The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s The Hair Trunk published

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New Stevenson publication


The Hair Trunk or the Ideal Commonwealth: An Extravaganza, ed. Roger G. Swearingen (Kilkerran: humming earth/Zeticula, 2014). Available from Amazon, UK £35, USA $60.

The appearance of a previously-unpublished work by Stevenson is always an event, and this edition of The Hair Trunk edited by Roger Swearingen (and published by a small specialist publisher in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

Essayistic passages

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)


Sample pages




HT_ch5.2_001 HT_ch5.2_002



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.


Written by rdury

08/09/2014 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

New Light on Dark Women

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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:

image 2 page 2 to edward l burlingame

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995

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:

image 3 page 3 posthumous verses

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)

image 4 page 4 songs

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)




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.









image 5 page 5 dark women highlighted

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6894)


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.

image 6 page 6 mozart rls facsimile

University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, Melodies for the flute by RLS, CX 2

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.

image 8 page 7 larghetto

Transcription of RLS’s Mozart with the words of To You, Let Snow and Roses


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:

image 9 page 7 mozart duet section

Mozart’s version of the highlighted section changed by RLS

If Stevenson had chosen to copy Mozart’s music exactly, he would have written the following, which is a compilation of the two voices:

image 10a page 8a mozart




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

Written by rdury

24/06/2014 at 9:41 am

A Gossip on Prince Otto

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In 2008, Robert-Louis Abrahamson, Richard Dury and others agreed to read through Prince Otto and share our thoughts about it on the online discussion group ReadingRLS (topics 282, 293, 294, 296, 314).    What follows are a few strands of that conversation, a conversation with no pretence to academic rigour, copied out and re-arranged.


book_likeRLA: The distanced tone and reference to Florizel of Bohemia make us think we’re back with the New Arabian Nights. The Shakespearean references to Perdita and the Bohemian seacoast suggest a world of parody and playfulness.

The playfulness continues when we’re told the precise year doesn’t matter and is “left to the conjecture of the reader”. This feels like it’s going to be a comic tale, a game of some sort, where, in fact, we’re encouraged to take part in the creation.

YOU shall seek in vain upon the map of Europe for the bygone state of Grünewald. [...] On the south it marched with the comparatively powerful kingdom of Seaboard Bohemia, celebrated for its flowers and mountain bears, [...]; and the last Prince of Grünewald, whose history I purpose to relate, drew his descent through Perdita, the only daughter of King Florizel the First of Bohemia. [...]

The precise year of grace in which this tale begins shall be left to the conjecture of the reader.

Then at the beginning of Book II ch. 11, we get the precise time reference, but only after a playful ‘feint':

AT a sufficiently late hour, or to be more exact, at three in the afternoon


Toy Theatre

Screenshot 2014-05-28 21.16.56RD: The story opens with two minor characters fililng us in about the situation: naturally we think of the stage convention. Their dialogue is of the type found in a play-script, requiring us to fill in the details; part of the first dialogue could be re-written as follows with stage-directions:

There goes the government over the borders on a grey mare. What’s that? No, nothing—no, I tell you, on my word, I set more store by a good gelding or an English dog. That for your Otto!’

This could be rewritten as

First Huntsman: There goes the government over the borders on a grey mare. [Sudden noise] What’s that? No, nothing – no, I tell you, on my word, I set more store by a good gelding or an English dog. [snaps his fingers] That for your Otto!’

The reader is clearly being asked to recognise these conventional bits of stage ‘business'; the reading experience here depends if you want to enter the game or not. I’m reminded of Roxy Music’s LP Avalon with a cover of an Arthurian knight seen from behind and a misty lake: there’s no sign that this is ironic—you are supposed to think ‘This can’t possibly be serious. Or is it?’ and enjoy the artful way you are left in doubt.

The stage-play effect continues with the farcical dramatic irony of Otto in disguise in conversation with the people in the farmhouse about Prince Otto – for example, the following would be a splendid opportunity for a good actor to ‘milk the pause’ before ‘Indeed?':

‘Not what you might call disliked,’ replied the old gentleman, ‘but despised, sir.’
‘Indeed,’ said the Prince, somewhat faintly.

