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

Archive for October 2013

Scribner’s and Weir: a premature ‘puff’

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This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.


In my last few days at Princeton I found an interesting little twist to the tangled narrative of Stone & Kimball and Scribner’s and the competition for his late fiction.

So sure were Scribner’s that they were going to get the publication rights of Weir of Hermiston in the United States that their editor, E.L. Burlingame wrote to Sidney Colvin on the 5 September 1895:

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Edward L. Burlingame

There is one other great kindness that you could do us in this matter and that I think would be a great factor in the success of the publication. You have mentioned in your letters that both you and Henry James who had read “Weir of Hermiston” thought it beyond comparison the finest thing that Stevenson had done. If you were willing to let us quote you both as holding this opinion, and if you care to express it in words which imply a comparison, to let us quote you as saying that it reaches at least his highest level – I can think of nothing that would so quickly lead to the favorable recognition of our announcement of it.  “The Fables”, the paper of extracts from the “Vailima Letters”, and perhaps the beginning of “St Ives” all preceding it, and two of them being comparatively minor things (of course I do not speak of the “Vailima” book) it is most important for us to prevent in the public mind the idea that this is a small matter, and to make known the truth that it is really the one upon which his ambition was specially centred during his last two or three years.
(1894 November 15 – 1895 September 13; 1894 November 15 – 1895 September 13; Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Box 901; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.)

While the evaluation of the other works as ‘small’ may be questioned (especially by the editor of one of them), the publishers were clearly aiming to make as much of Weir as they possibly could.  Yet by the end of the year (9 December) Charles Scribner has this to communicate to Lemuel Bangs, their London representative:

There is nothing further to record about Stevenson’s story; it has been sold to the Cosmopolis and Stone & Kimball will publish it in this country. Baxter’s contract  with Stone & Kimball knocked us out … but it was a high price to pay for an incomplete story and all things considered perhaps we are well off without it.
(L. W. Bangs; 1893 February-1900 January; Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Box 972; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.)

As my earlier blog noted, however, this did not diminish Scribner’s eventual pleasure in gaining control of all Stevenson’s work in the U.S..

The Ebb-Tide, 1st ed., 1894, published by Stone & Kimble

The Ebb-Tide, 1st ed., 1894, published by Stone & Kimble

Weir of Hermiston, 1st ed., 1896, published by Charles Scribner's & Sons

Weir of Hermiston, 1st ed., 1896, published by Charles Scribner’s & Sons

Beinecke Library to close for a year

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The Beinecke Library (which easily has the most extensive collection of Stevenson books and manuscripts in the world) has been holding celebrations for its 50th anniversary, ending with a lecture by Umberto Eco on “the library” (which he began by saying that the labyrinthine stacks of Yale’s Sterling Library had inspired the Library in The Name of the Rose. Anyone who has been there can understand this).

However, fifty years (alas!) is a long time and the Library will be closing for a whole year for extensive renovations (indicated as the academic year 2015–16, though exact dates have not yet been released).

The Library service will continue, probably based in the Sterling Library reading room, but as materials will be stored off site, deliveries and perhaps services like photoreproduction will be less rapid than their present excellent standards.

Another result is that the fellowship program will be suspended for a year: applications by this December will be for residence and study from September to December 2014 only; then after skipping a year, the next applications (December 2015) will be for residence and study in the academic year 2016-17.

more details

Written by rdury

21/10/2013 at 1:12 am

Elusive London

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Missing book

Have you ever had that experience of approaching open-stack shelving, and seeing a gap at about the point where the book you want should be, and—first fearing, then hoping against hope, then knowing—as you reach the spot and trace your finger right and left along the call-numbers on the spines that, yes: the gap corresponds to that very book?

I had a similar experience the other day in the Beinecke Library with Robert-Louis Abrahamson, when we called up their copy of London (remember: the only copy outside the British Library and that one now “in quarantine”). The months from July to September, we had discovered, possibly contained four ‘articles’ by RLS. HScreen shot 2013-10-20 at 07.18.39ere are the holdings—a full set, you might think, covering 1877-79. But when the ponderous volumes arrived and I asked for the one covering July to September 1878, I discovered that there is a curious gap in the series: that very period.

