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New Light on Dark Women

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This post is contributed by John F. Russell, author and editor of The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.


Song: ‘Dark Women’

Dark Women is a long poem in which Stevenson contrasts women of opposite hues, wonders at the shades of one particular woman’s nature and welcomes the consolation of her embrace.

Fanny is not mentioned by name in the verse, but in a letter to Colvin concerning the preparation of Songs of Travel (published in Scribner’s Magazine 75.iv, April 1924, p. 419), she says that in addition to the poem My Wife (”Trusty, dusky, vivid, true”), “There was another that Louis rather liked–I think it was called, ‘In praise of dark women’; what do you think of adding that? I only suggest the looking at it.”

Colvin chose instead to include in Songs of Travel only stanzas 2-3 of Dark Women:

Because of the poem’s personal nature Janet Adam Smith assumed that Colvin suppressed the remainder, which has since been published in varying six-stanza versions and by Lewis (2003) in an eight-stanza conflation of the various versions because no single manuscript represents the work in a clearly finished state.

 In 1890 Stevenson wrote to the editor of Scribner’s Magazine concerning poems he wanted to publish under the titles Ballads and Songs of Travel.In a following letter he mentioned that many of them were written to music, and that he thought it would be a good idea to include the voice parts:

image 2 page 2 to edward l burlingame

Booth, Bradford A. and Ernest Mehew. Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995

In addition to other items, Beinecke manuscripts 5865-9 contain four versions of a list of poems intended for Ballads and Songs of Travel.

The list headed Posthumous Verses (apparently intended for publication after his death) contains 48 titles divided into four sections: Vailima, Underwoods, Verses and Songs:

image 3 page 3 posthumous verses

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)

image 4 page 4 songs

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6896)




In the section “Songs,” number 43 has the title To You, Let Snow and Roses and is followed by a line count of 16 (which would seem to correspond to the version published in the Edinburgh Edition). It appears in the list together with titles such as Ditty, To an Air of Diabelli’s, To the Tune of Wandering Willie, and 16 others, 9 of which have been found to be associated with music and are listed in the index of the Music of Robert Louis Stevenson website.

Stevenson said on several occasions that he enjoyed the challenge of writing lyrics to music, and so it seems apparent that the reason To You, Let Snow and Roses appears in the section titled “Songs” rather than the other three sections is that it too was written to music.









image 5 page 5 dark women highlighted

Yale Gen MSS 664 box 43 folders 943-945 (Beinecke 6894)


A different (and clearly later) version of the list (B 6894) has 61 titles. Number 53 is Dark Women and has a line count of 24. RLS apparently considered To You, Let Snow and Roses complete enough to publish at the time but later expanded it to three stanzas and retitled it. Three varying six-stanza versions have been published (Strong 1899, Gosse 1908, Hellman 1925) and an eight-stanza (64-line) conflated version appears in Lewis’s Collected Poems (2003).







A song—with music

Stevenson’s musically inspired poems occasionally contain clues to the melody in the title, subtitle or body of the poem, but in this case the only clues are the rhythm and meaning of the verse. Identifying the tune for this particular work would be hopeless, except that many of the scores Stevenson acquired for his musical studies have been identified and most of his original manuscript musical compositions and transcriptions are available. The proper place to begin searching for music he might have used for a poem is in the scores he collected and the manuscript copies he made, and so it is not haystacks that need to be looked in for this particular needle but in “those great stacks of music,” as Lloyd Osbourne called them.

Out of Stevenson’s more than 140 manuscript transcriptions of music, only one fits the poem properly. He called it Mozart, but its actual title is Duettino from Clemenza di Tito, Act I, Scene 3. Although it is a duet, Stevenson generally copied only from the first part, simplifying some rhythms, changing a few notes, and shortening the whole by six bars.

image 6 page 6 mozart rls facsimile

University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, Melodies for the flute by RLS, CX 2

A recording using the first stanza of Stevenson’s lyrics can be heard by clicking here. In the opera, Sesto and Annio sing these words:

Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso, / Amico mio fedel;
E ognor per me lo stesso / Ti serbi amico il ciel.

Ah, let me embrace you dearly, / My faithful friend,
And may heaven ever keep / Your friendship constant for me.