RLA: Of course, Prince Otto started out as a play [as Bob irvine's Introduction reminds us (added comment)]. In Book II, the chapter titles (‘Act the First’ etc.) explicitly take us into the theatre. And then there are continual allusions to theatre, acting etc.: ‘with a man like me to impersonate’ — ‘come buskined forth’ — ‘puppet’ — ‘Hoyden playing Cleopatra’ — ‘this gentleman, it seems, would have preferred me playing like an actor’ — ‘a scene of Marriage à la Mode’ etc. etc.

RD: Much of the exaggerated staginess reminds us of grand opera [and Bob Irvine's Introduction to the New Edinburgh Edition comments on several direct influences from operas (added comment)], and the story in a way becomes an opera at one point, when (Book III, ch. 3) the Countess von Rosen sings the Handel aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ outside Otto’s door in the Felsenberg. (This reminded me of Becky Sharp singing ‘Remember me’ in Andrew Davies’s BBC adaptation of Vanity Fair from 1988.)

Elsewhere we are reminded of the conventions of (campy) melodramatic acting:

‘It is very strange, Herr Cancellarius, that you should so persistently avoid my questions,” said the Prince. “You tempt me to suppose a purpose in your dulness. I have asked you whether all was quiet; do me the pleasure to reply.’ [...]
The Prince waited, drawing his handkerchief quietly through his fingers.’

Drawing a handkerchief slowly (but I like ‘quietly’) through the fingers must have been a well-known piece of stage ‘business’.

‘Philosophical novel’

rasselasRD: Apart from being reminiscent of a play, the work also has the structure of chance meetings and conversations with a variety of people of the 18th-century philosophical novel (and is reminiscent of S’s own short stories with debates –‘Markheim’ and ‘Villon’).

RLA: One of the central moral issues concerns the possibility of forgiving. Otto says of Seraphina ‘I can, of course, [forgive her], and do; but in what sense?’  And Colonel Gordon replies ‘I will talk of not forgiving others, sir, when I have made out to forgive myself, and not before; and the date is like to be a long one”—in other words, the question of ‘not forgiving’ is not even to be put.

Gordon then links this to wider considerations to Otto and Gotthold:

And as for this matter of forgiveness, it comes, sir, of loose views and (what is if anything more dangerous) a regular life. A sound creed and a bad morality, that’s the root of wisdom. You two gentlemen are too good to be forgiving.

It is not by morally judging ourselves that we achieve greatness.

RD: Gordon also associates ‘this matter of forgiveness’ with ‘a regular life’ (=ruled by conventions?) and (we infer) a so-called ‘good’ morality (=conduct governed by fixed rules).

RLA: The meaninglessness of ‘forgiveness’ is also touched on  in ‘Truth of Intercourse': ‘I have gone in life I have never yet been able to discover what forgiveness means’.

RD: Other ‘philosophical’ discussions in the text centre on Otto’s ‘manly’ or ‘gentelmanly’ behaviour: his honesty, understanding of others, awareness of his own faults, sense of justice, lack of assertiveness.


Bibliographical postscript

RLA: At the end, just as he did in the New Arabian Nights, Stevenson undermines his whole narrative with a summary of the later life of Otto and Seraphina based on close citation of printed sources.

RD: The Postscript starts with lots of real and probably names , then in the last few lines we get ‘Buttonhole’, ‘Lord Protocol’ and ‘Admiral Yardarm’ – S doesn’t pretend any more and says ‘it’s all a fiction’. I don’t know about anyone else, but I found that reading the first part I am lulled into the literary joke and enjoying the clever imitation documentary evidence – so when these last absurd names are produced, one feels the author is showing that he can still surprise us and thathe’s in control.

RLA: This reminds me of formulaic ways of ending fairy tales in some cultures, where the storyteller adds a long jesting closing formula to bring us back to normality. Even the fairy-tale ‘Pretty Woman’ film ends with the crazy guy on the Hollywood sidewalk saying ‘This is Hollywood – the land of dreams’. A final twist – the last trick of the storyteller.

