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

RLS 2017, Napier University

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Craighouse exteriors, New Craig, lamp post

Linda Dryden has offered to organize the next RLS conference at Edinburgh Napier University 6, 7 and 8 July 2017.


Written by rdury

28/04/2016 at 3:36 pm

Posted in News, RLS 2017

More mysterious titles

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Some time back we looked at a page of mysterious story titles (Yale, B 6530), that seem to be organized according to archetypal story-types. Now another scrap of manuscript has been identified with a similar listing. But first, a summary of the of the previous posting.

1. Mysterious titles, late 1888/early 1889 (Yale, B 6530)

Here is the transcription:

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

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


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

Additional notes:

1. ‘The Sand Bag’ is possibly ‘The Sand Boy’, which looks like it could be:

Ottilie Wildemuth [1817-77], Der Sandbub’: oder, Wer hat’s am besten? (available in part in Google Books in the collection of Wildemuth’s tales Für Freistunden (Stuttgart, 1868), though probably published earlier).

This is a children’s moral tale, translated at least once: The Little Sand Boy; or Who is Best Off? (Edinburgh, 1877), 63 pp., though it may well have been translated previously as William the Sand Boy. Translated from the German (London, [1863]).

 2. ‘on a cue from a French author’, as previously remarked, reminds us of Stevenson’s own proposed titles ‘ The Bottle Imp: A Cue from an Old Melodrama’ and ‘The Waif Woman: A Cue from a Saga’ (L7, 436; Dec 1892).

The curious phrase ‘on a cue from’ meaning ‘from an idea in’ or ‘based on’ seems to have been used for the first time in Recreations of a Recluse (1870) and Cues from All Quarters, or Literary Musings of a Clerical Recluse (1871), published anonymously by the Rev. Francis Jacox. Several of the essays in these volumes have a title like ‘About a Little Candle’s Far-Thrown Beams—A Cue from Shakespeare’, and develop thoughts from a literary ‘text’. Google Advanced Book Search reveals no other uses before Stevenson


2. More mysterious titles, 1887-88? (from Notebook 53)

In one of Stevenson’s notebooks we find the following:


Screenshot 2016-04-21 09.07.25

Notebook 53 (Yale, GM 664 34, 820), back f. 4

Disguised Prince <Disguised> & reverse. Scott’s Pirate. Ulysses & Suitors. Guest [?]
……………………Husband and Wife:-
1. Return of the Husband. Ulysses. Agamemnon.
False accusation…………………………….The House[?] of an [?our] unknown ill
And we, the wise of ?now…………………Bind us upon the altar
Not other wise in youth are fared[?];
[verse continues for rest of page and onto the following page]

In the transcription the words in red correspond to words in the post-November 1888 list, while ‘Vendetta’ here in blue is similar to ‘Revenge’ in the other list.

The new list seems again to be universal story-types, but must be earlier. The Notebook contains war-games correspondence and maps, which date from one of the winters in Davos, i.e. 1880-81 or 1881-82, there is a list of chapter titles for ‘The Merry Men’ (mid-1881), a draft dedication for the New Arabian Nights (early 1882), a draft for ‘The Foreigner at Home’ (late 1881), notes for a Hazlitt biography (projected Dec 1881—late 1882)—so it looks as if the Notebook was mainly used 1881-82.

There is however an outline of chapters for Catriona/David Balfour headed ‘D.B. sequel.’, starting ‘I. Mr Stewart | II. An old friend at Lieth [sic]’ (back f. 6v., so quite near the list of mysterious titles). This must date from after May 1887, when Stevenson agreed to write a sequel to Kidnapped to be delivered ‘as soon as possible’ (Swearingen, 167), up to some time before September 1890, when Stevenson said he had one chapter of David Balfour finished (L7, 423).

