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

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

14 Responses

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  1. Breitkopf (music editions)?
    Haendel (with umlaut on the diphthong)?


    14/02/2013 at 11:19 am

  2. No!! It’s “Breitkopf & Härtel”.


    14/02/2013 at 11:32 am

  3. According to Worldcat the earliest publication date for Peters 2301, Album für die Jugend, is probably 1887. See below


    Also according to Worldcat, Peters 1071 is Hünten, Franz, 1793-1878, 3 melodies elegantes, op. 51. no exact date of publication. Among other things he wrote Hünten’s celebrated instructions for the piano-forte.

    Incidentally that clears up a mystery on my page about RLS’s Little Air:


    I thought RLS was attributing it to F. Hewlett or F. Hunter, but of course it’s Hunten.

    Thanks for that!

    J.F.M. Russell

    16/02/2013 at 9:01 pm

    • This is great – thanks a lot – and if Peters 2301 was first published in 1887 this gives a terminus postquem – at least for the copying out of the Reader and probably the other fables written on the same kind of paper.

      Thinking about the matter more carefully, the calculation in dollars must mean that this list dates more probably from after the second voyage to New York. There would be no sense in ordering scores from the USA while in England and I don’t suppose US dollars were the currency for buying, say, in Germany.

      So, could this be an list of scores to obtain to play on the ‘battered old piano’ that RLS hired while in Sarananac on which he ‘plays much’ (L6, 73; 6 Dec 1887, Fanny to Colvin)?

      John Russell writes in an e-mail: “He apparently began learning the piano in spring of 1886 and stopped in spring of 1888. In a letter from 1888 he discusses with Lloyd where to put a piano on the Casco. I bet Otis nixed that one. If I know anything about real enthusiasm for music, I think Stevenson just stopped practicing regularly, but never stopped playing, and composers need to hear their music not only in their heads. Stravinsky said he worked out Rite of Spring on the piano, and I’m sure RLS did the same for his pieces. I think he stopped all music by 1892, so at most was involved with it as a performer and composer less than 7 years.”


      17/02/2013 at 3:56 pm

      • Fantastic! Many thanks for this – it’s really interesting and helpful. I’d never have got ‘Hünten’ or the others. I’ve been out of the loop for a few days, and this is great to come back to. It does seem to hang together. It looks likely that The Reader and related Fables (related by paper type) were written – or at least copied out – at Saranac between October 1887 and mid April 1888, when RLS moved to New York / Manasquan. He could possibly have done it at New York / Manasquan, though he seems to have very low at this period, when the ‘Nixie’ affair blew up. I am unable to find ‘the letter from 1888 [where] he discusses with Lloyd where to put a piano on the Casco’, John. Presumably one not in the Booth & Mehew Letters?

        This timing seems to fit with the first contract for the Fables with Longman dated 31 May 1888 (the date RLS had originally planned to travel to SF – though he postponed it a couple of days due to ill health). A likely scenario is that RLS, who according to Fanny’s letter which mentions the battered old piano, was well and working on the Scribner’s articles at Saranac, pulled together the Fables he had, and took them to New York where he made the deal with Longman.

        At least it looks plausible to me, and I don’t see any better pitches.

        Bill Gray

        18/02/2013 at 7:33 pm

  4. Worldcat shows the earliest pubication of Peters 1482, Grieg, Nordische Tänze und Volksweisen as 1877.


    J.F.M. Russell

    16/02/2013 at 9:54 pm

    • Just below Booth letter 2036, v.6, p. 137, at the beginning of note 2:

      “MIS records that RLS first began to plan a yacht trip in order to amuse Lloyd … they discuss all the arrangements, even to where the piano is to stand in the saloon …”

      J.F.M. Russell

      19/02/2013 at 1:11 pm

      • Thanks for this reference – I was looking for a letter from RLS to Lloyd.

        Bill Gray

        19/02/2013 at 2:26 pm

  5. This won’t help you pin down the dates any better, but here’s how I identify most of the remaining numbers:

    Peters 2118, perhaps: Hünten, Franz. Rondeau sur une danse espagnole. No date available.

    Augener 8679: Chamber music for violin solo with pianoforte accompaniment. Holmes, Henry, 1839-1905. No date available.

    Augener 7608, (also 5778): Our favorite tunes = Unsere Lieblings-Melodieen : a collection of melodies ancient and modern arranged for the pianoforte by Cornelius Gurlitt. [1880]

    Breitkopf [VA] 376, perhaps: Vorstudien zur hohen Schule des Violinspiels : leichtere Stücke aus Werken berühmter Meister des 17ten. u. 18ten. Jahrhunderts. Ferdinand David. [188?]

    You may remember that in Booth letter 2050, April 1888, RLS announces that his wooden (not tin!) whistle and Lloyd’s violin had arrived. If the titles above are correct, that would explain the violin books on the list. Adelaide said RLS was never able to get anything out her violin at Skerryvore.

    J.F.M. Russell

    20/02/2013 at 10:40 pm

  6. Beinecke 6599 comprises 38 pp., ms. music by RLS of various composers, including the following: ‘Stuckchen. op 68. No 5. Schuman’, and ‘Grieg air’. These would appear to have been items in lots 373-4, as sold at the Anderson Galleries, New York, first sale in 1914.

    The Anderson catalogue description has:
    ‘373. Manuscript Music, arranged by Stevenson for the Flageolet, with the following inscriptions in Stevenson’s handwriting: “Stuckchen. R. Schuman, opera, arranged for two penny whistles by R. L. Stevenson”; “Alle Jahre weider”; Schubert’s Lehrausuchtwaltzer, arranged for two D penny whistles by the Abbe Stevenson, non troppo lento”; The Old Dessan March, arranged for two D penny whistles by Maestro Stevenson, moderato”; also one other score without subject. 5 musical scores on 2 4to sheets.’

    ‘374. Original Manuscript Music, arranged by Stevenson for the Flageolet. Two-piece subjects, with the following inscriptions in Stevenson’s handwriting: “Drink to Me only; – Sicilienne de Mozart; – The Winter is Past*” – Treue Liebe*; – Cadiz to Puerto; – Chant de Marie.” 18pp. on 11 4to sheets.’

    *’for two flageolets’ (Beinecke, which also notes: ‘Some of the pieces are without title, and a small number of illegible titles are not recorded here.’)

    Neil Brown

    21/02/2013 at 8:49 pm

  7. You no longer need help with the dates on this, but it might be of interest to know that the first entry on Stevenson’s list has an incomplete Augener number. It really should be 8281. That’s the number for Ernst Pauer’s Children’s musical scrap book. It’s the 11th volume of a series called Children’s classics. The entry in Worldcat has no definite publication date:


    J.F.M. Russell

    08/03/2013 at 4:34 pm

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