(By the way, if the image comes out ‘squashed’, just click on it and then use the back button: this works for me.)

Presumably Edwin Beinecke had these copies made (they are negative photographic prints but perfectly legible) and would have had the whole series. Has one been lost? But how does you lose such a bulky and weighty item?

After this, I sent an email to the British Library Newspaper Division, on the off-chance—but they replied saying there’s no chance of having a look at London before March 2014.

Slight compensation

RLA and myself are working in the Beinecke on adjacent tables and the day after this disappointment he handed me this letter from Bob to Henley of December 1878:

Much obliged for London and Article on the Pictures by you of course. There was one on evidence in Court which I concluded Louis to have written or suggested for many reasons.

So here we have something to look at in one of the volumes at Yale—not seriously expecting anything but curious to see why (apart form the subject-matter) Bob might have thought it was by RLS. …Except that I had already checked in the volumes, and the full catalogue entry now reads:

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 07.05.05“v. 4 1878: Oct.-Dec. Checked Out – Due on 04-16-2014”! No, I don’t believe it: already checked out again and due back on 16 April? No, that must refer to the period we were given to consult the volumes, with the record not yet updated. Mustn’t it?

Written by rdury

20/10/2013 at 12:43 pm

Weir of Hermiston MS in Philadelphia

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This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.

Free Library of Philadelphia

image: Quondam – a virtual museum of architecture


While in Princeton I took a day’s excursion to The Free Library in Philadelphia to look at the manuscript fragment from Weir of Hermiston that I had uncovered through scrolling through their rather labyrinthine finding aid. The Rare Books collection holds a surprising amount of RLS, as Richard noted in his previous post (Stevenson MSS in Philadelphia). I could, however, only secure a two and a half hour slot in their tiny (two desk) reading room.  The  Free Library building on Vine Street is wonderful: enormously grand and imposing both outside and within, but also clearly a very well-used building, with a range of public reading rooms and plenty of people using them.

The Rare Books collection is housed on the third floor, accessed only by lift, and I had to wait some time (standing under the scrutiny of a video camera) before someone came to answer my call on the bell. The reading room is, as they said, a city block’s walk away from the entrance. The staff however could not have been more welcoming or helpful.

‘Weir’ fragment

I was given space, time, and a magnifying glass with which to study the single sheet fragment, folded into four pages. The pages are stained and creased, once folded into a pocket-sized package. The content is draft of a key episode in the novel : the ending of the chapter entitled ‘A Leaf from Christina’s Psalm-Book’, and details Kirstie’s return from meeting Archie and her mixed feelings of guilt, pleasure – and anxiety when Dand notices her pink stocking.  I will leave it to Weir’s editor, Gill Hughes,  to report on the significance of the pages but it is clearly a useful addition to our understanding of the novel’s composition.

FLP Rare Books Department

Time, of course, flew past in the reading room but just before the Rare Books Department was closed for the day Reference Librarian Joseph Shemtov very kindly took me for a tour of their magnificent William Elkins room. As their website notes:

The bequest of William McIntire Elkins, who died in 1947, brought his entire library, containing major collections of Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens and Americana, as well as miscellaneous literary treasures. With the Elkins bequest came the gift of the room itself with its furnishings, through the generosity of his heirs. The installation of the 62-foot-long paneled Georgian room in the third floor of the Central Library at Logan Square took place over the next two years, and the Rare Book Department opened in 1949.

I was able to see Charles Dickens’ desk, the wonderful collection of books, and even the stuffed raven owned by Dickens that had inspired Edgar Allen Poe.  The Library runs a tour of the room once a day.

Although it can be a challenge to navigate their website, the Free Library is well worth a visit.  I was even able to purchase an Edgar Allan Poe finger-puppet with which to converse in those evenings after the Princeton Reading Room closes.  Have I been here too long…?


