The publication of David Balfour/Catriona is an interesting example of the unusual circumstances surrounding the publication of Stevenson’s works from 1888 to his death in 1894. It is explored briefly in Barry Menikoff’s recently-published edition of the David Balfour manuscript (as mentioned in a previous post, section 3) and at length in a previous article by Menikoff: ‘Towards the Production of a Text: Time, Space, and David Balfour‘ in Studies in the Novel 27.3 (1995), pp. 351-62.
In this article Menikoff tells the story of the competing players involved in periodical publication and book publication in London and New York: the McClure syndicate, Cassells and Scribner’s, Baxter and Colvin, all with different interests and priorities.
McClure and magazine serialization
S.S. McClure had ‘signed agreements to provide a story [to Atalanta and newspapers] before he had a text’ (358), so had to ‘cajole Stevenson to produce the manuscript fast enough’. The manuscript, however, was sent to Baxter, who then forwarded it to Cassells who started preparing proofs and passing them to Robert McClure (S.S. McClure’s brother and London agent). Time was passing and in December 1892 serialization began in Atalanta, but McClure’s were still without the final chapters — Cassell’s, who had the whole manuscript, did not feel the same urgency about getting proofs prepared.
In addition, Robert McClure needed to correct obvious mistakes in the proofs, but he had no access to the MS (and he refused to do this checking in Cassell’s office). In part, this was because the MS was too precious, but also in part because of rather snooty distrust of McClure (p. 357), and a view of magazine publication as not important. In the end, Colvin corrected the Atalanta proofs himself (359-60).
Stevenson had repeatedly asked for proofs for the book publication and on 2 March 1893, two complete sets of Cassell’s proofs were sent out to Samoa: one clean set for Stevenson, and one with Colvin’s many ‘suggestions and corrections’ (359).
At this point, Cassells and Scribner’s started to get a bit impatient—this was another delay of at least three months (the journey took one month each way), so there was a risk (as actually happened) of the serialized version ending before the book publication (and this, it was felt, would have an adverse effect on sales). On 26 May 1893, the corrected proofs hadn’t arrived and Cassell sounded out Colvin as to whether he might correct the proofs in London so that the book could be got out quickly.
Colvin refused to do this, mainly, we might suspect, because he hoped not only for corrections but for revisions and improvements cued by his suggestions on the proofs. In June, Scribner’s accepted that they could not publish: ‘we must of course wait for Stevenson’s final corrections before publication’.
In July (over four months from dispatch of the proofs), Stevenson’s corrected proofs arrived in London. Colvin was crestfallen: somehow, most of his suggestions had been ignored!—’for all the alterations he has made, the book might as well have been out two months ago’, he complained.
Another complication in the process of book publication that Menikoff points out is the fact that Baxter and Stevenson had decided to change their business relationship with Scribner’s and had asked them to bid for the US copyright of David Balfour, rather than sign a contract and pay royalties as before (360; Stevenson’s letter is in L8: 569). (Baxter’s rather insensitive attitude to Scribner’s has already been seen in Glenda Norquay’s post about St Ives).
Colvin tidies up the record
I can add an interesting further detail to Menikoff’s account.
Stevenson sent Colvin a letter in early April 1893 in which he listed his first reactions to a number of Colvin’s proposals. These comments are to be found in volume 8 of the Letters (pp. 36-8; Letter 2549), and also in Colvin’s edition of the letters (Tusitala 35: 17-18). We have seen in a previous post how Colvin actually physically cut out parts of another letter from 1887 referring to differing views about changes to Stevenson’s text. In Colvin’s edition of the April 1893 letter he (less drastically) leaves out a number of Stevenson’s comments from his edited text. These are obviously points that Colvin still felt sensitive about. They are as follows:
— Symon in the trial!
— Sow-gelding. I’ll try; but they had damnable tongues — (and have, ahem!)
— Dumkopf: all right: deleted.
— [Chapter XXX] […] About ‘no better than she should be’, you were wrong if you suppose Barbara would have stopped at that! You don’t know the brand as I do, and how they love the word that shocks.
— [slip 89.] O drew, drew! ‘see you naked.’
— [The end.] […] O come, I do not say that Alan kicked the sailor’s bottom; it is Alan who says so, and it is just the scornful word for him to use.
You seem to hint that Davie is not finished in the writing; which cuts me; and yet I think you deceive yourself.
