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

Archive for December 2011

Manuscript transcription: volunteer helpers

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With a little help from our friends

Preparing a scholarly edition, you obviously need to study any manuscripts of the text or those associated with it in some way (drafts, chapter outlines etc). Sometimes you may just need to consult the manuscript and take notes, but in many cases you will need to transcribe it, so you can study it later or include a transcript in an appendix or shorter quotations in notes.

As long as you’re a single editor this can be done any way you choose, but in a project like ours transcriptions need to be standardized. If publication is going to be digital, then you need to use the conventions of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), or anyway (as in our case) a system that can be easily changed to this by find-and-replace. (The methodology will be tested and maybe adjusted with the publication of the first volumes.)

Transcribing and then proofing (we have three proofing stages) goes at the speed of the formation of a coral reef, i.e. slowly. As a result we are very grateful to our volunteers for all their help with transcription and proofing. Obviously the volume editors are involved in at least half of the work as this is how you become familiar with the manuscript’s contents, but with such a lot of work to do, every little helps. The team that is helping with the Essays includes Elaine Grieg, Neil Brown, Geraldine McGowan, Mafalda Cipollone and Olive Classe. From time to time we’ll be introducing them to the readers of this blog.

Olive Classe

Born 1924 in London. After taking my B.A.and B.Litt. at Oxford, I lectured in French Language and Literature in the University of Glasgow, special interests translation and C17 and C19 French Literature.  Pradon: Phedre et Hippolyte [1677], Édition critique par O. Classe (Exeter: Exeter University Publications, 1987). During the spring of 1955 I assisted my late husband in fieldwork in La Gomera, Canary Islands, on the local whistled language, the silbo gomero.  I retired from teaching in 1990 and moved back to London.

Since then I have freelanced as a writer, editor and translator. From 1997 to 2003 I was on the Society of Authors judging panel for the Valle-Inclán Prize for Translation from Spanish into English.  Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, edited by Olive Classe (London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2.vols, 2000).   Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Rebel, translated by Olive Classe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), from Jean Flori, Aliénor d’Aquitaine: la reine insoumise (Paris: Payot, 2004).

As my acquaintance with RLS’s literary and other written allusions in his early letters grows, so does admiration for the breadth and warmth of his interests, knowledge and sympathies, for the scrupulous self-discipline he applies to his craft, and for the stoical determination with which he manages poor health.  Attention has to spread to the essays and fiction, and so starting to help with the transcription of his MSS with their hesitations and corrections allows the beginning of some insights into the tactics and strategies of his writing procedures.

Supposition plays a considerable part in the interpretation of uncertain readings, but the editoral system of successive proofings produces enlightening and constructive consultations on fine points. In time sound evidence will surely accumulate, giving a basis for suggesting tentatively how the writer’s processes evolve into the products, revealing on the way the existence of transitory or characteristic themes, patterns and stylistic preferences.


Mafalda Cipollone

I was born in 1954 and live and work in Perugia. In 1978 I took a degree in Lettere e Filosofia at Perugia University with a thesis in Archaeology (on Roman sculpture). Since 1986 I’ve been working at the Museo Archeologico dell’Umbria in Perugia, where I look after stored materials, collaborate on exhibitions and assist students and scholars visiting our museum.

In 2008 I obtained my diploma in “Archival and Paleographic Science” , and I’m now researching into early collections of antique artefacts in Perugia and Umbria. As a result I’m getting used to reading and transcribing old handwriting.

I first met RLS when I was a little girl: I read the Italian translation of Treasure Island, but I did’t like it very much. Then I discovered that my father had a book of  Racconti e favole (short stories and fables — I have since discovered that they were translated by Aldo Camerino while hiding from the Nazis on Murano in 1943) — that made me change my mind… Once grown-up, I read many other works and loved them more and more. In 2005 I came across the Letters, on the net, on archive.org, I began to translate them into Italian, just for pleasure. The author’s personality revealed itself more and more and I found that it was quite different from the usually outlined picture.

Transcription is a sort of  voyage inside the author, his psyche, his time, his culture, and — most fascinating — his human nature. A sort of voyage in the past. I felt the same feeling excavating a Roman necropolis in Gubbio, years ago!

