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

Manuscript puzzle: What kind of movement?

with 16 comments

Throughout his life RLS used notebooks for drafts, ideas, lists of titles, outlines of chapters etc., addresses of people he met, scraps of verse.

One of his early Notebooks, started in November 1872 for lecture notes, soon gets taken over by a series of numbered sections prefaced by a table of contents with page references. This is a typical commonplace-book technique: any combination of thoughts, copied quotations, drafts etc. are written down one after another, while the ongoing table of contents can be quickly scanned to find an item and its page. This is the MS that was transcribed and published in the 1922 Vailima Edition (and then in the Tusitala Edition) as ‘Selections From His Notebook’ (for the moment, we’re just calling it ‘Notes’).

This Notebook has now been transcribed (except for the lecture notes) by myself and volunteer transcribers Olive Classe and Mafalda Cipollone. One fascinating point is where, in the middle of a Note on adolescent desire for unity with nature, there is half a page in pencil (not printed in previous editions) that describes the movement of the little girls dancing in Mentone in February 1874, clearly related to the essay ‘Notes on the Movements of Young Children’ (written June-July 1874). It opens with the following line (which has the air of a note written soon after the event):

And here’s the puzzle: what is that word after ‘accomplished’ and before ‘movement’?

It might be of some help to quote a letter from Mentone of 17 February 1874:

Madame Garschine showed me … how the Tartar women dance, slowly balancing themselves from side to side with raised arms, and slowly turning round with infinite pliant little changes of posture: this they do, in the moonlight, on the flat roofs of the Crimean towns …’ (Letters 1, 242).

Any ideas?

Additional comment

My first guess and that of several of the contributions to the debate (see ‘Comments’) was that this was  a word ending in ‘-ing’, so let’s look at how RLS forms his g’s:

there is a bowl formed anti-clockwise which then descends to a tail and a clockwise loop. In our example, there is an anticlockwise movement but no attempt at a tail. Also relevant is that there is no dot for an ‘i’, and this is something that we almost always find (sometimes our most precious clue). Let’s look at some -ing words (all these examples are from the same note):

(i) ‘sin[n]ing’ perhaps (‘sometimes sinning through an excess of salient vitality’ – he’s talking about the 3-year-old trying to dance); (ii) ‘struggling’, notice the tail as a constant feature; (iii) ‘aborting’ (the desire to dance aborting in ludicrous little jumps), and notice also the dot to the ‘i’ which is always present (the first one in ‘sinning’ a little off-target).

In our example, the lack of a tail and the lack of a dot for an ‘i’ makes ‘-ing’ unlikely, in my opinion.


Written by rdury

21/10/2012 at 8:00 am

16 Responses

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  1. ??? euthymic
    Euthymia is a normal non-depressed, reasonably positive mood.[1] It is distinguished from euphoria, which refers to an extreme of happiness, and dysthymia, which refers to a depressed mood. It is a term used frequently in mental status exams.

    Meg Ward

    21/10/2012 at 10:39 am

    • ‘euth-‘ seems good for the first part of the word; but what could come after? ‘euthur’, ‘euthuo’. Unless this is an abbreviation: ‘euthmc’ for ‘euth[y]m[i]c’, or perhaps better ‘eu[ry]thm[i]c’.


      21/10/2012 at 11:14 am

      • Euthymy (for euthymic) would fit best letter by letter.

        However when my sons were very little they attended whole body movement -to-music sessions called
        “Eurhythmics”. This was before there was a pop group of this name.

        “Eurhythmics” is difficult to spell(not sure if I’m right) so maybe it is just RLS’ shorthand.

        Meg Ward

        21/10/2012 at 11:32 am

      • ‘eu[ry]thm[i]c’ (‘graceful, harmonious’) fits the meaning, though ‘eurhythmics’ in the sense of ‘dancing exercises’ is first logged in the OED in 1912 (the technique was elaborated by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze in the early years of the 20C).