Mehew identifies some of these in his notes, but now we have Menikoff’s edition of the manuscript text it shouldn’t be too difficult to identify them all. This, however, I generously leave to someone else.
The comment on ‘see you naked’ refers to the passage in the MS where Catriona says to David ‘I am thanking the good God he has let me see you naked’ (i.e. ‘undisguised’—see the post on Menikoff’s edition). But can anyone interpret ‘O drew, drew’?
Robert Louis Stevenson’s David Balfour, the original text, edited with an introduction and notes by Barry Menikoff (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2016).
1. Sample pages
2. Editorial principles and practices
The present posting aims to be informative, not a review. 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. Deleted earlier wordings are not generally recorded in the Notes, though a facsimile page on p. 236 enables us to see that the fair copy manuscript had a final deleted sentence:
For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on; and there was one thing I determined to do when I began this long story, and that was to tell out everything as it befell. <If your father was something of a simpleton and your grandfather not better than a rogue, no harm that you should know it.>
2. Corrections are silently made of spelling and apostrophe use, and superscript letters have been dropped. However not all spellings are given standard form, e.g. ‘falsness’ (p. 41) (marked by the OED as found only up to the 16C).
There are also forms such as ‘dis-cretion’ (p. 115), which shows that the handwritten line between ‘s’ and a letter with left-facing bowl (c, d, g, o or q) has been interpreted as a hyphen. [For EdRLS, these marks have been interpreted as a non-significant link line; see this post in the blog and this one for a discussion. Barry defends his view in one of the comments to another post].
3. Unchanged are idiosyncratic capitalization of words not usually capitalized (e.g. ‘a Soft Tommy’), and the reverse case (latin, dutch, christian), in many case varying between the two usages (duke and Duke) as ‘this usage is so pervasive in the autograph, and poses no impediment to reading’ (p. lxvi). We therefore have ‘Tam Dale’ and ‘Tam dale’ in the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’ (p. 107). To be honest, I must admit this did not cause me any problems in reading—and neither did examples like ‘I ken nae French and nae dutch’ (p. 106).
[This, like other editorial choices, is an area where each editor has to decide one way or another according to the aims of the edition. Menikoff gives us what the author wrote, while EdRLS (conservatively) emends MS texts—acting as publisher in a way accepted repeatedly by the author in other cases.]
3. Apart from supplying missing periods and question marks Stevenson’s punctuation has not been changed, e.g. a comma, semicolon or question marks followed by a dash, question marks followed by a lower-case letter. When punctuating ‘[t]he objective [for Stevenson] was to reproduce thought processes and heightened conversation informally, without slowing it down with arbitrary stops and formal new sentences’ (p. lxxv).
[In EdRLS transcribed texts we have sometimes supplied a missing comma that is so common (e.g. before ‘isn’t it?’) as to be considered codified and that would almost certainly be provided by a printer. Presumably this happened here too.]
4. Stevenson’s substantive mistakes are not corrected; I am thinking here of the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’: ‘there were whiles when they but to fish and shoot solans for their diet’—’they but’ doesn’t seem right, a verb seems to be missing. (The sentence is identical in all editions, however. Can anyone solve this problem?)
5. Explanatory Notes: these are brief; they log all the citations of David Balfour in the OED, SLD and EDD (English Dialect Dictionary); most usefully, they indicate omissions in the first printed editions and also quote in full new passages supplied by Stevenson for the book edition at Colvin’s request.
6. References: Beinecke references to letters not by RLS are by date and McKay numbers, e.g. ‘July 13, 1892, Beinecke Library (B 4219), Yale University’.
3. Differences between the MS and the first printed editions
In the editorial part of the volume, the preparation of the first printed edition is discussed only briefly (though there is a reference to Menikoff’s article ‘Towards the Production of a Text: Time, Space, and David Balfour‘ in Studies in the Novel 27.3 (1995)). It is mentioned in the Introduction (‘The Lonely Trials of David Balfour’) on pp. xliii-xliv, and p. xlvi (‘Colvin had his hand on the manuscript and in his fashion excised a number of choice expressions and incidents. These have been restored and appear for the first time in this edition’). The subject returns again in the ‘Note on the Text’, pp. lxiv-lxv, which discusses ‘absurd cutting’, ‘deliberate censorship’ and ‘mangled phrases’. The latter is illustrated by how ‘the warsling of the sea [and the breaching of the sprays]’ in the MS (ch. 22) becomes a mis-reading, ‘the sailing of the sea’, in Atalanta and ‘the whistling of the wind’ (ch. 22) in the Cassell’s book edition. As the latter cannot be a misreading of the MS, it was a change presumably made in proofs, though we don’t know by whom. However, as ‘whistling of the wind’ is so much weaker than ‘warsling of the sea’, it just might have been made by Colvin, going to press, unable to decipher the MS, and unable to get a reply from Stevenson in less than two months, perhaps included in the proofs, but not picked up by Stevenson. Thanks to Menikoff’s work, it could be a good case for emendation in any edition of the text. Similar differences between MS and printed edition (‘innocency’ and ‘indifferency’ in the MS becoming ‘innocence’ and ‘indifference’) are also noted, though we cannot tell if the change was made by Stevenson or not (though probably not).
