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

Mehew Library comes to Edinburgh

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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

One Response

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  1. The photographs do justice to the scale of Mehew’s personal library on Robert Louis Stevenson. I hope to use these resources at some point.

    Richard Armstrong

    29/06/2012 at 5:38 pm

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