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

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

6 Responses

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  1. Note [1] is a little odd. McAdam’s road building method did not involve tar at all, but careful building of a road in layers of graded stones, with a camber to give rapid drainage. Tar Macadam was a later refinement – the addition of tar to the top layer of a macadamised road.

    Paul Durrant

    05/06/2012 at 9:31 am

    • Thanks for this – the note on the blog and in the transcription document has been changed.


      05/06/2012 at 10:07 am

  2. Searching through Google, s.v. Matthew Muckleraith, I found a page (www.theologienet.nl/…/Cloud%20of%20Witnesses%20I%20enII.rtf) you cannot open but as a RTF doc named 2007“Cloud of Witnesses for the Royal Prerogatives of Jesus Christ being the last speeches and testimonies of those who have suffered for the truth in Scotland since the year 1680”, 1871, transl. from Dutch 2007. Here you find Matthew Mickelwrath/M’ilwraith (transcription/scanner error?) and the whole text of his tombstone in Colmonell:
    In this parish of Colmonel,
    By bloody Claverhouse I fell,
    Who did command that I should die,
    For owning Covenanted Presbytery.
    My blood, a witness still doth stand
    ‘Gainst all defections in this land.”
    Is this ancient tombstone still exixting?


    05/06/2012 at 2:14 pm

  3. Hi Mafalda, thanks for this – Neil found another site with a picture of the memorial stone – so I put in a new note with a link and tidied up the heather ale note.


    05/06/2012 at 4:10 pm

  4. I decided to remove the supplied quotation marks in “because the woods abund with wood pigeons.[“] – there’s no need to tidy up the text in such a manuscript transcription: it could be done in some cases to make reading easier, but in most cases can be handled with a note.


    07/06/2012 at 5:26 am

  5. More on notebooks:

    He always carried in his pocket a notebook, which he sometimes called his ‘Book of Origial Nonsense’; and not only during the class-hour, but at all odd times, he jotted down thoughts and fancies in prose and verse. (I Can Remember, 50)

    During sermon I saw Robert Louis scribbling in his note-book, which he carried wherever he went. I knew very well that he was about the last man in Scotland who would think of taking notes of a sermon; and when I met him at the close I said, ‘Were you scribbling “original nonsense” in that notebook of yours instead of listening to the sermon?’ And he replied, ‘I was copying out some beautiful sentences from an Evenng Prayer in a volume of Family Prayers that I found in the pew: and he produced the note-book and read from it the following words ‘[…]’.
    Then he bade me good-night, saying, ‘Before I see you again, I shall have the words by heart.’ And two days later he repeated them. (I Can Remember, 54-55)

    [Peebles, two girls reading in the garden] … interrupted by Louis Stevenson, as he was then called, who came with pencil and note-book, begging us to write something for him. (I Can Remember, 58)


    30/01/2013 at 10:40 am

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