The texts of the opera and poem share the theme of friendship, and Stevenson even seems slightly surprised that it is “her of duskier lustre whose favour still I wear.” Although To You, Let Snow and Roses is a song for one voice, its two stanzas comparing two kinds of women produce a duet of its own kind. That the poem fits so well with the opera melody and that the two works share a similar theme should be proof enough that Mozart’s music inspired the poem; however some small details in Stevenson’s transcription add further evidence.

image 8 page 7 larghetto

Transcription of RLS’s Mozart with the words of To You, Let Snow and Roses


RLS has written the expression mark “dolce” (sweetly) in the middle of the second line. The two bars of music that follow are alterations by Stevenson of Mozart. At this point in the opera the two voices sing separately and echo each other:

image 9 page 7 mozart duet section

Mozart’s version of the highlighted section changed by RLS

If Stevenson had chosen to copy Mozart’s music exactly, he would have written the following, which is a compilation of the two voices:

image 10a page 8a mozart




However, this particular line of the poem has too few syllables for too many notes, so he leaves some out and changes others. The result is a sweeter version of the melody which the lyrics implicitly dedicate to Fanny: “For her of duskier lustre.”Other changes RLS made in Mozart to accommodate his lyrics can be found in the last three bars of the song. To set the words “The rose be in her hair,” he added extra notes specifically for the words “be” and “her.” Because the first stanza of his lyrics finishes at this point, he ends his song and discards the remaining six bars of Mozart’s music:







In To You, Let Snow and Roses Stevenson fused the two melodies of the Duettino into one air on the themes of friendship and color, but later he seemed to realize that by leaving out the operatic image of the embrace, he expressed only half the meaning he intended. Long after the music is silent, verse after searching verse follows in praise of a multitude of shades and colors, but the poem can only end when once again Lou finally embraces Fanny.

The Duettino reads,

Ah, let me embrace you dearly,
my faithful friend,
and may heaven ever keep
your friendship constant for me

The last stanza of Dark Women reads:

The defeats and the successes,
The strife, the race, the goal,
And the touch of a dusky woman
Was fairly worth the whole.
And sun and moon and morning,
With glory I recall,
But the clasp of a dusky woman
Outweighed them one and all.

John F. Russell


Written by rdury

24/06/2014 at 9:41 am

Stevenson’s Montaigne, part 3

with 3 comments

part 1 | part 2

Stevenson’s markings and comments

Entering a ‘Rare Books’ room is a privilege: the Library’s first-class compartment, away from the crowds, there you are, entrusted with precious volumes, acquiring a new-found elegance as you turn over manuscript leaves; maybe someone will take me for a real scholar…

The four volumes of Stevenson’s Montaigne had so many markings that I was unsure how to combine this elegant slowness with noting down all the information in the short time available. In the end, I decided just to note the special markings: not the single vertical marks in the margin but only the double lines, then the underlinings and finally the added comments. Even so, listing them all will not have much meaning, so here I’ll group them into rough categories according to what makes them interesting. Rather than give the French text I have given Cotton’s translation of the passages, using blue for Montaigne’s text (or translation of it) and red for Stevenson’s added comments.

1. Endpaper annotations

Screenshot 2013-12-15 12.21.24

The dispassionate Shakespeare of one character : himself .

Here, on the recto page of the inside front cover of volume 4 is Stevenson’s concise characterization of Montaigne. Above it is ‘p 44’ which seems to refer to the following marked passage on p. 44 in the essay ‘Of Cripples’ (III. 11):

I have never seen greater monster or miracle in the world than myself: one grows familiar with all strange things by time and custom, but the more I frequent and the better I know myself, the more does my own deformity astonish me, the less I understand myself.

The only other flyleaf annotation is at the back of vol. 2, a list of 11 names all but one crossed through. They are written very faintly, but they are possibly all place-names as the only one I was able to decipher was ‘Abbotsford’. This is a mystery which someone else will have to solve.


2. Marginal comments: a personal dialogue with the text

Most of the marginal comments are in vols. 3 and 4, in Montaigne’s Book III, which, as we have already seen, was the part Stevenson seems to have read most intensely.

2.1 Disagreements

Some of the comments show Stevenson’s disagreement:

Vol. 2, p. 205 (Apology for Raymond Sebond): here Montaigne says (probably following here Sebond’s Fideistic arguments, which he is subtly undermining), concerning ancient predictions from the flight of birds ‘That rule and order of the moving of the wing, whence they derived the consequences of future things, must of necessity be guided by some excellent means to so noble an operation: for to attribute this great effect to any natural disposition, without the intelligence, consent, and meditation of him by whom it is produced, is an opinion evidently false.‘ This clearly doesn’t square with the normal skepticism of Montaigne and Stevenson and the latter adds ! an exclamation mark in the margin.