Written by rdury

29/05/2014 at 11:07 am

New Edinburgh Prince Otto published

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Screenshot 2014-05-23 17.22.10.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Prince Otto, ed. by Robert P. Irvine, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

Published 28 April 2014. £70 (and for around £50 from booksellers associated with Amazon)


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Written by rdury

23/05/2014 at 6:20 pm

Stevenson, proofs and punctuation

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We have ample evidence that when RLS had the opportunity to read proofs he did so very carefully and did not like his puctuation being changed:

  • Edward Bok of Scribner’s, who saw him at work in 1887, reports that ‘No man ever went over his proofs more carefully than did Stevenson; his corrections were numerous; and sometimes for ten minutes at a time he would sit smoking and thinking over a single sentence, which, when he had satisfactorily shaped it in his mind, he would recast on the proof.’ ( Edward Bok, The Americanization of Edward Bok: The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After, New York, Scribner’s, 1923).
  • In November 1887 RLS wrote angrily to a printer: ‘ If I receive another proof of this sort, I shall return it at once with the general direction: “See MS.” I must suppose my system of punctuation to be very bad; but it is mine; and it shall be adhered to with punctual exactness by every created printer who shall print for me’ (Letters 6, 51) (his insistent use of semicolons might suggest that it was changes to these that he was particularly angry about).
  • A report in the Edinburgh Dispatch Dec 19 1894 (quoted in Hammerton Stevensoniana, p. 153): ‘The handwriting of Stevenson was a horror to compositors, and the anxiety of printers was by no means abated when they succeeded in getting the proofs despatched to the novelist, as it was his not infrequent habit to signify his displeasure at any slip from accuracy in strong terms on the margin of his proof-sheets; and in the matter of punctuation he was extremely fastidious.’

Written by rdury

18/05/2014 at 10:08 am

A Little More ‘Heathercat’

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This post is contributed by Gillian Hughes with help from Richard Dury and Roger Swearingen


Hugh Walpole’s collection of manuscripts at King’s School, Canterbury

The rare book and manuscript collection of the novelist Hugh Walpole (1884-1941), now owned by the King’s School, Canterbury, reflects its former owner’s interest, among other things, in Scottish literature of the nineteenth century and includes items by James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The scanned catalogue, accessible through the National Register of Archives website revealed an entry for a manuscript fragment of twenty lines of ‘A Tale of Scottish Life’ by Robert Louis Stevenson that had not been hitherto identified.

Naturally intrigued by this description, I contacted the King’s School Librarian, Peter Henderson, about it.[1] The title given in the catalogue turned out to be descriptive only and the manuscript leaf was itself untitled: paginated 5 and beginning in mid-sentence it obviously once formed part of a longer manuscript, and the scenario of a Covenanting sermon from which a ‘truant sentry’ escapes to find a lad called ‘Crozer’ identifies the story concerned as ‘Heathercat’.

[1] Acknowledgement is made to Mr Henderson and to the King’s School, Canterbury, for supplying an image of the manuscript leaf and for granting permission to use it in the present note.



Stevenson mentioned his idea for this story about the Scottish Covenanters to S. R. Crockett in a letter of around 15 August 1893, responding to Crockett’s dedication to him of The Stickit Minister (Letters 8, 153). By late March the following year, he reported to J. M. Barrie that he had about fifty pages written; then in May he learnt that Crockett was planning a novel about the same subject (the ‘Killing Time’, the savage suppression of the Cameronian Covenanters in the early 1680s), and wrote to him ‘I’ll race you!’ (Letters 8, 259, 286), but the story remained unfinished at the time of his death in December 1894.

‘Heathercat A Fragment’ was duly published posthumously in December 1897 with an Editorial Note by Sidney Colvin in Volume XXVI of the Edinburgh Edition (pp. 87-121). The surviving Part I (‘The Killing Time’) of what was intended to be a full-length novel is divided into three chapters the last of which, entitled ‘The Hill-end of Drumlowe’, breaks off in the middle of the Covenanting minister’s sermon. The text in the Edinburgh Edition ends with the words ‘He’s going round like a roaring rampaging lion. . . .’.

Stevenson’s draft manuscript for this chapter survives in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, GEN MSS 664, Box 30, Folders 711-726 (B 6303), and consists of four pages numbered consecutively [1]-4. At the end of the final page the text actually breaks off with the words ‘He’s going round like a roaring ramp^ag^ing lion, bragging and basting Christs folk in the’. And there the page ends (the caret marks here showing Stevenson’s insertion.)