The notes contain significant differences between the manuscript and the periodical and Cassell publications and also ‘four summary paragraphs that are not in the manuscript or Atlanta but that Stevenson wrote for the book at Colvin’s urging’ (p. lxiv).
Changes to single words in Cassell 1893
To give an idea of the number of changes between MS and first book edition, here are the significant differences given in the notes to the first two chapters (pp. 1-15), set out as for a textual apparatus with the MS reading on the left and printed variants on the right (a swung dash standing for words identical in MS and printed edition):
p. 2 Thence to an armourer’s, where I got a stout, plain sword, to suit with my degree in life (MS and Atl) ] ~ a plain sword ~ (Cassell)
p. 2 cla’es (MS) ] claes (Atl, Cassell)
p. 10 Get a ship for him, quoth he! (MS and Atl) ] ~ quo’ he (Cassell)
Going by this sample, the printed texts are very close to the manuscript and all three changes could well be the author’s second thoughts expressed on the proofs of the book edition:
- the omission of ‘stout’ could be authorial: David wants a ‘walking sword’ to show his status, it’s not intended for fighting so does not need it to be ‘stout’;
- claes could be seen as a acknowledging the word as an independent Scots form, not an English word with ‘th’ missing. As the note says ‘There is no other form in the DSL‘, i.e. the Scottish national dictionary uses only the form without an apostrophe;
- the change to quo’ could be seen as a change to a more Scots form (the DSL headword is quo). Both DSL and OED actually give the form in this quotation from David Balfour as quot’, not found in any other of their citations, although there is also a common Scots form quod. It is possible that Stevenson’s quot’ (if this is the form used in Cassell) is a variant on quod — Stevenson’s attempt to discourage a pronunciation of ‘quod he’ as ‘quo dee‘ and a suggestion that in Scots use the ‘d’ was a voiceless flap of the tongue (like US English pronunciation of the ‘t’ in utter). In any case, it does seem a change to a more Scots form.
Many other changes to single words in Cassell 1893 must come from Stevenson and are clearly motivated, e.g. ‘Rhone wine’ drunk in Rotterdam (thus in the MS, p. 173, and Atalanta) is changed to the more appropriate ‘Rhenish wine’ in the first book edition.
An important point is where Catriona in the MS says to David ‘I am thanking the good God he has let me see you naked’ (p. 209), which is changed to ‘[…] see you as you are’ in Atalanta, a story magazine for girls, and to ‘[…] see you so’ in Cassell 1893. Though the meaning of ‘naked’ here is intended as ‘plain, undisguised’ (but surely with an intended frisson of associated meaning for the reader), I could imagine the author having second thoughts about it in proofs.
There seems to have been no attempt to change Scots to standard English in the proofs, if anything (and this is interesting) the reverse (as we’ve seen with ‘quoth’); MS ‘I knew the answer‘ (p. 156), and ‘Well’ (p. 217) were changed to ‘I ken the answer‘ and ‘Weel’ in both Atalanta and Cassell. ‘Ye cannae tell which way it is’ in the MS (p. 217), is identical in Atalanta but becomes ‘Ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither’ in Cassell—clearly in intervention of the author on the proofs.
Passages omitted from Cassell 1893
It is good to have the long interpolated story about shipwrecking in the chapter ‘The Bass’ (pp. 99-100) that was omitted from the book edition, yet one could understand Stevenson deleting it in proofs as too much like the explanatory back-story inserted by a historical novelist.
