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

Archive for October 2019

An unpublished letter from Stevenson to Violet Paget (Vernon Lee), 1885

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This post is contributed by Lesley Graham, presently working on Uncollected Essays 1880–1894 for the Edition.

Earlier this year a manuscript letter by Robert Louis Stevenson was found by Petersfield Bookshop between the pages of a volume of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Letters to his Family and Friends (ed. Sydney Colvin). The bookshop posted photographs of the two-page letter to their Twitter account (23 July 2019).  The letter does not appear in the eight-volume Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (Yale Univ. Press, 1994-5) and is transcribed below for the first time.

Violet Paget (1856–1935) wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Lee. She was an essayist, travel writer, critic and author of supernatural and short fiction with a scholarly interest in eighteenth-century Italy. When this letter was written in 1885, having lived in various parts of Europe, she was dividing her time between her family home in Florence and extended visits to England. She and Stevenson shared many friends and acquaintances — Henry James, J. A. Symonds, Horatio Brown, John Singer Sargent, Anne Jenkin etc. — but they do not appear ever to have met in person. Two letters from Paget to Stevenson are held in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, but have never been published in full (Yale, GEN MSS 664 box 17 folder 453; B 5363-5364). The earlier of these is dated 6th August 1885 and written on stationery marked 5 via Garibaldi, Florence. It is Paget’s first contact with Stevenson and clearly prompted the reply published here. The second is dated August 10, 1886. Stevenson’s unfinished reply to this later letter appears in The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (vol. 5, p. 306).

Stevenson’s letter touches on three topics: a discussion of the necessary permissions for the translation of two of his works into Italian; acknowledgment of receipt of a work by Vernon Lee, and most interestingly a sympathetic discussion of the character of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and what Stevenson sees as Vernon Lee’s unflattering and one-sided treatment of him as a repulsive drunk in her account of the life of his wife (Princess Louise Maximilienne Caroline Emmanuele of Stolberg-Gedern, 1752–1824) in The Countess of Albany (London: W. H. Allen, 1884). Stevenson mentioned the prince in Kidnapped the following year, 1886:

‘the Prince was a gracious, spirited boy, like the son of a race of polite kings, but not so wise as Solomon. I gathered, too, that while he was in the Cage, he was often drunk; so the fault that has since, by all accounts, made such a wreck of him, had even then begun to show itself. (R. L. Stevenson, Kidnapped (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 162)

He was also to write about the Prince several years later in the novel fragment The Young Chevalier (1892), which paints a brief but psychologically nuanced  portrayal of

a boy at odds with life, a boy with a spark of the heroic, which he was now burning out and drowning down in futile reverie and solitary excess (in Weir of Hermiston and other fragments, the Edinburgh Edition, vol. 26 (Edinburgh: Constable, 1897), pp. 82–3)

— a portrait in line with the plea for indulgence expressed in this letter.  (For more on Stevenson’s treatment of the Young Pretender, see Lesley Graham, “Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Young Chevalier’: Unimagined Space”, in Macinnes, German & Graham (eds), Living with Jacobitism, 1690-1788: The Three Kingdoms and Beyond (London : Pickering & Chatto, 2014), pp. 63–83.)

The bottom right hand corner of the first page of the letter is torn and the ends of four lines are consequently missing. In each case, our best guess as to the missing words or letters has been inserted between square brackets with a question mark.

Oct 14. 1885

Dear Madam,
I shall attend to the affair of Signora Santarelli [1] with my best diligence, which is a relative diligence. It is right, however, that I should explain to you how I stand. If the permission be granted in the case of the first series it will be of the grace of Messrs Chatto & Windus; and if in the case of the second, [2] Signora Santarelli will have to divide her thanks between the authors and Messrs Longman. So far as the authors are concerned, it is already done; neither my wife nor I would dream of denying any invalid what may possibly prove to be an entertainment: we have both unfortunately too much reason to sympathise with the sick.

            Your Prince [3] has arrived only this morning; and I have only read the introduction: if the rest be at all of a piece with it, you have sent me a great treat.

            I believe we have two more common friends than you all[ude?] to [4]: Symonds [5] and Prince Charlie. I, who had mostly s[tolen?] the bright pages of Charle’s [sic] Stuart’s life, felt it as perhaps[s a?] defect in your very interesting “Countess of Albany”, that yo[u had] failed to bring out the contrast. He was a bright boy; rather he was the bright boy of history, full of dash, full of endurance[,] full of a superficial [6] generosity, of blood more than of mind; he lived through great feats and dangers not unworthily. I should have liked perhaps, if you could not screw out a tear over so base a fall, that you had smiled a little sadly. We may all fall as low before we are done with it, and not have the picturesque and generous to look back upon. And indeed if you introduce your pretty countess to the bottle and keep her for months in Hebridean caves [7] with no other consolation, I suspect she would sink as low.

            I am a fault finder in grain [8] and you must not wonder if I sieze [sic] on the occasion of your letter to pick this quarrel which I have long been musing.

(I am amused at the way in which I have bracketed the living lion and the dead dog, [9] but I meant no disrespect to either, surely not to Symonds), With many thanks Believe me

Yours truly
Robert Louis Stevenson

Miss Paget.


[1] Signora Sofia Fortini-Santarelli: translator, wife of Cavaliere Emilio Santarelli of Florence who owned relics of the Young Pretender. She translated various works of Herbert Spencer, Ouida, and Symonds’s The Renaissance in Italy. In her letter, Paget describes her as “a lady who has taken to translating for the pastime which her recuperation affords her in a maiming & incurable malady”.

