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

Unpublished manuscript problem

with 18 comments

A Dialogue on Men, Women and Clarissa Harlowe

In late 1877/early 1878, RLS wrote a kind of Congrevian essayistic dialogue with three people debating Richardson’s Clarissa, combined with thoughts on the difficulties of understanding between the sexes and hence of choosing a marriage partner (the sort of things that we find in several of the Virginibus Puerisque essays).

On p. 3 of the draft MS, we find the following speech:

Bachelor. O I give you Lovelace. There we shall agree. He had a bad heart; a cold and rancid heart; though what a style he wrote, the rogue! and how he knew you women! But I give him up; true or not true, I give him up and heartily disown him; not true, he was a fine, glaring, pasteboard bogy, with a candle in his inside, to fright the public: true — and

well, if we’re to take him for true, he was a sad, unhealthy
dog <del>for</del>; he had no guess of what he wished, to my mind, worked
for wind, worked for disgust
. Come, I’ll offer you a bet,

and Richardson shall decide it, in a better world, where he walks, escorted by elect females. Had not Colonel Morden stamped him out near Trent, ten to one, he had died of Pthysis[sic].


Can any reader of the blog solve the problem of the words in red above: “worked for wind, worked for disgust“. The meaning seems to be that Lovelace had a sort of obsessive compulsion to do what actually disgusted him.

“Worked” may be “winked” (but what looks like a dot in the first instance looks, on closer examination, more like a mark on the paper, and no dot is visible in the second); “wind” may be “mind”, but notice how RLS’s “m” always starts with a lead-in hook (as in “to my mind”) and this is absent from the word in question, which has a straight start like all the other examples of “w” in the illustrated fragment.

Any help on this will be gladly received.

18 Responses

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  1. Could it mean that he was being deliberately provocative, kicking up a stink, or does the first part imply that his actions were without forethought?


    16/01/2012 at 11:41 am

  2. Interesting! “worked for [i.e. towards] disgust” meaning “(provocatively) aimed at creating disgust”.

    If we take this reading, then “worked for wind” should mean “(provocatively) aimed at creating wind” – with “wind” having some metaphoric meaning — maybe something like “disturbance” or “reminder of forces greater than those of human society”? Still quite strange, though, as this isn’t a common metaphor.

    Interpreted this way, Lovelace is motivated by misanthropic disdain.

    (It would be great if these turned out to be terms used by melodramatic actors – but, if so, they remain below the Google horizon.)


    16/01/2012 at 2:01 pm

  3. Brewer (1883): ‘To take’ or ‘have the wind’. To get or keep the upper hand. Lord Bacon uses the phrase. “To have the wind of a ship” is to be to the windward of it.

    Essay XX – Of Counsel: A king when he presides in council, let him beware how he opens his own inclination too much in that which he propoundeth; for else councillors will but take the wind of him, and instead of giving free counsel, will sing him a song of ‘placebo’. [I will please. Used to denote anything soothing.]

    Neil Brown

    16/01/2012 at 9:11 pm

  4. Dear Friends
    I have posted a response on the RLS website





    17/01/2012 at 5:55 am

    • Steve’s suggestion on the RLS site forum comes from the entry for the verb “wind” pronounced /waind/ meaning “to turn” etc., whereas the word under discussion is a noun (“worked for wind”).

      I think Neil has more the wind of the thing here: “wind” meaning “advantage”, either for a sailing ship or a hunter: OED’s wind n.1 meaning I.3.b and I.4

      So “worked for wind” is “continually aimed to obtain tactical advantage over others“.

      As for “worked for disgust“, following Steve’s earlier suggestion, perhaps it means “aimed to create disgust” – in himself, in other people – he wasn’t really concerned – just so long as there was some disgust around to reflect the awfulness of things.


      17/01/2012 at 7:05 am

  5. Presumably having worked for wind, and gained it over others, L. is in the advantageous position of sailing close to the wind – or near the wind, i.e. ‘as nearly against it as is consistent with using its force, fig. venture very near indecency or dishonesty’ (Concise Oxford, 1934 – I really should get a new one!).

    Does this in any way help to explain ‘worked for disgust’?

    That the last part of the word is one often used with wind keeps throwing me off course!

    Neil Brown

    17/01/2012 at 10:47 am

  6. “work for wind” = travailler pour du vent. French expression meaning “to work for nothing”



    18/01/2012 at 6:58 pm

    • Thsi is wonderful, Vianney! You’ve given us the key to understanding:

      “worked for wind” = “worked for nothing”, “dedicated himself to an activity with no results”

      “worked for disgust = (perhaps, on the same pattern) “dedicated himself to an activity the only result of which was disgust” – and, remembering the book, this must be “self-disgust”.



      19/01/2012 at 7:15 am

      • It was easy for me !
        In think RLS was living much in France at that time, it may explain the use of this expression.


        19/01/2012 at 11:38 am

  7. Not only that, he often uses French expressions translated literally to help create his slightly strange language


    19/01/2012 at 1:15 pm

  8. I share your enthusiasm: good job!


    19/01/2012 at 4:54 pm

  9. I cannot translate this strangeness. My translation would be simply “travailler pour du vent, travailler pour du dégoût” But perhaps to make up for this I could somewhere else translate literally in french some others english phrases.


    19/01/2012 at 6:05 pm

    • Yes, where you can’t translate something you try and compensate by something equivalent nearby. And anything to do with the language you’re translating into will be a problem.

      But we’re straying from the subject…


      20/01/2012 at 6:57 am

  10. I’m sceptical about this explanation – the French phrase is not a common one. I think the expression comes quite simply from Ecclesiastes 5:16 “… and what profit has he who has labored for the wind?”


    24/01/2012 at 1:08 pm

    • Good! It is indeed more likely way to understanding for the intended reader.

      (However, the French phrase very probably comes from the same text and has the same meaning: “Quel avantage y a-t-il donc à travailler ainsi pour du vent?” or “d’avoir travaillé pour du vent?”)


      24/01/2012 at 1:23 pm

      • You can use “pour du vent” with others verbs or expression in french. Not only with “to work” and any french shall instantly understand the meaning.


        24/01/2012 at 6:58 pm

      • Je comprends bien Vianney, mais le fait est qu’au 19ème siècle on ne trouve l’expression “travaillé pour du vent” que dans la Bible, et dans aucun autre texte en français catalogué par Google. D’ailleurs l’expression ne figure pas dans Le Grand Robert. Il est donc, à mon avis, beaucoup plus probable que Stevenson ait transposé l’expression de la Bible en anglais (en substituant “work” pour “labour”) que de la Bible en français. Ceci dit, c’est le syntagme français qui m’a fait découvrir sa version anglaise!


        25/01/2012 at 9:13 am

  11. On trouve quelques “pour du vent” au XIX siècle en dehors de la bible. Par exemple publié en 1887, mais un texte écrit par Diderot “Becher se plaint à lui-même, dans une épître dédicatoire qu’il lui adresse, de ce qu’il a perdu un tems considérable pour du vent et qu’il auroit mieux emploié aux expériences chymiques.”

    Mais c’est vrai qu’il n’y a pas grand chose…l’expression vient clairement de la bible.


    26/01/2012 at 6:22 pm

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