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

Stevenson’s last letter to Colvin (Oct-Nov 1894)

with one comment

The present contribution has been kindly provided by Roger G. Swearingen

[In my previous post I wrote by distraction that Stevenson’s letter with parts cut out was from 1887, this has now been corrected to November 1894, thanks to the comment below sent by Roger Swearingen, who adds a following interesting observation.]


There is only one letter from which lines on editorial matters were physically cut: RLS to Colvin, ca. 15 October, 4 and 6 November 1894, Letter 2797 [Letters 8: 382-4]. In note 2 it is remarked that the portion dictated to Belle on editorial matters (November 4 and 6) was masked out and the top quarter of the last sheet was cut away, affecting text on both sides of the page.

Bradford A. Booth, ‘The Vailima Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson’, Harvard Library Bulletin, 15:2 (April 1967), 117-128. Booth comments on this letter, 127-128, noting only that Colvin omitted the literary comments (except on St. Ives) from his publication of this letter and that when he sold the letter he ‘masked out key passages’. (Booth does not mention the cutting away of the top quarter.)

There is nothing in the previous post that you mention – ‘Colvin steps in with vim’, 24 May 2013 – about any letter in 1887 that was (also) cut. There, you refer correctly to the cuts made in the 1894 letter.

Colvin’s Version of RLS’s Letter

October and November 1894, Letter 2797


Letters (‘New Edition’, 4 vols, 1912), Scribner edition, IV, 371-2.

This letter was not published at all in the previously published  Vailima Letters (1896) or Letters . . . to His Family and Friends (1899).

It is intriguing that this version has a short paragraph at the end that does not appear in the Yale Letters:

Things are going on here in their usual disheartening gait. The Treaty Officials are both good fellows whom I can’t help liking, but who will never make a hand of Samoa.

Possibly this paragraph was in the portion of this letter that was physically cut away but was included for its interest by Colvin in his expanded edition of the letters. I have not examined the letter itself (at Harvard) but cannot imagine that if this paragraph was (is) present Ernest Mehew could have overlooked it creating the (complete) text in the Yale Letters.

Written by rdury

08/11/2016 at 4:01 pm

Posted in News

One Response

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  1. Many thanks for this comment. One would need to look at the Harvard letter to be certain how the letter was manipulated. Mehew’s note says ‘Colvin masked out the rest of the letter leaving only the “Yours ever” and the signature. In making the paste-down he cut away the top quarter of the last sheet, affecting the text on both sides’.
    The last comment is reflected in the two sets of ‘eight lines cut away’ (L8: 384), which will therefore be on the two sides of the cut-away section of the last sheet. It is possible that Colvin was unhappy only about the words on one side of the sheet, continuing from ‘I protest’, and that he cut them away as too painful, thereby losing the eight lines on the other side, where Stevenson is admitting that he was wrong. These final eight lines must have included the two sentences that RGS has now pointed out, with news of Samoa.
    There is a further manipulation; ‘Three or four words cut out’, in Mehew’s note: presumably a rectangle made with a sharp paper knife. But it would be interesting to see the actual letter, as no mention is made of words missing on the other side of the sheet.
    This was apparently the last letter from Stevenson to Colvin, which undoubtedly would have been further cause of distress.


    08/11/2016 at 4:23 pm

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