat along with a pair of ragged trousers, will not wince at a little discord between chairs and tables. Such people swallow the bad along with the good; they are more pleased than displeased; they can take out a great deal of pleasure in the contemplation of the mediæval wine cooler in one corner of the room, and quietly pass over the deformed chiffonier in the other. In short, they have no moral indignation in the æsthetic kingdom; and must count rather as private saints than as great apostles, in the goodly fellowship of those who adore the beautiful and the Apollo Belvedere. Nay, we may go farther, and say that theirs is, in a mild way, the same tolerant topsy-turvy habit of soul as enables the Sicilian bandit to enjoy the practical advantages of robbery and murder, side by side with the comforts of religion. (53-4)
We find several strong but compassionate women in Stevenson’s writings, notably Miss Gilchrist in St. Ives, and just such a caustic but kindly woman is the subject of a section of ‘Talk and Talkers (A Sequel)’ (1882). Here is another (note the typical creation of new meaning in the use of ‘unanimously’):
She was what, in Scotland, we call daft; she had lived all her life as an aggressive eccentric of the old school, free-tongued, undaunted, a female grenadier; and yet her plump speech and warfaring deportment in society, were not inconsistent with genuine tenderness of soul. In all her flights, although you might stare, you never doubted but she was a lady and a woman. Such dames were not uncommon once in Scotland, but the race is swiftly and unanimously dying out. (78)
In ‘Talk and Talkers’ (1882), Stevenson celebrates ‘good talk’ and praises in particular the abilities of ‘Spring Heel’d Jack’ (his cousin Bob), ‘the insane lucidity of his conclusions, the humorous eloquence of his language’. An example of this entertainingly crazy talk is found in the Young Man’s rationale of the Suicide Club in The New Arabian Nights—and The Hair Trunk, which contains many dialogues between the young men, has numerous such examples. (Once again, ellipses not in square brackets are Stevenson’s.)
Here is Turton’s protest against civilization, followed in the text by his scheme for the division of society and the ‘Redistribution of the Sexes’:
Here’s a gigantic piece of machinery which has been at work for centuries. And what’s the outcome? Nobody allowed to do what he likes … young men languishing in clammy offices … the fine, manly instincts of the criminal classes thwarted at every corner … and the whole place crawling with policemen and indigent citizens! Civilisation is up a tree. Civilisation is a hopeless, wholesale, ungodly failure … a blague, an imposition, a joke and a damned bad joke! — You will doubtless point to the Pyramids of Egypt. Well … they are very good Pyramids. Steam is a capital invention. Printing, Gunpowder, Representative Government … I know all your catchwords. (30)
A rejection of ‘catchwords’ (empty formulas justifying conventional conduct) is found in several of Stevenson’s essays from Crabbed Age and Youth’ (1878) onwards. In the following example, the praise for ‘an artistic form of vice’ is again reminiscent of the Young Man’s rattling conversation:
“Yes; my father had a craze for gold. [...]”
“Well, there’s something fine about a pose of that sort,” said Turton. “It is an artistic form of vice. It’s gratifying an appetite, and I always sympathise with that … it’s so genuine. There’s a kind of grandeur about the merest bald-headed person eating pickles; it’s natural, it’s durable, it’s as old as the sea; it’s true; it’s a protest against Members of Parliament and Isosceles triangles. No man can stand up, before his maker, and pretend that he prefers the angles at the base of an Isosceles triangle to pickles! The lie would stick in his throat; he would become the despicablest humbug in the world: the very brute beasts, sir, would regard him with contempt. (58)
As in his essays, Stevenson’s prose here has some occasional epigrams:
We cannot get away from sickness, misunderstandings and death. (35)
[T]here is nothing so profoundly wounding as an excess of politeness. (46)
A city is one vast chorus of voices requesting you to spend a coin. (51)
Intelligent trust is one thing: credulous levity another. (55)
I also marked passages that simply gave me pleasure to read. One of these is the description of the ‘great city’ from the beginning of Book I ch. V in the ‘Sample pages’ below. Another that I marked, not for the pleasure of the prose, but for the surprise, is the ending of Book I, where Turton looks over the shoulders of Blackburn at the reader: ‘And over the shoulders of the unconscious Prophet, he makes a knowing grimace to the reader of these pages’. Here are a few others:
Sloops and uninhabited islands, Ideal Commonwealths and cheap tobacco, the rhythm of the Ocean below the moving deck, the smell of salt sea air, the swift and final disappearance out of their lives of all hard work and social discommodity, the realisation of all that a young Bohemian ever dreamed in his most ruddy hours [...] (34)
[O]verzealous disciples are perhaps the most mortifying accident in life to discreet Prophets with a taste for making a distinction. Poor Luther, poor Calvin, ground, all their lives long, under such calamities. The latter, indeed, was reluctantly compelled to burn some of his fellow creatures in the interests of moderation. (55-6)
The great vault of heaven and all the tumbled hills were strange and inspiring to behold. The blood raced gladly in the young men’s veins; the road rang below their consonant feet and a solemn exhilaration grew up within them as they thus met the peep of day upon the hilltops. (62)
‘[W]hiskey [sic] [...] occupies over other liquids a somewhat similar preeminence of purity to that of mountain atmosphere over all other and meaner sorts of air’ (64)
Editorial principles and practices
The following will be of interest to other EdRLS editors. We may not always follow exactly the same practices, but it is always interesting to see how someone else does it.