So while the list on the loose sheet is almost certainly late 1888/early 1889, this notebook list could considerably earlier (1881–82, with most of the rest of the contents), a little earlier (May 1887 or shortly after, when David Balfour was first planned), or could be from the same period as the other list (before September 1880 when writing from David Balfour actually started). The lack of any mention of ‘Rahero’ or ‘The Bottle Imp’ in the notebook list suggests that it might ‘fit’ best with mid-1887 when the outline of David Balfour on a nearby notebook page was possibly made.

It is possible that both lists are connected with what became the volume Ballads (1890), the first of which, ‘Ticonderoga’, was written in May 1887. After completing this Stevenson perhaps started thinking of a volume of similar poems and drew up this list of universal story types. The rest of the volume ‘belongs mainly to the early South Seas period, 1888-90’ (Lewis, Coll. Poems, 458), which could correspond to a slightly later dating of the notebook list, though before November 1888, when Stevenson learnt the story of Rahero.

If these two lists correspond to brain-storming to find good subjects for what Stevenson called ‘ballads’, then it is possible that ‘The Bottle Imp’ in the longer list was first considered as a subject for a narrative poem before becoming the short prose narrative we know, written between December 1889 and January 1890.



Menikoff’s David Balfour published

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David Balfour front coverBarry Menikoff’s edited reading transcription of the MSS of David Balfour/Catriona has just been published by the Huntington Library Press at the affordable price of $35.

At the moment of writing it is not available either through the Library’s online shop or through Amazon but doubtless it will arrive there shortly.

Barry Menikoff will be talking about the book at California venues in early April.

Attendees will learn how English publishers in Stevenson’s time took liberties with original texts, excising many of the Scottish words and phrases Stevenson used to evoke the suspense of his stories. From simple misreadings to deliberate revisions, subsequent printed editions of both “Kidnapped” and “David Balfour” represented major departures from Stevenson’s handwritten text. For this edition, however, “David Balfour” is based on Stevenson’s final manuscript of the novel, now in the Houghton Library at Harvard. Faithful to the author’s intentions, it incorporates passages that were omitted from previous editions and restores his distinctive language.


Written by rdury

31/03/2016 at 9:11 am

Posted in News

Stevenson’s handwriting

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‘The two hands are in many points identical’

In Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Utterson shows to his clerk, Guest (an amateur graphologist), a note written by Hyde. As he is examining it, a note is delivered from Dr Jekyll; Guest asks to see it, places it side by side with the note from Hyde, then returns them both to Utterson:

Screenshot 2015-10-12 11.01.22

Utterson’s immediate deduction is that Jekyll has forged the first note to protect his ‘protégé’ Hyde; only later do we learn that Jekyll and Hyde can both write in the hand of the other.

At the period period of writing the novella, Stevenson himself used two handwriting styles:

'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' (Notebook draft) (1885)

1. ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, leaf from the Notebook draft (University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center MS-4035 box 1, folder 1)

Screenshot 2015-10-17 17.56.05

2. ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, final MS (1885) (Pierpont Morgan Library, MA 628)


When Stevenson started to write in a sloping hand in the early 1880s he says he has been ‘obliged’ to do so by writer’s cramp and calls the new style ‘the hand of Esau’ (L8, 417), a description which is interesting because of the affinities between Hyde and the hairy-handed Esau.

Screenshot 2015-11-10 05.08.50

3. Robert Louis Stevenson, letter of March 1884 to P. G. Hamerton (Beinecke GM 684 7, 114)

But (reluctantly) leaving aside any tempting reflections of Stevenson’s life in his work, let us look in more detail at this writing.

What follows is intended as a resource that may help in the dating of manuscripts. Note that I have not been able to reproduce these samples to scale as libraries supply images of MSS without a guide to actual size: I have, however, tried to give an approximate relative size to folio, quarto and letter-paper examples.


