EdRLS

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

Back in London for missing Stevenson articles in London magazine

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The story so far

Those who follow this blog will know of our search for possible unnoticed articles by Stevenson in London magazine—ending up with a closer analysis of a list of 1878 payments for work on London, after which I concluded that I would need to look more closely at the four numbers of 13 July to 3 August 1878. R.-L. Abrahamson and myself had already looked through these numbers, but found nothing that we thought was even possibly by Stevenson, apart from ‘A Story-teller’ and a note on George Eliot (for 13 July), and notes from ‘a correspondent in Paris’ (for 20 July). We suspected that a poem on 13 July (from comments in a letter by Henley) might be by Stevenson, but we were interested in prose. To tell the truth, I was prepared to let it rest there: if whatever was in the 27 July and 3 August numbers had not been distinctive enough to be visible to us before, and there was no guarantee that another trip to London would be accompanied by sudden enlightenment.

A (deceptive) letter from Lang changes the picture

Then I was looking through Marysa Demoor’s useful edition of letters from Andrew Lang to Stevenson and my eye was caught by an undated letter from 1877 in which he says, ‘I’ve sent for the new book on Villon’, which probably refers to Longnon’s innovative biographical study, which must have been published in February 1877, as the Academy gives a report of the publication in its ‘Paris Letter’ in the issue of 3 March (95–6). Andrew Lang seems to be indirectly praising Stevenson in this letter when he writes,

‘I wish your C. B. would get a political fellow as good in his way as the author of Balzac’s correspondence and George Eliot’ (Demoor, 42–3).

By ‘C. B.’ he meant the editor of London, Robert Glasgow Brown, who Lang thought was ‘Caldwell Brown’ (Demoor, 6n); by ‘Balzac’s Correspondence’ he is referring to the review article with that title in the second issue of London on 10 February 1877, p. 44. This is an article that R.-L. Abrahamson and myself identified as probably by Stevenson on our first look into London at the old Colindale Newspaper Library back in January 2013. It hasn’t previously been reported here—well, we’ve got to keep something for the album. When I saw Lang’s letter I thought: could he be indirectly praising Stevenson for the article on ‘Balzac’s Correspondence’—and for another on George Eliot too? That decided it: I had to go back to London to investigate this possibility for February 1877, and combine it with a closer look at the issues of the magazine for July and early August 1878.

britishlibrarycourtyard Return to the Newsroom

So it was that on a pleasant morning in June I crossed the British Library forecourt with RLA (who this time had to look at microfilms of Chatto records of Virginibus Puerisque—this will be the first of our essay volumes to appear, in the first half of next year). I went straight to the Newsroom, picked up the five hefty volumes of London and immediately turned to February 1877 and located the article on George Eliot in the issue of February 10, p. 43. Immediate disappointment: Stevenson could not begin an essay in this way:

The cultus of George Eliot is one of the great social facts of the age. Its adherents include nearly the whole of the reading public. For purposes of generalisation they may be classed under three headings—Conformist, Disciples, and Sceptics.

The article then continues with a humorous paragraph on the reception of Eliot by each of these three classes of reader and a final paragraph collecting some epigrams about her and her novels. Such a preliminary announcement of categories followed by a paragraph apiece is, as far as I remember, not to be found in any of Stevenson’s writings. In addition, the article contains no Stevensonsonian language-play (new meaning created by use, unexpected epithets, calques from French), no intelligently concise formulations, no typical use of semicolons etc. It is true that in the fourth paragraph contains the following:

With very, very few exceptions, he [the Sceptic] knows that all of them [‘the gay young fellows it has pleased her to put forward as men’] have a comb concealed among their back-hair.

This reminds us immediately of Stevenson’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, published in August 1876:

Even women, who understand men so well for practical purposes, do not know them well enough for the purposes of art. Take even the very best of their male creations, take Tito Melema [in George Eliot’s Romola], for instance, and you will find he has an equivocal air, and every now and again remembers he has a comb at the back of his head.

But the later passage in London must be Henley (who probably wrote the article) cheekily ‘borrowing’ from his friend’s recent essay. With no more internal evidence than this, we cannot take the article as by Stevenson.  Lang letter: red herring.