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over unseen to Crozer’s post, and he had a continuous private idea that he | would very probably steal back again. His course took him so near the minister | that he could hear some of his words: “What news, minister, of Claver’se? He’s | going round like a roaring ramp^ag^ing lion bragging and basting Christs folk in the ||

The marginal comment seems to be: ‘in dramatic | persons, with | changing interxxxxs [?] | and with a great | increase of the | broad Scots.’ It must be a later idea (notice the different ink) for an insertion—commenting on the minister’s dramatic delivery—after ‘he could hear some of his words’, perhaps with an intended addition like ‘and his manner of speaking'; ‘in dramatic persons’ would mean ‘imitating the different voices’. The sixth word, isScreenshot 2014-05-17 02.18.58Any ideas? (For suggested answers, see Comments)


The King’s School leaf

The leaf in the Walpole Collection is clearly the continuation of the Beiencke fragment: it is paginated 5, and it covincingly continues the unfinished sentence at the bottom of page 4 (‘bragging and basting Christ’s folk in the’) with ‘<wilderness> ^fields^, and riding and wading in the precious blood of the elect’ (the angle brackets indicating a deletion).

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<wilderness> ^fields^, and riding and wading in the precious blood of the elect. What news of him | the day, minister? He’s ^up, he’s^ in the saddle, his trumpets blawn—wheest, did ye | no hear it?—he’s on the muirs. Who’s he seekin? <Lord> Sirs, is he seekin us?


Interesting features of this new fragment

The Walpole leaf continues what Stevenson has previously termed the ‘poetry apart’ of the sermon, a ‘homely tissue’ relieved by an ‘occasional pathos of simple humanity, ^and^ frequent patches of big ^biblical^ words’. Perhaps with the much-criticised representation of such Covenanting rhetoric by Sir Walter Scott in Old Mortality (1816) in mind, Stevenson set himself to convey both the occasionally ludicrous familiar imagery of such sermons and their touching vulnerability, particularly in the context in which they were delivered. The preacher, ‘Auld soupit ^hirplin^ Sandie’, for instance, asks God to ‘cast the lap of thy mantle over Sandie and his weans’ or to hide them in his armpit (‘oxter’) from Clavers.

One is struck in both the Beinecke and the Walpole fragments at Stevenson’s ability with Scots dialogue. The many deletions and insertions in this passage of the Beinecke MS show how anxious Stevenson was to get the tone he aimed at exactly right. Although the following paragraph apparently came more easily, the inveterate reviser is still evident, Stevenson weighing the precise words in which he might best convey the contrasting trivial mood of the knot of country lads engaged in a primitive gambling session when they are supposed to be on the lookout for the approach of government soldiers. The reader longs for his account of the personal combat of Heathercat and Crozer that presumably was intended to follow, and which would have caused them to fail to alert the congregation to the approach of the enemy, but alas! the remainder of the leaf remained blank.

Transcription of the Walpole leaf

Here then is a reading transcription of the Walpole leaf (deletions omitted and insertions unmarked), with its final continuation of Heathercat, never previously published:

[in the] fields, and riding and wading in the precious blood of the elect. What news of him the day, minister? He’s up, he’s in the saddle, his trumpets blawn — wheesht, did ye no hear it? — he’s on the muirs. Who’s he seekin? Sirs, is he seekin us? O Lord, wha’s this he’s after? Just Auld soupit hirplin Sandie, — ye ken Sandie, lord! just Sandie and a wheen weans of his in a corner of a craigie hill. Is he coming nearby? Is Claverse visiting here? Wheest! Wasnae there the clatter of his horseshoe airn on the stony brae. Lord, cast the lap of thy mantle over Sandie and his weans! Haud them lown and safe under thine oxter, Lord! Be their refuge and their stren’th, a very present in trouble.”
……Meanwhile the truant sentry, with a certain pang of self-reproach at these images summoned up before him of the magnitude of that service he was neglecting, passed again out of hearing of the preacher, and came at last through a deep clump of junipers in view of his destination. Crozer was not at his post; but below in a hollow where he could neither be seen himself nor spy upon the approach of danger, he sat with three other boys of nine or ten engaged in the game of pitch and toss for one of the most infinitesimal of Scottish coins; the whole capital at stake being very likely overestimated at twopence.


The manuscript ends at the end of a sentence, but not at the end of the sheet: clearly Stevenson here abandoned the draft. For those interested in what comes next, the Beinecke Libary also has a number of earlier drafts, including two of the beginning of Chapter IV. But that is another story and for another time…

Gillian Hughes

Mysterious story titles

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RLS plans something—but what?

