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

On Board the Old Equator

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell argues that the comic song “I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea” was not composed by Fanny Stevenson and Lloyd but by Stevenson himself; he explains some of its allusions, and links it to the music for Thomas Moore’s “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”.

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A storm at sea

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The Equator (From MacCallum, Thomson Murray. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934)

 

Sometime between the 4th and 11th of November, 1889, the schooner Equator, all sails standing, was becalmed in the South Pacific a few hundred miles south of Butaritari. The Stevensons were asleep in their specially fitted stateroom when a sudden squall tore off the schooner’s fore topmast, ripped the sail, tipped the Equator on its side and threw Louis and Fanny against the wall.

No one was hurt and the ship was soon righted, but RLS was so impressed that he wrote two poems and two letters about the event. On approaching Samoa a couple of weeks later, he rather calmly told his mother:

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The next day and fifty miles farther south he recalled the incident with a little more excitement:

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To further commemorate Mrs. Stevenson’s “bearing up wonderfully,” he wrote the poem To My Wife, where the last stanza recalls the storm:
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Songs of Travel XXXIV

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Finally, he satirized the event in some unpublished lyrics used as an entertainment for his shipboard birthday celebration on November 13th. He had already written ‘Tis Years Since He Was Born for fellow passenger Adolf Rick’s birthday on the 12th.

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Huntington Library, Rare Book 45074

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The complete lyrics read:

I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea,
On board of the old Equator.
There never were passengers better than we,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus:
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone pray?
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone?

Of chequers the captain did blow and boast,
On board of the old Equator.
The passengers did him as brown as a roast,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

In Santo Pedro was our delight,
On board of the old Equator.
When bobbery struck us along in the night,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The captain he ran from a fifteen hand,
On board of the old Equator.
I’ll be damned if that old jib-topsail will stand,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The sail was the rotteness’d ever was bent,
On board of the old Equator.
But blamed if it wasn’t the stick that went,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The captain he turned to the mate, and he laughed,
On board of the old Equator.
I guess you are learning some sailor craft,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

There’s one thing you know at the least and the last,
On board of the old Equator.
You know how to lose a fore-topmast
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

Some of these lyrics may benefit from an attempt at explanation.

  • There never were passengers better than we

 According to the Equator’s 20 year old novice cook Thomson Murray MacCallum (1869-1957), “Quite a few changes were made in the cabin … for the accommodation of the passengers,” including extra bunks and other conveniences. These changes were necessary because the Equator was a copra trading schooner, not a cruise ship. The Stevensons were its first real passengers and therefore there were none better.

  • In Santo Pedro was our delight,
    On board of the old Equator.
    When bobbery struck us along in the night,    

 The sense of the stanza is that the storm struck at night while they were near Santo Pedro.

San Pedro (Motane, Moho Tani) is an island which RLS visited on the Casco in August of the previous year. In the Marquesas section of In the South Seas he writes, “I was amazed to behold so deep a view behind, and so high a shoulder of blue sea, crowned by the whale-like island of Motane.”

In his letter to his mother, Stevenson said they left Butaritari Island in the Gilberts on November 4th and that the storm occurred after this and before his and fellow passenger Adolf Rick’s birthdays on the 12th and 13th. The storm must then have occurred within a week’s sailing distance, or around 300 miles from Butaritari.

Since San Pedro Island is in the Marquesas thousands of miles away and the storm occurred in the Gilberts, RLS must have been mistaken about the name. According to the British Hydrographic Office‘s The Pacific Islands (1885) there is no island in the Gilberts called Santo (or San) Pedro. Perhaps because this one Spanish name stood out among so many Polynesian ones, he confused it with Peru Island, 378 miles from Butaritari. This may be where the storm actually occurred.

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  • The captain he ran from a fifteen hand,    

 Because it was night, everyone except the watch was probably sleeping when the storm hit. Stevenson says there were 15 men and one woman (Fanny) on the boat. The captain, then, ran from where the men were sleeping to save the ship. If the letter “a” is actually the Scots word for “all,” this may be some small evidence for Stevenson’s authorship.

Celebrating the Storm

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Thomson Murray MacCallum recalled Stevenson’s birthday celebration in his book Adrift in the South Seas (1934):

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Fellow passenger Paul Leonard, also known as Paul Höflich, described the same storm and celebration in Nellie Sanchez’s The Life of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson (1920):
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On the day of the party, Lloyd photographed the participants. Wearing a hat with a band, Fanny sits to the left of Scotch-Irish Captain Edwin Dennis Reid (1865?-1920) in a Tam O’Shanter. RLS stands at the far left.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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Considering that Stevenson had already expressed himself multiple times in poetry and prose regarding the squall, it seems most likely that he also wrote On Board of the Old Equator, especially since he had just written lyrics for Adolf Rick’s birthday. Neither Fanny nor Lloyd ever published any verse.