The other, short passages omitted in Cassell 1893 can for the most part be seen as possibly authorial. For example, in the first paragraph of ch. 9 David describes his state of mind:
And when I remembered James More, and the red head of Neil the son of Duncan, I thought there was perhaps a fourth in the confederacy, and what remained of Rob Roy’s old desperate sept of caterans would be banded against me with the others.<Yet there was that force in my innocency, that this league was driven to attempt my destruction underhand! I thought I would beat them all, and my blood heated with the thought.> (p. 60)
This could well have been omitted (and surely could only have been omitted by Stevenson) because considered inappropriately fiery for David.
At the beginning of ch. 10 another omission in Cassell 1893 can be seen as motivated by a desire for concision:
It was about half-past three when I came forth on the Lang Dykes <; and being now abroad again upon the world, began considering to what part of it I should first address myself. Not that the consideration held me long;>^.^ Dean was where I wanted to go.
Passages added to Cassell 1893
It’s also good to have transcribed in the notes the four summary paragraphs written by Stevenson at the suggestion of Colvin and included in the first book edition. To tell the truth, the story at this point is on the complicated side, and I think the readers of the book found it useful—as I did—to have these additional guides.
4. Barry Menikoff’s vigorous prose
I have tried to keep my comments as neutral as possible, wanting to avoid writing a full evaluative review of the volume. The reason for this is that this a posting about an edition of Stevenson for a Stevenson edition blog. Any edition involves many subjective decisions, and naturally everyone thinks their own subjective decisions are the best and defends them doggedly (with justifications that we delude ourselves are rational). It’s a bit like furniture arrangement in the home: we all know that it doesn’t really matter if the umbrella stand is placed inside, or outside, the front door, and yet we all want it where we want it. Such things can even lead to divorce. So this is me aiming at a calm tolerance above and beyond all that. Let me simply welcome this edition as a most valuable resource to have, the work of many years wrestling with manuscript transcription (I know how difficult this is in a small way, so can only respect this vast undertaking), and of course a welcome invitation to read David Balfour/Catriona once more.
As someone who has been involved in MS transcription for Essays IV in the new Stevenson edition, I can appreciate the vast amount of work involved and heroically undertaken by one editor. One can imagine that the following comment in ‘The Note on the Text’ incorporates an acquired personal understanding from Menikoff himself:
I have opted to print these words as he wrote them—as he wrote them, one hundred thousand words by hand, not once but twice. The sheer labor of the thing is almost unimaginable in a word-processed culture. […] He never complained about the physical labor, even if he did get writer’s cramp while composing Balfour; he regularly shifted the pen to his left hand, manifest in the painful scrawl on the pages, and reflected in Davie’s comment on his scribal work for Prestongrange—”The copying was a weary business.” (p. lxvi)
I can only envy Menikoff’s vigorous prose style:
he considered Le Vicomte de Bragelonne unequaled in its fusion of story and action, which is another way of saying adventure. (p. xxv)
we live through experience, which is our adventure, but our adventure lives only through art. A life of action, however grand, leads but to the grave; a life drawn in ink, with a steel stylus, becomes indelible. (p. xxx)
David […] is like an actor in a play unfolding before him in real time and desperately in need of the script. (p. xxx)
courage is not the absence of fear but the presence of action (p. xlix)
Sometimes it sounds a bit like Raymond Chandler:
No man signs up to cross a choppy ocean in winter and traverse a continent in an iron horse to a raucous port city shrouded in fog in order to sit in a parlor and sing “Love’s Sweet Song”. (p. xliv)
Sometimes, in the energetic wrestling of words and ideas, there are echoes of Stevenson himself, as in the elegant end to the introduction:
For all life is a story, as in the pages if David Balfour, a tale told, and the only predictable thing about it is the ending. As for its meaning, even in the plainest if cases, it eludes us, as it does the more cunning wisdom of Stevenson, which is why the final sentence, of whatever pen, cannot decide whether the angels above are looking down with peals of laughter, or are turning aside, fraught with tears. (p. lxi)
Menikoff seems to write himself into certain elegiac passages:
But in the end, as is his way, idealism comes down to earth, for in this world as God made it, as Black Andie would say, we all grow old, and innocence loses out in the trampling of time, and the romance that made it lovely when young can never be recaptured but in memory. This is why a great book like David Balfour is told in retrospect, turning back and grasping for love and beauty in their freshest hours, before marriage and children make their clamoring claims, and the story jump-cuts to the end, when age installs itself in its inescapable place in our mortal lives. (p. l)
Just as he enshrined memory in the dedication to Charles Baxter at the front of the book, he embedded it in an interior landscape that he transcribed in prose and compressed into place-names. They can be likened to the “floating world” of the Japanese ukiyo-e, only instead of pictures they are words of evanescent beauty, captured and held for their own sake, but ultimately transitory and perishable like life itself. (lvi)
All the introductory matter is a pleasure to read—and now that Barry Menikoff has successfully completed his trilogy of three Stevenson editions from the manuscripts (Falesá, Kidnapped and David Balfour), I look forward to enjoying his first volume of familiar essays: I’m sure they too will be a great pleasure to read.