1. Early upright hand (early 1870s)

Stevenson’s typical early hand is upright slightly angular and quite big, with few words to the line:

Screenshot 2015-12-15 19.28.09

4. ‘Sketches’ (1870) (Beinecke GM 664 42, 936, f. 7)

Notice in the above the flourished-d (on ‘and’) and the ‘y’ composed of a clear u-like element and a curved descender, which we also find in the following:

Screenshot 2015-12-15 19.33.04

5. ‘Cockermouth and Keswick’ (1873) (Beinecke 664 27, 641)


2. Early sloping hand

Stevenson would have learned a sloping, looped roundhand at school and we find a sloping hand used occasionally in his own writings in the early 1870s:

'A Retrospect' (1870)

6. ‘A Retrospect’ (1870) (Beinecke GM 664 28, 669)

Here, the swept-back-d (on ‘and’), the word-final looped-y, the large size and clarity (this is a foolscap sheet but has many fewer words than in examples 2 and 4, also on foolscap sheets). Another example from the early 1870s:

Screenshot 2015-10-25 14.58.02

7. ‘Love’s Vicissitudes’ (1871) (Beinecke GM 664 42, 941)

The size and clarity are perhaps the best clues here to an early hand and also the looped-y, and the rounded ‘r’ in ‘armed’, not like the familiar inverted-v as we find it later and also in ‘travel’ in the same line.

Edinburgh Journal 1872: 4 folios of an occasional diary of six entries (May, July 1872). Sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 2 December 2014, Lot 138.

8. Edinburgh Journal 1872: 4 folios of an occasional diary of six entries (May, July 1872). Sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 2 December 2014, Lot 138.

In example 8, he may have been influenced by the clerkly hand he would have to write in the an Edinburgh law firm of Messrs. Skene and Peacock, Writers to the Signet, where he was working for a brief period at this time. The double-s digraph (of ‘Miss’) and the size (and clarity) again shows an earlier hand. (I have also noted the digraph in MSS from 1868 and 1870; I admit, also in notes for an essay c. 1890 ‘An Onlooker in Hell’ but only for the title ‘Miss’, also seen on envelopes—and my suggestion is that it remained in that use only; certainly I have not noted it in MSS in other words in documents except those definitely dated before 1872).

The following example is from a series of notes probably from 1874 about typical Scottish religious attitudes taken from Wodrow’s Analecta (in a rebound set of notes given the title of ‘Notes on Covenenaters’ (Yale, B 6128), see Covenanters. Notes). Some of the notes are in the rather angular upright script, some sloping, and on one occasion there is a switch to a sloping for three lines:

"Covenanters" notes (Beinecke 664 28, 651 (B 6128)

9. “Covenanters” notes (Beinecke 664 28, 651 (B 6128), f. 9)

This seems to be a temporary switch, which any writer might make in personal notes, to rest the hand by using a different set of hand muscles.


3. Small upright hand (later 1870s and early 1880s)

In the following example from a fair-copy manuscript of 1875, the writing has become distinctly smaller. Stevenson here seems to be making an effort to write well, shown I think by the carefully looped ‘y’ in the first and second lines.

Screenshot 2015-12-15 19.38.17

11. Prose Poems (1875) (Cornell 4600 Bd. Ms. 232 ++)

In the later years of the decade, this small upright hand continued, sometimes (as in the ‘Prose Poems’) slightly leaning towards the left. Here are three examples:

'Lay Morals' (1879)

12. ‘Lay Morals’ (1879) (Beinecke GM 664 32, 766)

'Protest on Behalf of Boer Independence' (1880-81)

13. ‘Protest on Behalf of Boer Independence’ (1880-81) (Notebook RLS/C, Beinecke GM 38, 850)

'Talk and Talkers' (1881-82)

14. ‘Talk and Talkers’ (winter of 1881-82) (University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center MS-4035 box 1, folder 1)


4. Later sloped hand (c. 1883-88)

For a period in the 1880s, Stevenson, suffering from writer’s cramp, adopted a distinctive, often larger, style of handwriting sloping to the right.

