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

Archive for February 2013

Fables MS – still searching for clues

with 12 comments

The British Library MS of the Fables consists of 49 sheets on five different types of paper. Thanks to the wonderful help with the last blog posting, we can now say that paper type 1 (34-line foolscap, 320 mm high) was probably used in late 1887 or early 1888 to write or copy the table of contents and seven fables (The Persons of the Tale, The Sinking Ship, The Two Matches, The Sickman and the Fireman, The Reader, The Distinguished Stranger, and Faith, Half-Faith and No Faith at All).

This was doubtless all in preparation of presenting a proposal for publication that led to the signing of a contract with Longman on 31 May 1888.

The back of this paper type-1 was not only used for a list of musical scores to buy, but also (the back of the table of contents) for a piece of blank verse, a narrative apparently with a woodland medieval setting. Can any of our readers decypher the uncertain readings, or suggest some project on which Stevenson may have been working in 1887-88 of which this may have been part. What could be the name of the man ‘filled with the desire of fame’?

RLS BL MS03 ToC verso_verses

He ^Who^ was the cattle keeper to the king
And widely entrusted with the pasture{? postern?} fields.

She weathered{? wreathed} his antlers with{?}
And combed{?} the deer and in spring water washed
He bore the hand
Walked free {?pure} in ^the^ wood and at the accustomed bourne{?}
Turned, and though late at night, himself came{? cam?} home—
Him{?} wandering{?} far, the coming{?} of the dogs
Began to press, when by a xxxx{?} fortunate chance,

Julers{? Julien? but no dot for ‘i’ and last letter is ‘s’} then, filled with the desire of fame
then to the ham{?} bow set the slender dart;
Nor was the

Written by rdury

25/02/2013 at 8:01 pm

Manuscripts: fascination and frustrations

with 14 comments

Reading a manuscript you can feel a direct contact across many years: as when I unfolded a seventeenth-century letter and found before me, on my modern notepad, the grains of fine sand used to dry the ink by the writer, long dead, all those years before. The emphases, second thoughts and whimsical decorative strokes all give you some elusive sight, not only of the creative process, but also of the mood and feelings of the writer. And then a manuscript has an infinite amount of information—most of which you cannot unlock. Hence the frustration.

Take, for example, the British Library MS of the Fables, which Bill Gray is working on: a collection of five different types of paper, clearly written at different times. It would be great if we could establish dates for them. On the back of the leaf with ‘The Reader’, for example, there is what seems to be a list of piano music to buy:

BL RLS MS 23 list

Here is a transcript – any help in decyphering the names by those who know something about nineteenth-century music-publishing would be of interest:

Augener.                 281.                 1,,50                Chil scrap book{?}

8679.                   1,,25

7608.                      50

Peters.                     983 2258.                75    .           Jugend Al[b]um[1]

2118                        50

1482                       50                Grieg.[2]

2301                       50                Schmann.{? }

1071[3]                   50                Hunter.[4]{?}


& thubil{?}  .                376.                 3,,


$9.    50.           [5]

$8           [6]


Note (July 2013): this list happily chimed with the interests of John Russell, who (in addition to the initial reactions logged in the Comments here) then undertook much additional research and has masterfully presented the results on his Music of Robert Louis Stevenson site.

[1] Edition Peters 2301 further down the list is Robert Schumann, Album für die Jugend op. 68 / Kinderszenen op. 15 für Klavier.

[2] Grieg, Nordische Tänze und Volksweisen : für Pianoforte übertragen (Leipzig: C.F. Peters, Edition Peters 1482) — this was the key to interpreting the list!

[3] possibly Rob. Schuman’s Werke / Fur Pianoforte solo revidirt von Alfred Dorffel ; mit fingersatz versehen Richard Schmidt. – Leipzig : C.F.Peters, but no absolute confirmation yet that this is 1071 in the Peters catalogue.

[4] Could this be H. Hunter, US Composer mid 19th Century?

[5] miscalculation: with the deleted top line, the total is $9.

[6] calculated by deducting $1.50 from the previous total.

Written by rdury

13/02/2013 at 4:29 pm

Why doesn’t RLS use ‘which’?

with 5 comments

An unexpected result

In a recent post, I described two statistical comparisons of Stevenson’s essays with other nineteenth-century essays. Both surveys found the least frequent word in Stevenson’s texts in comparison with other writers was, completely unexpectedly, ‘which’.

A closer look

I thought I should look a little closer, so I downloaded the text of My First Book, a collection of articles by professional writers which originally appeared in The Idler and were published together by Chatto & Windus in September 1894. Stevenson’s is the last contribution with ‘My First Book: Treasure Island‘, his last published essay.

This study seems to confirm that RLS uses the word infrequently. The other 21 contributors use ‘which’ 49 times per 10,000 words on average, while the frequency for RLS is 25. Only two others have lower averages: Morley Roberts (who wrote much about his experiences in Australia) and Jerome K. Jerome, with a frequency of 21 each. Notable users of ‘which’ are Mrs. Braddon (91), Bret Harte (81), Conan Doyle (74), James Payn (73), David Christie Murray (71), R.M. Ballantyne (68).

