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

Archive for June 2012

Mehew Library comes to Edinburgh

with one comment

We are pleased to publish here the following press release from Roger Swearingen and Nick Rankin.


(1) The National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University have jointly agreed to accept, as a donation, the Ernest and Joyce Mehew Archive of Books and Papers Related to Robert Louis Stevenson and a number of other books from their extensive collection, built up over 50 years. Exact partitioning and other details of location and access are to be arranged.

(2) The donation was proposed by Nicholas Rankin, Administrator of the estate of the late Dr Ernest James Mehew, FRSL, editor of the eight-volume Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, (Yale, 1994-95), who died last October, aged 88, and agreed by Maxine Barnes, the lawyer soon to be appointed by the Court of Protection as Deputy of his widow, Mrs Joyce Elizabeth Mehew, who now lives in a care-home in England.

(3) The process was helped by a detailed descriptive and photographic catalogue of the collection that was prepared by the American Stevenson scholar Roger G. Swearingen, a friend of the Mehews for more than forty years, during a one-month survey trip to England during January and February 2012.

(4) The Ernest and Joyce Mehew Library consists of more than 40 boxes of papers and some 2000 books by and relating to Robert Louis Stevenson and his friends and associates in the late nineteenth century. The Mehew papers include a wide range of articles, cuttings, diaries, ephemera, notebooks, page-proofs and extensive scholarly correspondence, as well as material from the now defunct Robert Louis Stevenson Club of London. They will complement the National Library of Scotland’s holdings of Graham Balfour (Stevenson’s first biographer) and Janet Adam Smith (editor of Stevenson’s poems).

         The Mehew collection of books is a comprehensive library of Stevensoniana that has few rivals in the world. It includes first editions, rarities, biographies, collections of letters, reference books, critical studies and bound copies of the magazines where Stevenson’s work first appeared, including Cornhill, Century, Scribner’s, Black & White, etc, as well as background works on Scotland, America and the Pacific. In addition, there are books by and about Edmund Gosse, W.E. Henley, Henry James, Max Beerbohm, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, all of which will increase Edinburgh Napier’s importance as a locus for RLS and late 19th century research.

(5) Ernest Mehew’s interest in Robert Louis Stevenson began when he was at Huntingdon Grammar School before the second world war. He began by collecting the thirty-five blue volumes of the Tusitala Edition and by 1950 had made himself such an authority on Stevenson’s manuscripts and handwriting that he could help Janet Adam Smith with her edition of Stevenson’s poems. She introduced E.J. Mehew, now beginning his career as a civil servant in the Ministry of Food, to her publisher, Rupert Hart-Davis, who, recognizing his research talents, put him and his new bride, Joyce Wilson, to work on The Letters of Oscar Wilde.

In 1964, Yale University Press asked Mehew to look over an early draft of The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, prepared in the USA by Professor Bradford A. Booth.  His critique was so cogent that they invited him to become assistant editor. When Booth died in 1968, Mehew became the sole editor and carried the whole project through to fruition.

Working as an independent scholar, with only his wife Joyce as his assistant, and never using a computer, Ernest Mehew located, sorted, transcribed, dated, annotated and linked some 2,800 letters, many of which had never been published before.

When the eight volumes were published in 1994-1995, they were met with universal acclaim and Mehew’s editing was recognised as a model of clarity, concision and good sense. The Letters elevated and enhanced Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary and personal reputation, as well as transforming the factual basis of Stevenson studies. As a result of his lifetime’s dedication, Ernest Mehew was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Edinburgh University in 1998.

24 May 2012 – RGS, NR

The Library and Papers of Ernest and Joyce Mehew

Description by Roger G. Swearingen
March 2012


The Library and Papers of Ernest and Joyce Mehew consist of somewhat more than 1,000 books by and about Robert Louis Stevenson; another approximately 1,000 books on other late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century writers including Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Graves, and many others; and perhaps another 1,000 books of lighter reading, including hundreds of early Penguin Books. The papers are now stored in approximately two dozen archive boxes and, unpacked, would occupy 20-25 linear feet (approximately 7.5 metres). There are also approximately 100 off-the-air audio and video tapes mostly from the 1980s on or showing works by Robert Louis Stevenson and many others.

The Stevenson items in the collection – books and papers together – make up an incomparable research archive on every aspect of the life and works of Robert Louis Stevenson. The other books are complementary and in addition to their reference value show the wide range of literary projects in which the Mehews were involved over the span of fifty years.

This is a working scholarly collection, used above all in the creation of the eight-volume edition of Stevenson’s letters published by Yale University Press in 1994 and 1995. As a result there are only a few books of much monetary or collector value, the value of the collection lying instead in its usefulness to scholars.

Written by rdury

26/06/2012 at 7:15 am

Ernest Mehew’s library goes to Edinburgh

leave a comment »

The library of the late Ernest Mehew has been donated to Edinburgh Napier University where it will housed in a special RLS room on the Merchiston campus, which it is planned to make available to researchers in 2013.

The Library consists of three main collections: RLS, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw.

Mehew’s papers and journals have gone to the NLS, so the whole collection will be available centrally in Edinburgh.

