A Night in France
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music at night in Mentone (see (L1, 477-78; 5 Feb 1874), called ‘A Night in France’ by Hellman (Prose Pieces… Hitherto Unpublished, 1921, and from there republished in the the Vailima, Tusitala and Skerryvore Editions).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).
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?
‘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’?
Then 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.