1. Stevenson’s changes are assimilated without comment, but any interesting earlier wordings are listed in the ‘Textual Notes’ (i.e. changes ‘of intention or desired effect’ or changes that ‘shed light on Stevenson’s intentions or his actual or potential satiric targets’)
2. Corrections are silently made of spelling, hyphenation and capitalization errors. Such correction removes unintended distractions and would have been made if the text had been set in type for publication. (It is not clear if acceptable spelling variants have been standardized, but possibly that has been the policy too.)
3. Unchanged are idiosyncratic capitalization of words not usually capitalized (Bargee, Summer, Spring, Island), as Stevenson possibly ‘wishes to emphasize or give an abstract categorical status to the words by so doing’.
3. Stevenson’s punctuation has not been changed or standardized; to do so ‘might make the text somewhat easier to read, but only at the cost of other effects that Stevenson may have been anxious to retain’.
4. The MS page numbers have been added to the text in square brackets at the point corresponding to the end of the page (see the sample pages of Chapter V above) and these numbers are the only reference used for Explanatory and Textual Notes (Swearingen’s rationale: ‘Doing so keeps alive the idea that this edition presents the text of a manuscript [...] not a work that he saw through to publication’).
5. Explanatory Notes: these are illustrated; as much of the humour depends on knowledge no longer shared, little-known novels and stories have been summarized, little-known songs, hymns and verses have been quoted, philosophic and scientific references have been explained. To give an idea of ‘how facts and personalities were regarded at the time’, the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) has sometimes been quoted.
6. References: (i) Beinecke references are in the form ‘Yale GEN MSS 664, Box 33, Folder 34, Beinecke 6587′; (ii) Letter references are to the letter number, not to the volume and page; (iii) OED references are to ‘online edition accessed [month, year]‘ with this annotation made once only in the list of Reference abbreviations at the front of the volume.
This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Song: ‘Dark Women’
Dark Women is a long poem in which Stevenson contrasts women of opposite hues, wonders at the shades of one particular woman’s nature and welcomes the consolation of her embrace.
Fanny is not mentioned by name in the verse, but in a letter to Colvin concerning the preparation of Songs of Travel (published in Scribner’s Magazine 75.iv, April 1924, p. 419), she says that in addition to the poem My Wife (”Trusty, dusky, vivid, true”), “There was another that Louis rather liked–I think it was called, ‘In praise of dark women’; what do you think of adding that? I only suggest the looking at it.”
Colvin chose instead to include in Songs of Travel only stanzas 2-3 of Dark Women:
Because of the poem’s personal nature Janet Adam Smith assumed that Colvin suppressed the remainder, which has since been published in varying six-stanza versions and by Lewis (2003) in an eight-stanza conflation of the various versions because no single manuscript represents the work in a clearly finished state.
In 1890 Stevenson wrote to the editor of Scribner’s Magazine concerning poems he wanted to publish under the titles Ballads and Songs of Travel.In a following letter he mentioned that many of them were written to music, and that he thought it would be a good idea to include the voice parts:
In addition to other items, Beinecke manuscripts 5865-9 contain four versions of a list of poems intended for Ballads and Songs of Travel.