Linda Dryden has offered to organize the next RLS conference at Edinburgh Napier University 6, 7 and 8 July 2017.
Some time back we looked at a page of mysterious story titles (Yale, B 6530), that seem to be organized according to archetypal story-types. Now another scrap of manuscript has been identified with a similar listing. But first, a summary of the of the previous posting.
1. Mysterious titles, late 1888/early 1889 (Yale, B 6530)
Here is the transcription:
…..Excellent old melodrama: the bottle Imp.
…..Aladdin, Pollock [?]
…..on a cue from a French author: the Twins
…..Humorous [?]: les trois Bossus.
…..Metempsychosis: from Magics [?]. The Body Changer.
…..Scientific, from an Axxxx xxxx Hoyten[?]: The Sand Bag [Bug?].
Return of the Husband:
…..Ulysses. (concealed [?] ^disguised^ Prince)
…. Enoch Arden
1. ‘The Sand Bag’ is possibly ‘The Sand Boy’, which looks like it could be:
Ottilie Wildemuth [1817-77], Der Sandbub’: oder, Wer hat’s am besten? (available in part in Google Books in the collection of Wildemuth’s tales Für Freistunden (Stuttgart, 1868), though probably published earlier).
This is a children’s moral tale, translated at least once: The Little Sand Boy; or Who is Best Off? (Edinburgh, 1877), 63 pp., though it may well have been translated previously as William the Sand Boy. Translated from the German (London, ).
2. ‘on a cue from a French author’, as previously remarked, 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).
The curious phrase ‘on a cue from’ meaning ‘from an idea in’ or ‘based on’ seems to have been used for the first time in Recreations of a Recluse (1870) and Cues from All Quarters, or Literary Musings of a Clerical Recluse (1871), published anonymously by the Rev. Francis Jacox. Several of the essays in these volumes have a title like ‘About a Little Candle’s Far-Thrown Beams—A Cue from Shakespeare’, and develop thoughts from a literary ‘text’. Google Advanced Book Search reveals no other uses before Stevenson
2. More mysterious titles, 1887-88? (from Notebook 53)
In one of Stevenson’s notebooks we find the following:
Disguised Prince <Disguised> & reverse. Scott’s Pirate. Ulysses & Suitors. Guest [?]
……………………Husband and Wife:-
1. Return of the Husband. Ulysses. Agamemnon.
False accusation…………………………….The House[?] of an [?our] unknown ill
…And we, the wise of ?now…………………Bind us upon the altar
…Not other wise in youth are fared[?];
…[verse continues for rest of page and onto the following page]
In the transcription the words in red correspond to words in the post-November 1888 list, while ‘Vendetta’ here in blue is similar to ‘Revenge’ in the other list.
The new list seems again to be universal story-types, but must be earlier. The Notebook contains war-games correspondence and maps, which date from one of the winters in Davos, i.e. 1880-81 or 1881-82, there is a list of chapter titles for ‘The Merry Men’ (mid-1881), a draft dedication for the New Arabian Nights (early 1882), a draft for ‘The Foreigner at Home’ (late 1881), notes for a Hazlitt biography (projected Dec 1881—late 1882)—so it looks as if the Notebook was mainly used 1881-82.
There is however an outline of chapters for Catriona/David Balfour headed ‘D.B. sequel.’, starting ‘I. Mr Stewart | II. An old friend at Lieth [sic]’ (back f. 6v., so quite near the list of mysterious titles). This must date from after May 1887, when Stevenson agreed to write a sequel to Kidnapped to be delivered ‘as soon as possible’ (Swearingen, 167), up to some time before September 1890, when Stevenson said he had one chapter of David Balfour finished (L7, 423).
