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

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

12 Responses

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  1. Iulus or Julus, aka Ascanius, son of Aeneas and progenitor of the ‘gens Julia’, or Julian clan.

    The lines would appear to correspond with a passage in the Aeneid, Book VII:
    So Turnus the Rutulians stirred to war.
    Meanwhile the Fury to the Trojans bent
    Her flight; with wily eye she marked afar,
    With snares and steeds upon the chase intent,
    Iulus. On his hounds at once she sent
    A sudden madness, and fierce rage awoke
    To chase the stag, as with the well-known scent
    She lured their nostrils. – Thus the feud outbroke;
    So small a cause of strife could rustic hearts provoke.
    Broad-antlered, beauteous was the stag, which erst
    The sons of Tyrrheus (Tyrrheus kept whilere
    The royal herd and pastures), fostering nursed,
    Snatched from the dam. Their sister, Sylvia fair,
    Oft wreathed his horns, and oft with tender care
    She washed him, and his shaggy coat would comb.
    So tamed, and trained his master’s board to share,
    The gentle favourite in the woods would roam;
    Each night, how late soe’er, he sought the well-known home.
    Him the fierce hounds now startle far astray,
    As down the stream he floats, or, crouching low,
    Rests on the green bank from the noontide ray.
    Athirst for praise, Ascanius bends his bow;
    Loud whirs his arrow, for Fate aims the blow,
    And cleaves his flank and belly. Homeward flies
    The wounded creature, moaning in his woe.
    Blood-stained, with piteous and imploring eyes,
    Like one who sues for life, he fills the house with cries.

    Neil Brown

    25/02/2013 at 10:20 pm

  2. RLS from Saranac in early October 1887 asks Charles Scribner for ‘The Aeneid (with notes if not dear – if dear, in the good old honest German paper sides.)’ (Letters 6, p.20) Book present whereabouts unknown.

    Neil Brown

    25/02/2013 at 11:07 pm

  3. Brilliant!

    This also solves ‘wreathed’, ‘combed’, ‘free’, ‘Him wandering’. I’m still not convinced about ‘ham bow’ – it should be somethng like ‘broad bow’. But you can’t expect to get everything.

    We may imagine he got the book some time after October 1887 and decided to translate a few lines as an exercise. I’m sure he enjoyed putting ‘Turned’ in a Miltonic way at the beginning of the line.


    26/02/2013 at 7:13 am

  4. Having slept on it, maybe it’s the ‘harm’ bow – i.e. in the sense of harmful or harm-doing …

    Neil Brown

    26/02/2013 at 9:15 am

    • What about ‘horn bow’? Aen. VII, 497 runs: “Ascanius curvo derexit spicula cornu”, that is “Ascanius directed the arrows with (his) curved horn”, probably meaning that his (curved) bow was (in part) made of horn.


      26/02/2013 at 5:47 pm

      • ‘bourne’ is right, cf. Latin (plural) ‘limina’.


        26/02/2013 at 6:04 pm

      • Yes indeed! A horn bow – horn still used in making a composite bow of wood, horn and sinew laminates.

        Neil Brown

        26/02/2013 at 7:15 pm

  5. For the record it seems the Scribner Aeneid was received. RLS writes to Will Low whom he must have seen as a backup if Scribner failed: ‘I have a Virgil and a Bunctionary, so when you come [to Saranac] you need not trouble, and I will fill you full of Maro[cognomen of Vigil].’ (c.17 Oct 1887) Letters 6, p.36)

    More to the point, c.20 November 1887, to Colvin: ‘I am at the seventh book of the Aeneid, and quite amazed at its merits (also very often floored by its difficulties). [goes on]’ (Letters 6,p. 60) Further, he quotes from VII to Burlingame (of Scribners) in late November 1887, the line ‘Magno veluti quum flama sonore virgea suggeritur costis [undantis] aeni.’, in likening it to his own laughter. (Letters 6, p.67)

    Neil Brown

    26/02/2013 at 10:05 am

    • ‘magno veluti…’ is VII.462, RLS had reached or passed that point in late November. The passage on the back of the Fables sheet is only 24 lines further on (VII.486-98), so it can be dated with a fair degree of certainty to late November-December 1887.

      RLS is making fun of himself when he says his laughter is vain ‘like the crackling of thorns under a pot’, then he quotes the line from Virgil (‘as when burning sticks are heaped, with a fierce crackling, under the belly of a raging cauldron’ – about rising anger, not laughter) and says ‘The parallel is strange’ – he’d noticed the interesting use of the same term of comparison in both the Biblical and the Latin simile.

      Readers of this blog might be interested to learn how Neil managed to locate the source of the blank verse on the Fables manuscript. He writes (in an email):

      Yes, I got to the Aeneid by a strange route – not all of it straightforward. The wreathing and washing struck me as memorable from my schooldays, and I was tantalised to begin with. Where had I heard this? Your mediaeval woodland suggestion threw me for a while. Then I looked at what turned out to be ‘Iulus’, not that I read it as that then. Looking at it I wondered if it might be ‘Fidus’, as in Fidus Achates – and of course then I thought of Aeneas and that it was probably from that, as the bit about Silvia began to come more to mind, albeit very vaguely. But which blessed book of the Aeneid? And so I resorted to googling ‘wreathed his antlers’ and got ‘wreathed his horns’, and the source itself.


      26/02/2013 at 11:19 am

  6. Date nicely narrowed (almost wrote ‘marrowed’!) down from your reading of the text, Richard.

    Neil Brown

    26/02/2013 at 11:44 am

    • ‘Brilliant’ is the word! This is enormously helpful, Neil and Richard. I’d been googling fragments of my original transcription and got nowhere. But this precision of dating is really helpful for working on the dates and ordering of the Fables. By the way, the other piece of ‘verse’ which then BL description says is on the verso of the ToC MS isn’t verse at all, but a fragment of ‘The Persons of the Tale’. Virgil and Long John Silver on the same page: don’t you just love RLS!

      Bill Gray

      26/02/2013 at 1:04 pm

  7. So let’s have a cleaned up version of the transcription. Thanks to all for their help:

    Who was the cattle keeper to the king
    And widely entrusted with the pasture fields.

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

    Julus then, filled with the desire of fame
    then to the horn bow set the slender dart;
    Nor was the


    27/02/2013 at 7:04 am

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