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 confirms that the music of ‘God Save the Queen’ underlies Stevenson’s 1875 poem ‘Voluntary’, and argues why it is important to identify the poems of Stevenson that were written with reference to existing melodies.
Because Stevenson rarely indicates which of his poems are also lyrics, it is possible to read through entire volumes of his verse and remain innocent of its dual nature. Without an awareness of the music for which those lyrics were written much of their meaning and emotional context is lost.
In two letters from December of 1887, RLS expressed how he felt about writing for music:
I find this setting words a delightful operose task, which passes time like none other, in a kind of passionate occupied idleness. The difficulty of the job is most entrancing. [Booth-Mehew letter 1962]
All my spare time is spent in trying to set words to music. [Letter 1971]
The conjunction of three major events in July of Stevenson’s 25th year resulted in lyrics which expressed, intentionally or not, the essential meaning of all three.
The first of these was July 4th, 1875, the last celebration before the centennial of American independence in 1876. Stevenson’s attitude toward this can be inferred from his remarks on the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871 and George III in An Inland Voyage (1878),
More important for Francophile Stevenson was July 14. RLS must have thoroughly savored this anniversary of the French Revolution and freedom from monarchy because it was the same day he passed the Scottish Bar exam. From then on he was liberated from the University and within a few months was completely free even from the charade of practicing law.
He celebrated that freedom in these lyrics:
The editor tells us it was written in July at Swanston, and it appears among verses from 1875 in Poems Hitherto Unpublished (1916). More than “a poem of quiet and of peace,” it is a celebration of freedom and independence by a volunteer soldier in a different kind of war. We know this because the editor says in the last sentence of his comments that Stevenson “used the metre of the National Hymn.”
Reading the first stanza of the poem is enough to identify the music as God Save the Queen, the British national anthem, or America, the same tune with different lyrics by Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895). Smith’s lyrics read,
My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!
My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love.
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture fills
Like that above.
Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!
Those lyrics share with Voluntary themes of love of nature, music and freedom, but the British National Anthem as it was sung in the 19th century makes no mention of them:
Not only is the text of America more relevant than God Save the Queen to RLS’s poem, but it uses the same syllabification, rhythm and rhyme scheme throughout, while the British version is less consistent.
Voluntary and America both strictly observe the rhyme scheme AABCCCB, and Voluntary follows the same rhythmic pattern as America exactly except for an extra syllable in the word “toward” in the second stanza.
As a noun the word “voluntary” has so many meanings that it is hard to know which was intended. “Free will” is the most appropriate general term. More narrowly, a voluntary is a musical prelude preceding a church service, and the poem itself is a prelude to Stevenson’s life as a professional writer. It might also be understood in an even narrower musical sense as an extemporaneous (but in this case verbal) accompaniment to an already existing piece of music, America. “Volunteer soldier” is similarly an apt interpretation, and the richness of meaning may be the reason RLS chose the title.
Those who are moved to stand whenever they hear a band strike up God Save the Queen or America will be disappointed to hear Stevenson’s peaceful lyrics applied to that stirring melody, since it is difficult to divorce it from its patriotic context. For this reason Stevenson’s simple, personal declaration of independence has additional significance.
Voluntary is the only verse in the two books of Hitherto Unpublished Poems where the editor has actually identified the music to which it was written. Even when Stevenson gives him adequate information to make an identification, as in the case of Home from the Daisied Meadows (to Beethoven), Air de Diabelli and others, he merely notes some relationship to music. The editor identified the tune for Voluntary this one and only time probably because Stevenson actually named the melody in a note on the manuscript.
What would have been lost if “the national hymn” had not been mentioned? Reading just the first two stanzas as if we were ignorant of the music gives some idea.
Here in the quiet eve
My thankful eyes receive
The quiet light.
I see the trees stand fair
Against the faded air,
And star by star prepare
The perfect night.
And in my bosom, lo!
Content and quiet grow
Toward perfect peace.
And now when day is done,
Brief day of wind and sun,
The pure stars, one by one,
Their troop increase.
