Scribner’s and Weir: a premature ‘puff’
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:
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..