He first mentions the new handwriting in a letter of March 1883: ‘You see I have changed my hand. I was threatened apparently with scrivener’s cramp, and at any rate had got to write so small the revisal of my MS tried my eyes’ (Letters 4, 251). Here, the reference to very small handwriting seems to fit the ‘Talk and Talkers’ MS above. In March 1884 he again refers to the new hand: ‘I have been obliged to lean my hand the other way, which makes it unrecognisable; the hand is the hand of Esau’ (Letters 8, 417; see example 3. above); and again in July 1885: ‘I have two handwritings’ (Letters 5, 122).

We find alternation in the same document in the following list of titles (here with backward- and forward-sloping writing) for a series of verse ‘Moral Tales’, the first of which we know dates from November 1882 (L4, 29 and n):

Screenshot 2015-10-12 08.09.43

15. List of ‘Moral Tales’ (1882) (Beinecke GM 664 33, 798)

Both these styles have an unlooped-y.

A fair copy of the second ‘moral tale’ exists in a fair-copy MS where both handwritings are present on the same page:

Screenshot 2015-10-12 08.58.57

16. ‘The Builder’s Doom’ (1882) (Beinecke GM 664 26, 614)

Again, final-y in both parts is without a loop.

The sloping hand is commonly found in MSS from 1883-88. Gertrude Hills calls this ‘the loose, sloping hand […] used generally in private correspondence during the Davos-Hyères-Bournemouth and Saranac periods (1881-87)’ (Robert Louis Stevenson’s Handwriting (1940), p. 28)

After the early examples, it becomes small in size. Here are some examples:

'Lay Morals' (Oct 1883)

17. ‘Lay Morals: Fragments for Young Men’ (1883) (Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, St Helena, CA)

'The Ideal House' (1884)

18. ‘The Ideal House’ (1884) (University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center MS-4035 box 1, folder 4)

Yale, GEN MSS 664 box 44, folder 992, 'The Treasure Island Illustrations' (1885)

19. ‘The Treasure Island Illustrations’ (1885) (Beinecke GM 664 44, 992)

'The Manse' (1887) (NYPL)

20. ‘The Manse’ (1887) (NYPL, Berg Collection)

Screenshot 2015-11-28 15.26.12

21. Letter to J. A. Symonds, probably April 1877 (Bonhams Sale 18992, Lot 167)


As we have seen, in 1885 the draft of Strange Case of Dr Jeyll and Mr Hyde is an upright hand, while the final MS is in a sloping hand, and Kidnapped written in the following year has some pages in one and others in the other hand, and some pages where containing both types:

Kidnapped MS, p. 19

22. Kidnapped (1886) (Huntington: HM 2410, p. 19)

Kidnapped MS, p. 19

23. ibid.


The sloping hand continued to be used into the early Pacific period:

Yale, GEN MSS 684 box 9, folder 159, 'The Enchantress' (1888-89)

24. ‘The Enchantress’ (1888-89) (Beinecke GM 684 9, 159)

'The Wrecker' (draft) (?1889-90)

25. ‘The Wrecker’ (draft) (?1889-90) (Beinecke GM 664 45, 1039 (B 7185))


5. Abandonment of the sloped hand and return to a small upright hand

Later in the Pacific, Stevenson returned to writing only in a tiny upright hand:

'South Seas' ('Whites in the Pacific') (Beinecke 808 1, 2)

26. ‘South Seas’ (‘Whites in the Pacific’) (1889-91) (Beinecke 808 1, 2)

'Rosa Quo Locorum' (?1890 ?1893)

27. ‘Rosa Quo Locorum’ (?1890 ?1893) (Princeton CO171 Parrish Vol 125 (Wainwright p. 103))

'Heathercat' (1893-94)

29. ‘Heathercat’ (1893-94) (Beinecke GM 664 30, 717)


6. The sloping hand as an aid to dating manuscripts

Stevenson prepared a fair copy of the essay ‘On the Choice of a Profession’ in January 1879:

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.06.13

30. ‘On the Choice of a Profession’ (Huntington Library HM 401, f. 1)

