EdRLS

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

A Night in France

with 5 comments

My second to last day in New Haven, I was checking something in the 1923 Vailima Edition, so I thought at the same time I’d compare our transcription of a manuscript fragment about music at night in Mentone (see (L1, 477-78; 5 Feb 1874), called ‘A Night in France’ by Hellman (Prose Pieces… Hitherto Unpublished, 1921, and from there republished in the the Vailima, Tusitala and Skerryvore Editions).

It’s a rough pencil draft with a number of obscure words, so it’s not surprising there should be differences in transcription. The most important ones are the following, Hellman’s text on the left, our transcription on the right:

The sea trembles with light; white hotels and villas show lit windows far along the curved beach, and from above envy the silent stars. The strange night sky endues itself in monstrous space over all, the large moon beams forward.[…] For this is no squeak of southern fife, […] Clear sad voices sing in the gray dawn sadly; for a country made desolate, for the bold silver that shall no more clatter forth in pay, and the good King that shall come home no more. The sea trembles with light, white hotels and villas show lit windows far along the curved beach, and from above among the silent stars the strange night sky arches itself in monstrous space over all, the large moon beams forward.[…] For this is no squeak of southern pipe, […] Clear sad voices sing in the grey dawn sadly; for a country made desolate, for the bold riders that shall no more clatter forth on fray, and the good King that shall come home no more.

We had examined and debated all these points when our first transcription had been made (by Mafalda Cipollone, and then twice proofed by me), but seeing them there made me realize I had to look at the MS again. I had actually previously proofed our transcription against the MS: what was different now was finding out why Hellman had made his choices—a way of looking at the MS again with fresh eyes (very necessary in MS-proofing—as in other situations in life: it’s amazing how you see what you’re looking for and what you’re not looking for, you just don’t see).

Yale GEN MSS 664, box 34 folder 815 (B 6631)

Yale GEN MSS 664, box 34 folder 815 (B 6631)

So on my last day on the Beinecke, I called up the item. Was that ‘far along the curved beach’ or ‘along the curved beach’? Although grains of graphite are flying away each time this item is consulted, I convinced myself, finally, looking through the strongest magnifier available, that ‘far’ was deleted by a line sloping down a bit to the right; ‘among the silent stars’ was obviously right (there’s not ‘e’ for envy). But then I looked again: ‘stars’ is definitely followed by a full stop and then a capital letter (of a deleted ‘The’). AND, and… was it ‘stars’?: no crossbar for a ‘t’ was visible and the second letter had not trace of a bowl for ‘b’ or ‘d’, so it must be ‘l’… ‘slars’? No: there is definitely a dot which RLS almost never omits for his ‘i’: ‘slirs’…. What about that first letter? could it be ‘a’ or ‘o’: ‘alirs’, ‘olirs’. YES, yes, of course! ‘among the silent olives’. Followed by a full stop.

The ‘pipe’ was clearly right: Stevenson’s ‘p’ and ‘f’ are usually clearly distinct, and these are p’s with hooked beginnings.

So what about that third passage?

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 08.57.16‘for the bold silver’ looks wrong, and the first letter is clearly Stevenson’s inverted-v ‘r’; there is a dot faintly visible above the second letter (but for how much longer? I had a sense that it was vital for me to correctly decypher the word this afternoon, before the evidence ‘dislimns’ and fades away). Screwing my eyes up, seeking the best light under the magnifying glass, I could see no left-bowl for a ‘d’. Not only that, the last letter was that inverted-v ‘r’ again with concave second stroke: clearly not the convex stroke of his ‘s’. But what else but a rider could ‘clatter forth’?

2006-01-01 00.00.00-102Then I remembered that RLA was sitting behind me in the Beinecke reading room and how useful it is for another person to look at these points: so I took the leaf and the magnifying glass to his table. He read through the sentence slowly, and then said: that third letter could be just a tall ‘e’… yes, it’s ‘riever’, usually spellt ‘ei’: a border raider. Hooray! We kept ‘on fray’: a bit strange, but perhaps acceptable RLS-strange, and it certainly isn’t ‘on pay’.

Also, on inspection, I changed the moon ‘beams forward’ to ‘leans forward’. I also confirmed our reading ‘hard knit faces’ rather than Hellman’s ‘hard thin faces’: the middle word is not clear but it is preceded by a deleted ‘gathered’, for which ‘knit’ seems to be a semantically-close substitution.

So here, below is the final, cleaned transcipt (with ‘riever’ spelt thus because the OED records it as a 19th-century Scottish spelling; the words in brackets must be alternatives that RLS was considering but hadn’t decided on).

