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

Today’s manuscript puzzle: The Four Seasons

with 22 comments

The Inland Voyage Notebook

The Beinecke Library has a notebook (Notebook F) including the journal RLS kept on the ‘Inland Voyage’ in September 1876. This he then took up again and used it for a series of notes and drafts that all seem to come from 1878. Two of them are a series of notes in an unusual form for RLS: words or short phrases separated by dots that seem to be placed halfway between each. Both contain some problems of decypherment for which I ask the help of anyone reading this post.

Notes for Edinburgh Picturesque Notes

In the run-up to publication of the Edinburgh essays in books form (December 1878), RLS wrote three new essays and this notebook contains preliminary ideas for two of them, ‘The Pentland Hills’ and ‘The Parliament Close’. Here is the MS followed by a transcription:

8 Golf . gibbet . Fairmilehead . Curlews. B. Bridge . Gauger . Clerk’s stone, Dearsham {?} . H. Tryst . Peddie . devil . The cottage, the farm. Conventicle . P. Charlie . The hills . The view . Wind up to the tune of over the hills .
9. Crowded street, The <d>shops</d> open , signs on pavement . J. K.  H of Midlothian . St Giles . Stook {?} xxxville {?} . Robertson & Wilson . P. Ho . Courts . Scott . young love. the cellars.

Can anyone help with the following points: (i) Dearsham, (ii) Stook xxxville, (iii) the references to ‘Peddie’ and ‘Robertson & Wilson’?

The Four Seasons

A few pages further on are the notes for what looks like an essay on ‘The Four Seasons’ (lacking ‘Autumn’ and ‘Winter’). First, here’s a transcription of the first two sections:

The Four Seasons.
Prologue. The world: what is that {?} ange {?} in {? } the purple sunset; fire, snow, tempests, habitability, ploughs going.
Spring: motto from Morte d’Arthur
The New year . wrong reckoning . Waking in the morning . so with births . Birth of all things . Births . Youth . Memory . Memory in youth and manhood . Youth of the World . Lilacs . smells . birds . Invasion of the town by the country . Love . as regards the body and the soul . Growth ; the leaves, the harvests {?} and the dollars {?} all beginning to sprout in the fields.

The problems here are (i) the decypherent of those three words in the prologue

i.e. “Prologue . The World: what is {?} {?} {?} the purple sunset”; and (ii) a better transcription or an explanation for ‘harvests’ and ‘dollars’ at the end of the notes for ‘Spring’:

Any suggestions will be most gratefuly received.

22 Responses

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  1. For ‘harvests and dollars’ read ‘burnets and dockens’; burnet rose and the antidote to nettle!

    Neil Brown

    06/09/2012 at 2:16 pm

    • Thanks for this: that’s much better than ‘harvests and dollars’, but I can’t see ‘ck’ in the middle of the second word.


      06/09/2012 at 8:55 pm

      • Also ‘doken’ in old Scots … I take what looks like two ‘lls’ to be RLS unique ‘k’.

        Neil Brown

        06/09/2012 at 9:58 pm

  2. Andrew Wilson and George Robertson were two of the three (William Hall was the third) in April 1736 condemned to death for smuggling. Hall was subsequently transported instead, and Robertson escaped. At Wilson’s execution in the Grassmarket, when his body was cut down from the gallows against the wishes of the mob, John Porteous, the Captain of the City Guard, eventually ordered shooting into the crowd, and six died. Porteous was convicted of murder in July, but shortly before his execution in September he was seized – in ‘The Porteous Riot’ – from the Old Tolbooth, next to St. Giles’ by an angry mob which carried him up the Lawnmarket and down the West Bow, where a rope (famously paid for!) was obtained from a booth. He was then hurriedly hanged from a dyer’s pole in the Grassmarket. Feelings had run high throughout this immediate post-Union period for various political reasons, which at times central government seemed powerless to control.

    Neil Brown

    06/09/2012 at 4:31 pm

  3. Word before ‘open’ is ‘Bishops’? – EPN, Parliament Close, has “Thus, when the Bishops were ejected from the Convention in 1688 …”

    ‘dirge’ in the purple sunset? – they don’t come more miniscule then this!

    Could ‘dearsham’ be ‘cleans home/house’ joined together? – EPN, Pentland Hills has mention of “Housework becomes an art …”

    Neil Brown

    06/09/2012 at 9:40 pm

    • How about ‘What is it that sings in the purple sunset’? These notes suggests a kind of rhapsodic treatment like ‘Pan’s Pipes’ written in the same year.


      06/09/2012 at 9:55 pm

      • Would have said ‘sings’, but for that uncharacteristic little tail on the final ‘s’ – also [‘it’] interpolated.

        Neil Brown

        06/09/2012 at 10:04 pm

  4. my mistake: ‘What is that sings’, or perhaps ‘What is that [noun] in the purple sunset’ – ‘that song’ (song+inexplicable final mark)


    06/09/2012 at 10:24 pm

    • Given that there is a reference to ‘Morte d’Arthur’ soon afterwards, could the ‘s’ word – if we agree that it begins so – possibly be ‘siege’ as in “Siege Perilous”?

      Neil Brown

      09/09/2012 at 2:34 pm

  5. ‘Peddie’ – likely the Rev. Dr. James Peddie (1759-1843?) of the Associate Congregation, Bristo Street – or his son and colleague, and successor, the Rev. William Peddie, ordained 1828.