One particular word in the third stanza of the song reinforces Stevenson’s authorship. In Booth-Mehew letter 2153 from Honolulu around April 2, 1889 to Edward Burlingame, RLS asks him to send 11 novels of Frederick Marryat. Stevenson first mentions Marryat in Booth-Mehew letter 849 (September 1881) and then in letter 1733 (Dec. 23, 1886) where he quotes from Mr. Midshipman Easy. Marryat uses the unusual word “bobbery [hubbub]” in Midshipman Easy and also in two other works Stevenson requested, Peter Simple and Newton Forster.

In a letter to Colvin as recent as the previous January Stevenson wrote:

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He uses the same word again in a letter to Colvin two years later:

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Neither Lloyd nor Fanny appears to use the word in any of their works.

Other Darlings

Both MacCallum and Leonard claimed that On Board of the Old Equator was written by Fanny and Lloyd and at first the words of the chorus appear to favor Fanny.

Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone pray?
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone?

It seems appropriate only for Fanny to call the captain “darling.” The lyrics never refer to RLS in any way, so she was not addressing him, even though MacCallum and Leonard called it a birthday song.

After Fanny and Louis had been thrown against the wall, Stevenson asked Murray MacCallum to give a message to the Captain.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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If the Captain was on familiar enough terms with Stevenson to give him his “love,” perhaps Stevenson might also call him “darling” for fun in return. RLS stated his affection for Captain Reid in A Footnote to History (1895):

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However, it may be more accurate to treat the term “darling” as a surname rather than an endearment. Throughout the centuries there has been no lack of Captain Darlings, but one in particular could easily have been familiar both to Stevenson and Reid.

Built in Glasgow, the intriguingly named barque Edinburgh Castle was launched in 1863. The last captain of this 175 ft., 627 ton, three-masted, iron-hulled ship was J.B. Darling. The California Digital Newspaper Collection records it’s presence at San Francisco multiple times after 1872. Of course RLS was in that city in 1880 and 1888, and the Equator itself was built for the San Francisco based Wightman Brothers in 1888 with Reid as its first captain. The Edinburgh Castle and Captain Darling may have come to the attention of Reid and Stevenson by the fact that on January 15th, 1888 it was stranded in the harbor at Warnambool, Australia and wrecked there by a storm.

It should also be noted that by 1888 the boys’ adventure novelist Frank H. Converse (1843-1889) had already written two works with the suspiciously familiar titles Island Treasure and In Southern Seas. The last featured a character called Captain John Darling.

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Golden Argosy. New York, Saturday, June 11, 1887

Golden Argosy. New York, Saturday, June 11, 1887

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In another story by Converse, Darling is described as being in the same business as Captain Reid.

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Finally, in an article about the Equator by MacCallum in Robert Louis Stevenson: Interviews and Recollections (1996), “Captain Darling” is printed as if it were a proper name.

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Young and Old Charmers

Murray MacCallum said On Board of the Old Equator was written to the melody of a popular song and that Lloyd sang it. Paul Leonard said he joined in the singing. However no one ever actually names the tune.

There is no obvious clue to the music in Stevenson’s lyrics, but an examination of the more than 120 manuscript copies of his own compositions, arrangements and favorite tunes provides one match which requires only, as RLS said of Alan’s Air in Catriona, “a little humouring to the notes in question.”

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Princeton University Library, Morris L. Parrish Collection, Box/Series/Folder/Thesis #: Bd MSS 113, 114, Code/Call Number #: C0171 1B

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New lyrics are often supplied to old songs to take advantage of the irony that results from the contrast, and On Board of the Old Equator is no exception. The music among Stevenson’s manuscripts that best fits “I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea” is “Believe me”, a transcription of the traditional melody normally associated with Thomas Moore’s very different lyric “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”.

According to the Historic American Engineering Record of the United States National Park Service, the 78 foot, 72 ton schooner Equator entered the South Pacific copra trade in June 1888 under 23 year old Captain Edwin Dennis Reid, so when Stevenson began his journey from Hawaii on June 24, 1889 the boat had been in the water for only a year and hardly deserved to be called “old.”

Reading the lyrics while keeping Captain Reid, the Equator or RLS in mind, it is an appropriately ironic song for a 39th birthday, a damaged new schooner and a very young captain.

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This image of Thomas Moore’s (1779-1852) lyrics was scanned from the 1872 edition of his Poetical Works, which RLS owned, according to the Stevenson’s Library Db. The melody sung with Stevenson’s lyrics can be heard by clicking here.

