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

Archive for March 2014

RLS plans his volume of poems carefully

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of  The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.


RLS, professional writer

Screenshot 2014-02-24 15.03.45

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)

(Richard Dury writes: in the previous post contributed by John F. Russell, I added an editorial aside: “An interesting puzzle for someone wold be to work out what all the numerical calculations mean”. John Russell has taken up the challenge and offers the following convincing solution, which shows how carefully RLS was planning the volume of poems:)

You issue a challenge to work out what all the numerical calculations mean in Beinecke 6896.

This is the first line:

30. 1. Ditty ….. 14 …… 807 ….. 1 …. 53

  • 30 is the position of the item in the entire list of poems destined for Songs of Travel.
  • 1 is the position in the section “Songs.”
  • 14 is the number of lines in the poem (Lewis (Collected Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson) shows the 12 line version of Ditty on p. 178, but says on p. 496 there was a 14 line version). Madrigal (#5 on the list of “Songs”), for another instance, has 24 lines, the number given after the title on this list.
  • 807 is the cumulative number of lines of poetry from the beginning of the list.
  • 1 is the number of pages to be occupied by the poem.
  • 53 is the page on which the poem starts. For instance, Vagabond (#3) starts on page 57 and occupies 2 pages. The next poem, Over the Sea to Skye (#4), occupies 2 pages and starts on p. 59. RLS must have envisioned a small format book. I don’t recall the reference, but I believe he insisted on only one poem per page.


(Richard Dury writes: Chapeau!)