Scribner’s and Stevenson’s posthumous works

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This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.

With the kind support of a Friends of the Princeton Library grant, I have been working in the Rare Books Room, Firestone Library, on a larger project that has emerged out of the editing of St Ives. Although my focus is on a network of transatlantic conversations between writers and publishers, Stevenson is of course a key figure.

Baxter takes Stevenson business away from Scribner’s

One of the most difficult exchanges in publishing negotiations around St Ives relates to Charles Baxter’s selling the rights to Stone & Kimball rather than Stevenson’s established publishing house in the States, Charles Scribner’s Sons (see my previous post ‘Baxter takes on American publishers and gives it to them straight’).  Yesterday I found a typed letter from Frank Doubleday, Scribner’s Business Manager, dated 7 December 1895, describing an encounter with Kimball:


Frank Doubleday

I have just been in Stone Kimball’s offices and Kimball tells me he has signed the contract for “St Ives” and “The Weir of Hermiston”. I asked him if he paid so much for it that he will have trouble getting his money back.   He replied that I need not bother about that and that he got them at a very reasonable price. He also stated that the Vailima letters sold so well that he cannot print them rapidly enough, to all of which I listened to with attention. The serial rights of “Hermiston” he has sold to Fisher Unwin and the novel is to appear in English, French and German in his magazine Cosmopolis which I suppose you know.
[Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, C0101 Box 160, F. 11]

Although aware of the tensions around this particular deal, I enjoyed what appears to be a restrained bitterness in Doubleday’s account of a particularly galling situation for them.

Stone & Kimball go bankrupt

In the end of course Stone & Kimball suffered such significant financial losses, partly because of their Stevenson dealings, that their business collapsed. Scribner’s then had the satisfaction of publishing St Ives in its American book form.

A letter from Arthur Scribner , 24 March 1896, suggests some enjoyment of the situation:

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Arthur Scribner

From several sources we learned that Stone & Kimball were hard up, the elder Mr Stone is tired putting up the money, perhaps is a little short himself, and have more inclination that they might be willing to part with Mr Stevenson’s rights.
[Arthur Scribner sets out the terms of a possible deal, commenting:]
‘The price for The Weir & St Ives seems very high at this time now that the Stevenson’s boom has a little subsided, but it does seem to me that the whole amount secured by us would be most valuable in the end.
[Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, C0101 Box 160 F.16]



An old friend at Scribner’s, Edward L. Burlinghame

As the Scribner’s editor who  worked most closely with Stevenson, Edward L. Burlingame had also been deeply disappointed, on a personal as well as business level, with the apparent snubbing of Scribner’s. He remained, however, a staunch enthusiast for R.L.S. as a late letter (9 July 1914 ), reflecting on the dangers of a writing having too ‘English’ a frame of reference indicates: Galsworthy’s work, he thought:


Edward L. Burlinghame

seemed to me to have considerable difficulties, not only in his rather pronounced English environment and association rather than his point of view (you see what I mean by the distinction), but because he doesn’t have quite the appeal to the human being as distinguished from the literary reader which seems so essential to the full success of end–papers and similar month-to-month essays. Stevenson of course even in his most ‘literary’ moments had this in the highest degree.
[Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, C0101 Box 160 F.10]

Written by rdury

12/10/2013 at 7:01 am

More on Stevenson’s music

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The Inland Voyage Notebook

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Yale, GM 664 box 3 folder 851, Inland Voyage Notebook (Notebook 27/A), opp. numb. p. 27; part of ‘The Guager’s Flute’

The ‘Inland Voyage’ Notebook gives an idea of an amazing period of literary activity and inventiveness for RLS: not only does it contain the complete first draft of An Inland Voyage, something new in travel writing, but also notes for what became The New Arabian Nights, stories that appeared immediately as startlingly modern and irreverent, and for Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, another original work with a a distinctive, idiosyncratic voice.