After its six month Pacific cruise with the Stevensons, the Equator went through many metamorphoses. In 1897 it was converted to a steam tender for work in the Alaskan salmon trade, and then became a tugboat for charting underwater hazards in southeastern Alaska in 1915.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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In 1923 it ran aground and sank off the Washington coast but was refloated. It was converted to diesel in 1940, and in 1956 after 68 years of service it was finally abandoned near the mouth of the Snohomish River at Everett, Washington. In 1967 it was hauled out and in 1980 moved to the Port of Everett in Washington State.

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The endearing young charms of the old Equator clearly have faded away but must still be dear to our memory of Stevenson.

The Lost Stevenson

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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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.

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Voluntary

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),

Volunt1

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:

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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:

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White, Richard Grant. National Hymns. New York: Rudd, 1861

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.

Volunt4

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?

Written by rdury

06/12/2014 at 5:06 am

Missing Stevenson articles in London magazine, part 2

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Summary: Following Part 1 of this investigation, we here justify the assumption that the list of 1878 payments covers only the first ten episodes of ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights'; we calculate a rough rate of payment for articles in London; predict  the location and length of the missing ‘articles’, and give some more extracts from them.
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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:

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Inland Voyage Notebook (Beinecke GM 664 3, 851 (B 6452), Notebook ‘RLS/F’), numbered p. 13v

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:.

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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:

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Stevenson’s 1878 publications

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’.

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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.

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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.

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Calculated rates of payment for three essays published in London

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’.

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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:

1878 Notebook payments associated with 'Arab' episodes and calculated payemnts. In yellow, presumed payment for two episodes; in orange, payments apparently for 'Arab' and something else and the weeks associated with an 'article also' in the list

Possible assigment of ‘Arab’ episodes to Notebook list payments

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':

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1878 Notebook payments associated with ‘Arab’ episodes and calculated rates per 100 words. In yellow, presumed payment for two episodes; in orange, payments apparently for ‘Arab’ and something else and the weeks associated with an ‘article also’ in the list

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?

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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’.

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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:

Screenshot 2014-11-23 07.37.55

RLS contributions to London 13 July

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.

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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:

Screenshot 2014-11-23 09.00.02

London, 20 July 1878, p. 61

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):

Screenshot 2014-11-23 14.37.08

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).

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27 July?

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…

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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.

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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…)

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Missing Stevenson articles in London magazine, part 1

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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.

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The new British Library Newsroom

Screenshot 2014-11-13 08.01.52Then in October this year, having received an assurance that London was among the journals now available, I stayed with RLA once more for a few days and we went to look at London for 1878.

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.

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A mistake

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.

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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.)

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A story-teller

(an extract)
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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.

Written by rdury

14/11/2014 at 6:55 am

The Significance of Sunday

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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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.
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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.

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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,

Sunday1

Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 27 f. 645

and a fair copy at the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum:

The Writers' Museum, LSH 137/91.

The Writers’ Museum, LSH 137/91.

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:

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 264 (Letter 117).

Letters 1, 264 (Letter 117).

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.

Thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile of a manuscript in the British Library.

British Library, Add MS 39173; thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile.

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.

Sunday6This must have been the book Anne Jenkin sent Stevenson. RLS had found it useful for himself and now was recommending it to his nephew.

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:

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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.

Sunday7On 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.

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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”).

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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
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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.

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3. San Francisco

At the bottom of the leaf containing the rough copy of Come Here is Adieu is a short, unpublished poem.

Sunday9

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.

Sunday10Stevenson 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!

Sunday11

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.

Sunday12

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A mountain town in France. New York: Lane, 1896. Chateau Neuf.

Sunday13

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A mountain town in France. New York: Lane, 1896. Chateau Beaufort

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.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

A remarkable coincidence of words appears in Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878).

Sunday15

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.

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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.

Sunday15

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 ….
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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. ………………………..
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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).

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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.

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Written by rdury

31/10/2014 at 5:58 am

Stevenson’s copy of Beauties of Caledonia

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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.

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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.

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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:

gems_golden_era_9dec1866-1

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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.

Written by rdury

28/10/2014 at 6:03 am

RLS, translator

with 4 comments

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.

In his copy of Poe’ Works (NYPL, Berg Collection), Stevenson was clearly challenged by Poe’s comment in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (vol. I, p. 421), ‘Je les Ménageais—for this phrase there is no English equivalent': at the foot of the page he has added ‘I humoured them: Aint’t that good enough English, E. A. P.?’ (Pollin and Greenwood, ELT 37.iii (1994): 327).

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:

Screenshot 2014-10-03 11.59.39

Stevenson’s notes for ‘Béranger’, Beinecke GEN MSS 664 box 25 folder 607-8 (B6013)

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.

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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.

Written by rdury

03/10/2014 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Beinecke Library, Essays, Translation

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