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

Stevenson’s David Balfour: a new edition edited from the MS by Barry Menikoff

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s David Balfour, the original text, edited with an introduction and notes by Barry Menikoff (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2016).

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.53.13

1. Sample pages






2. Editorial principles and practices

The present posting aims to be informative, not a review. The following will be of interest to other EdRLS editors. We may not always follow exactly the same practices, but it is always interesting to see how someone else does it.

1. Stevenson’s changes are assimilated without comment. Deleted earlier wordings are not generally recorded in the Notes, though a facsimile page on p. 236 enables us to see that the fair copy manuscript had a final deleted sentence:

For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on; and there was one thing I determined to do when I began this long story, and that was to tell out everything as it befell. <If your father was something of a simpleton and your grandfather not better than a rogue, no harm that you should know it.>

2. Corrections are silently made of spelling and apostrophe use, and superscript letters have been dropped. However not all spellings are given standard form, e.g. ‘falsness’ (p. 41) (marked by the OED  as found only up to the 16C).

There are also forms such as ‘dis-cretion’ (p. 115), which shows that the handwritten line between ‘s’ and a letter with left-facing bowl (c, d, g, o or q) has been interpreted as a hyphen. [For EdRLS, these marks have been interpreted as a non-significant link line; see this post in the blog and this one for a discussion. Barry defends his view in one of the comments to another post].

3. Unchanged are idiosyncratic capitalization of words not usually capitalized (e.g. ‘a Soft Tommy’), and the reverse case (latin, dutch, christian), in many case varying between the two usages (duke and Duke) as ‘this usage is so pervasive in the autograph, and poses no impediment to reading’ (p. lxvi). We therefore have ‘Tam Dale’ and ‘Tam dale’ in the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’ (p. 107). To be honest, I must admit this did not cause me any problems in reading—and neither did examples like ‘I ken nae French and nae dutch’ (p. 106).
[This, like other editorial choices, is an area where each editor has to decide one way or another according to the aims of the edition. Menikoff gives us what the author wrote, while EdRLS (conservatively) emends MS texts—acting as publisher in a way accepted repeatedly by the author in other cases.]

3. Apart from supplying missing periods and question marks Stevenson’s punctuation has not been changed, e.g. a comma, semicolon or question marks followed by a dash, question marks followed by a lower-case letter. When punctuating ‘[t]he objective [for Stevenson] was to reproduce thought processes and heightened conversation informally, without slowing it down with arbitrary stops and formal new sentences’ (p. lxxv).
[In EdRLS transcribed texts we have sometimes supplied a missing comma that is so common (e.g. before ‘isn’t it?’) as to be considered codified and that would almost certainly be provided by a printer. Presumably this happened here too.]

4. Stevenson’s substantive mistakes are not corrected; I am thinking here of the first paragraph of ‘The Tale of Tod Lapraik’: ‘there were whiles when they but to fish and shoot solans for their diet’—’they but’ doesn’t seem right, a verb seems to be missing. (The sentence is identical in all editions, however. Can anyone solve this problem?)

5. Explanatory Notes: these are brief; they log all the citations of David Balfour in the OED, SLD and EDD (English Dialect Dictionary); most usefully, they indicate omissions in the first printed editions and also quote in full new passages supplied by Stevenson for the book edition at Colvin’s request.

6. References: Beinecke references to letters not by RLS are by date and  McKay numbers, e.g. ‘July 13, 1892, Beinecke Library (B 4219), Yale University’.

3. Differences between the MS and the first printed editions

In the editorial part of the volume, the preparation of the first printed edition is discussed only briefly (though there is a reference to Menikoff’s article ‘Towards the Production of a Text: Time, Space, and David Balfour‘ in Studies in the Novel 27.3 (1995)). It is mentioned in the Introduction (‘The Lonely Trials of David Balfour’) on pp. xliii-xliv, and p. xlvi (‘Colvin had his hand on the manuscript and in his fashion excised a number of choice expressions and incidents. These have been restored and appear for the first time in this edition’). The subject returns again in the ‘Note on the Text’, pp. lxiv-lxv, which discusses ‘absurd cutting’, ‘deliberate censorship’ and ‘mangled phrases’. The latter is illustrated by how ‘the warsling of the sea [and the breaching of the sprays]’ in the MS (ch. 22) becomes a mis-reading, ‘the sailing of the sea’, in Atalanta and ‘the whistling of the wind’ (ch. 22) in the Cassell’s book edition. As the latter cannot be a misreading of the MS, it was a change presumably made in proofs, though we don’t know by whom. However, as ‘whistling of the wind’ is so much weaker than ‘warsling of the sea’, it just might have been made by Colvin, going to press, unable to decipher the MS, and unable to get a reply from Stevenson in less than two months, perhaps included in the proofs, but not picked up by Stevenson. Thanks to Menikoff’s work, it could be a good case for emendation in any edition of the text. Similar differences between MS and printed edition (‘innocency’ and ‘indifferency’ in the MS becoming ‘innocence’ and ‘indifference’) are also noted, though we cannot tell if the change was made by Stevenson or not (though probably not).

