EdRLS

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

The Significance of Sunday

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

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell shows that ‘Come, Here is Adieu to the City’ (wrongfully titled ‘Schumann’s “Fröhlicher Landmann’ by Lewis) was originally grouped with ‘Spring Song’ (‘The air was full of sun and birds’) and ‘In Lupum’ as a group of three poems with a linked agricultural theme under the general title of ‘Schumann’s “Fröhlicher Landmann’. All three are inspired by melodies (though only ‘In Lupum’ is to the Schumann tune). He also demonstrates that the poems date not from the early 1870s but from 1888.
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In an another draft, ‘Come, Here is Adieu to the City’ is grouped with ‘On Such a Day’ and ‘Sunday’. In both cases, the grouped poems can be seen as a record of Stevenson’s long escape from New York to the South Pacific in 1888, with the first group focussing on the return of spring and the possibility of leaving confinement for the country, and  the second grouping adding a sense of release from the imprisoning past.

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1. Happy Farmers

In his edition of the letters, Colvin said of Stevenson, “As always in cities, his health quickly flagged…” According to the poem Come, Here is Adieu to the City, cities were equally bad for his spiritual health, while the country was beneficial for creativity.

A rough manuscript copy can be found at the Beinecke Library,

Sunday1

Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 27 f. 645

and a fair copy at the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum:

The Writers' Museum, LSH 137/91.

The Writers’ Museum, LSH 137/91.

The 1916 Bibliophile Society edition of poems says it “belongs to the early ‘70’s.” In Collected Poems (2003) Roger C. Lewis titles it Schumann’s Frölicher Landmann and indicates it may have been written in Edinburgh in 1872. He derives the date from a letter RLS wrote to Elizabeth Crosby on December 22, 1872:

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 264 (Letter 117).

Letters 1, 264 (Letter 117).

However, in the letter Stevenson says only that he is promoting the music, not that he has written a poem about it. Toward the end of the sentence he also mentions a Gavotte en Ré but never writes a poem by that title.

The fair copy of Come Here is Adieu to the City is headed Schumann’s Frölicher Landmann. The note by Booth and Mehew under the letter points out, however, that it is a heading for a group of verses, not just Come, Here is Adieu. The rough copy shows no title and has the Roman numeral II, instead of I.

Schumann’s Fröhlicher Landmann

Beginning piano students know Schumann’s music in English as The Happy Farmer. Though an agricultural theme is shared, Stevenson’s poem has no musical relationship to the piano piece and is not intended as lyrics for that melody.

Fröhlicher Landmann is only one of 43 pieces in a collection by Schumann called Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young). In a letter to Anne Jenkin in April of 1887, Stevenson acknowledged,

Your packet arrived: I have dipped into the Schumann already with great pleasure. (Letters 5, 389 (Letter 1794))

By that time he had been playing the piano for a year and could attempt the easier Schumann piano pieces. Unfortunately he does not mention the title of the music he received. However, the more than 120 manuscript copies of music in Stevenson’s hand include only six Schumann pieces; Erinnerung (Memory), Ländliches Lied (Country Song), Matrosenlied (Sailor’s Song), Langsam (Slow Movement), Stückchen (Little Piece), and Träumerei (Dreams). The first five are all found in Album Für die Jugend. The last appears in the collection Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood).

On October 27th, 1887 Stevenson was in Saranac, New York and wrote a letter to Fanny’s nephew Fred Thomas (1870-1962), a young violinist who lived in Danville, Indiana. The letter concerned music RLS offered to send Fred as a Christmas present. A list of books which appears to be this Christmas shopping list has been found on the reverse of a manuscript for the fable The Reader.

Thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile of a manuscript in the British Library.

British Library, Add MS 39173; thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile.

For a detailed analysis of this document, see the Music of Robert Louis Stevenson. The seventh item on the list is marked “Schumann” and refers to a volume comprised of two piano collections, Album für die Jugend and Kinderszenen, together containing all six pieces which Stevenson copied in manuscript.