Without the music, we read too fast. The words no longer receive mostly equal weight, the articles and prepositions are rushed and the leisurely, noble walking pace of the poem is lost. The triple rhymes fall too quickly and heavily on the ear, and the three repetitions of the word “and” seem awkward. It is a poem that is meant to be sung, and when it is, what seem to be artistic errors either pass unnoticed or in fact enhance the music.
Without knowing the melody, we miss Stevenson’s irony in setting a grandiose, bellicose national anthem, normally blared out by a brass band and sung by hundreds or thousands of people, to a poem whose first sentence begins, “Here in the quiet eve.” We miss understanding that his new freedom is so important to him that he magnifies it to a national scale, but leaves out all mention of nationality, King, Queen or God. We miss knowing that his idea of freedom has nothing to do with war or glory or exaltation of leaders. It is instead the freedom simply not to be an engineer or a lawyer, but to be himself.
If it is possible for an editor to assemble entire volumes of poems without making essential references to the music that underlies them, how many among Stevenson’s thousands of verses remain only half understood and their complete significance still unsuspected?
The ‘Inland Voyage’ Notebook
The ‘Inland Voyage’ notebook in the Beinecke Library contains a page of income for 1878, the first part drawn up in ink in early June 1878 (since the last item written in ink—the opening episode of the ‘Later-Day Arabian Nights’—was published on 8 June), and continued afterwards in pencil:
Generously leaving the pencil additions on the right of the page and the totals top right and bottom left to be explained by another researcher, the main list can be transcribed as follows:.
The first thing to note is that the list does not cover all Stevenson’s publications in 1878, as we can see if we look at the table below of 1878 publications in chronological order, with items on the Notebook list in bold:
The Notebook list is in chronological order, except for Inland Voyage in third place, probably because payment for this book was made before publication. However, the list does not name any titles after ‘English Admirals’; the three unnamed final payments in the Notebook list must be a continuation of the series of payments for ‘New Arabian Nights’.
Can we find evidence for 1878 payments in other documents?
Charles Baxter acted as Stevenson’s banker and investment manager, and kept a record of receipts and payments in his ‘Accounts Current between Robert Louis Stevenson […] and Mitchell and Baxter W.S.’ (these records in the The Harry Ransom Center at the Univesity of Texas). However, it seems clear that a number of payments did not pass through Baxter’s Accounts but were kept by RLS for his current expenses, so this record will not be complete. Additional evidence of payments comes from letters (in this case, Henley’s letters to RLS and to Baxter).
Baxter’s ‘Accounts Current’ for 23 August record a payment of £3 7s ‘Cheque from Mr Sutton [Alfred Sutton, the publisher of London], London’. This does not correspond to any item on the list, suggesting that the the latter ends before 23 August, or the number of London that the payment refers to: assuming this was a payment for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’, and since there was no episode on 24 August, it must have been a late payment for the episode of 17 August or an early payment, on receipt of the MS, for the episode of 31 August. We’ll look at this later when we’ve worked out the probable rate of payment made by London.
A letter written by Henley to Baxter dated 12 September 1878 (Yale, B 4555) mentions that it includes two payments of £3 5s and £2, but this does not correspond to any payment on the list and would confirm that the Notebook list covers only part of the year.
Baxter’s Accounts also have a payment dated 13 September of £8 8s. ‘in payment of contribution to “Cornhill”’, which although identical to the Cornhill payment for ‘The English Admirals’ on the list must be for ‘Child’s Play’, published in the same magazine that month.
In an earlier letter of Henley to to RLS of 21 June 1876 (Atkinson 51 and n), WEH send £4 in sovereigns and owes 7/6 because he ‘can’t post three half-crowns’, even though he has received them (from the publisher to forward to contributors): this might correspond to item 10 or 12 (both for £4) on the Notebook list. The list, if this is true, records only actual payments received and could be seen as Stevenson’s way of keeping account of his limited income and expenditure while living with Fanny Osbourne in Paris.
