EdRLS

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

A Little More ‘Heathercat’

with 7 comments

This post is contributed by Gillian Hughes with help from Richard Dury and Roger Swearingen

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Hugh Walpole’s collection of manuscripts at King’s School, Canterbury

The rare book and manuscript collection of the novelist Hugh Walpole (1884-1941), now owned by the King’s School, Canterbury, reflects its former owner’s interest, among other things, in Scottish literature of the nineteenth century and includes items by James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The scanned catalogue, accessible through the National Register of Archives website revealed an entry for a manuscript fragment of twenty lines of ‘A Tale of Scottish Life’ by Robert Louis Stevenson that had not been hitherto identified.

Naturally intrigued by this description, I contacted the King’s School Librarian, Peter Henderson, about it.[1] The title given in the catalogue turned out to be descriptive only and the manuscript leaf was itself untitled: paginated 5 and beginning in mid-sentence it obviously once formed part of a longer manuscript, and the scenario of a Covenanting sermon from which a ‘truant sentry’ escapes to find a lad called ‘Crozer’ identifies the story concerned as ‘Heathercat’.

[1] Acknowledgement is made to Mr Henderson and to the King’s School, Canterbury, for supplying an image of the manuscript leaf and for granting permission to use it in the present note.

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Heathercat

Stevenson mentioned his idea for this story about the Scottish Covenanters to S. R. Crockett in a letter of around 15 August 1893, responding to Crockett’s dedication to him of The Stickit Minister (Letters 8, 153). By late March the following year, he reported to J. M. Barrie that he had about fifty pages written; then in May he learnt that Crockett was planning a novel about the same subject (the ‘Killing Time’, the savage suppression of the Cameronian Covenanters in the early 1680s), and wrote to him ‘I’ll race you!’ (Letters 8, 259, 286), but the story remained unfinished at the time of his death in December 1894.

‘Heathercat A Fragment’ was duly published posthumously in December 1897 with an Editorial Note by Sidney Colvin in Volume XXVI of the Edinburgh Edition (pp. 87-121). The surviving Part I (‘The Killing Time’) of what was intended to be a full-length novel is divided into three chapters the last of which, entitled ‘The Hill-end of Drumlowe’, breaks off in the middle of the Covenanting minister’s sermon. The text in the Edinburgh Edition ends with the words ‘He’s going round like a roaring rampaging lion. . . .’.

Stevenson’s draft manuscript for this chapter survives in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, GEN MSS 664, Box 30, Folders 711-726 (B 6303), and consists of four pages numbered consecutively [1]-4. At the end of the final page the text actually breaks off with the words ‘He’s going round like a roaring ramp^ag^ing lion, bragging and basting Christs folk in the’. And there the page ends (the caret marks here showing Stevenson’s insertion.)

Screenshot 2014-05-15 12.15.55

over unseen to Crozer’s post, and he had a continuous private idea that he | would very probably steal back again. His course took him so near the minister | that he could hear some of his words: “What news, minister, of Claver’se? He’s | going round like a roaring ramp^ag^ing lion bragging and basting Christs folk in the ||

The marginal comment seems to be: ‘in dramatic | persons, with | changing interxxxxs [?] | and with a great | increase of the | broad Scots.’ It must be a later idea (notice the different ink) for an insertion—commenting on the minister’s dramatic delivery—after ‘he could hear some of his words’, perhaps with an intended addition like ‘and his manner of speaking’; ‘in dramatic persons’ would mean ‘imitating the different voices’. The sixth word, isScreenshot 2014-05-17 02.18.58Any ideas? (For suggested answers, see Comments)

 

The King’s School leaf

The leaf in the Walpole Collection is clearly the continuation of the Beiencke fragment: it is paginated 5, and it covincingly continues the unfinished sentence at the bottom of page 4 (‘bragging and basting Christ’s folk in the’) with ‘<wilderness> ^fields^, and riding and wading in the precious blood of the elect’ (the angle brackets indicating a deletion).

Screenshot 2014-05-15 12.27.49

<wilderness> ^fields^, and riding and wading in the precious blood of the elect. What news of him | the day, minister? He’s ^up, he’s^ in the saddle, his trumpets blawn—wheest, did ye | no hear it?—he’s on the muirs. Who’s he seekin? <Lord> Sirs, is he seekin us?