Vol. 2, p. 598 (Of Presumption): against the passage ‘It is very easy to accuse a government of imperfection, for all mortal things are full of it: it is very easy to beget in a people a contempt of ancient observances; never any man undertook it but he did it‘, RLS (probably thinking of how resistant established orders were to change) has added ‘false‘.

Vol. 3,p.  207 (Of Profit and Honesty): the footnote translation of “Dum tela micant etc.’ is introduced by the editor in these words ‘De Jules César, qui, en guerre ouverte contre sa patrie, dont il veut opprimer la liberté, s’écrie dans Lucain, […]’—RLS comments on this fiercely Republican interpretation of the editor with: ‘O! O!‘.

2.2 Glosses

On several occasions Stevenson complained about translations that were accurate but dull, and here in Vols. 3 and 4 we have a good number of his own translation glosses on about twenty separate pages. Some of these show his preference for telling translations: for the French translated by Cotton as ‘Rough bodies make themselves felt’, he has ‘knotty surfaces are sensible‘ (Vol. 3, p. 33), where Cotton has ‘crowd‘ he has ‘ruck‘ (vol. 4, p. 35). Where Montaigne talks of childhood games ‘aux noisettes et à la toupie‘ (vol 3, p. 269), Stevenson is clearly pleased to see the long survival of games with which he was familiar and writes ‘huckle bones and tops!

2.3 Other comments

Vol. 2, p. 197 (Raymond Sebond, II, 12):  Montaigne says that nightingales while learning to sing ‘contention [i.e. they compete] with emulation‘. Here RLS has added in the margin ‘I have observed this in blackbirds‘.

Vol. 3, p. 186 (Of Profit and Honesty): In the passage translated by Cotton as ‘for even in the midst of compassion we feel within, I know not what tart-sweet titillation of ill-natured pleasure in seeing others suffer‘, Stevenson glosses ‘au milieu de la compassion‘ as ‘in the very midst of pitying‘;  ‘aigredouce poincte de volupté maligne‘ as  ‘prick of malignant pleasure‘  and then adds an additional note at the foot of the page: ‘ay, & cruelty also, that so unnatural defect‘.


3. Markings: echoes of Stevenson’s ideas

Not all the markings (underlinings and vertical lines in the margin) remind one of Stevenson’s writings: he marks the passages that perhaps strike every reader of Montaigne: the passage where Montaigne talks of his cat playing with him (‘When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?‘, Vol. 2, p. 177-8); Montaigne’s frankness about sex and the differences between men and women (in ‘Upon some verses of Virgil’ in Book III) receives a predictable number of markings (a double line for ‘the pleasure of telling [about sex] (a pleasure little inferior to that of doing)‘ is accompanied by ! an exclamation mark in the margin, Vol. 3, p. 304); his openness about other bodily functions (‘Both kings and philosophers go to stool, and ladies too‘, Vol. 4, p. 133—a single line and an ‘x‘ in the margin); and his ability to focus on the moment and ‘just be’ (‘When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep.  Nay, when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts are some part of the time taken up with external occurrences, I some part of the time call them back again to my walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of that solitude, and to myself‘, Vol. 4, p. 174, ‘Of Experience’).

However, a good number of the markings do remind us of Stevenson’s own thoughts and writings. Here follow a few that struck me.

3.1 Courage

Stevenson’s idea that in an inevitably tragic life one should act courageously clearly has affinities with the stoicism of Montaigne. We saw in a previous post that the acceptance of a kind gradual death at the end of ‘Ordered South’ has affinities in an unmarked essay in Stevenson’s Vol. 1—but it also has an affinity with a double-marked passage in Montaigne’s last essay, ‘Of Experience’, which talks of how death ‘weans thee from the world‘ and how thanks to its frequent reminders accustoms you to the idea of death and ‘thinking thyself to be upon the accustomed terms, thou and thy confidence will at one time or another be unexpectedly wafted over‘ (Vol. 4, p. 144).

The idea that life must be faced with the joy and courage of a soldier in war (L6, 153, and Abrahamson in  Persona and Paradox, 2012) is also echoed in another marked passage from the same essay: ‘Death is more abject, more languishing and troublesome, in bed than in a fight: fevers and catarrhs as painful and mortal as a musket-shot.  Whoever has fortified himself valiantly to bear the accidents of common life need not raise his courage to be a soldier‘ (Vol. 4, p. 152).