Sunday6This must have been the book Anne Jenkin sent Stevenson. RLS had found it useful for himself and now was recommending it to his nephew.

Stevenson’s Fröhlicher Landmann

The fair copy of Come, Here is Adieu has the number 19 at the top of the page. The reverse of the leaf is numbered 20 and contains the conclusion of the poem and a canceled version of Spring Song (“The air was full of sun and birds…”), which also has an agricultural reference but no relation to Schumann’s music:

Sunday5

No text appears under the Roman numeral III at the bottom of the page. Aside from the farming theme, why did Stevenson call this proposed cycle of poems Frölicher Landmann when none of the verse was appropriate as lyrics for the music?

In McKay’s A Stevenson Library Catalogue (1961) entry number 7008 refers to Stevenson’s not quite finished translation of Martial’s In Lupum, about the gift of a tiny farm.

Sunday7On the right of the Roman numeral “xl” is the number 18. This is the notebook page previous to that which contains Come, Here is Adieu to the City. McKay corrects the Roman numeral to “XI” on p. 2605 of his catalog.

In Lupum is the poem that was written to Schumann’s music. Since it was already contiguous to the other two poems, RLS may have seen no reason to recopy it under the number III.

Sunday8

It seems that Stevenson’s Frölicher Landmann cycle initially consisted of three poems on agricultural themes which he intended as lyrics to three different melodies. Come Here fits well with the melody of Rosin the Bow (also known as The Old Settler’s Song). Spring Song fits with the Carnival of Venice, and In Lupum with Happy Farmer (“Fröhlicher Landmann”).

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2. Across the Plains

Adieu to winter and the city

A complete transcription of the fair copy of Come, Here is Adieu to the City appears below. The second stanza does not appear in the rough copy.

Come, here is adieu to the city
And hurrah for the country again.
The broad road lies before me
Watered with last night’s rain.

O I that have slept all winter
Am wakened again today
And the breeze blows into my spirit
And brushes the cobwebs away

The tumbled country woos me
With many a hill and hough;
[ hill ]
And again in the shining fallows
The ploughman follows the plough.

The whole year’s sweat and study,
And the whole year’s sowing time,
Comes now to the perfect harvest,
And ripens now into rhyme.

For we that sow in the Autumn,
We reap our grain in the Spring,
And we that go sowing and weeping
Return to reap and sing.

.An inspiration for it may have been a madrigal text by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656):

Adieu, ye city pris’ning towers,
Better are the country bowers.
Winter is gone, the trees are springing,
Birds on ev’ry hedge sit singing.
Hark, how they chirp, come, love, delay not,
Come, come, sweet love, O, come and stay not
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Stevenson used the surname Tomkins for a character in Ebb-Tide, as well as the full name of the poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a contemporary. RLS owned the complete works of Herrick, so he may also have been familiar with Tomkins, and though they have no relation to Tomkins’s poem, he wrote some verses called Madrigal.

Other indications that RLS was aware of Tomkins’ poem are the use of the imperative “come” in the first line of his poem and in the last line of Tomkins’, and the equating of the city with winter and constriction, and the country with spring, fertility and song.

Neither Stevenson nor Tomkins needed to use the French word “adieu” in the first line. “Farewell” is the English equivalent with the same stress and number of syllables, and there are no other French references in the poems that might justify a French expression. However “adieu” means “goodbye forever” and “farewell” does not. Apparently both poets wanted to emphasize the idea of leaving the city permanently.

The sense of Stevenson’s poem is that his creativity has been in hibernation but is reemerging. While in Saranac, New York RLS wrote to Anne Jenkin in February, 1888,

The climate is certainly repulsive; cruelly cold, bleak, sunless and windy … I should dearly like to cut and run … I go on patching away at work, not of the best. (Letters 6, 118-19 (Letter 2019))

We need only remember the Master of Ballantrae’s frightening emergence from suspended animation and his frozen grave in the “wilderness” of New York to confirm Stevenson’s feelings about Saranac.