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Interesting features of this new fragment

The Walpole leaf continues what Stevenson has previously termed the ‘poetry apart’ of the sermon, a ‘homely tissue’ relieved by an ‘occasional pathos of simple humanity, ^and^ frequent patches of big ^biblical^ words’. Perhaps with the much-criticised representation of such Covenanting rhetoric by Sir Walter Scott in Old Mortality (1816) in mind, Stevenson set himself to convey both the occasionally ludicrous familiar imagery of such sermons and their touching vulnerability, particularly in the context in which they were delivered. The preacher, ‘Auld soupit ^hirplin^ Sandie’, for instance, asks God to ‘cast the lap of thy mantle over Sandie and his weans’ or to hide them in his armpit (‘oxter’) from Clavers.

One is struck in both the Beinecke and the Walpole fragments at Stevenson’s ability with Scots dialogue. The many deletions and insertions in this passage of the Beinecke MS show how anxious Stevenson was to get the tone he aimed at exactly right. Although the following paragraph apparently came more easily, the inveterate reviser is still evident, Stevenson weighing the precise words in which he might best convey the contrasting trivial mood of the knot of country lads engaged in a primitive gambling session when they are supposed to be on the lookout for the approach of government soldiers. The reader longs for his account of the personal combat of Heathercat and Crozer that presumably was intended to follow, and which would have caused them to fail to alert the congregation to the approach of the enemy, but alas! the remainder of the leaf remained blank.

Transcription of the Walpole leaf

Here then is a reading transcription of the Walpole leaf (deletions omitted and insertions unmarked), with its final continuation of Heathercat, never previously published:

[in the] fields, and riding and wading in the precious blood of the elect. What news of him the day, minister? He’s up, he’s in the saddle, his trumpets blawn — wheesht, did ye no hear it? — he’s on the muirs. Who’s he seekin? Sirs, is he seekin us? O Lord, wha’s this he’s after? Just Auld soupit hirplin Sandie, — ye ken Sandie, lord! just Sandie and a wheen weans of his in a corner of a craigie hill. Is he coming nearby? Is Claverse visiting here? Wheest! Wasnae there the clatter of his horseshoe airn on the stony brae. Lord, cast the lap of thy mantle over Sandie and his weans! Haud them lown and safe under thine oxter, Lord! Be their refuge and their stren’th, a very present in trouble.”
……Meanwhile the truant sentry, with a certain pang of self-reproach at these images summoned up before him of the magnitude of that service he was neglecting, passed again out of hearing of the preacher, and came at last through a deep clump of junipers in view of his destination. Crozer was not at his post; but below in a hollow where he could neither be seen himself nor spy upon the approach of danger, he sat with three other boys of nine or ten engaged in the game of pitch and toss for one of the most infinitesimal of Scottish coins; the whole capital at stake being very likely overestimated at twopence.

The manuscript ends at the end of a sentence, but not at the end of the sheet: clearly Stevenson here abandoned the draft. For those interested in what comes next, the Beinecke Libary also has a number of earlier drafts, including two of the beginning of Chapter IV. But that is another story and for another time…

Gillian Hughes

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7 Responses

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  1. I think the word may be “interludes”, but clearly something odd is going on at the end, as if he confused the d for another t.

    Natasha

    17/05/2014 at 9:33 am

    • The main problem would be that after the d/t there are two peaks and an ‘s’ while -des would be one peak only (the e getting squashed into a mere peak).
      If that is a ‘t’ with the crossbar detatched to he right, then -t^^s (with the caret marks here for peaks) could correspond to -ters.

      rdury

      17/05/2014 at 11:25 am

  2. ‘changing introdutions’?

    mafalda

    17/05/2014 at 11:21 am

  3. I read ‘blawn — wheesht’.

    mafalda

    17/05/2014 at 11:26 am

    • You’re right! I’ve now changed the transcription in the main posting from ‘wheest’ (a mistake) to ‘wheesht. Thanks for your, as always, invaluable help.

      rdury

      17/05/2014 at 1:17 pm

  4. Neil Macara Brown writes that he had problems leaving a comment here and suggesting that the mystery words is ‘interlocutors’: this sounds good. There aren’t enough ‘peaks’, but it is clear that the word is written hastily and is badly formed (and perhaps Stevenson has spelt the word ‘interlocuters’); ‘changing interlocutors’ would mean apparently addressing first one than another person in the crowd. Clearly Stevenson is trying to give an idea of how such a preacher could keep a large audience spellbound for their typically long sermons.

    rdury

    17/05/2014 at 1:28 pm

  5. […] ‘Prophet’ Peden. When Stevenson died, he left this chapter in manuscript. Recently, Gillian Hughes has discovered some additional lines that add a little more and clarify that the preacher’s christian name is Sandy, i.e., […]


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