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

Kidnapped conundrum solved

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Davie enters the kitchen of the House of Shaws and sees a bxxxk

In Chapter 3 of Kidnapped, David Balfour is reluctantly admitted by his uncle to the kitchen of the House of Shaws, and looks around him. In the 1886 Young Folks text and in the first book edition (Cassells, 1886), he sees:

Half a dozen dishes stood upon the shelves…

In Barry Menikoffs transcription of the manuscript in the Huntington Library, the sentence begins

Half a dozen dishes stood upon the brick…

Looking at the manuscript, the last word seemed more like ‘brink’:

I thought that was a bit better, but neither word mades any obvious sense. I looked in the SND and OED, to no avail. I asked various experts, thinking that we might find a traditional feature of Scottish kitchens called ‘brick’ or ‘brink’, in a use that (I persuaded myself) hadn’t made it to the SND. Then Jeremy Hodges solved the problem, at a stroke:

the Scots word for a shelf is a ‘bink’. The Chambers Concise English-Scots Dictionary (p226) has the following:

shelf see also ledge, shelving; skelf, dale; (eg on a wall, for plates etc) bink; (by an old fireplace, for pots etc) bink, hud.

Of course! once you start seeing that second letter as ‘r’ it’s difficult to ‘unsee’ it and re-sort the marks in any other way. So many thanks to Jeremy. I see from the Concise Scots Dictionary (meaning 2) that ‘bink’ is also, more specifically, ‘a wall rack or shelf for dishes; a kitchen dresser’ (late 18-early 20 cent), also (meaning 3) ‘a hob on a freplace; a shelf, ledge etc. at the side of such’. (Perhaps we should see it as a dresser, since RLS replaces it with ‘shelves’.)

Jeremy thinks that the change was an example of Colvin ‘bowlderizing’, but actually we have no evidence of Colvin substituting one word for another off his own bat (punctuation and spelling was another matter), and anyway RLS was in full control of the proofs in 1886: this must be a change that RLS decided when going over the Young Folk proofs.


Written by rdury

08/11/2011 at 12:47 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Excellent!
    Walter Scott uses the word “bink” at least twice. Once in “The Antiquary”: “He has mair sense than to ca’ ony thing about the bigging his ain, frae the roof-tree down to a crackit trencher on the bink.” And once in “The Two Drovers”: “the very platters on the bink clattered against each other.”

    Lesley Graham

    08/11/2011 at 2:07 pm

  2. All the more interesting as ‘The Binks’ rocks are the site of the old landing place at Queensferry, used until the Year of Our Lord 1812 according to the commemorative plaque which can be viewed online.

    Neil Brown

    09/11/2011 at 4:46 pm

  3. The MS has a number of marginal question marks in the first eight chapters, from an early reader (Colvin or Henderson, probably) when RLS circulated the first part of the MS in 1885; most of these refer to items that RLS changed. However, there is no mark opposite ‘bink’ in the MS, suggesting that RLS decided by himself that the word should be changed. Interestingly, most Scottish people who I’ve asked about this don’t know the word. (It will be interesting to find out what these queried words were; this information will be in the notes of our new edition.)


    08/12/2011 at 12:33 pm

  4. I imagine there must be some connection between ‘bink’ and ‘bunk’, as well as ‘bank’. Old English ‘benc’. In Scots, ‘bunker’ can refer to a [very often sloping] ‘slab beside a sink’ (where indeed the dishes lay), and also a ‘window seat and chest’ combination (Chambers). In my childhood, however, in our home at least, it specifically referred – but only when in situ – to the wooden cover (the ‘bunker lid’) of the deep, [multi-purpose, Belfast] sink, allowing its use as a retainer of heat when clothes were being steeped, and also as a table of sorts. On this shelf, self was safely perched while mother went about her labours…

    Neil Brown

    08/12/2011 at 3:01 pm

  5. In the wonderful 1950’s, D. C. Thomson edition of ‘Kidnapped’ [‘Famous Books / Told in Pictures’ series], illustrated by Dudley D. Watkins of ‘Broons’ and ‘Oor Wullie’ renown, the ‘bink’ (if we may now refer to it so) is rendered (showing only three plates) as one of those single, high shelves, the like of which graced Scots tenement kitchens, and could never be reached by young hands. These customarily displayed (as in my grandmother’s case) polished copper vessels and willow pattern plates. Presumably the dishes were the only bright things in Ebenezer’s dismal kitchen,

    Neil Brown

    08/12/2011 at 3:31 pm

  6. […] dishes stood upon the shelves: MS has “stood upon the bink” (as recently discovered in preparation for this event), a Scots word meaning “shelf” or “dresser”. […]

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