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

Stevenson’s nonsense poem

with 3 comments

In a previous post I suggested that the nonsense poem ‘A Legend’ in the issue of London for 3 August 1878 was by Stevenson.

This is now confirmed by the last item on Andrew Lang’s ‘At the Sign of the Ship’ column in Longman’s Magazine, 7 (Apr 1886): 664-5:

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.12.25

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.12.04

Lang gives the definition supplied by Stevenson ‘to tap hurriedly with crutches’ but the rest is his; and ‘or a stick, like the blind man, Pew, in “Treasure Island”‘ is his winking acknowledgement that he knows the identity of the author. This fits into the  custom of playful allusions to fellow writers by periodical writers at the time, perhaps especially by Andrew Lang. This is then followed by ‘This useful word, “unknown to Keats” etc.’—a mock-philological comment and quotation invented by Lang entering into the spirit of the game.

Written by rdury

16/07/2018 at 10:36 am

3 Responses

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  1. This recalls Stevenson’s description of his piano playing (pickling) in a letter from July 10, 1886 to Bob:

    He pickled low, he pickled loud
    He recked not of the smiling crowd,
    Over a score confused and curly
    He pickled late, he pickled early.
    He pickled slow; he pickled fast-
    At least he hoped he might at last;
    He pickled wrong; he pickled right-
    At least he hoped at last he might.
    He pickled up, he pickled down
    And was the bugbear of his town.

    And perhaps the third line,”Over a score confused and curly”, recalls Poe’s Raven, “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.”

    John F. Russell

    16/07/2018 at 12:58 pm

    • Thanks for this. Yes, apart form the similarity of the two words (pickled and beckled), there is the same crazy Rossini-like repetition.


      16/07/2018 at 2:42 pm

  2. […] 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). (This supposition is confirmed in a later post.) […]

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