Written by rdury

25/06/2012 at 11:05 am

Winters Walk Notebook/2

with 4 comments

Setting out from Ayr

Here are RLS’s notes for Sunday 9 January 1876, the first morning of his Winter’s Walk. The mark [?] in the transcription refers to uncertain preceding word(s). Any help on these would be most gratefully received.

click image for larger image


[p. 6]

[written with notebook turned 90°]

Ward Beecher.[1] large. c de v.[2] fullface & bust

Warren’s Portraits[3]

289 Washington St



William. M. Everts.[4]

Rockwood. 839 Broadway N. Y[5]

large. c. d. v. profile


[p. 7]

Ayr.[6] Intense cold, ten o’ clock,[7] dry snow. dark in streets with little irruptions of sun, last churchgoers. As you got:[8] out spun ice[9] low lemon sun in a gray smoke, cocks crowing birds twittering, cloudless sky. deserted houses. two dogs. The cocks, seem deep and rich and hoarse, some clear, high, glad and distant, as if they had to; dogs barking mingled with it, and then a clock striking the hours; some grele[10] and crazy, some tremulously emphatic, some chorus [?] three near at hand in harmony, and then the faraway clear one in a dying fall

The meadows were all orange[11] and white, a few swells of wood lay across the way. [?] Behind them Brown Carrick,[12] daubed in the outline with two shocks of firs; and way down to Ayr heads[13] & castle. Firs, some fields shining green. The freezing snow brushed away like meal and glittered in the sun like quartz, or as if it was powdered with sprinkled diamond dust.[14] The hill out of the woods. [?]

[cont. on p. 9]

[1] Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), prominent Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and abolitionist. An advocate of Women’s suffrage, temperance and Darwin’s theory of evolution, and a foe of slavery and bigotry of all kinds (religious, racial and social), Beecher held that Christianity should adapt itself to the changing culture of the times. An 1875 adultery trial in which he was accused of having an affair with a married woman was one of the most notorious American trials of the 19th century (Wikipedia). This looks like details in order purchase; and being in RLS’s notebook he would be the presumed intending purchaser, but why we do not know.

[2] carte de visite; in 1859 Parisian photographer Disdéri published Emperor Napoleon III’s photos in this format and ‘This made the format an overnight success, and the new invention was so popular it was known as “cardomania” and eventually spread throughout the world… Albums for the collection and display of cards became a common fixture in Victorian parlors’ (Wikipedia).

[3] George Kendall Warren (1824-1884), American daguerreotypist and photographer.

[4] Untraced reference; it could be US politician and orator William M. Evarts (1818-1901), though why anyone (presumably RLS) would want a portrait of him is not clear.

[5] George Gardner Rockwood, photographer (1832-1911).

[6] Start of RLS’s notes made while on his ‘winter’s walk’; McKay: ‘A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway,’ notes (7174).

[7] 10 a.m. on Sunday 9 January, after arriving from Edinburgh the day before.

[8] misplaced colon or just a mark on the page.

[9] curious hoar frost effect resembling spiders’ webs.

[10] French ‘grêle’: ‘high-pitched (voice)’.

[11] conjectural reading; cf. ‘An effusion of coppery light on the summit of Brown Carrick showed where the sun was trying to look through’ (‘Winter’s Walk’).

[12] : ‘This hill is known as the Brown Hill of Carrick, or, more shortly, Brown Carrick’ (‘Winter’s Walk’).

[13] headlands south of Ayr.

[14] ‘and glittering… diamond dust’ added at bottom of a page and insertion point indicated by an asterisk.

Written by rdury

19/06/2012 at 8:33 pm

Today’s MS puzzle

with 7 comments


Spread 2 of the Winter’s Walk notebook contains two versions of a poem which we might call ‘In the weary long ago’ (from the repeated refrain). The first one, on the left-hand side, contains the following two lines

which I am sure you will all be able to read immediately as:

   She and I would wander on;
Through the gai?t disfigured land,

So what is the mystery word? A good-ish fit would be ‘gaunt’ but we can see a dot for an ‘i’ and there aren’t enough ‘peaks’ for ‘un’ between the ‘a’ and the ‘t’.

A suggestion made by Neil is ‘gaist’, i.e. Scots for ‘ghost’ – i.e. ‘the ghost-disfigured land’. It would be the only Scots word in the poem, and the conjectural ‘s’ should have come back down to the line (as in the ‘dis’ in the following word)—but then conditions for writing this were possibly not ideal for the correct formation of letters.

Can anyone see any other letter in there that makes a good fit?

Written by rdury

17/06/2012 at 7:17 am

Posted in News

from the EdRLS office

with 2 comments

Steffi Grimm is our current 6-month intern from Germany and here she gives some insight into her work for us.  The  edition is transcribing all manuscript material to make sure that we have a record of Stevenson’s first thoughts.   Steffi is working on manuscripts from Stevenson’s Fables.

My name is Stefanie Grimm and I am the new research assistant with the EdRLS project.

A few days ago I started transcribing the manuscript of “The Scientific Ape” which will be part of Volume 4 of Stevenson’s stories.  As this was my first experience of transcribing Stevenson’s hand,  I stumbled over words and phrases that were difficult to read and to make sense of.