So while the list on the loose sheet is almost certainly late 1888/early 1889, this notebook list could considerably earlier (1881–82, with most of the rest of the contents), a little earlier (May 1887 or shortly after, when David Balfour was first planned), or could be from the same period as the other list (before September 1880 when writing from David Balfour actually started). The lack of any mention of ‘Rahero’ or ‘The Bottle Imp’ in the notebook list suggests that it might ‘fit’ best with mid-1887 when the outline of David Balfour on a nearby notebook page was possibly made.
It is possible that both lists are connected with what became the volume Ballads (1890), the first of which, ‘Ticonderoga’, was written in May 1887. After completing this Stevenson perhaps started thinking of a volume of similar poems and drew up this list of universal story types. The rest of the volume ‘belongs mainly to the early South Seas period, 1888-90’ (Lewis, Coll. Poems, 458), which could correspond to a slightly later dating of the notebook list, though before November 1888, when Stevenson learnt the story of Rahero.
If these two lists correspond to brain-storming to find good subjects for what Stevenson called ‘ballads’, then it is possible that ‘The Bottle Imp’ in the longer list was first considered as a subject for a narrative poem before becoming the short prose narrative we know, written between December 1889 and January 1890.
Barry Menikoff’s edited reading transcription of the MSS of David Balfour/Catriona has just been published by the Huntington Library Press at the affordable price of $35.
At the moment of writing it is not available either through the Library’s online shop or through Amazon but doubtless it will arrive there shortly.
Barry Menikoff will be talking about the book at California venues in early April.
Attendees will learn how English publishers in Stevenson’s time took liberties with original texts, excising many of the Scottish words and phrases Stevenson used to evoke the suspense of his stories. From simple misreadings to deliberate revisions, subsequent printed editions of both “Kidnapped” and “David Balfour” represented major departures from Stevenson’s handwritten text. For this edition, however, “David Balfour” is based on Stevenson’s final manuscript of the novel, now in the Houghton Library at Harvard. Faithful to the author’s intentions, it incorporates passages that were omitted from previous editions and restores his distinctive language.
‘The two hands are in many points identical’
In Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Utterson shows to his clerk, Guest (an amateur graphologist), a note written by Hyde. As he is examining it, a note is delivered from Dr Jekyll; Guest asks to see it, places it side by side with the note from Hyde, then returns them both to Utterson:
Utterson’s immediate deduction is that Jekyll has forged the first note to protect his ‘protégé’ Hyde; only later do we learn that Jekyll and Hyde can both write in the hand of the other.
At the period period of writing the novella, Stevenson himself used two handwriting styles:
When Stevenson started to write in a sloping hand in the early 1880s he says he has been ‘obliged’ to do so by writer’s cramp and calls the new style ‘the hand of Esau’ (L8, 417), a description which is interesting because of the affinities between Hyde and the hairy-handed Esau.
But (reluctantly) leaving aside any tempting reflections of Stevenson’s life in his work, let us look in more detail at this writing.
What follows is intended as a resource that may help in the dating of manuscripts. Note that I have not been able to reproduce these samples to scale as libraries supply images of MSS without a guide to actual size: I have, however, tried to give an approximate relative size to folio, quarto and letter-paper examples.
1. Early upright hand (early 1870s)
Stevenson’s typical early hand is upright slightly angular and quite big, with few words to the line:
Notice in the above the flourished-d (on ‘and’) and the ‘y’ composed of a clear u-like element and a curved descender, which we also find in the following:
2. Early sloping hand
Stevenson would have learned a sloping, looped roundhand at school and we find a sloping hand used occasionally in his own writings in the early 1870s:
Here, the swept-back-d (on ‘and’), the word-final looped-y, the large size and clarity (this is a foolscap sheet but has many fewer words than in examples 2 and 4, also on foolscap sheets). Another example from the early 1870s:
The size and clarity are perhaps the best clues here to an early hand and also the looped-y, and the rounded ‘r’ in ‘armed’, not like the familiar inverted-v as we find it later and also in ‘travel’ in the same line.
In example 8, he may have been influenced by the clerkly hand he would have to write in the an Edinburgh law firm of Messrs. Skene and Peacock, Writers to the Signet, where he was working for a brief period at this time. The double-s digraph (of ‘Miss’) and the size (and clarity) again shows an earlier hand. (I have also noted the digraph in MSS from 1868 and 1870; I admit, also in notes for an essay c. 1890 ‘An Onlooker in Hell’ but only for the title ‘Miss’, also seen on envelopes—and my suggestion is that it remained in that use only; certainly I have not noted it in MSS in other words in documents except those definitely dated before 1872).