3.2 Modesty

I think we can detect a basic modesty in Stevenson’s world-view, and he seems certainly to have been struck by that of Montaigne as we see from the following marked passages.

Vol. 2, p. 473 (Of Presumption): ‘I look upon myself as one of the common sort, saving in this, that I have no better an opinion of myself; guilty of the meanest and most popular defects, but not disowning or excusing them; and I do not value myself upon any other account than because I know my own value.’

Vol. 3, p. 193 (Of Profit and Honesty): ‘keeping my back still turned to ambition; but if not like rowers who so advance backward.’

Vol. 3, p. 392 (On the Inconvenience of Greatness) (with three vertical marks): ‘I would neither dispute with a porter, a miserable unknown, nor make crowds open in adoration as I pass.’

3.3 Instability, constant change

Stevenson frequently expresses the idea of a world in constant change (‘Times and men and circumstances change about your changing character, with a speed of which no earthly hurricane affords an image’, ‘Lay Morals’) and this will explain his double-line marking of the following passage in Montaigne:

Vol. 3, p. 209 (Of Repentance): ‘the world eternally turns round; all things therein are incessantly moving, the earth, the rocks of Caucasus, and the pyramids of Egypt, both by the public motion and their own.  Even constancy itself is no other but a slower and more languishing motion‘ (this is Cotton’s translation cited here for convenience; For ‘un branle‘ which Cotton translates ‘motion‘, Stevenson suggests in the margin: ‘tottering?‘).

3.4 Laws and civil society

Roslyn Joly has recently shown the importance of Stevenson’s legal education in his world-view (‘The Novelist as Lawyer’ in Robert Louis Stevenson in the Pacific, 2009), and we can see this interest behind a series of other markings:

Vol 3, p. 212 (Of Repentance): ‘I hold for vices (but every one according to its proportion), not only those which reason and nature condemn, but those also which the opinion of men, though false and erroneous, have made such, if authorised by law and custom.’ (And here RLS unusually translated the whole sentence: : ‘I hold then this for vices (but each according to its measure) not only which reason and nature have condemned, but which the opinion of men has most erroneously forbidden in their laws and usages.’)

Vol 3, p. 332 (Upon some verses of Virgil): ‘Thou dost not stick to infringe her universal and undoubted laws; but stickest to thy own special and fantastic rules, and by how much more particular, uncertain, and contradictory they are, by so much thou employest thy whole endeavour in them: the laws of thy parish occupy and bind thee: those of God and the world concern thee not.’ (This idea of the importance of ‘les regles de ta parroisse‘ may be linked to a discussion in ‘On Morality’ (an unfinished essay of 1888) of how ‘Crime is a legal, a merely municipal expression’.)

3.5 Style

Naturally Stevenson is attentive to what Montaigne says about literary style:

Vol 2, p. 119 (Of Books): ‘and the ladies are less put to it in dance; where there are various coupees, changes, and quick motions of body, than in some other of a more sedate kind, where they are only to move a natural pace, and to represent their ordinary grace and presence‘ (i.e. a plain style requires more ability than one full of ‘changes, and quick motions’—though we might think the latter characterizes some of Stevenson’s own earliest writings).

The following two marked passages close together remind me of Stevenson’s own intense work of thought in his his essays and how he says in ‘Walt Whitman’ ‘style is the essence of thought’:

Vol 3,p.  321 (Upon some verses of Virgil): ‘When I see these brave forms of expression, so lively, so profound, I do not say that ’tis well said, but well thought.  ‘Tis the sprightliness of the imagination that swells and elevates the words.’

Vol 3, p. 322 (Upon some verses of Virgil): ‘The handling and utterance of fine wits is that which sets off language; not so much by innovating it, as by putting it to more vigorous and various services, and by straining, bending, and adapting it to them. They do not create words, but they enrich their own, and give them weight and signification by the uses they put them to, and teach them unwonted motions, but withal ingeniously and discreetly.’

And Stevenson’s own preference for concision can be seen as motivating the following underlining concerning Cicero’s style:

Vol 2, p. 121-2 (Of Books): ‘whatever there is of life and marrow is smothered and lost in the long preparation‘.