        It is true that the adjective was applied especially to architecture, poetry and sculpture, but the Handbook of Young Artists (New York, 1856) applies ‘eurythmia’ to all the arts including ‘the graceful and decent rythm [sic] of the dance’, and Baudelaire in Les Paradis artificielles refers to ‘L’harmonie, le balancement des lignes, l’eurythmie dans les mouvements’.


        25/10/2012 at 10:09 am

  2. The only things I can come up with are setting or lilting, neither of which see to match the starting letter forms.

    Unless it’s just what it appear to be, “cutting” in some use I’m unfamiliar with.

    Paul Durrant

    21/10/2012 at 10:51 am

    • ‘cutting’ was my first guess, too, but there’s no dot to the ‘i’ and it’s difficult to see the last letter as even an abbreviated ‘g’ – so that applies to other ‘-ing’ words, though ‘lilting’ would be a good fit for sense.


      21/10/2012 at 11:09 am

      • May eb the dot to the ‘i’ forgotten by a hasty horizontal line to the ‘tt’?


        21/10/2012 at 2:57 pm

  3. Lilting?


    Antonio J. Iriarte

    21/10/2012 at 10:57 am

    • This was a suggestion form Paul too – it would fit very nicely to the dexription in the letter, but there are no dots for the two i’s and that problematic last letter.


      22/10/2012 at 6:09 am

  4. culture – perhaps mistakenly for ‘cultural’? – with the tail of the last letter ‘e’ sweeping back dramatically to cross the ‘t’ …

    Neil Brown

    21/10/2012 at 11:18 am

  5. or ‘culture’ instead of ‘cultured’, with the ‘d’ omitted because he had already ended previous word ‘accomplished’ with ‘d’?

    Neil Brown

    21/10/2012 at 11:28 am

  6. ‘cultured movement’? – Interestingly, this term appears in ‘Time and Movement in Symbol Formation’ by Silvia Espanol, chapter 11 (p.252) of Jaan Valsiner and Alberto Rosa, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology (2007) The reference is to the early childhood development of action: “About the middle of the second year of life, the dynamic and cross-modal elaboration of movement is linked with the ritualization of action that underlies the genesis of pretend play. This connection, on the one hand promotes and facilitates the gradual separation between each exemplar of action and its adequate object; and, on the other hand introduces temporality into the sequences of action, providing expectations and tensions similar to those of the narrative function. In parallel, movement becomes cultured movement, which makes the child embody the manner of moving characteristic of the culture in which s/he develops.” Is the term ‘cultured movement’ a purely modern one only, however? Can anyone cast some light on this?

    Neil Brown

    21/10/2012 at 8:26 pm

    • This does look like a modern use: ‘cultured movement’, i.e. ‘taught, learned movement’; even the OED definitions don’t seem to cover it well.
      It could of course be ‘culture’ in the sense of ‘development of the body’, but it would have to be written ‘culturd’ here as there is no trace of an ‘e’ – but it could be an abbreviation.

      On the other hand, I would expect the swept-back-d (which RLS does use in the 1870s) to have a more prominent final stroke as the ‘flourish’ gesture is an essential part of it.


      22/10/2012 at 6:17 am

      • yes, the swept-back-d has a very small final stroke, maybe because of the swift closing of the word by the horizontal stroke of the t.


        25/10/2012 at 2:57 pm

  7. ‘cutting’ seems the best guess to me: the last letter may not be perfect, but it’s a scribbled note.
    More context (and not just a description of content) might help


    21/10/2012 at 9:49 pm

    • Context: the note starts “Madame accomplished [?] movement” then starts a new line with “8 the age when natural grace comes to its consummation” and the notes on the little girl dancing “struggling to find expression for the beauty that was in her”.

      So “accomplished” is certainly opposed to the movements of the children, partly naturally graceful, partly unsuccessful attempts at refined grace, and we can suppose the mystery adjective fits into this context too.


      22/10/2012 at 6:23 am

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