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

Publishing Stevenson 1888-1894: David Balfour

with 3 comments

The publication of David Balfour/Catriona is an interesting example of the unusual circumstances surrounding the publication of Stevenson’s works from 1888 to his death in 1894. It is explored briefly in 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: Time, Space, and David Balfour‘ in Studies in the Novel 27.3 (1995), pp. 351-62.

In this article Menikoff tells the story of the competing players involved in periodical publication and book publication in London and New York: the McClure syndicate, Cassells and Scribner’s, Baxter and Colvin, all with different interests and priorities.

McClure and magazine serialization

S.S. McClure had ‘signed agreements to provide a story [to Atalanta and newspapers] before he had a text’ (358), so had to ‘cajole Stevenson to produce the manuscript fast enough’. The manuscript, however, was sent to Baxter, who then forwarded it to Cassells who started preparing proofs and passing them to Robert McClure (S.S. McClure’s brother and London agent). Time was passing and in December 1892 serialization began in Atalanta, but McClure’s were still without the final chapters — Cassell’s, who had the whole manuscript, did not feel the same urgency about getting proofs prepared.

In addition, Robert McClure needed to correct obvious mistakes in the proofs, but he had no access to the MS (and he refused to do this checking in Cassell’s office). In part, this was because the MS was too precious, but also in part because of rather snooty distrust of McClure (p. 357), and a view of magazine publication as not important. In the end, Colvin corrected the Atalanta proofs himself (359-60).

Book publication

Stevenson had repeatedly asked for proofs for the book publication and on 2 March 1893, two complete sets of Cassell’s proofs were sent out to Samoa: one clean set for Stevenson, and one with Colvin’s many ‘suggestions and corrections’ (359).

At this point, Cassells and Scribner’s started to get a bit impatient—this was another delay of at least three months (the journey took one month each way), so there was a risk (as actually happened) of the serialized version ending before the book publication (and this, it was felt, would have an adverse effect  on sales). On 26 May 1893, the corrected proofs hadn’t arrived and Cassell sounded out Colvin as to whether he might correct the proofs in London so that the book could be got out quickly.

Colvin refused to do this, mainly, we might suspect, because he hoped not only for corrections but for revisions and improvements cued by his suggestions on the proofs. In June, Scribner’s accepted that they could not publish: ‘we must of course wait for Stevenson’s final corrections before publication’.

In July (over four months from dispatch of the proofs), Stevenson’s corrected proofs  arrived in London. Colvin was crestfallen: somehow, most of his suggestions had been ignored!—’for all the alterations he has made, the book might as well have been out two months ago’, he complained.

Another complication in the process of book publication that Menikoff points out is the fact that Baxter and Stevenson had decided to change their business relationship with Scribner’s and had asked them to bid for the US copyright of David Balfour, rather than sign a contract and pay royalties as before (360; Stevenson’s letter is in L8: 569). (Baxter’s rather insensitive attitude to Scribner’s has already been seen in Glenda Norquay’s post about St Ives).

Colvin tidies up the record

I can add an interesting further detail to Menikoff’s account.

Stevenson sent Colvin a letter in early April 1893 in which he listed his first reactions to a number of Colvin’s proposals. These comments are to be found in volume 8 of the Letters (pp. 36-8; Letter 2549), and also in Colvin’s edition of the letters (Tusitala 35: 17-18). We have seen in a previous post how Colvin actually physically cut out parts of another letter from November 1894 referring to differing views about changes to Stevenson’s text. In Colvin’s edition of the April 1893 letter he (less drastically) leaves out a number of Stevenson’s comments from his edited text. These are obviously points that Colvin still felt sensitive about. They are as follows:

— Symon in the trial!
Sow-gelding. I’ll try; but they had damnable tongues — (and have, ahem!)

— Dumkopf: all right: deleted.

— [Chapter XXX] […] About ‘no better than she should be’, you were wrong if you suppose Barbara would have stopped at that! You don’t know the brand as I do, and how they love the word that shocks.

— [slip 89.] O drew, drew! ‘see you naked.’

— [The end.] […] O come, I do not say that Alan kicked the sailor’s bottom; it is Alan who says so, and it is just the scornful word for him to use.
You seem to hint that Davie is not finished in the writing; which cuts me; and yet I think you deceive yourself.

Mehew identifies some of these in his notes, but now we have Menikoff’s edition of the manuscript text it shouldn’t be too difficult to identify them all. This, however, I generously leave to someone else.

The comment on ‘see you naked’ refers to the passage in the MS where Catriona says to David ‘I am thanking the good God he has let me see you naked’ (i.e. ‘undisguised’—see the post on Menikoff’s edition). But can anyone interpret ‘O drew, drew’?


Written by rdury

15/10/2016 at 2:19 am

3 Responses

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  1. ‘O drew, drew!’ Possibly a variant of ‘drow’ – attack of illness; swoon; spasm; qualm of anxiety (Scots Word Book, 1978). See also DSL: ‘drowie’ – sickly or ailing (poss. related to ‘trowie’ – similar meaning in Orcadian).

    Neil Brown

    15/10/2016 at 2:47 pm

    • We would have to see the MS of this letter (at Harvard): it could be Latin ‘O eheu, eheu!’ (alas, alas)—this fits the context and has the right number of ‘peaks’ as ‘drew, drew’ in an extremely simplified cursive script.


      30/12/2016 at 8:51 am

  2. […] my previous post I wrote by distraction that Stevenson’s letter with parts cut out was from 1887, this has now […]

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