July—August 1878 again

OK—now for the 1878 volume. Henley, talking about the 13 July number says in a letter to Stevenson:

Don’t tax me with ‘Ce Que Se Dit’. I only brushed it up. In doing so, I’ve made it presentable, but I’ve broken the author’s heart. (Atkinson, 52)

This sounds like Henley not apologising for having changed a poem by Stevenson (the person who might ‘tax’ him about it). Here it is: Screenshot 2015-06-29 18.34.51on the strict Q.T., ‘confidential (quiet)’ (first Advanced Google Books Search hits: 1877; 1877 song by Lydia Thompson; called ‘a crude expression’ in George Moore’s A Mummer’s Wife (1884));
rather! ‘yes! I should think so!’ (OED (1904) calls this ‘vulgar’, the online OED identifies this as ‘Brit. colloq.‘; first OED citation 1836);
ripping! ‘great, excellent, stunning’ (first OED citation 1776).

My guess is that this may have been about Fanny Osbourne with the last line a piece of American slang, that Henley changed to British slang (to make it presentable)—absolutely no proof, except that ‘You feel you’re tripping’ doesn’t fit well into the previous two lines and seems inserted to rhyme with ‘ripping’. Well, it’s perhaps not worth losing any sleep about, whatever the story is behind it.

6 July number

This was a week with ‘an article also’ opposite the payment for the ‘Arabian’ episode but a payment that corresponded only to that episode. I looked again, but could find nothing

27 July number

Subtracting the estimated payment for the ‘Arabian’ episode from the total payment, left me looking for a contribution of about half a column. The ‘Whispering Gallery’ section has three items of news from Paris, one in particular about the Jurors of the Exposition (and Stevenson was nominal secretary to one of them, Fleeming Jenkins). It starts ‘The Exposition has developed inventions undreamt of by the carnal mind of the casual observer. For instance, amongst the Jurors hospitality reigns’ (where ‘carnal mind’ could have a Stevensonian epithet). It goes on to mention that dishes with new names have been invented and gives a menu with items like ‘Potage. Emaillé de Printanier’ and ‘Truits. Patinée à Génèvoise’. This could be the Stevenson contribution—nothing earth-shaking, as you can see.

3 August number

Here, again, I was looking for something of half a column or less. And, again in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section there is a contribution ‘from a letter’ that sounds as if it might be from Stevenson, containing a nonsense rhyme: Screenshot 2015-06-30 18.17.17Here, the French word béquille ‘crutch’ and béquiller ‘walk with crutches’ has clearly touched the poet’s funny nerve (maybe because a homophone béquiller (from bec ‘beak’) is a slang word for ‘eat’) and he creates a calque in English ‘to beckle’ which he repeats and varies in a crazy progression that threatens to extend to infinity.

There is a good chance this is by Stevenson: it is from a letter (the origin of other contributions from Stevenson in this period), it involves play with French, which we often find him doing, the creation through use of a new meaning of ‘fulfilled’  at the end of the third stanza reminds one of Stevenson’s typical word-play, and Stevenson writes similar verse in other letters to Henley in this period (e.g. L2, 259).

That’s it

With that, I had more-or-less accounted for the four annotations of ‘an article also’ on the 1878 list of payments. That list, of course, only goes up to 10 August and it is possible that Stevenson continued contributing short pieces and poems after that. But this I generously leave to another researcher.

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2 Responses

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  1. In his “Andrew Lang”(1946), Roger Lancelyn Green says that in “London”, Lang, ‘besides a certain amount of unimportant prose, was responsible for a number of humorous ballades, such as “The Ballade of the Summer Term” (11th May 1878) and “The Ballade of the Three Graces” (25th May 1878), besides a few serious poems, including “Love’s Easter” (18th May 1878) and “The Last Maying” (27th July 1878).’ Green repeats the anecdote of Joseph Henley seeing Lang arriving in W. E. Henley’s office, where he ‘knocked off’ a ballade duly published in next week’s “London”, which appeared earlier in ‘W. E. Henley: A Memoir’ by Kennedy Williamson (1930).

    Neil Brown

    05/07/2015 at 11:19 am

  2. If the beckling poem is indeed by RLS it would not surprise me if it had one of RLS’s wondrous woodcuts planned to accompany it!

    Ruth Richardson

    15/11/2015 at 3:08 am


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