4. Markings: some closer affinities with Stevenson’s works

These categories of markings are only intended to make the matter a little more understandable; clearly this and the previous category are closely connected. Here are some echoes (interesting echoes, not provable influences) of works I am familiar with:

‘Crabbed Age and Youth’—Vol 3, p. 223-4 (Of Repentance): ‘When I reflect upon the deportment of my youth, with that of my old age, I find that I have commonly behaved myself with equal order in both according to what I understand‘; and Vol 4, p. 186, an underlined passage: ‘Old age stands a little in need of a more gentle treatment.  Let us recommend that to God, the protector of health and wisdom, but let it be gay and sociable.’

‘Ordered South’: I have already remarked on a passage that reminded me of this in 3.1

‘An Apology for Idlers’—an underlining in Vol 4, p. 172 (of Experience): ‘We are great  fools.  “He has passed his life in idleness,” say we: “I have done nothing to-day.”  What? have you not lived?

‘Something In It’ (where the missionary feels bound to his vow of abstinence)—Vol 3, p. 201: ‘what fear has once made me willing to do, I am obliged to do it when I am no longer in fear; and though that fear only prevailed with my tongue without forcing my will, yet am I bound to keep my word‘, Stevenson has in the margin written, ‘to prove sound the links of my honour‘.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—an underlining in Vol 3, p. 274 (Upon some Verses of Virgil): ‘A man must see and study his vice to correct it; they who conceal it from others, commonly conceal it from themselves‘.

‘Lay Morals’ (the first paragraph of Ch. III where he talks of the frailty of man ‘His whole body, for all its savage energies, its leaping and its wing’d desires, may yet be tamed and conquered by a draught of air or a sprinkling of cold dew’ etc.)—Vol 2, p. 214  (Raymond Sebond): ‘this furious monster, with so many heads and arms, is yet man–feeble, calamitous, and miserable man! […] a contrary blast, the croaking of a flight of ravens, the stumble of a horse, the casual passage of an eagle, a dream, a voice, a sign, a morning mist, are any one of them sufficient to beat down and overturn him. Dart but a sunbeam in his face, he is melted and vanished. Blow but a little dust in his eyes, as our poet says of the bees, and all our ensigns and legions, with the great Pompey himself at the head of them, are routed and crushed to pieces.’

The poem ‘Home, no more home to me, whither shall I wander?’ and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (‘a stranger in my own house’)—Vol 3, p. 248 (Of Three Commerces): ‘That man, in my opinion, is very miserable, who has not at home where to be by himself, where to entertain himself alone, or to conceal himself from others.’ We don’t know why Stevenson marked this passage, but it is possible that he felt that he did not possess such a space—Montaigne, however, is not complaining at all but talking about his own rule of living, which he had previously formulated in more positive terms: ‘we must reserve a backshop, wholly our own and entirely free, wherein to settle our true liberty, our principal solitude and retreat’ (‘Of Solitude’, I.38).


5. This edition used for quotations from Montaigne

Where there is a marking of a passage that is quoted in a letter or one of his works, then there is a good chance that this was the edition used. There are, however, only two or three possible cases, since Stevenson only quotes twice (I think) from Montaigne in French:

Vol 2, p. 13 (Of Drunkenness), an underlined passage: ‘and there are some vices that have something, if a man may say so, of generous in them‘ (‘il y a des vices, qui ont je ne sçay quoy de genereux‘), quoted in ‘The Character of Dogs’ (1883), “The canine, like the human gentleman demands in his misdemeanours Montaigne’s ‘je ne sais quoi de généreux'”. Here Montaigne’s spelling has been modernized, but that could have been done by Stevenson or the magazine editor.

Vol. 4 (‘Of Physiognomy’): Stevenson quotes a passage from the first half of this essay in his latter of October 1873 to Fanny Sitwell (L1, 339):

As Montaigne says, talking of something quite different: ‘Pour se laisser tomber à plomb, et de si haut, il faut que ce soit entre les bras d’une affection solide, vigoureuse et fortunée’ It argues a whole faith in the sympathy at the other end of the wire; and an awful want to say these things.

I did not note this down as a passage doubly-marked. It is possibly singly marked, but this will have to wait for another reader to open the volume.