It was, however, refused by the Cornhill Magazine and never published in Stevenson’s lifetime. The complete MS, in a small upright hand, is in the Huntington Library in California, but the Beinecke Library at Yale has an abandoned 3-page draft of the beginning of the essay. Various clues show this is a version copied from the full MS, with changes and cuts. One might think that this might have been made by Stevenson immediately after refusal in 1879, an atempt to rewrite the essay to make it acceptable for publication. Surely this is what he would do? we might think, knowing how anxious he was in this period to make and save money if he wanted to be independent of his father and marry Fanny Osbourne. The abandoned draft, however, is all in a sloping hand:

'On the Choice of a Profession' (abandoned later draft) (?1883-88)

31. ‘On the Choice of a Profession’ (abandoned later draft) (?1883-88) (Beinecke GM 664 40, 868 (B 6684), f. 1)

The handwriting shows that he did not start rewriting the essay in 1879 but some time in the period associated with this handwriting, i.e. 1883-88.

Written by rdury

08/03/2016 at 1:44 pm

Posted in News

Reading obliterated MS texts

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A recent article explains a ‘method for reading faint, obscured, and obliterated manuscript texts’ using Adobe Photoshop (or the similar open-source GNU Image Manipulation Program): Hilary Havens, ‘Adobe Photoshop and Eighteenth-Century Manuscripts: A New Approach to Digital Paleography’, dhq (Digital Humanities Quarterly) 8. 4 (2014).

There are screenshots for every step of the procedure. The method will not solve all problems, but will be of some help in reading RLS manuscripts and letters where words have been crossed out, if these seem to be of potential interest.

Thanks to Marina Dossena for passing on this reference.


Written by rdury

22/02/2016 at 3:53 pm

Posted in News

Covenanters. Notes

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Obstacles to writing

Does anyone ever sit down and dash off pages and pages of writing? Certainly not me. Apart from natural reluctance to start (which incidentally stimulates some positive actions, such as finally tidying up my desk), there are the frustrating succession of interruptions on any normal day. One learns to sympathize with the protagonist of Simon Gray’s Otherwise Engaged who tries again and again to listen to a recording of Wagner’s Parsifal (pick-up delicately placed on the lead-in groove: a pleasure of delightful mindful anticipation unknown to a digital generation), only to have a succession of people ringing at the door of his flat after the first chord or two.

Another obstacle is running into an uncertain area of knowledge—not unlike taking the wrong turning on a motorway that leads you to a space apparently not represented on maps, or like driving gingerly along a dirt track only to find the wheels stuck in mud or snow.

So it was that I was revising my Appendix of ‘Essays Planned or Lost’ (for the volume of Uncollected Essays and Reviews 1868-79) and just had to drop everything for a week to work out ‘ “Covenanters” Notes’.

A mixed bunch of notes

The item in question is this:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.12.29

Yale, Beinecke GEN MSS 664 box 28, folder 651 (B 6128)

The title on the cover (for some reason in quotation marks) is ‘Notes on Covenanters and Cavalier etc.’; in the MacKay catalogue it is ‘Covenanters. Notes’ and in the Yale finding aid ‘ “Covenanters” notes’. It’s a mounted and bound series of 25 leaves of laid paper (it’s not clear if from a notebook or separate leaves), with (obviously added) pagination 1-24 in pencil and preceded by another unpaginated leaf  with the title ‘Covenanters’:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.20.28


The trouble starts with p. 1 (i.e. the leaf paginated ‘1’), where the first note is:

‘The Position of the English Clergy to Elizabeth should be sedulously compared with that of Knox to Mary. See Hallam . Const. Hist I. IV. p 173.’

This refers to the late 16C, a period well before the ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ of 1643 and the persecution of the Covenanters from 1679 to 1688 (‘The Killing Times’).

