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

Uncertain about gaslights: a notebook fragment

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The Beinecke Stevenson finding aid General Manuscripts 664 (created by Michael Forstrom) records the Yale collection of Stevenson’s notebooks for the first time. Previously, the McKay catalogue had listed the contents of the notebooks as separate items; but now, in ‘GM 664’, these McKay items are grouped together under the individual notebook headings.

Of course, listing the contents of a notebook is rather difficult, if not impossible: they contain many odd notes, sketches, addresses etc. Hence, it is still possible to come across odd unrecorded texts such as the following, found in a notebook that, appropriately as it turns out, I was looking at on 31 October.

This small notebook (GM 664 box 35 folder 833), its green card cover bearing the printed title ‘The Academic Exercise Book’, can be dated pretty accurately as it contains notes from James Lorimer’s lectures on Public Law and James Muirhead’s on Civil Law, which RLS followed between 3 November 1871 and 20 March 1872.

So here is RLS, 21 years old, up in his room at 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, writing this short piece—perhaps feeling sorry for himself, perhaps just wanting to to imitate someone like Edgar Allan Poe, perhaps wanting to work out some ideas on the feeling of doubleness, or to artfully combine sounds and ideas:

Screen shot 2013-11-03 at 06.09.02

Night after night, up here,[1] this hateful yellow gas looked on while white-faced pain and I played on at our endless game. He has become a personality to me. He cranes over my shoulder with a flaw[2] to see my hand and then advises my adversary with his lurid winks and flickers; and he sways his long fingers, with a loose crying sound, whenever white faced pain takes up a trick. So he shall do, too, when pain takes up the last.

[1] followed by ‘was’, undeleted by oversight. [2] in the sense of ‘sudden flare’ (like ‘a flaw of wind’).


One Response

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  1. Michael Daviot points out in a tweet that “In Scots, ‘flaw’ can mean a flash or spark (of flame etc.); this would make nice sense in context.”


    03/11/2013 at 12:32 pm

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