The following example is from a series of notes probably from 1874 about typical Scottish religious attitudes taken from Wodrow’s Analecta (in a rebound set of notes given the title of ‘Notes on Covenenaters’ (Yale, B 6128), see Covenanters. Notes). Some of the notes are in the rather angular upright script, some sloping, and on one occasion there is a switch to a sloping for three lines:
This seems to be a temporary switch, which any writer might make in personal notes, to rest the hand by using a different set of hand muscles.
3. Small upright hand (later 1870s and early 1880s)
In the following example from a fair-copy manuscript of 1875, the writing has become distinctly smaller. Stevenson here seems to be making an effort to write well, shown I think by the carefully looped ‘y’ in the first and second lines.
In the later years of the decade, this small upright hand continued, sometimes (as in the ‘Prose Poems’) slightly leaning towards the left. Here are three examples:
4. Later sloped hand (c. 1883-88)
For a period in the 1880s, Stevenson, suffering from writer’s cramp, adopted a distinctive, often larger, style of handwriting sloping to the right.
He first mentions the new handwriting in a letter of March 1883: ‘You see I have changed my hand. I was threatened apparently with scrivener’s cramp, and at any rate had got to write so small the revisal of my MS tried my eyes’ (Letters 4, 251). Here, the reference to very small handwriting seems to fit the ‘Talk and Talkers’ MS above. In March 1884 he again refers to the new hand: ‘I have been obliged to lean my hand the other way, which makes it unrecognisable; the hand is the hand of Esau’ (Letters 8, 417; see example 3. above); and again in July 1885: ‘I have two handwritings’ (Letters 5, 122).
We find alternation in the same document in the following list of titles (here with backward- and forward-sloping writing) for a series of verse ‘Moral Tales’, the first of which we know dates from November 1882 (L4, 29 and n):
Both these styles have an unlooped-y.
A fair copy of the second ‘moral tale’ exists in a fair-copy MS where both handwritings are present on the same page:
Again, final-y in both parts is without a loop.
The sloping hand is commonly found in MSS from 1883-88. Gertrude Hills calls this ‘the loose, sloping hand […] used generally in private correspondence during the Davos-Hyères-Bournemouth and Saranac periods (1881-87)’ (Robert Louis Stevenson’s Handwriting (1940), p. 28)
After the early examples, it becomes small in size. Here are some examples:
As we have seen, in 1885 the draft of Strange Case of Dr Jeyll and Mr Hyde is an upright hand, while the final MS is in a sloping hand, and Kidnapped written in the following year has some pages in one and others in the other hand, and some pages where containing both types:
The sloping hand continued to be used into the early Pacific period:
5. Abandonment of the sloped hand and return to a small upright hand
Later in the Pacific, Stevenson returned to writing only in a tiny upright hand:
6. The sloping hand as an aid to dating manuscripts
Stevenson prepared a fair copy of the essay ‘On the Choice of a Profession’ in January 1879:
It was, however, refused by the Cornhill Magazine and never published in Stevenson’s lifetime. The complete MS, in a small upright hand, is in the Huntington Library in California, but the Beinecke Library at Yale has an abandoned 3-page draft of the beginning of the essay. Various clues show this is a version copied from the full MS, with changes and cuts. One might think that this might have been made by Stevenson immediately after refusal in 1879, an attempt to rewrite the essay to make it acceptable for publication. Surely this is what he would do? we might think, knowing how anxious he was in this period to make and save money if he wanted to be independent of his father and marry Fanny Osbourne. The abandoned draft, however, is all in a sloping hand:
The handwriting shows that he did not start rewriting the essay in 1879 but some time in the period associated with this handwriting, i.e. 1883-88.
A recent article explains a ‘method for reading faint, obscured, and obliterated manuscript texts’ using Adobe Photoshop (or the similar open-source GNU Image Manipulation Program): Hilary Havens, ‘Adobe Photoshop and Eighteenth-Century Manuscripts: A New Approach to Digital Paleography’, dhq (Digital Humanities Quarterly) 8. 4 (2014).
There are screenshots for every step of the procedure. The method will not solve all problems, but will be of some help in reading RLS manuscripts and letters where words have been crossed out, if these seem to be of potential interest.
Thanks to Marina Dossena for passing on this reference.