Payments for articles in London
Let’s take ‘A Plea for Gas Lamps’ and its payment of £1 11s 6d or 378 pence, and see how this relates to the number of words (payment by column or column-inch would be proportionate to this). The essay has 1325 words, so this works out as 29 pence per hundred words. ‘Pan’s Pipes’ receives an identical fee, but is slightly longer: 1430 words (it is also longer in columns or column inches). This immediately tells us that any measurement of length was made roughly. The rate here is 26 pence per hundred words. ‘El Dorado’ is paid less, £1 6s or 312 pence, and is in fact shorter at 1166 words, which works out at 27 pence per hundred words.
It looks at this point as if these three contributions are paid by length at about 27 pence per hundred words or 19 pence per column inch, with length roughly measured or rounded up and down by a system we cannot know. We can get a better idea of the rate by looking at the payments for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’.
Payments for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’
If the payments without any title in the Notebook list all refer to the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ then there are 9 payments for ‘Arabs’. One of them, however, is for £9 so it must be for two episodes. If the list contains all the payments for the first ten episodes, then it goes from 8 June to 10 August, the date when the list was abandoned (soon after Stevenson returned from France), thus leaving 8 episodes unrecorded, including the £3 7s recorded by Baxter on 23 August:
If we calculate the rate per hundred words of these episodes, then the £9 covers episodes 3 and 4 very neatly and there is a close approximation of weeks with a higher rate per hundred words (56, 34, 33, 35) and the weeks (if this association of payments and episodes is correct) when the Notebook marks an ‘article also':
The payment for the first five episodes comes out as 29, 27, 29 and 29 pence per hundred words, which looks very close to the payment for the three essays in London, 29, 26 and 27 pence per hundred words. For the calculations of the payments we’ll take 29 pence per hundred words for ‘Arabs’. This will probably not be the actual rate but will give us results that are roughly correct.
It should be said that the words have been calculated from the sections published in London (the list of opening and closing words of each episode kindly supplied by Roger Swearingen), as they were reprinted in the 1882 volume New Arabian Nights—it may well be that these sections were slightly longer or shorter in the book version, so for the moment (and I am generously leaving the counting of the words in the London version to another researcher) these must be seen as rough calculations only, though probably not too far from the actual numbers.
Taking then these numbers of words for the episodes in London, we see that payments for episodes 6—9 (13 Jul—3 Aug) are clearly accompanied by payments for additional items. The notebook list, however, suggests the additional items were associated with episodes 5—8 (6 Jul—27 Jul). The first of these, 6 July, is one of the payments of £4. Could it be that this is the payment of £4 made by Henley on 28 June? £4, as we see, covers payment for ‘Arab’ episode six at 29 pence per hundred words (henceforth, I’m afraid: ‘pphw’); in this case—and the reader will here be aware that I am adding a series of possibilities one on the other, a structure which, like a house of cards, has its limits; but who knows, we may arrive at a single convincing hypothesis at the end covering everything satisfactorily—in this case, the 7s 6d that Henley owed Stevenson would be for that ‘article also’, published on the 6 July, and (using the rough rates discovered) just over 300 words long. This would be about 25 lines or a third of a column in length, so a very short piece, probably in the weekly odd items section called ‘Whispering Gallery’.
Unfortunately in looking through the 6 July number, RLA and myself had not noted anything that seemed to be by Stevenson. The only item that caught our attention in that number was ‘The Ethics of Lying’, which might have started him thinking about ‘Truth of Intercourse’—but, apart from the un-Stevensonsonian style, this is much longer, about 1800 words in length. Perhaps the short item in question was published on 13 July?
Additional Stevenson contribution to the 13 July number?