Crossing the Plains

He did “cut and run” on Saturday, June 2, 1888, leaving on a six day train journey to San Francisco. Across the Plains (1883) described the sufferings of his first crossing of the United States by rail in 1879, and so he would have arrived this second time, perhaps again “dog-tired” in the “great and gloomy city” of Chicago sometime Monday, immediately having wearily to drag his belongings to another station four blocks away. He must gladly then have bid “adieu to the city, and hurrah for the country again.”

After travelling across Illinois and Iowa, he found himself “at sea” in Nebraska, “a world almost without feature,” yet “the broad road” still lay before him.

The state below Nebraska is Kansas and around the middle of the 19th century, winter wheat from Russia was introduced there. It was planted in September, sprouted and grew a little during the fall, lay dormant during the winter and was finally harvested in June.

For we that sow in the Autumn,
We reap our grain in the Spring,
And we that go sowing and weeping
Return to reap and sing

“To cross such a plain,” he wrote about Nebraska, “is to grow homesick for the mountains. I longed for the Black Hills of Wyoming.”

The tumbled country woos me
With many a hill and hough;

By Friday he had arrived in the longed for Wyoming, only to be disappointed,

We traveled through these sad mountains … hour after hour it was the same unhomely and unkindly world about our onward path; tumbled boulders, cliffs that drearily imitate the shape of monuments…

After 90 hours of travel, hope rekindled at Ogden, Utah, where he changed from the cramped, now stinking cars of the Union Pacific to those twice as high and airy of the Central Pacific Railroad. Soon he was greeted by a huge pine forested ravine, a foaming river and a fiery sky.

At every turn we could see farther into the land and our own happy futures. For this was indeed our destination; this was ‘the good country’ we had been going to so long.

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3. San Francisco

At the bottom of the leaf containing the rough copy of Come Here is Adieu is a short, unpublished poem.

Sunday9

On such a day as this day is,
So morning fresh and clear,
The titan on the bald hill top
Sat piping far and near
[watching]
They saw him from the plains below–
A castle on a hill!

At first the meaning is obscure, however the last paragraph of Across the Plains sheds unexpected light.

Sunday10Stevenson has only slightly misquoted Spenser’s description of morning in the Faerie Queen.

Now when the rosy-fingered morning fair,
Weary of aged Tithon’s saffron bed,
Had spread her purple robes through dewy air,
And the high hills Titan discovered.

RLS’s poem ends with an exclamation point because what he saw on the “bald hill top” was not there the first time he came to San Francisco in 1879.

The titan on the bald hill top
Sat piping far and near
They saw him from the plains below–
A castle on a hill!

Sunday11

In 1883 Frederick O. Layman built a wooden castle on Telegraph Hill as a cable car terminus for a proposed observatory (“piping far and near”) and restaurant. Known as “Layman’s Folly,” it was destroyed by fire in 1903. This is what “they” (RLS, Fannie, Lloyd, Margaret and Valentine) saw from the plains below, “a castle on a hill!”

Stevenson returned to England from his first trip to the U.S. in 1880, three years before the castle was built. The poem On Such a Day could only have been written in 1888, when he returned to San Francisco on his second trip. Since Come, Here is Adieu to the City and On Such a Day are written on the same page, in the same casual handwriting and are consecutively marked II and III, they must have been written around the same time, and so Come here is Adieu to the City must also have been written in 1888.

To see a castle on Telegraph Hill when there wasn’t one there before must have startled Stevenson all the more because it reminded him of others from his past he was so impressed with that he had taken the trouble to draw them.

Sunday12

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A mountain town in France. New York: Lane, 1896. Chateau Neuf.

Sunday13

Stevenson, Robert Louis. A mountain town in France. New York: Lane, 1896. Chateau Beaufort

In Kidnapped (1886) Stevenson used the phrase “castle on the hill” to refer to the now destroyed Costorphine Castle to the west of Edinburgh and “castle on a hill” to refer to Stirling Castle, which had often been used as a prison. What may have startled him even more was the reawakened memory of the castle with which he was most familiar and would never see again.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

A remarkable coincidence of words appears in Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878).