On the second half of p. 1 begins a series of notes from Robert Wodrow, Analecta: or, Materials for a History of Remarkable Providences; Most Relating to Scotch Ministers and Christians: odd notes made by Wodrow in the early years of the eighteenth century: observations, remembered stories or anecdotes told by others—none of them specifically about Covenanter history, but all of them revealing aspects of typically Scottish religious attitudes. Stevenson’s notes are in volume order: they were clearly made as he read through the volume. The handwriting is the rather large, angular script of the early 1870s:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.39.43

This takes us to p. 6, where another set of notes starts (pp. 6-16): on Covenanters in the period 1688-89 from Alexander Shield’s notebooks as transcribed by Wodrow at the end of his volume of  Analecta. These are all in a similar hand to the first set of notes, though with some sections in a sloped variant.

Then on p. 17, without any heading, there is a new set of notes on the French Camisard leader Jean Cavalier (pp. 17-22). These are in a distinctly different hand: the smaller writing with less angular descenders that is typical from the late 1870s onwards:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.44.25

The works from which these notes are taken are: Eugène Bonnemère, Histoire des Camisards (1869; Stevenson’s copy is now at Buffalo), Napoléon Peyrat, Histoire des Pasteurs du Désert (1842; now at Yale), Anon., Histoire des Camisards (1744) (vol. 2 of which is now at RLSM, St. Helena, CA), Maximilien Misson (translated by John Lacey), A Cry from the Desart (Stevenson cites the 2nd ed., 1717, untraced among the sources for Stevenson’s library). A further source is cited in the initial pencil notes on Cavalier’s life, physical characteristics and character, Bxxxxxx:

Screenshot 2015-12-20 11.30.23

Screenshot 2015-12-20 11.31.02

Unfortunately no works listed in the Stevenson Library Database fit this shape. Any ideas about what this name could be?

Swearingen dates work on the study of ‘Colonel Jean Cavalier’ to June 1881 (p. 59); could these notes be from then, or are they from an earlier period?

To end it all (p. 23) is an outline of the first two chapters of ‘Lay Morals’, which since the latter was written in March 1879 must date from just before.

A final leaf (p.24) has some pencil jottings: something crossed out, the word ‘God’ or ‘Good’ and two lines of verse linking romance and Colinton: ‘Dwelt in the country of romance / In that green garden round the Manse’

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.56.32

Knox, Scottish religious attitudes c. 1702, Covenanters 1688-90, Jean Cavalier, ‘Lay Morals’ and this bit of verse—quite a mixture.

Sorting it out

Even getting that idea of the mixture of notes took time to work out; then I had to try and make some sense of it. So here I was, having taken a wrong turn off the motorway, with signs pointing in various directions, none of which made much sense to me. OK, stop the car and study the map.

First of all, the mixed nature of the notes suggests these are sheets from a notebook that was used at several periods. It is just possible that the creator of the bound volume put together heterogeneous notes that just happened to be on the same paper—but then would the same paper be around in both the early and late 1870s, let alone perhaps the early 1880s for the Cavalier notes?

1. ‘Covenanters’ (Sept–Oct 1873), pp. 1-16

At first I thought the note on Knox, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth must be related either to an essay on John Knox (one already written in July 1873; a biographical study planned in early 1874; or the published essay on John Knox and women which occupied Stevenson for a year from early 1874), or to one of the studies in the planned volume of studies on the Reformation (under consideration for a year from autumn 1874). Then I read on. The second note is:

Screenshot 2015-12-20 08.01.56

Cf. Isobel Alison’s examination (C[l]oud of Witnesses p. 115 at
top) with Queen Mary’s Speech (Burton IV. p. 12 near foot) and
I think somewhere in Knox. This repetition is surely as instructive
and strange as it is deeply sad. The crowned Queen pestered by
high-minded and intolerant spiritual questioners, paralleled
a century afterwards by the “pour lass” before the Privy Council.

In other words, the reference to Isobel Alison, a Covenanter martyr, is accompanied by parallels in time and space, between one century and another, and between England and Scotland. This intent of providing a deep historical context gives us the clue to the following notes (pp. 1–6) on Scottish religious attitudes in the early 18th century from Robert Wodrow’s Analecta, followed by notes (pp. 6–16) specifically on Covenanters, in the period 1688-89, from the same volume.