We want to give you an example how to figure out an unusual phrase by referring to historical usage.  This is a point in the story where the Chief Ape calls a halt to the experiments of the Scientific Ape. Reading the clip below we could not figure out what the words after “physical-“ could mean.

First we had to figure out if it is supposed to be one word or two because of the big space in between and the hyphen after the word “physical”. We were certainly sure that the last letter is a y, that in the middle there is a t, and that the first letter is an f. But the letters in between could have had several meanings.

After a while we settled on the transcription “physical-force tory”. But we were not sure if that expression existed, so we started looking for a description of the term “physical-force”.

We found that the term “physical-force” to describe a political idea had been most commonly used to describe a branch of Chartism—very far from the “Tory” position of the Chief Ape. But when we looked a bit closer, we found the term associated with Conservatism and with Unionist resistance to Home Rule in Ireland. Of course we will be able to leave it up to the volume editor, Bill Gray, to work out the precise significance of the term, but its use as a political category was enough to confirm the reading.

Written by pennyfielding

13/06/2012 at 6:00 pm

Winter’s Walk Notebook transcribed

with 6 comments

Stevenson’s Notebooks

From his college days onwards RLS often made his rough drafts in notebooks, along with sketches, doodles, bits of verse, addresses, game scores etc.

The egregious (in the modern sense) George S. Hellman bought and dismembered a number of these, binding a few pages at a time in crushed morocco with an engraved portrait and adding his own titles—in pencilled handwriting he didn’t even try to make neat, sometimes directly on the MS page.

A good number survive intact, however, many of them in the Beinecke Library, though until the recent finding aids (to GEN MSS 664 and 684) they were not listed in any of the library catalogues, not even by the invaluable McKay printed catalogue to the Stevenson collection: this is based on ‘works’ not physical artefacts, so it separately lists the identifiable drafts contained within them, referring to the notebooks but not including them as items.

The notebooks contain a lot of hidden material, which can only be revealed by a transcription, but this is difficult because they are often rapidly written in pencil with no attention to readability by anyone but the writer. However, I thought it would be a good idea to transcribe one, just to get an idea of what there might be of interest if one could read them fluently and how worthwhile it might be. For this experiment, I chose a notebook with a long section that will be of interest for the appropriate volume of the Essays.

The Winter’s Walk Notebook

The ‘Winter’s Walk Notebook’ (Yale, Beinecke GEN MSS 664 box 39 folder 859) belongs to the period 1875-76 and contains notes made during the walk from Ayr to Wigtown in January 1876 (much of it clearly written while walking, or at least while shivering), and a mixed-bag of other jottings, including some made earlier in Barbizon in 1875 and an intriguing beginning of a sketch outline for a treatise that might have been called ‘criticism as an art and as a science’.

Working together via internet with Mafalda Cipollone in Perugia and Neil Macara Brown in Peebles, we have now finally produced a reading transcription of the whole notebook. I give one of the early pages here together with transcription and notes — for general interest and also to ask for corrections, better readings and ideas for additional notes. If readers of the blog are interested we could continue with other pages, especially those containing words that have been beyond our powers of decypherment.

Here then is ‘spread 3’ (i.e the third double-page opening of the notebook) with our reading transcription:

click image for larger version


[p. 5]

McAdam[1] born at Ayr!


Colmonell said to be derived from Columba, “because the woods abund with wood pigeons.[2]

“I Matthew Muckleraith in Parish of


By bloody Claverhouse I fell”.[3]

—–     —–

Inch, note Kennedy’s island[4] near the Kirk.


Kirkmaiden – picts – heather crop ale. “the auld kilns”[5]

[1] John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836), engineer and road builder; inventor of the ‘macadamisation’ process of improved road surfacing.

[2] small village in South Ayrshire, ten miles from Girvan. ‘The name of this parish may derive from the Latin word Columba meaning pigeon, because the woods abound with wood-pigeons’, New Statistical Account of Scotland (1838) series 2 vol 5 – it seems RLS was making notes from this volume, in Ayr or Edinburgh; ‘abund’ is probably a mistake for ‘abound’, though it is also an old Scots spelling.

[3] also McIlwraith and M’Ilwraith, Covenanter martyr, killed 1685, with a memorial stone in Colmonell churchyard in Carrick. RLS had long been fascinated by the Covenanters: he had planned a ‘Covenanting Story-book’ in 1868 and a series of essays on Convenanters in 1873.

[4] Inch, ‘island’ (from Gaelic ‘Inis’); Castle Kennedy, Galloway, is built between two lochs, one of which has an ancient man-made island.

[5] an ancient distillery near Kirkmaiden (on the southern tip of the Mull of Galloway) where the Picts are believed to have used the heather crop (head, flower) to make heather ale. (Andrew Agnew, The Hereditary Sherrifs of Galloway (1893), p. 132.) RLS later returns to the story in ‘Heather Ale: A Galloway Legend’, included in Ballads (1890). Again this looks like notes made from books.

Written by rdury

05/06/2012 at 7:11 am