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

Essay on Hugo with an addition by Colvin

with 3 comments

One of RLS’s most impressive early essays is that on Victor Hugo’s novels (later included in Familiar Studies of Men and Books). He finished the fair copy at Swanston on 4 May 1874 and sent it to Colvin for his opinion. This was returned with some changes and on 4 June RLS writes to him:

“Victor Hugo” has come; I like all your alterations vastly, except one which I don’t like, tho’ I own something was needed there also.’ (L2: 18)

Not many early MSS of RLS survive, but luckily this is one of them (Yale GM664-63-1453, if I may invent an abbreviation). In a note to the above letter, Mehew identifies one change by Colvin (on f. 40) that, not deleted in the MS, was removed in proof:

     Having thus learned to subordinate
his story to an idea to make his art
speak <ins>both to the artistic and the moral sense, and at best to both these harmoni:/ously together</ins>, he went on to teach it to say
things heretofore unaccustomed. […]

In the insertion, the three b’s with a loop stand out immediately as not typical of RLS’s handwriting. The lead-in line to RLS’s b sweeps up to a point or spike, in contrast his h always attempts to start with a loop – indeed, we have taken the absence/presence of a loop as a way of disambiguating between b and h. Look at the bs and h’s in the lines immediately  below in the same MS:

The insertion also has another unusual feature: ‘harmoniously’ ends with a gamma-y; while RLS (as far as I can remember) writes ‘y’ like a tailed-u (as in ‘say’ below the word), or uses yough-y (French-y, as in ‘hastily’ in the second picture). The use of a colon instead of a hyphen (‘harmoni:’) is also unusual.

(There is one small hitch: in the reproduction that addition looks as if it is in the same ink as the rest of the writing, clearly an impossibility – but a check of the MS should decide the matter. I also need to acquire a better knowledge of the handwriting of Colvin (so I can see what other changes in the MS Colvin suggested) – for the moment, we can rely on the testimony of Mehew, who was familiar with all the hands connected with RLS MSS.)

I ought to add that Colvin’s possible changes in the MS seem examples of  helpful collaboration rather the imposition of a different point-of-view. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the episode is that RLS in 1874 was already confident enough to reject the rather weak and inconsequential addition by Colvin in the example above.

Written by rdury

11/11/2012 at 9:32 am

3 Responses

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  1. Yes, but in the second picture you find RLS writing the ‘h’ both with loop (‘have’) and without loop (‘hastily’)…


    11/11/2012 at 11:37 am

    • I’d see the first letter of ‘hastily’ as an incomplete loop – there’s the same anticlockwise movement and rounded top; in contrast the ‘b’ moves upwards and slightly anticlockwise, stops, then comes down, making a ‘spike’. (I’m inventing the terms here, but I think that is inevitable.)


      11/11/2012 at 1:21 pm

      • I see. Maybe you’re right. Besides, the beginning of m in ‘moral’ is different, too.


        11/11/2012 at 2:09 pm

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