We know that Stevenson was making notes from this volume in October 1873, as he tells Frances Sitwell in a letter: ‘I kept on at Wodrow’s Analecta (a Covenanting book) and made my notes as best I could’ (Letters 1, 327; 2 Oct 1873). These must be the notes we’re looking at here. As a clincher, we know that he was reading Hallam’s Constitutional History of England (cited in the first note) the month before: ‘I have been out reading Hallam in the garden’ (Letters 1, 319; 16 Sept 1873).

In September, Stevenson had written to Frances Sitwell about his planned study on the Covenanters:

I do not think I should be in a hurry to commit myself about the Covenanters; the whole subject turns round about me and so branches out to this side and that that I grow bewildered; and one cannot write discreetly about any one little corner of an historical period, until one has an organic view of the whole. I have however, given life and health, great hopes in my Covenanters […]. (Letters 1, 311; 22 Sept 1873)

His reference to ‘the Covenanters’ shows that Mrs Sitwell already knew about the project and that it had most likely been discussed with her and Sidney Colvin shortly before, in July and August, when Stevenson had first met them at Cockfield Rectory in Suffolk. But what is interesting for us here is the reference to the complexity of the project because ‘one cannot write discreetly [? discretely] about any one little corner of an historical period, until one has an organic view of the whole’. Looking again at these notes, they seem to fit with this aim at ‘an organic view of the whole’ for a study of Covenanters, a study which would perforce be focussed on the second half of the 17th century, but which we can see for Stevenson involves religious attitudes in Scotland (and also England) from the later 16th to the early 18th centuries.

A few months later, when Stevenson planned a volume of studies on ‘Four Great Scotchmen’, he said that he wanted to cover ‘their lives, their work, the social media in which they lived and worked, with, if I can so make it, the strong current of the race making itself felt underneath and throughout—this is my idea’ (Letters 1, 474-5; 6 Feb 1874, to Fanny Sitwell). The planned approach to describe these lives in the context of social milieu and race, suggests an influence of the Hippolyte Taine, who saw historical processes as the product of ‘race, milieu et moment’. Notice that Stevenson uses the same keyword ‘race’, and surely not in its later deformed biological sense and obsessed by purity, but in Taine’s sense of the internal mainsprings of a civilization involving heredity, climate, geography and psychology, the things which hold a population together.

Returning to our ‘Covenanters. Notes’, also of interest is the parallel between the browbeating of the two Queens and the similar treatment of the ‘pour lass’ Isobel Alison. This shows a similar empathetic ability to link people of diverse historical and cultural periods that strikes us in the writings that became In the South Seas.

All these notes on pages 1 to 16 therefore seem to be for the study of Covenanters that Stevenson was pursuing in September and October 1873.

2. ‘Jean Cavalier’ (late 1880-early 1882; early 1879?)

In  November 1873, Stevenson had decided to include the French Calvinists in his study of the Covenanters, and says he hopes to find books in Paris ‘on the French Calvinists which are necessary for my little Covenanting game’ (Letters 1, 357). Could our Cavalier notes be connected with these proposed acquisitions in Paris? Not in the sense of dating from the same period: the handwriting is clearly from a later period.

The Cavalier notes are placed here before the outline of ‘Lay Morals’—could they too date from early 1879? One thing we can say is that they are not connected with Travels with a Donkey. Although this  contains a section ‘The Country of the Camisards’ and was being written in this period (December 1878 to early January 1879 and Stevenson was correcting proofs and perhaps adding new material in late March and early April 1879),  Jean Cavalier receives only passing mention in this work.

Stevenson borrowed books on the Camisards from the Advocates Library in January and March 1879, but they are not books cited in these notes (so, with Camisard books borrowed in March when proofs were being read, it looks as if he was indeed adding new material to Travels with a Donkey at this late stage).