There was in fact an item in the 13 July number of London that both RLA and myself thought was almost certainly by Stevenson. It is unfortunately just under 300 words, 272 words to be exact. Anyway, here it is, from the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section of the magazine:
And by the way, what amazing devil (to quote the late Charles Dickens) is it that impels the distinguished lady who wrote “Adam Bede” to write such bitter dulness as “A College Breakfast Party”? Why should this woman of genius in prose imperil her soul by endeavouring to be also a woman of genius in verse? Surely if she be not all-wise herself, she has friends who are wise enough to save her from such a shame? Or is it true that the wicked world must approach her on its bended knees, and that her words are one and all oracular? I am not an enthusiast of hers, but I even am sorry. Her blank verse always reminds me of deals in a timber yard, or bricks stacked up for use at a builder’s; and never a whit of poetry. Before “A College Breakfast Party” even Professor Dowden and Mr. G. H. Lewes, I should think, would “tremble and turn and be changed.” But there’s no accounting for tastes, and no disputing them neither. What to you and me, dear reader of my heart, is only dulness and awkwardness and a mistake, may be to others one of the greatest works of the human mind. It is amazing how desperately a personal interest will modify one’s views! And let us not forget that while we (you and I, that is) are thanking heaven we are not as they are, they—the elect—are thanking heaven (or its equivalent) they are not as we are. And so the world wags on, and bad literature is let look for half a minute like good. (London, 13 July 1878, p. 36)
‘A College Breakfast Party’ had been published in Macmillan’s Magazine for July 1878. The view of George Eliot in this brief London note is similar to that expressed by Stevenson in a letter of December 1877, in which he also uses the phrase ‘woman of genius':
George Eliot: a high but, may we not add? − a rather dry Lady.[…] Hats off, all the same, you understand: a woman of genius. (Letters 2, 228)
The piece also contains some unexpected phrases that sound Stevensonian: ‘bitter dulness’, ‘I even am sorry’, and ‘let look’ (‘bad literature is let look for half a minute like good’)—the second and third are examples of how Stevenson invents new syntactical combinations that are perfectly understandable but strange at the same time. The third-to-last sentence (‘It is amazing how desperately a personal interest will modify one’s views!’) and the sentence that follows are also reminiscent of the passage in ‘Virginibus Puerisque’ (from 1876) about how everyone believes their own opinions to be true:
The word “facts” is, in some ways, crucial. I have spoken with Jesuits and Plymouth Brethren, mathematicians and poets, dogmatic republicans and dear old gentlemen in bird’s-eye neckcloths; and each understood the word “facts” in an occult sense of his own. Try as I might, I could get no nearer the principle of their division. What was essential to them seemed to me trivial or untrue. We could come to no compromise as to what was, or what was not, important in the life of man. Turn as we pleased, we all stood back to back in a big ring, and saw another quarter of the heavens, with different mountain-tops along the sky-line and different constellations overhead. We had each of us some whimsy in the brain, which we believed more than anything else, and which discoloured all experience to its own shade. How would you have people agree, when one is deaf and the other blind?
The cheekiness of ‘thanking heaven (or its equivalent)’ is also reminiscent of Stevenson’s 1870s essays, as is the slightly crazy nonchalance of ‘Her blank verse always reminds me of deals in a timber yard, or bricks stacked up for use at a builder’s; and never a whit of poetry’.
Adding up possible Stevensonian contributions to the 13 July number
The payment of £5 (1200 pence) for an ‘Arabian’ episode and ‘an article also’ would correspond to 4138 words (at 29 pphw). If it refers to the 13 July number of London, does this payment correspond to Stevenson’s certain and probable contributions to that number? i.e. episode six of the ‘Arabs’, ‘A Story-teller’ (see Part 1 of this report) and this brief notice on George Eliots’s ‘A College Breakfast Party’? Let’s see:
We are still 749 words short of the quantity of ‘copy’ that should correspond to the £5 payment. Zut, alors! In our examination of the bound volumes in October, neither RLA nor myself identified anything else clearly by Stevenson in this number, and—alas!—we did not make scans (so inexpensive and so easy to make in the new British Library Newsroom!) which we could now be examining at our leisure. However, there is another clue from a letter by Henley to RLS dated 12 July. Talking about the contents for 13 July number:
Don’t tax me with ‘Ce Que Se Dit’. I only brushed it up. In doing so, I’ve made it presentable, but I’ve broken the author’s heart. (Atkinson, 52)
Atkinson’s footnote to ‘Ce Que Se Dit’ says ‘A three verse unsigned poem in the issue of 13 July’. Judging by Henley’s comment it could have been a poem by RLS that Henley revised without consultation and is now trying to pre-empt criticism by making a joke about it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a scan of this page, nor do we have any idea of the rate of payment for verse: it’s unlikely to be 749 words but perhaps it was paid by the column inch.