On the last page of the Notebook, among the notes for Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes is the single word ‘Guager’ [sic] as a reminder of the story about the excise officer (gauger) who played ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ on his flute as a warning as he approached his friend’s distillery. This must have stimulated RLS to compose (or recover and rewrite) ‘The Gauger’s Flute’ on another page, which then becomes ‘A Song of the Road’ in Underwoods. In the published version, the place of composition is added at the bottom ‘Forest of Montargis, 1878’, a place near Fontainebleau where RLS stayed in August 1878 before leaving for a journey associated with another outstanding work, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

Lewis (Collected Poems, 397-99) gives information about the four manuscripts and an idea about history of composition, but as for the quotation ‘Over the hills and far away’, the only information he supplies is that it is ‘the refrain of a popular song’.

The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson

Now anyone wanting to find out more about the song and its relation to Stevenson’s poem can consult John Russell’s site The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson (aptly abbreviated as MORLS). Here, he deftly establishes the exact version that RLS would have been mentally referring to as he wrote. In fact, the poem not only quotes the song but is ‘in lockstep’ syllable-by-syllable with the Jacobite version published in James Hogg’s Jacobite Relics of Scotland.

Stevenson MSS in Philadelphia

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A few days ago, Glenda Norquay, researching in Princeton for her edition of St. Ives,  came across the Literary MSS finding aid of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and saw that it contains, unexpectedly, sixteen RLS manuscripts. A few of these were catalogued by the Library when Roger Swearingen’s compiled his Prose Works of Robert Louis Stevenson and are found there (the Earraid sketchbook, the fragment of Sophia Scarlet), but this new finding aid (published 2012) reveals a number of items (subsequently acquired or catalogued) that came as a complete surprise:

Autograph manuscript signed (fragment) of Weir of Hermiston. 4 pages

Two copies of Deacon Brodie with corrections in Stevenson’s hand

Corrected proof sheets of Memories and Portraits (‘1 volume’—no information on the number of pages; could this be proofs for the whole volume?)

South Seas material, from “Part V. The Gilberts. XLVIII. Butaritari”, 2 pp.

MS of part of ch XIX of The Wrecker (probably precede the 5 leaves at Princeton), 19 leaves, making this the most important fragment of MS material of this work

Corrected copy of Father Damien

Fragment of Weir of Hermiston, 4 pp.

Autograph manuscript signed (draft) of several verses and revisions, with a sketch, 1 page (“Previously identified as intended for A Child’s Garden of Verses, but unpublished there.”)

A finding aid to finding the finding aid

Archive material may be fully available and exhaustively catalogued, but sometimes the catalogue (or the MS finding aid) is very difficult to find. When Gill Hughes told me about Glenda’s discovery, I went to the home page of the FLP and searched for ‘special collections’, ‘rare books’ and manuscripts’—no joy. Then I tried the green side-tab ‘Explore’, and then the top-tab ‘Find a location’—but for all my exploration, never a thing did I find. So I tried ‘Programs and Services’ (could that cover library departments?) and finally found ‘Rare Books Department’. Hooray! So I clicked on that, clicked on ‘Collections’ and then on ‘Literature – Learn more’ which contained links to… only two finding aids: Dickens and Poe. No mention of Stevenson. I’d reached a dead-end.

Research in these labyrinths his slaves detains…

In the meantime a kind friend sent me the pdf, but I was determined to find the dang thing myself. This is how I did it: I clicked on Ask,  made a desultory stab at Browse or Search FLP Knowledge Base (who knows?), browsed, searched, then found and clicked ‘Rare Books’ (I’d been given a help: Gill had told me the department was called by that name); this took me to Rare Books FAQ, where FAQ-18 is ‘Does the Rare Book Department have any finding aids?’ The brief answer to this has a clickable link which—unlike that decoy Rare Books page with only two finding aids—had the whole list. I’d finally reached the centre of the maze with the champaign luncheon! And there it was: Literary Manuscripts Collection, readable online or downloadable as pdf.