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

Stevenson’s Library

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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

4 Responses

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  1. Columbia also has the 1869 reprint of Montaigne, ‘All the Essays …’ originally done by Charles Cotton in 1700, as well as Symonds 1884 collection, ‘Wine, Women and Song’, which he gave to RLS, and Stephen de Vere’s ‘Translations from Horace of 1886, which was presented by Aubrey de Vere. Dartmouth has yielded the German 1863 Quintillian and the 1762 Horace. Nothing entirely new, however, has been found in this trawl; two items attributed to RLS, with a Barcelona connection, held in the Boston Athenaeum would appear to be spurious.

    Neil Brown

    05/02/2013 at 11:51 am

  2. There seem to be several titles not on your list that are here at Silverado – but are not well cataloged. I’ll talk with Roger Swearingen to see if he has more information on their authenticity and then pass on their basic inventory descriptions to you.


    05/02/2013 at 10:00 pm

    • Thanks, Marissa. Roger has, despite other pressing concerns, kindly kept me up-to-date with this matter – indeed, for some time I’ve known the list was deficient of much Silverado’s holdings, some more of which he has recently supplied.

      Neil Brown

      07/02/2013 at 8:33 pm

  3. […] from New Haven to Columbia University in New York City to look at Stevenson’s copy of Montaigne (recently identified by Neil Macara Brown), curious about what markings and comments he may have made on the pages of a […]

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