And the 20 July number?
RLA and myself identified several connected short items probably by Stevenson in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section about Paris and the 1878 Paris Exhibition in the 20 July number of London. The series of short items begins like this:
On 7 June 1878, RLS had left Edinburgh for Paris, where he was secretary to Fleeming Jenkins, a member of the Jury for the Paris Exposition. He stayed in Hotel Mirabeau, moving to Hotel du Val de Grace, rue St Jacques in late June/early July. On 11 July he left Paris for Grez.
He must have written these notes just before leaving, as Henley writes to him on 12 July ‘I have received notes and Hansom Cabs. […] Shall print and pay for Whispers. Next week’ (Atkinson, 52). By ‘next week’ he meant the issue of 20 July, when the first part of ‘The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs’ appeared and also these Notes from Paris in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section. The notes include a section about the good-natured festive crowd on what must be the Avenue de l’Opéra lit by electric lights; as he mentions the singing of the Marseillaise, this must be the celebration of the Republic on 30 June, which was also a popular expression of national pride after the defeat of 1870, with music and singing in the streets until late and much waving of flags (celebrated in a painting by Monet). He describes the hotel chambermaid preparing to go out into the festive streets (the opening comment is by Henley):
We can see Stevenson’s typical unexpected epithet in ‘the conspicuous morning'; the French way of proclaiming feelings is also commented on in ‘Forest Notes’ (1876)—people recommended Grez for its beauty, adding ‘ “Il y a de l’eau,” […] with an emphasis, as if that settled the question’.
The Notes also contain a description of the first post-Revolutionary 14 July celebrations—officially comemorating the centenary of the death of Rousseau, after the govenment had forbidden any street celebrations for the fall of the Bastille—including a description of the main celebration in the Cirque Myers led by Louis Blanc. This is perhaps not by Stevenson, who would have had to return to Paris from Grez and then send a supplementary note. Excluding this from his contribution also makes sense from the point of view of the payment.
In fact, 3414 words (for the ‘Arab’) and 575 words (Paris Notes without the 14 July event) make 3989 words. Paid at 29 pphw, this number of words would correspond to 1157 pence—practically identical with the 1152 pence paid (£4 16s).
This gets a bit embarassing. For 27 July, if our assignment of dates to the Notebook entries is correct, 3852 words (for the ‘Arab’) needs to be complemented by 534 words (‘an article also’) to make the 4386 words that correspond to the 1272 pence (£5 6s) paid. This is assuming that everythig is paid at 29 pphw (the extra article would be 574 words if paid at 27 pphw).
Unfortunately, we only noted one item in the 27 July number that we thought could be by Stevenson, a review entitled ‘History of the Indian Mutiny’ (p. 90) and we gave it a vote of two out of five, so practically excluded it, though we know that Stevenson was interested in this episode of history. I have no record of its length, nor (alas!) a scan, which would have been so easy to make…
And 3 August?
Similarly for 3 August the payment of 1080 pence (£4 10s) covers the 3108 words of the ‘Arab’ episode and 744 words (or a bit more if the rate of payment was lower) of the extra ‘article’.
Here, we noted the following as possible candidates: ‘The Humours of “Bradshaw”‘ (pp. 111-12), ‘Bohemia: Emile Augier III. The Dramatist’ (pp. 112-13), ‘Modern Frenchmen’ (pp. 113-14). We gave a vote of two to the first; the same vote to the second (which, however, is the third of a series of articles), and one to the third. We did not make a scan for these pages either.
The assignment of dates to the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ episodes in the Notebook list finds a good correspondence between payments and the length of the ‘Arab’ episodes and has also helped us to identify three contributions by Stevenson.
The unique copies of London in the British Library contain much of interest: the many poems written by Henley and perhaps by Stevenson; the contributions by Katherine De Mattos and Walter Ferrier (much admired by Stevenson), possible contributions from Bob, as well as Henley’s important input. It deserves a study of its own, to which the present study has made a small and incomplete contribution. (If only we’d made those scans…)
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’.
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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.