The Beinecke Library at Yale has a single sheet with what looks like a series of titles or subjects:

Yale, B 6530: 'List of subjects'

Yale, B 6530: ‘List of subjects’























…..Excellent old melodrama: the bottle Imp.
…..…..…..Aladdin, Pollock [?]

Mistaken identity.
…..on a cue from a French author: the Twins
…..…..Humorous [?]: les trois Bossus.
…..Metempsychosis: from Magics [?]. The Body Changer.
…..…..Scientific, from an Axxxx [?American; Armenian?] xxxx [pastor?] Hoyten [Hayton?]: The Sand Bag [Bug?].

Return of the Husband:
…..…..…..Ulysses. (concealed [?] ^disguised^ Prince)
…..…..…..Colonel Chabert
…..…..…..Enoch Arden

[in ink and in another hand, sloping, below: calculations of interest and: Aranxx | imaginaire]


 Story-types and examples

Stevenson has organized the list as a series of universal story-types (Revenge, return of the Husband etc.), each followed by one or more titles as examples (Ulysses, Balzac’s Colonel Chabert, and Tennyson’s Enoch Arden are all examples of the Return of the Husband).

Is this a preparation for a sudy of narratives? ‘on a cue from’ suggests that this is a list of stories to be adapted from other sources, and also reminds us of Stevenson’s own proposed titles ‘ The Bottle Imp: A Cue from an Old Melodrama’ and ‘The Waif Woman: A Cue from a Saga’ (L7, 436; Dec 1892, to Colvin), and of course Stevenson actually wrote ‘The Bottle Imp’ and ‘Rahero’, a long-ish narrative poem published in Ballads (1890). On this evidence, the document would then seem to be a list of possible narratives to write (in verse or prose), subdivided into story types.


the bottle Imp: Stevenson read the story among the play collection of his neighbour Sir Percy Shelley, some time after spring 1885, and wrote his story with this title in 1889-90.

Aladdin, Pollock: ‘talisman’, ‘magical object’, fits the stories of  the Bottle Imp and Aladdin and the lamp. Pollock, publisher of the toy teatre sets described in “A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured”, would seem more appropriate in notes for an essay or study of story types.

the Twins: this could possible be the story of Louis XIV and his twin (the Man in the Iron Mask) told by Dumas in in Le Vicomte de Bragelonne.

les trois Bossus: a humorous medieval French tale ‘Les trois bossus ménestrels’: a wife gets rid of her husband, killed by mistake as a result of his own actions prompted by jealousy.

Magics [?]: possibly the name of the author, something like ‘Murger’.

The Body Changer: untraced reference.

Hoyton/Hayton: The Sand Bug/Bag: untraced reference.

Rahero: Hawaiian folk-tale that Stevenson took as the basis of a ballad in 1889.

Ulysses / Colonel Chabert / Enoch Arden: stories of a husband’s return by Homer, Balzac and Tennyson. These titles seem more like examples of the story-type that ideas for stories to write (Stevenson cannot surely have been thinking of retelling the story of the return of Ulysses in verse or prose).


The best clue to dating is ‘Rahero’, which seems added later in lighter pencil. This story was learnt by Stevenson  from Princess Moë and others some time after Nov 1888 in Tautira, Tahiti (Lewis, 465-66). The mention of ‘the bottle Imp’ fits into this dating, since Fanny Stevenson reports that ‘he spoke of it several times when we were living in Honolulu, as being, in its ingenuity amnd imaginative qualities, singularly like the Hawaiin tales’ (Tus 13, 12), in other words in the period in Hawaii immediately after the stay in Tahiti.


A list of ideas for a book of Ballads? (but including The Bottle Imp?)

A list of ideas for a book of prose tales? (but including Rahero?) The interesting ‘on a cue from a French author: the Twins’ suggests a planned companion piece for ‘The Bottle Imp’ and ‘The Waif Woman’ in a collection of retold and adapted stories.

An attempt to list some universal story types also found in the South Seas? (but with Rahero the only South Seas title?)

Ideas for an essay on story types? (but after the period when he had virtually abandoned essay-writing?)

Any suggestions will be welcome, as will any help with the untraced names and titles.



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