So what’s going on?

relative-clauses‘Which’ follows a noun and introduces a relative clause that gives extra information about the noun. It’s rare in informal spoken English and particularly frequent in formal written styles. These place much information in the nouns, and the which-clause is an easy way of adding some information to them. I suspect that in many cases, the writer gets to the noun, remembers something extra about it and then ‘pastes in’ the relative clause. But you also find it in novels quite frequently, as phenomena are first noted and then further analysed in the subordinate clause.

We can’t be sure why RLS avoids these clauses, but it may be for one or more of the following reasons:

  • RLS prefers a brief, even outlandish epithet: the Great Public […] calls on me in the familiar and indelible character rather than “the Great Public expects me to be the kind of writer which it is familiar with and which it does not wish to change
  • He prefers a cut-up, juxtaposed style rather than a smooth text where all the parts are clearly connected: “I had written it up to the map.  The map was the chief part of my plot.” rather than ‘I had written it up to the map, which had contributed most of my plot
  • He prefers to reduce ‘adjectival’ elements to a minimum: he writes “Reams upon reams must have gone to the making of ‘Rathillet,’ ‘The Pentland Rising,’ ‘The King’s Pardon’ (otherwise ‘Park Whitehead’), ‘Edward Daven,’ ‘A Country Dance,’ and ‘A Vendetta in the West'”, and is not tempted to add any further information to these titles, e.g. “‘Rathillet,” and “The Pentland Rising,” (which both concerned the Covenanters of the seventeenth century)…”.

The rarity of which-clauses helps to keep Stevenson’s sentence structure sparse, simple and closer to spoken rhythms—though at the same time (in interesting counterpoint) he typically complicates things by creating new meanings and uses (part familiar, part strange) for individual words and phrases.

Written by rdury

11/02/2013 at 3:47 pm

Stevenson’s Library

with 4 comments

Title page of Montaigne's Essais, the asame edition that RLS owned: see below "xxx"

Title page of Montaigne’s Essais, the same edition that RLS owned: see below “Good news: recently located items”

Reconstructing Stevenson’s Library

As part of the groundwork for the re-launched edition of Stevenson’s works by Edinburgh University Press a small group of volunteers, headed by Neil Macara Brown, are trying to list all the books in Stevenson’s Library, mainly by reference to Auction and Library catalogues. The Stevenson’s Library Database will include all books owned by Stevenson at some period of his life, the majority of which would have been present in the Vailima Library.

The Lost Books of Robert Louis Stevenson

At the moment, the main listing contains 1169 items, just over half of which have unfortunately disappeared from public view, still in private collections, not yet identified in Library catalogues, or (not too many, one hopes) destroyed. These 618 ‘lost books’ include the following items that it would be interesting to look at:

  • Stevenson’s copy of Sensations d’Italie (sold in New York in 1926) by Paul Bourget (the only person unknown to him to whom he dedicated a book) with “scorings and underlinings (approving)”
  • his childhood copy of Little Arthur’s History of England (1855) with (according to the 1914 New York auction catalogue) “hand-coloured illustrations and text forcefully obliterated where (re surrender of Charles I by the Scots) reads: ‘You will hardly believe, however, that those mean Scots actually sold the king to the English parliament: but they did so!'”
  • his edition of one of the authors he read most assiduously, Honoré de Balzac. This item did not apparently pass through any auction: when Oscar Wilde’s friend, Robbie Ross “came into the possession of the edition of Balzac which Stevenson had owned and  annotated he gave the whole set to Sidney Colvin” (E.V. Lucas, Reading, Writing and Remembering (3rd ed, London: Methuen, 1933), pp. 84-85 (so what did Colvin do with it?)
  • his copy of ‘Bagster’s Pilgrim’s Progress‘ (sold in New York in 1952), the subject of one of his essays, with the inscription: “Robert L. Stevenson. From Papa and Mamma, Jan. 1, 1858”
  • his copy of Pepys’ Diary (sold in 1914) “with many marked passages”
  • his copy of Samuel Richardson’s Works (sold in 1914) with “many pencil notes in the margins”
  • his copy of Spenser’s Complete Works (sold in 1914) with “pencil markings and notes throughout” including: “the Sea God’s ‘Bunket’ is a divine nut. R. L. S.”

Good News: recently located items

Thanks to the good work of Neil Macara Brown and Roger Swearingen, two important items have recently been located in public collections:

  • Stevenson’s copy of Montaigne’s Essais (Paris, 1865-66, 4 vols.) with “numerous annotations and critical remarks throughout; on fly-leaf: ‘The dispassionate Shakespeare of one character: himself'” – now in Columbia University Library.
  • his copy of The Globe Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare (London, 1873), with “numerous underscorings and marginal markings throughout”, in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. According to Roger Swearingen, the Twelfth Night is “marked by RLS for the Jenkin theatricals” (i.e. with the cut lines marked).

More about the Stevenson Library project

Written by rdury

05/02/2013 at 10:06 am