“What Are You Reading” Workshop, NLS Dec 7th 2011

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Insights into Scholarly Editing at the NLS


At the third “What Are Your Reading” workshop at the National Library of Scotland (7 December 2011), presented by EdRLS editors, Penny Fielding started by emphasizing the complexity and difficulty of choices in preparing a a scholarly edition, taking as an example the striking and memorable incident of Alison thrusting the sword into the frozen ground in The Master of Ballantrae, which Colvin did not include in the Edinburgh Edition (1896), where it is printed prefaced with the note “The present text follows a copy of the first edition corrected by the author before his death”.

Gill Hughes then talked about the three basic choices of ‘base text’ for an edition:  the final manuscript prepared by the author, the first edition, or the last lifetime edition produced with the author’s input.

Richard Dury: gave an overview of the history of composition and publication of Kidnapped, in particular of the difficult coordination of overlapping publication by Young Folks magazine and in book form by Cassells.


The particpants, in three groups guided by the presenters, studied the variant readings of a page of Kidnapped (from chapter 1, 2, and 3 according to group). The aim was to explain how the differences had arisen and – taking the role of volume editor – advise on any emendations to the base text.

For the purposes of the exercise the 1886 Cassells edition was taken as the base text and compared with the MS (a reading text version of the manuscript), and YF (the Young Folks serialisation). The aim was not to choose a base text, but to give the participants the experience of making editorial choices.

Chapter 1 group

Here are some observations of the group that was looking at the page from Chapter 1.

a certain morning early in the month of June: ”early” is not in the MS, but is in YF and Cassells (left). The group agreed that this must have been an addition by RLS on the YF proofs. One could see the reasons: it emphasizes the beginning of the story at the beginning of the day, the month and the summer, and it is vaguely reminiscent of a folk song.

“Well, Davie, lad,” said he: in MS and in YF this is “, Davie lad“, so the added comma looks like a change made by the Cassell’s printer and not noted by RLS–or made by the printer and accepted by RLS–or made by RLS himself on the Cassells proofs. (This shows the difficulty of reconstructing what happened.) One member of the group could see justification for the change, seeing “lad” as equivalent to “my lad”; the others saw “Davie lad” as a unit (like “Chrissie lass”, or “Davie bach” in Anglo-Welsh), with the “lad” part reinforcing the suffix of endearment. Here, the editors would want to look at other examples of the construction by RLS and others and possibly then propose an emendation to the base text.

Chapter 2 group

This group had some interesting points where the MS differed from the printed versions: in some cases the MS reading seemed better, in other cases it seems to contain an error that has later been corrected.

bats flew in and out: the MS has “flew in out“. This might seem a straightforward correction of an accidental omission of a small word while writing. However there was an interesting discussion about (i) whether “in out” was a possible phrase, or (ii) whether perhaps RLS wrote “in”, wasn’t sure about it, and wrote “out” and forgot to cross out the first alternative. Backing up this possibility was the suggestion that at dusk, bats would be flying out from their place of daytime rest.

I lifted my hand with a faint heart under my jacket, and knocked once: the MS has “hand” followed by a comma, removed in YF and Cassells. Participants here were split between those who could see this as the intervention of RLS not wanting too long a pause after “hand” (wanting the important pause to be after “jacket” as David hesitated), and others who thought this could be a mistake in copying the MS because the comma usefully removes the possible ambiguity of “lifted with a faint heart”.

Mr. Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws: MS has “Balfour of the Shaws”. Participants were not quite sure of the MS reading here: could it be an old Scottish expression? Could it show Davie’s uncertainty about the title? The group also had an image of the MS and could see that this also might have been a mistake, later corrected by the author: RLS writes in the MS “Balfour of the” and comes to the end of a line, then as he moves the pen across the page he imagines he’s written the words “house of” and starts the new line with “Shaws”.

Chapter 3 group

This group also had some interesting cases of differences in the MS that were changed for the printed versions.

Half-a-dozen 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”. The feeling of the members of the group at the NLS was that this was probably a change made by the author, but they would like to emend the text to “bink”, on the grounds that the early proofing was not really part of “the initial creative process”.