The list headed Posthumous Verses (apparently intended for publication after his death) contains 48 titles divided into four sections: Vailima, Underwoods, Verses and Songs:
In the section “Songs,” number 43 has the title To You, Let Snow and Roses and is followed by a line count of 16 (which would seem to correspond to the version published in the Edinburgh Edition). It appears in the list together with titles such as Ditty, To an Air of Diabelli’s, To the Tune of Wandering Willie, and 16 others, 9 of which have been found to be associated with music and are listed in the index of the Music of Robert Louis Stevenson website.
Stevenson said on several occasions that he enjoyed the challenge of writing lyrics to music, and so it seems apparent that the reason To You, Let Snow and Roses appears in the section titled “Songs” rather than the other three sections is that it too was written to music.
A different (and clearly later) version of the list (B 6894) has 61 titles. Number 53 is Dark Women and has a line count of 24. RLS apparently considered To You, Let Snow and Roses complete enough to publish at the time but later expanded it to three stanzas and retitled it. Three varying six-stanza versions have been published (Strong 1899, Gosse 1908, Hellman 1925) and an eight-stanza (64-line) conflated version appears in Lewis’s Collected Poems (2003).
A song—with music
Stevenson’s musically inspired poems occasionally contain clues to the melody in the title, subtitle or body of the poem, but in this case the only clues are the rhythm and meaning of the verse. Identifying the tune for this particular work would be hopeless, except that many of the scores Stevenson acquired for his musical studies have been identified and most of his original manuscript musical compositions and transcriptions are available. The proper place to begin searching for music he might have used for a poem is in the scores he collected and the manuscript copies he made, and so it is not haystacks that need to be looked in for this particular needle but in “those great stacks of music,” as Lloyd Osbourne called them.
Out of Stevenson’s more than 140 manuscript transcriptions of music, only one fits the poem properly. He called it Mozart, but its actual title is Duettino from Clemenza di Tito, Act I, Scene 3. Although it is a duet, Stevenson generally copied only from the first part, simplifying some rhythms, changing a few notes, and shortening the whole by six bars.
A recording using the first stanza of Stevenson’s lyrics can be heard by clicking here. In the opera, Sesto and Annio sing these words:
Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso, / Amico mio fedel;
E ognor per me lo stesso / Ti serbi amico il ciel.
Ah, let me embrace you dearly, / My faithful friend,
And may heaven ever keep / Your friendship constant for me.
The texts of the opera and poem share the theme of friendship, and Stevenson even seems slightly surprised that it is “her of duskier lustre whose favour still I wear.” Although To You, Let Snow and Roses is a song for one voice, its two stanzas comparing two kinds of women produce a duet of its own kind. That the poem fits so well with the opera melody and that the two works share a similar theme should be proof enough that Mozart’s music inspired the poem; however some small details in Stevenson’s transcription add further evidence.
RLS has written the expression mark “dolce” (sweetly) in the middle of the second line. The two bars of music that follow are alterations by Stevenson of Mozart. At this point in the opera the two voices sing separately and echo each other:
If Stevenson had chosen to copy Mozart’s music exactly, he would have written the following, which is a compilation of the two voices:
However, this particular line of the poem has too few syllables for too many notes, so he leaves some out and changes others. The result is a sweeter version of the melody which the lyrics implicitly dedicate to Fanny: “For her of duskier lustre.”Other changes RLS made in Mozart to accommodate his lyrics can be found in the last three bars of the song. To set the words “The rose be in her hair,” he added extra notes specifically for the words “be” and “her.” Because the first stanza of his lyrics finishes at this point, he ends his song and discards the remaining six bars of Mozart’s music:
In To You, Let Snow and Roses Stevenson fused the two melodies of the Duettino into one air on the themes of friendship and color, but later he seemed to realize that by leaving out the operatic image of the embrace, he expressed only half the meaning he intended. Long after the music is silent, verse after searching verse follows in praise of a multitude of shades and colors, but the poem can only end when once again Lou finally embraces Fanny.
The Duettino reads,
Ah, let me embrace you dearly,
my faithful friend,
and may heaven ever keep
your friendship constant for me
The last stanza of Dark Women reads:
The defeats and the successes,
The strife, the race, the goal,
And the touch of a dusky woman
Was fairly worth the whole.
And sun and moon and morning,
With glory I recall,
But the clasp of a dusky woman
Outweighed them one and all.
John F. Russell