The notes contain significant differences between the manuscript and the periodical and Cassell publications and also ‘four summary paragraphs that are not in the manuscript or Atlanta but that Stevenson wrote for the book at Colvin’s urging’ (p. lxiv).

Changes to single words in Cassell 1893

To give an idea of the number of changes between MS and first book edition, here are the significant differences given in the notes to the first two chapters (pp. 1-15), set out as for a textual apparatus with the MS reading on the left and printed variants on the right (a swung dash standing for words identical in MS and printed edition):

p. 2 Thence to an armourer’s, where I got a stout, plain sword, to suit with my degree in life (MS and Atl) ] ~ a plain sword ~ (Cassell)
p. 2 cla’es (MS) ] claes (Atl, Cassell)
p. 10 Get a ship for him, quoth he! (MS and Atl) ] ~ quo’ he (Cassell)

Going by this sample, the printed texts are very close to the manuscript and all three changes could well be the author’s second thoughts expressed on the proofs of the book edition:

  • the omission of ‘stout’ could be authorial: David wants a ‘walking sword’ to show his status, it’s not intended for fighting so does not need it to be ‘stout’;
  • claes could be seen as a acknowledging the word as an independent Scots form, not an English word with ‘th’ missing. As the note says ‘There is no other form in the DSL‘, i.e. the Scottish national dictionary uses only the form without an apostrophe;
  • the change to quo’ could be seen as a change to a more Scots form (the DSL headword is quo). Both DSL and OED actually give the form in this quotation from David Balfour as quot’, not found in any other of their citations, although there is also a common Scots form quod. It is possible that Stevenson’s quot’ (if this is the form used in Cassell) is a variant on quod — Stevenson’s attempt to discourage a pronunciation of ‘quod he’ as ‘quo dee‘ and a suggestion that in Scots use the ‘d’ was a voiceless flap of the tongue (like US English pronunciation of the ‘t’ in utter). In any case, it does seem a change to a more Scots form.

Many other changes to single words in Cassell 1893 must come from Stevenson and are clearly motivated, e.g. ‘Rhone wine’ drunk in Rotterdam (thus in the MS, p. 173, and Atalanta) is changed to the more appropriate ‘Rhenish wine’ in the first book edition.

An important point is where Catriona in the MS says to David ‘I am thanking the good God he has let me see you naked’ (p. 209), which is changed to ‘[…] see you as you are’ in Atalanta, a story magazine for girls, and to ‘[…] see you so’ in Cassell 1893. Though the meaning of ‘naked’ here is intended as ‘plain, undisguised’ (but surely with an intended frisson of associated meaning for the reader), I could imagine the author having second thoughts about it in proofs.

There seems to have been no attempt to change Scots to standard English in the proofs, if anything (and this is interesting) the reverse (as we’ve seen with quoth’);  MS ‘I knew the answer‘ (p. 156), and ‘Well’ (p. 217) were changed to ‘I ken the answer‘ and ‘Weel’ in both Atalanta and Cassell. ‘Ye cannae tell which way it is’ in the MS (p. 217), is identical in Atalanta but becomes ‘Ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither’ in Cassell—clearly in intervention of the author on the proofs.

Passages omitted from Cassell 1893

It is good to have the long interpolated story about shipwrecking in the chapter ‘The Bass’ (pp. 99-100) that was omitted from the book edition, yet one could understand Stevenson deleting it in proofs as too much like the explanatory back-story inserted by a historical novelist.

The other, short passages omitted in Cassell 1893 can for the most part be seen as possibly authorial. For example, in the first paragraph of ch. 9 David describes his state of mind:

And when I remembered James More, and the red head of Neil the son of Duncan, I thought there was perhaps a fourth in the confederacy, and what remained of Rob Roy’s old desperate sept of caterans would be banded against me with the others.<Yet there was that force in my innocency, that this league was driven to attempt my destruction underhand! I thought I would beat them all, and my blood heated with the thought.> (p. 60)

This could well have been omitted (and surely could only have been omitted by Stevenson) because considered inappropriately fiery for David.