Sunday15

In this description of “the tall, black city” which was so harmful to his health, two adjoining sentences use a word and a phrase which appear on the same page as the two poems just discussed. “Tumbled” is used in line 9 of Come, Here is Adieu and “On such a day” is part of the first line of the following poem. It is as if the sudden sight of the castle on Telegraph Hill reawakened the memory of his description of Edinburgh and echoed through these verses ten years later.

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4. The South Pacific

On Thursday, June 28, 1888 the Casco was docked at North Beach near Telegraph Hill and at 5 a.m. was towed to the Golden Gate to begin its Pacific cruise.

On the reverse of the leaf containing Come, Here is Adieu to the City and On Such a Day is an unpublished and unfinished poem. It lacks a Roman numeral designation, but the number 4 appears in the upper right corner.

Sunday15

Sunday. And I, good Calvinist,
Drop anchor for the day of rest,
And with all trouble, all dismissed
Out of my tranquil breast,
I smoke my weed about the deck, …………….
5
Or on the tafrail, lean my head

To watch, far on the smiling sea, some speck
In the clear morning air, the chimes
That flutter up around me seem,
Peals loosened from the city of old times ….
10
That long in dream,

And I, good Calvinist
Have all my mariners dismissed
Far on the smiling backward sea I trace
The wake of my past life. ………………………..
15
I bring the gully too, and smoke,
I idly patrol the deck and smoke
An idle eye far from fancy’s puppet folk,

Canceled lines and words have not been transcribed and the last line is uncertain. Capitalization and misspellings have been corrected. Lines 12-18 are apparently another attempt at the poem. A gully is a knife.

In this verse Stevenson is recording an experience on the yacht Casco in the Pacific. Because it is Sunday, he orders the anchor to be dropped and sends everyone ashore. With his heart at peace, he wanders the deck and smokes. He follows something far off in the distance, his past life, and hears a church bell, which reminds him of “the city of old times.”

In the poem he says, “I … dropped anchor,” and had “all my mariners dismissed.” If he were writing about his lighthouse steamship voyage of 1872, where he was only a passenger, he couldn’t have made these claims, and they certainly wouldn’t apply to his canoe trip in the Arethusa in 1878. Though he was not the captain, only on the Casco and no other boat was he in a position to order the anchor dropped and to send the crew and his family, “all my mariners”, ashore.

The poem must therefore have been written about any Sunday from July 22, 1888, when the Casco docked at Nukahiva, to December 30, 1888, just before the voyage finished in Hawaii.

There may be corroboration for this in his mother’s entry for September 12, 1888 at the Paumotus Islands in From Saranac to the Marquesas (p. 148-150) where she records,

Our house stands beside the little church, but the priest is away just now and there is only a native catechist left in charge. I would fain go to the service, but twenty minutes to six A.M. (when the bell rings) is rather much of a good thing in the way of early rising for me … As soon as we cast anchor on Sunday, a M. Donat came on board to welcome us.

Some additional evidence can be assumed from the word “tafrail” (line 6) which Stevenson only used in Master of Ballantrae (begun in 1887), The Wrecker (1891), St. Ives (1893), and Ebb Tide (1893).

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Come, Here is Adieu to the City, On Such a Day and Sunday do indeed form a cycle of poems. They are on the same leaf of manuscript, they are in the same casual handwriting, they are consecutive, and they all were written within the same year. However they are not from the 1870’s, and they are not linked by an agricultural theme as Stevenson had once planned, but instead are a record of his long escape from New York to the South Pacific in 1888 and share the themes of freedom and release from the imprisoning past.

The significance of Sunday is that, although he is not yet the captain of his ship, Stevenson is now the captain of his soul, and he finally bids adieu to the city forever.

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Written by rdury

31/10/2014 at 5:58 am

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