    Neil Brown

    06/09/2012 at 10:52 pm

  6. INteresting that list: ‘fire, snow, tempests, habitability, ploughs going’ – it reminds me of the late poem ‘Tropic Rain’: ‘And methought that beauty and terror are only one, not two; / And the world has room for love, and death, and thunder, and dew’.


    07/09/2012 at 1:21 am

  7. Some suggestions kindly sent by Marina Dossena in an e-mail:

    1. EPN:
    i) Dearsham – could that be Armstrong (but no sign of ‘g’);
    ii) Stook xxxville – ? Stork ? wd make sense ? The first G overwrites what looks like J
    iii) cd be a Scots dim. form of ? (wild guess) [but not in SND]
    iv) concerning R&W, smugglers, see http://www.oldandnewedinburgh.co.uk/volume1/page140.html

    2. The Four Seasons
    Prologue: what is that image in the purple sunset [the best guess yet – well done! – and yet.. the first letter does look like an ‘a’ or an ‘s’…]


    07/09/2012 at 1:42 pm

    • Yes, first ‘G’ overwrites ‘J’ – I had thought that this must ‘Gaol’ over ‘Jail’, but end of word looks like ‘lle’. (The ‘Gaol/Jail’ being a reference to the Old Tolbooth prison.)

      Could ‘Stook/Stork’ be ‘Stark’? If so, why ‘Stark Gaol/Jail’?

      Neil Brown

      07/09/2012 at 2:23 pm

  8. Definitely STORK! – A stork nested on the roof of St. Giles in 1416 – the last record of breeding by the white stork in Britain … so what’s the word following?

    Neil Brown

    07/09/2012 at 2:34 pm

  9. After ‘Scott’ is ‘grey/gray? bar’ – EPN, Parliament Close has ‘Here you may see Scott’s place within the bar’.

    Neil Brown

    07/09/2012 at 2:50 pm

    • yes – I think you’re right: ‘young love’ never did seem right here!


      07/09/2012 at 4:07 pm

  10. Word after ‘Stork’ is ‘Galilee’? – galilee, a “chapel or vestibule usually at the W end of a church enclosing the porch’. (Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh, 1984) Esme Gordon, the St. Giles’ architect says in ‘A Short History of St. Giles Cathedral’ (1954), “The oak woodwork of the west porch, almost exactly as it stands today, was originally designed in the early 1870’s to be the Royal Pew of the recently restored Choir, then the High Kirk portion of the divided building. Ere it could be used in this position (between the present pulpit and lectern) the project of restoration was amended to embrace the entire building and the newly completed Royal Pew, now no longer suitable for a changed location was slightly remodelled and utilised to form this porch.” The main entrance was created at this west end.

    But what could have interested RLS so much about this architectural term?

    Chambers Dictionary (somewhat appropriately as publisher William Chambers was the ‘godfather of these improvements to St. Giles’) says that a ‘galilee’ was where “penitents were placed, and where ecclesiastics” met women who had business with them.” Also that a ‘galilee porch’ was one “in direct communication with the exterior”, although I can find no such situation conceived at St. Giles. Chambers suggests possible derivations from either Mark 16, 7 or Matthew 4, 15. (Please look up!)

    Or is there perhaps a little RLS playfulness here in that he sees a conjunction of the location of a ‘galilee’ and the ‘gallow-lee, ‘the place of hanging’ nearby at the site of the Old Tolbooth …

    Neil Brown

    07/09/2012 at 9:10 pm

    • Stork. Grille?


      08/09/2012 at 9:07 am

      • ‘Grille’ is a distinct possibility indeed, Mafalda, as the reason that Wilson was unable to escape with (after) Robertson was that his greater bulk stuck him fast in the window bars (grille?).

        Neil Brown

        08/09/2012 at 11:24 am

  11. EPN: “there is no more ‘squalor carceris’ for merry debtors no more cage [grille?] for the old, acknowledged prison-breaker’

    Scott: Heart of Midlothian – “Antique in form, gloomy in aspect, its black stanchioned windows, opening through its dingy walls like the apertures of a hearse, it was calculated to impress all beholders with a sense of what was meant in Scottish law by the ‘squalor carceris’.”

    According to James Grant: Old and New Edinburgh, 1884, when the mob stormed the Tolbooth for Porteous “the unhappy creature was found to have crept up the chimney.[ …] but his upward progress was stopped by an iron grating [grille?] which is often placed across the vents of such edifices for the sake of security, and to this he clung by his fingers, with a tenacity bordering on despair and the fear of a dreadful death – a death in what form and at whose hands he knew not.” (Grant also wrote penny dreadfuls!)

    Neil Brown

    08/09/2012 at 11:54 am

  12. According to Grant, ” a square box of plate-iron … was called ‘the cage’ which was said to have been constructed for the purpose of confining some extraordinary culprit who had broken half the jails in the kingdom.”

    Neil Brown

    08/09/2012 at 2:03 pm

  13. And now just to throw the proverbial cat … Grant says “a small rail here [in the hall of the Tolbooth] served as an additional security, no prisoner being permitted to come within its pale.” – DSL gives ‘gavil, gavel, gevil(l)’ as ‘railing, hand-rail’. So where does that leave us?

    Neil Brown

    08/09/2012 at 2:24 pm

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