News from the volume editors: St Ives
by Glenda Norquay
The parts played by Stevenson’s friends, as editors and business negotiators, particularly after his death, was one area of focus in my recent research trip to Princeton and to the Beinecke Library at Yale working on St Ives.
Baxter takes on American publishers and gives it to them straight
One of the unexpectedly fascinating aspects of this research has been the complicated publishing history of the material, with American and British publishers wrangling over book publication and serial rights, a debate made difficult not just by Stevenson’s death but also by the ‘disappointment’ (to put it mildly) of Charles Scribner at The Ebb-Tide going to Stone & Kimball and their claim to have rights to future works.
Scribner’s had been Stevenson’s publishers since 1885, when Stevenson had been delighted at receiving any money at all from US sales. He was, however, disappointed at sales of The Wrecker in 1893 in the US (where it had sold about a third of the number sold in the UK) and suspected them, with Baxter’s encouragement, of dishonesty or incompetence. He therefore made Baxter his business manager and asked him to get the best offer for future items.
The Americans are highly suspicious of Charles Baxter and his deal-making. And perhaps with some justification: in a letter of July 1894 he writes to RLS: ‘There is no being sentimental with American publishers […] If you want their respect, you must “do” them, and they will think you real smart’. Cultural differences and prejudice, combined with the need for income to keep Vailima going, seem to have created a difficult situation.
Colvin’s helpful ideas for a historical novel
Colvin is not exactly a business intermediary (Baxter had warned Stevenson in February 1893 that Colvin ‘is not much use at selling’) but becomes the more acceptable face of Stevenson’s representatives to the Americans. Colvin’s role, however, is more than a mediator. His contribution to St Ives includes the suggestion: ‘Couldn’t you let Scott walk across the stage in one or other of your 1812 novels? Also I want Boney, why not, in St Ives.’ (1 Dec 1893) Stevenson doesn’t seem to have been too enthusiastic about the Napoleon suggestion but a cameo of Scott provides one of the book’s most memorable chapters.
Colvin, Quiller-Couch and the conclusion of St Ives
It was also Colvin who negotiated the ‘Conclusion’ to the novel, first approaching Conan Doyle who declined by asserting ‘I’d as soon think of putting a new act on to Hamlet’ (n.d.) then working with Arthur Quiller-Couch.
The extended correspondence over the ending, which Quiller-Couch was working on while chapters were appearing in the Pall Mall Magazine, shows Colvin as recipient of all ‘Q’s anxieties over the impossibility of the ending apparently planned by Stevenson. The correspondence between them is an unusual one, in that Colvin is an editor of the material, responsible for the revisions that went to the publisher, while Quiller-Couch is both author and a reader. So in April 1897 he notes that: ‘I have just read the May installment in the P.M.M. [chapters 19–21] Alain doesn’t work out as I had expected—or perhaps a very bad illustration has something to do with it. At any rate I had expected a grander air with him and more gusto in his villainy.’
Colvin’s editorial role is also an important one, although he is dismayed to find that revision notes incorporated in the English version by Heinemann did not reach Scribner in time for the American edition. It is, nevertheless, his approved version of the novel that dominated for over a hundred years.
Of Quiller-Couch’s role in shaping the ending, of the mystery of the American Privateer and of my first encounter with the 800 manuscript pages for St Ives, more to follow.