[2] the first series … the second: New Arabian Nights (1882) and More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter(1885). The latter was written in collaboration with Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson

[3] Your Prince: Vernon Lee, The Prince of the Hundred Soups: A Puppet Show in Narrative (1883), a harlequinade.

[4] common friends: Paget had mentioned Henry James and John Sargent as friends they had in common.

[5] Symonds: John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), essayist, poet, and biographer best known for his cultural history of the Italian Renaissance.

[6] superficial: after this word Stevenson wrote, then deleted, ‘and not very wise’.

[7] in Hebridean caves: Charles hid out in some remote refuges in Benbecula and South Uist between April and June 1746.

[8] in grain: through and through, by nature (from ‘dyed in grain’, ingrained).

[9] the living lion and the dead dog: i.e. the two “acquaintances” they have in common: J. A. Symonds and Charles Edward Stuart.


Lesley Graham
University of Bordeaux

Written by lgraham

06/10/2019 at 8:15 am

Reviews of the New Edinburgh Edition of Virginibus Puerisque

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Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers ed. Robert-Louis Abrahamson (Edinburgh University Press, 2018).


1. from Howell Chickering, ‘RLA on RLS’, Amherst, Fall 2019, pp. 48–9:

Virginibus Puerisque has a secure place in the history of the English familiar essay, being much admired and often reprinted.  Stevenson took its title from Horace’s Odes III.1 where the poet says he will sing a song “of [or for] maidens and youths.” The first four essays discuss the merits and pitfalls of marriage from the viewpoint of a young man (maidens appear mainly in the title).  Most of the essays in the volume were written during Stevenson’s mid to late 20s, though the voice we hear sounds older and wiser. He proposed to his publisher a series of disparate essays on “aesthetic contentment and a hint to the careless to look around them for disregarded pleasure” to be taken in the things of this world. So among the “Other Papers” we find such topics as “Child’s Play,” “An Apology for Idlers” and “Walking Tours.” (The last should only be taken by oneself.)  Stevenson’s style is undogmatic, playful, both charming and intellectually penetrating. Herbert Tucker, Amherst classmate of Abrahamson and now an eminent Victorian scholar, recalls that, upon first coming upon the book, courtesy of RLA, he was blown away by “the urbane energy that drives the essays unpredictably forward and sideways.”

Abrahamson’s Introduction and the comprehensive discussion of “Stevenson as Essayist” (an article in its own right), along with the copious notes, make it easy to understand and enjoy reading Stevenson in his historical and literary contexts. The whole book is meticulously edited and sets a very high standard for further volumes in the series. In fact, in 2020 the press will publish Essays II: Familiar Studies of Men and Books, ed. Robert-Louis Abrahamson and Richard Dury.

2. from Alan Sandison, in The Bottle Imp, 25 (2019):

The reaction to the appearance of this volume of the New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson has, first and foremost, got to be one of gratitude. As the finer distillation of humane sentiment is remorselessly adulterated with every day that passes, we are given another opportunity to listen to the voice which once gave it such eloquent expression; and if we are to take this volume as a fair example of the promise the new edition holds for us, we (and Stevenson) shall be very well served.

There is a pleasing briskness about the opening formalities, though that briskness might have been modified just a little when it resulted in the heading ‘Note on the Text’ losing its indefinite article; but that is an insignificant matter of personal taste. More important is the entirely adequate (as well as economical) defence of the copy text adopted, thus side-stepping a multitude of editorial entanglements.

What the editors cannot escape is an engagement with the definition of the essay – particularly when the exponent can be respectful of the conventions at one moment and at another apparently quite cavalier. The editors are, of course, well aware of just how Protean this writer can be. Yet, though his readiness to exploit different anatomies for the essay-form might have resulted in a random miscellaneity, it doesn’t: to define the nature of the disentropic glue which gives order to his literary world is therefore to define the character of Stevenson the essayist.

So he can refer to these works sometimes as ‘Familiar’ essays, sometimes as ‘Studies’ and sometimes even as ‘Gossips’; and include within these categories further sub-sets. Thus they can sometimes appear in letters as does ‘Night outside the Wick Mail’ in a letter to his cousin Bob, or as ‘essayistic passage’ as in some of his early letters to Fanny Sitwell. ‘The lack of clear literary status for the essays’, write the present editors, ‘is reflected in the arrangement of the Edinburgh Edition proposed by Colvin and accepted by Stevenson: the essays were placed in a series of volumes entitled Miscellanies’.

Confronted by such a various essayistic universe, the editors sensibly invoke Montaigne (a seminal influence on Stevenson) on whose model ‘a collection of essays can be quite varied and built up by accretion’. Hybridity of the sort they encounter allows for some pragmatic interpretation of the rules, a necessity which they turn to advantage so that while their discussion of the essay and of Stevenson as essayist is appropriately discriminating, it is also not too prescriptive, allowing room for Stevenson’s own mutable, iridescent literary persona. Stevenson well knew that he was breaching certain formal boundaries, that his inclination ‘to enter into dialogue with readers “and wander […] into a little piece of controversy”‘, was, as the editors say, not consistent with the typical essay. It was, however, consistent with his ethical and aesthetic principles which emerge from a world-view the editors rightly associate with Montaigne’s scepticism and relativism.

Written by rdury

05/10/2019 at 7:28 am

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