I’ll take the ale, though: MS has “beer“; clearly a change made by the author to the YF proofs, the group thought. Some members noticed that earlier on (third paragraph of this chapter), when Davie enters the kitchen he sees on the table “a cup of small beer”. Some thought it was better to follow the MS, to keep consistency and use “beer” in both places; others saw “ale” as an older and more traditional word that was used here to show Ebeneezer’s more old-fashioned way of speaking in comparison with David.  So in the first case (“shelves” vs “bink”) the members of the group wanted to keep the MS reading, and in the second, some wanted to take the variant in the printed versions as better.


The discussion of the passages went on too long for a proper conclusion. But one general reaction was surprise that on every page there were so many and often important variants; another reaction was an understanding of the complexity of preparing a scholarly edition.

Written by rdury

12/12/2011 at 5:09 pm

Kidnapped and the copright edition

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The joys of making an unexpected discovery

For the “What Are You Reading” event at the NLS on 7th December I was trying, with Penny Fielding and Gill Hughes, to get as clear an idea as possible of the publication history of Kidnapped. We knew there had been a “copyright edition” of the first ten chapters produced by Henderson (editor of Young Folks) issued in April 1886, but I’d assumed such productions were slung together any old how and were not really relevant.

Copyright Edition is identical with Young Folks

But then I remembered that, of course, the NLS has a copy of this, so we could have a look and see what relationship it might have with the Young Folks and Cassells first ten chapters.

Gill Hughes and I called up the volume, and we saw that it corresponded exactly with all the typical word- and punctuation-variants of Young Folks, that it was indeed identical with it (Gill’s expert proofing skills came into play here). Then I thought the type size and column width looked familiar (it was in two columns to the page), so I suggested looking at the University of South Carolina images of Young Folks on their website.

Copyright Edition is Young Folks

So off we went to the catalogue computers, where you’re allowed to look at any websites, found the first chapter of Kidnapped in Young Folks on the USC site and saw that the lines all began and ended with the same words as in the Copyright Edition—that the typography was identical. They had just placed the lines of type into the different lengths of columns. (The only change was to the first paragraphs of each chapter in the magazine version, where a decorated initial meant the type had to be placed differently on the lines.) This fact immediately removed a couple of question marks from the provisional stemma we had sketched out. (A stemma is the tree diagram to show the relationship of the different ‘witness texts’.)

Just to make sure, that we hadn’t discovered something already known, I then looked in the various Stevenson bibliographies (conveniently on open shelves in the NLS Readng Room) and found that this indeed had not been noticed before.

Much research involves months of work before results start mistily to appear; this all took ten minutes. Great!

Written by rdury

08/12/2011 at 8:56 am

EdRLS at the German Consulate

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This year the edition has an important new team member. Marina Held has joined us from the University of Mainz as ERASMUS intern. The placement is supervised by Dr Penny Fielding (University of Edinburgh) and PD Dr Sigrid Rieuwerts (University of Mainz) and it is made possible through EU funding overseen by the EU ServicePoint at the University of Mainz.

Marina Held, Penny Fielding and Sigrid Rieuwerts meet German Consul Dr Wolfgang Mössinger

On 27th October we met the German Consul, Dr. Wolfgang Mössinger, to mark the establishing of the Edinburgh-Mainz internships and to discuss possible future German-Scottish collaborations for the Stevenson Edition and Edinburgh University’s project for Scottish Writing in the Nineteenth Century (SWINC). It is connections like this, made possible by Professor Rieuwerts and the University of Mainz, that establish the edition as a truly European project. We already have editors from Italy, France and Germany on the team and look forward to to working with our new German friends.

Marina is an invaluable member of the team, helping us with all aspects of textual editing and public engagement. She is enabling us to make really good progress on the edition as her computer skills far exceed those of the Edinburgh General Editor. She is also a champion Irish Dancer! We are delighted to have her with us and very much enjoy working with her. Marina is currently working on digitising The Dynamiter, Weir of Hermiston and some of the Essays, and she is research assistant for our third event in the What are You Reading? series of talks and workshops at the National Library of Scotland. She is helping us to produce sample pages of the various states of Kidnapped to show what questions about textual editing we will confront in this key Stevenson novel.

Written by pennyfielding

07/12/2011 at 3:53 pm