A Night in France

The perfect southern moonlight fills the great night; along the coast the bare peaks faint and dwindle against the intense blue sky; and far up on the glimmering mountain sides the dark woods design their big (full shapes in black) fantastic profile. The sea trembles with light, white hotels and villas show lit windows along the curved beach, and from above among the silent olives. The strange night sky arches itself in monstrous space over all, the large moon leans forward. The still trees stand in relief aloof one from the other with the light all about them, naked (bare) in the moonlight.

Up in the room, the piano sounds and into the southern night, note follows note, chord follows chord, in quaint, sad, northland cadence. Do not the still trees wonder, and the flat bright sea, and the lonely glimmering hilltops far withdrawn into the purple sky? For this is no squeak of southern pipe, no light melody of provençal farandole; to these airs, brown feet never tripped on the warm earth nor boatman cheered his way across deep midland waters. Wild and shrill, ring out the reels. Dunbarton drums beat bonny. The wind sounds over the rainy moorland; Wandering Willie is far from home. Clear sad voices sing in the grey dawn sadly; for a country made desolate, for the bold riever that shall no more clatter forth on fray, and the good King that shall come home no more. The sun sets behind Ben Ledi. Macleod’s Wizard flag sallies from the gray castle. Faint and fair, in the misty summer afternoon, reach out the purple braes, where the soft cloud shadows linger and dwindle. At home, by the ingle, the goodwife darns her goodman’s grey breeks. And my love, up in the north, is like the red red rose.

O sound of the wind among my own bleak hills; the snow, and the cold, and the hard knit faces of steadfast serious people. The boats go out at even, under the moon; sail by sail they spread on the great uneven sea; at morn, in the rain plains, boat by boat comes back with its glittering burthen.

In brown grass fields, wander white sheep, patiently stand the shivering cattle.

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5 Responses

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  1. I expect you’ve covered this in the notes, but it’s usually ‘Dumbarton’s’ rather than ‘Dunbarton’s drums’ (‘they sound sae bonnie’) in the trad song. ‘Macleod’s Wizard flag’ (“from the grey castle sallies”) comes from Scott’s “Maccrimmon’s Lament”.
    Your ‘faint and dwindle’ doesn’t sound right to me at all. Could it be ‘brindle’ (variant of ‘brindled’), i.e brown or tawny with streaks of other dull colour giving a mottled look? I’m only guessing as haven’t seen ms, of course.

    Neil Brown

    06/11/2013 at 8:29 pm

  2. ‘the goodwife darns her goodman’s grey breeks’: (DSL) ‘A Wife knows enough, who knows the good Man’s Breeks from Weilycoat [wylie-coat: a woollen or flannel undershirt or vest]’ (1721 J. Kelly, “Proverbs” 54).

    Neil Brown

    06/11/2013 at 9:59 pm

  3. Thanks for this, Neil.

    The ‘Dunbarton’ seems to have the two peaks for ‘n’, but then ‘drums’ has a mere squiggle for ‘m’!

    So we have to decypher by the form, but also by most probable intention (as we do all the time in understanding inevitably-imperfect writing and—even more so—speech).

    Google Advanced Book Search gives some examples of DuNbarton (including Hogg’s _Forest Minstrel_), but using the normal Google search (for the phrase with ‘Drums’) gives n:m forms in a ratio 1:20, and Google n-grams finds no examples of ‘DuNbarton Drums’ at all. So, just as we interpret a squiggle for m in ‘drums’, I think we can interpret in the same way for ‘Dumbarton’—it is the most probable intended form.

    As for ‘brindle’, I am your debtor for life: looking again, the first letter is clearly not ‘d’! What is certainly clear is ‘-dle’ with an ‘i’ (because of the dot) in the preceding segment. The first letter looks like ‘b’ (though not the classic RLS-b), so ‘brindle’ looks the best guess so far.

    rdury

    07/11/2013 at 10:25 am

  4. Robert-Louis Abrahamson kindly looked at the MS again on his last day in the Beinecke and reports as follows:

    No, as far as I can see, it is *dwindle*. With the magnifying glass, I can see very faintly the curves of the *d*. I cannot see it without the glass, so it’s no wonder that it doesn’t come across electronically.

    Anyway, dwindle makes more sense.

    So, after a brief existence as ‘brindle’, the transcript goes back to ‘dwindle’: “the bare peaks faint [i.e. become faint] and dwindle against the intense blue sky”

    rdury

    07/11/2013 at 9:12 pm

  5. […] France’ with a piano playing ‘Dunbarton Drums’ (clearly being played by Mme. Zassetsky), see https://edrls.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/a-night-in-france/ [link by Richard […]


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