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

Stevenson’s interest in Scots

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Stevenson and Scots

Stevenson would have learnt Scots from Cummie, other servants, his maternal grandfather (“My grandfather… was one of the last, I suppose, to speak broad Scots and be a gentleman”, “Memoirs of Himself”, Tus. 29, p. 152), as well as Scots-influenced English of his parents and others.

He also consciously studied it: in “Pastoral” ! he describes learning words form the speech of John Todd, the Swanston shepherd. And in some the manuscripts we are now transcribing, we find records of conversations in Scots or just snatches of speech overheard that he has noted down.

Records of Scots in the notebooks

Stevenson tells us that “All through my boyhood and youth […] I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” (“A College Magazine”). Many of his notebooks have survived and EdRLS intends to transcribe some of these and offer them as an online resource.

At the moment, we (Mafalda Cipollone, Robert-Louis Abrahamson, Neil Macara Brown and myself) have almost finished transcribing the “Winter’s Walk” notebook. In this document we can see RLS noting down odd snatches of Scots he overhears as he walks along the coast road south of Ayr in January 1876. For example, he notes the following fascinating fragment:

dogs at farms, boys & snawbles. “Heres a mawn”. “Mither, Jock’s eatin snaw.”

The “Winter’s Walk” notebook (Yale, Beinecke GEN MSS 664 box 39 folder 859) contains a number of such transcribed snatches and longer dialogues, apparently written on the spot (the jerky handwriting shows that he was often walking along as he wrote). For example, in a village between Stranraer and Wigtown he overhears two locals talking about unsuccessful attempts to take the pledge and stop getting drunk:

Are ye goin to be teatotal again

I hafe no need of it.

Deed, ye’ve just as much need of it as me […]

– Aye.

– Hxxxx [unclear] Macfadyen just as much need of it as me.

– Deed, Weeliam I think about as much. (muckle?) […]

– I kept it nine month, by God and Macfadyen kept it a week.

– Aye Weeliam, ye kept it a long time.

– Deed; I kept it long enough, and he drunk.

“Keept” throughout

Notice the way that Stevenson is annotating the transcription: “(muckle?)” looks like a question to himself about whether the man said “much” or “muckle”, or whether “muckle” can be used here (in the phrase “as ….. as”); and the final comment records the way the two men pronounced “kept”. Does anyone know if this is a typical Ayrshire pronunciation?

A puzzle

In another notebook (Yale, GEN MS 664 Box 39 Folder 857: Notebook RLS/S) he writes notes of a visit to Greyfriar’s Churchyard, probably made on the spot, and includes the brief note of a phrase overheard, probably from the conversation of two sextons: “No that ill stockit”. Does this mean “Not so unpleasantly stubborn”? Could this refer to something (like a gate or flagstone) that was less difficult to open than forseen? Any ideas?


7 Responses

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  1. ‘keept’ – Ayrshire past tense, ‘keepit’, according to James Wilson: Dialect of Robert Burns as Spoken in Central Ayrshire (Oxford: 1923), so maybe ‘keept” further south in Galloway?

    ‘stockit’ – What’s the word after ‘smell of the cemete/ary’ and before ‘earthy’ in the extract shown? Might help the context for ‘ill stockit’. Sounds like something mildly affecting the olfactory nerve!

    Neil Brown

    12/02/2012 at 2:59 pm

  2. The preceding words are:
    smell of the cemetary[sic] – earth, earthy. “No that ill stockit”

    “earth, earthy” might be short for “of the earth, earthy” (an allusion to a similar phrase that I can’t quite place at the moment)


    12/02/2012 at 3:09 pm

  3. As for the pronunciation of ‘kept/keept’, one might wish to compare an interview in the Scots Corpus, in which a man from Stranraer talks about WWII:

    As for ‘stockit’, in Noctes Ambrosianae I find:

    There’s Cappie the cobbler, and Tammie the tinman,
    And Dickie the brewer, and Peter the skinman;
    And Geordie, our deacon, for want of a better;
    And Bess, that delights in the sins that beset her.
    O, worthy Saint Andrew, we canna compel ye,
    But ye ken as weel as a body can tell ye,
    If these gang to heaven, we’ll a’ be sae shockit,
    Your garret o’ blue will but thinly be stockit.

    ( http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/search/document.php?documentid=127&highlight=stockit&longs=#match1 )

    So ‘no so ill stockit’, ‘not so badly stocked/furnished’ might thus refer to sb’s wealth, maybe commenting on a family tomb?

    Marina Dossena

    12/02/2012 at 4:16 pm

    • Commenting on a tomb sounds good – in fact the whole section of notes is as follows:

      “No that ill stockit” — “Make up the 300” [cf. ‘the old grave-digger of Monkton’ in ‘Old Mortality’ who regrets on his deathbed “I would ha’e likit weel to ha’e made out the fower hunner.”] — “Is she among xxear”[illegible word] – artistic view — professional.

      So RLS may have been appreciating the professional judgment of “No that ill stockit”.


      12/02/2012 at 4:41 pm

    • In Burns’ song “Last May a braw wooer”, the wooer makes her a good offer: “A weel-stocket mailen, himsel for the laird”. That surely means a farmstead no so ill stockit.

      R L Abrahamson

      12/02/2012 at 6:18 pm

  4. Burns and other Scots poets use the opposite ‘weel stockit’ with regard to persons and farms on occasion.

    Does ‘ill stockit’ here refer to the previous numbers interred before the present burial for which the lair or tomb is being reopened. The double negative ‘no that ill …’ sounds remarkably like Scots humorous understatement.

    Neil Brown

    12/02/2012 at 6:33 pm

  5. ‘… the gravedigger, in his vocation of digging an already well stocked grave for the reception of another inmate …’ (The Living and the Dead: A Letter to the People of England on the State of their Churchyards, with Suggestions for Improvement. By a Philanthropist. London, 1841), p. 11.

    Auld Greyfriars’ was notorious for exceeding capacity: ‘Large portions … are to-day quite bare of tombstones. It need not be supposed that no relics lie beneath. On the contrary it may be assumed that few acres in Scotland are as crowded with remains. […] For over fifty years burials … have been prohibited, except in exceptional cases.’ (William Pitcairn Anderson: Silences that Speak (1931)

    Neil Brown

    15/02/2012 at 10:51 pm

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