The first definite reference by Stevenson to a study of Jean Cavalier dates from a letter of September 1880, when he asks the historian John Hill Burton for help in finding sources relating to ‘the career of Cavalier after he joined the English service—I mean John Cavalier, the ex-Camisard’ (Letters 3, 98). Then in a notebook used at Davos in the winter of 1880-1881 he made a list of planned ‘Studies’, including ‘Colonel John Cavalier’ (Notebook 53, f. 2v; Beinecke GEN MSS 664 box 38, folder 850). In the same winter of 1880-81, he wrote a draft of the opening paragraph of the study (Notebook C, ff. 3 and 3v; Beinecke GEN MSS GM 664 box 34 folder 820).

Several months later, in June 1881, he asks Edmund Gosse about the same period in Cavalier’s life, adding ‘I have splendid materials for Cavalier till he comes to my own country’ (Letters 3, 186-7). In September 1880 and again in September 1881 he borrowed more books on the Camisards, returning them after keeping them over the winter in Davos. These show a revived interest in Camisard history, but are not directly related to these notes as the borrowed books are not quoted there, which is not surprising because (as we have seen) at least three of these were in his own library.

All this seems to point to the winter of 1880-81 as the most probable time for our Cavalier notes.

But  with the books used for these notes on Jean Cavalier possibly in Stevenson’s library from when he passed through Paris on his way to Mentone in early November 1873, or on his way back in April 1874, could they have been made in early 1879? Well, from the handwriting they could, as this is similar to the handwriting of the ‘Lay Morals’ outline and of ‘Lay Morals’ itself. However, it is also very similar to handwriting of the early 1880s:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.44.25

Notes on Jean Cavalier

Screenshot 2015-12-20 13.51.43

Outline for ‘Lay Morals’ (probably early 1879)

Screenshot 2015-10-18 07.48.33

‘Lay Morals’ (1879)

Screenshot 2015-10-17 18.23.49

‘Talk and Talkers’ (1881-82)

The position of the Cavalier notes before the ‘Lay Morals Outline’ from early 1879 in this series of rebound notebook leaves cannot be taken as any strong indication of dating. With more indications of serious work on ‘Jean Cavalier’ between September 1880 and the winter of 1881-82, and the handwriting of the notes being close to that of this period, the best fit for dating of our Notes is the same period (with a residual possibility that they were made in early 1879).

3. ‘Lay Morals’ (early 1879)

We know that ‘Lay Morals’ was written (or mostly written) in March 1879 (Letters 2, 303; 8 March 1879), so this outline probably dates from just before, let’s say early 1879.

Back to work

It is unusual that the same notebook was used in the autumn of 1873, early 1879 and the winter of 1880-81, but but it is possible and seems to be the case of the notebook from which these rebound leaves derive. The dating of the three main sections seems pretty clear and I now understand the projects they were associated with—I think I can get back to work on my list of ‘Essays Planned or Lost’ again.

But first, let me relax and sit down with a drink to listen to this recording of Parsifal…   




Written by rdury

20/12/2015 at 2:48 pm

Posted in News

x or n?

with 5 comments

When transcribing Stevenson’s manuscripts certain letters can be deceptive. One of these is ‘x’.


In an early period, Stevenson formed his ‘x’ like a multiplication sign:

Screenshot 2015-11-05 17.41.59













Indeed, in the case of example 3 (‘Reminiscences of Colinton Manse’), the 2-stroke-x helps confirm a dating to c. 1870.



In mid-1872 Stevenson worked for a time in an Edinburgh law firm, Messrs. Skene and Peacock. During that time he wrote a journal of a few pages, recently sold at auction; I suspect that if examined, this would contain the s-c ‘x’ (like the letter used in algebra): in a law firm he would have to write a ‘clerkly hand’ (i.e. a form of roundhand) and in this hand the ‘x’ is formed in this way.


1873 onwards

Whether this is true or not, from 1873 onwards, we only find the s-c form for ‘x’, as in the following examples (the first is the old-form, included for comparison):

Screenshot 2015-11-05 17.49.53




























‘x’ vs ‘n’

Screenshot 2015-11-05 17.35.33

Written by rdury

05/11/2015 at 5:05 pm

Posted in News


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