Stevenson’s Fables MS: change of mind over a name
The following post is contributed by Bill Gray, editor of the EdRLS volume including Stevenson’s Fables.
The name of the young man in ‘The Yellow Paint’
In Stevenson’s fable of the infinitely postponed benefits of the miraculous yellow paint, the young man on whose sad history the fable focuses has no name. However, in the BL MS he is named on four occasions, though each time the name is subsequently deleted. On two occasions (in paragraphs 2 and 3) the name looks definitely like ‘Ben Israel’:On two earlier occasions (in paragraph 1) it could be ‘Ben Israel’, a second choice after what looks like ‘Brown’: Clearly RLS first thought of Brown, a common name suitable for an anecdote or fable, then in paragraph two (for some reason) decided to use Ben Israel and made necessary changes in the first paragraph. However, by the time he got to paragraph four he had decided on ‘the young man’ and went back to change the earlier references.
Why ‘Ben Israel’?
‘Ben’ and ‘Israel’ are names RLS uses in Treasure Island; but the name ‘Ben Israel’ would be well-known to Stevenson as the name of the rabbi Nathan Ben Israel in ch. 35 of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1820), as a rabbi in part VIII of Longfellow’s The Golden Legend (1851), and as a historical figure, seventeenth-century scholar and printer Menasseh Ben Israel in one or all of his roles as teacher of Spinoza, correspondent to Oliver Cromwell, and Biblical commentator.
The name has also been found (via Google Advance Book Search and archive.org) in various other works: a ‘Jewish Prince’ in seventeenth-century London in a play by Edward William Tullidge Ben Israel: Or, From Under the Curse (Salt Lake City, 1887); a rabbi in Jospeph Holt Ingraham’s The Prince of the House of David (New York, 1881); a rich philanthropist in Blanchard Jerrold’s The Christian Vagabond (London, 1873); even in a list of typical annoying charity projects in a humorous article in Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine for 1847 (p. 29): ‘righteous raffles, to raise sisterly aid for the Reverend Israel Ben Israel’.
It is curious that in all these cases we are dealing with a rabbi, a rich man or a prince. Can any reader explain this association of the name with such roles? Would then RLS’s original choice of name have had a mischievous aim of confusingly associating the feckless ‘young man’ with a name associated with dignity and learning? (As if, for example, he had been called David Hume…) How would this have changed the fable?