At the beginning of ch. 10 another omission in Cassell 1893 can be seen as motivated by a desire for concision:

It was about half-past three when I came forth on the Lang Dykes <; and being now abroad again upon the world, began considering to what part of it I should first address myself. Not that the consideration held me long;>^.^ Dean was where I wanted to go.

Passages added to Cassell 1893

It’s also good to have transcribed in the notes the four summary paragraphs written by Stevenson at the suggestion of Colvin and included in the first book edition. To tell the truth, the story at this point is on the complicated side, and I think the readers of the book found it useful—as I did—to have these additional guides.

4. Barry Menikoff’s vigorous prose

I have tried to keep my comments as neutral as possible, wanting to avoid writing a full evaluative review of the volume. The reason for this is that this a posting about an edition of Stevenson for a Stevenson edition blog. Any edition involves many subjective decisions, and naturally everyone thinks their own subjective decisions are the best and defends them doggedly (with justifications that we delude ourselves are rational). It’s a bit like furniture arrangement in the home: we all know that it doesn’t really matter if the umbrella stand is placed inside, or outside, the front door, and yet we all want it where we want it. Such things can even lead to divorce. So this is me aiming at a calm tolerance above and beyond all that. Let me simply welcome this edition as a most valuable resource to have, the work of many years wrestling with manuscript transcription (I know how difficult this is in a small way, so can only respect this vast undertaking), and of course a welcome invitation to read David Balfour/Catriona once more.

As someone who has been involved in MS transcription for Essays IV in the new Stevenson edition, I can appreciate the vast amount of work involved and heroically undertaken by one editor. One can imagine that the following comment in ‘The Note on the Text’ incorporates an acquired personal understanding from Menikoff himself:

I have opted to print these words as he wrote them—as he wrote them, one hundred thousand words by hand, not once but twice. The sheer labor of the thing is almost unimaginable in a word-processed culture. […] He never complained about the physical labor, even if he did get writer’s cramp while composing Balfour; he regularly shifted the pen to his left hand, manifest in the painful scrawl on the pages, and reflected in Davie’s comment on his scribal work for Prestongrange—”The copying was a weary business.” (p. lxvi)

I can only envy Menikoff’s vigorous prose style:

he considered Le Vicomte de Bragelonne unequaled in its fusion of story and action, which is another way of saying adventure. (p. xxv)

we live through experience, which is our adventure, but our adventure lives only through art. A life of action, however grand, leads but to the grave; a life drawn in ink, with a steel stylus, becomes indelible. (p. xxx)

David […] is like an actor in a play unfolding before him in real time and desperately in need of the script. (p. xxx)

courage is not the absence of fear but the presence of action (p. xlix)

Sometimes it sounds a bit like Raymond Chandler:

No man signs up to cross a choppy ocean in winter and traverse a continent in an iron horse to a raucous port city shrouded in fog in order to sit in a parlor and sing “Love’s Sweet Song”. (p. xliv)

Sometimes, in the energetic wrestling of words and ideas, there are echoes of Stevenson himself, as in the elegant end to the introduction:

For all life is a story, as in the pages if David Balfour, a tale told, and the only predictable thing about it is the ending. As for its meaning, even in the plainest if cases, it eludes us, as it does the more cunning wisdom of Stevenson, which is why the final sentence, of whatever pen, cannot decide whether the angels above are looking down with peals of laughter, or are turning aside, fraught with tears. (p. lxi)

Menikoff seems to write himself into certain elegiac passages:

But in the end, as is his way, idealism comes down to earth, for in this world as God made it, as Black Andie would say, we all grow old, and innocence loses out in the trampling of time, and the romance that made it lovely when young can never be recaptured but in memory. This is why a great book like David Balfour is told in retrospect, turning back and grasping for love and beauty in their freshest hours, before marriage and children make their clamoring claims, and the story jump-cuts to the end, when age installs itself in its inescapable place in our mortal lives. (p. l)

Just as he enshrined memory in the dedication to Charles Baxter at the front of the book, he embedded it in an interior landscape that he transcribed in prose and compressed into place-names. They can be likened to the “floating world” of the Japanese ukiyo-e, only instead of pictures they are words of evanescent beauty, captured and held for their own sake, but ultimately transitory and perishable like life itself. (lvi)

All the introductory matter is a pleasure to read—and now that Barry Menikoff has successfully completed his trilogy of three Stevenson editions from the manuscripts (Falesá, Kidnapped and David Balfour), I look forward to enjoying his first volume of familiar essays: I’m sure they too will be a great pleasure to read.


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  1. […] Barry Menikoff’s recently-published edition of the David Balfour manuscript (as mentioned in a previous post, section 3) and at length in a previous article by Menikoff: ‘Towards the Production of a Text: […]

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