A Little More ‘Heathercat’
This post is contributed by Gillian Hughes with help from Richard Dury and Roger Swearingen
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. 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’.
 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.
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 -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.)
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, isAny 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).
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:
……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…