Reconstructing Stevenson’s Library
As part of the groundwork for the re-launched edition of Stevenson’s works by Edinburgh University Press a small group of volunteers, headed by Neil Macara Brown, are trying to list all the books in Stevenson’s Library, mainly by reference to Auction and Library catalogues. The Stevenson’s Library Database will include all books owned by Stevenson at some period of his life, the majority of which would have been present in the Vailima Library.
The Lost Books of Robert Louis Stevenson
At the moment, the main listing contains 1169 items, just over half of which have unfortunately disappeared from public view, still in private collections, not yet identified in Library catalogues, or (not too many, one hopes) destroyed. These 618 ‘lost books’ include the following items that it would be interesting to look at:
- Stevenson’s copy of Sensations d’Italie (sold in New York in 1926) by Paul Bourget (the only person unknown to him to whom he dedicated a book) with “scorings and underlinings (approving)”
- his childhood copy of Little Arthur’s History of England (1855) with (according to the 1914 New York auction catalogue) “hand-coloured illustrations and text forcefully obliterated where (re surrender of Charles I by the Scots) reads: ‘You will hardly believe, however, that those mean Scots actually sold the king to the English parliament: but they did so!’”
- his edition of one of the authors he read most assiduously, Honoré de Balzac. This item did not apparently pass through any auction: when Oscar Wilde’s friend, Robbie Ross “came into the possession of the edition of Balzac which Stevenson had owned and annotated he gave the whole set to Sidney Colvin” (E.V. Lucas, Reading, Writing and Remembering (3rd ed, London: Methuen, 1933), pp. 84-85 (so what did Colvin do with it?)
- his copy of ‘Bagster’s Pilgrim’s Progress‘ (sold in New York in 1952), the subject of one of his essays, with the inscription: “Robert L. Stevenson. From Papa and Mamma, Jan. 1, 1858″
- his copy of Pepys’ Diary (sold in 1914) “with many marked passages”
- his copy of Samuel Richardson’s Works (sold in 1914) with “many pencil notes in the margins”
- his copy of Spenser’s Complete Works (sold in 1914) with “pencil markings and notes throughout” including: “the Sea God’s ‘Bunket’ is a divine nut. R. L. S.”
Good News: recently located items
Thanks to the good work of Neil Macara Brown and Roger Swearingen, two important items have recently been located in public collections:
- Stevenson’s copy of Montaigne’s Essais (Paris, 1865-66, 4 vols.) with “numerous annotations and critical remarks throughout; on fly-leaf: ‘The dispassionate Shakespeare of one character: himself’” – now in Columbia University Library.
- his copy of The Globe Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare (London, 1873), with “numerous underscorings and marginal markings throughout”, in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. According to Roger Swearingen, the Twelfth Night is “marked by RLS for the Jenkin theatricals” (i.e. with the cut lines marked).
More about the Stevenson Library project