The third case has already been discussed on Part two of this posting, under ‘Book III’: in ‘Crabbed Age and Youth’ (1877) Stevenson writes that while Calvin and Knox are reforming the church, Montaigne is ‘predicting that they will find as much to quarrel about in the Bible as they had found already in the Church’—a possible allusion to ‘Of Experience’ (III.13): ‘they but fool themselves, who think to lessen and stop our disputes by recalling us to the express words of the Bible‘, against which Stevenson has written in the margin Calvin?


Montaigne and Stevenson

Stevenson seems to have found in Montaigne a fellow-spirit, someone who distrusted dogma yet had a moral view of life, a modest and a tolerant person, a skeptic, someone who saw all things in constant change yet kept a calm, detached and ironic view of things. Both writers were constantly interested in exploring how to live life well.

Stevenson’s Montaigne, part 1

with 3 comments

part 2 | part 3


In October 2013 I made two trips from New Haven to Columbia University in New York City to look at Stevenson’s copy of Montaigne (recently located by Neil Macara Brown), curious about what markings and comments he may have made on the pages of a writer who was clearly very important for him.

Stevenson and Montaigne


Michel de Montaigne

R.L.S., c. 1871

R.L.S., c. 1871

As early as 1871–72, RLS placed Montaigne’s Essays in first place of his list of favourite books (‘Catalogus Librorum Carissimorum’, Yale B 6073). In October 1873 he writes to Fanny Sitwell that, alone in the house, he has been reading Montaigne at dinner and found him ‘the most charming of table-companions’ (L1, 335-6). He is still re-reading him with pleasure in 1891 in Samoa  (L7, 179).

As might be expected from Stevenson, a writer interested in creating reading pleasure, he often remarks on this aspect of Montaigne: the essays are ‘ever-delightful’ (‘Ordered South’; 1874), he is ‘the radiant Montaigne’ in 1882 (L4, 21), and ‘my beloved Montaigne’ in 1886 (L5, 226), and the ‘delight’ in re-reading him ‘never lessens’ in 1887 (‘Gossip on a Novel of Dumas’s’). He remembers the pleasure of forgetting time while reading him at Swanston: ‘weel neukit by my lane, [on my own] / Wi’ Horace, or perhaps Montaigne, / The mornin’ hours hae come an’ gane / Abune [above] my heid’ (‘Ille Terrarum’, dated 1875).

The pleasure comes from style and an interesting revealed personality: Montaigne’s ‘apt choice and contrast of words’ and his ability, with other great writers, ‘to disappoint, to surprise, and yet still to gratify; to be ever changing, as it were, the stitch, and yet still to give the effect of an ingenious neatness’  (‘On Style…’, 1885). As for the personality, re-reading him is like re-visiting a friend (‘Gossip on a Novel by Dumas’, 1887), like Pepys he presents himself to the reader with an admirable ‘fulness and such an intimacy of detail’ (‘Samuel Pepys’, 1881), he is one of the first of those ‘who have […] survived themselves most completely, left a sort of personal seduction behind them in the world, and retained, after death, the art of making friends’ (‘Charles of Orleans’, 1876).

Equally important is Montaigne’s thought and world-view: he gives a ‘temperate and genial picture of life’, exemplifying ‘heroism and wisdom’ (‘Books Which…’, 1887). It’s not difficult to imagine what appealed to Stevenson. In the 1870s, he would have been attracted by Montaigne’s skepticism, his dismissal of conventional ways of thinking, and his effort to understand others—all themes that we find in the early essays. In the 1880s, Montaigne would appeal to Stevenson’s new focus on tolerance and cultural relativism. And throughout his career he would have found an affinity in Montaigne’s morality of heroism: his acceptance of the difficulty of living a good life and his praise of modest virtues. He mentions Montaigne in fourteen of his essays, and quotes or closely alludes to him in six of them.

Stevenson’s copies of Montaigne

Stevenson’s principle copy of Montaigne is a four volume edition published in Paris by Garnier Frères 1865-66. We know he had this in December 1884, as he asks his parents to ‘bring […] my Montaigne, or, at least, the two last volumes’ when they come to Bournemouth (L 5, 45). This was the copy I went to Columbia to look at.

In addition to this French edition, we know that Stevenson had a copy of Cotton’s late seventeenth-century English translation and he quotes from this several times in the 1870s (in ‘François Villon’, ‘The English Admirals’ and Travels with a Donkey). His copy of this (in an 1869 edition) is also at Columbia University Library (Butler Library, PR5495 .M6), but I overlooked this fact on my visit, so it remains for someone else to look at the markings there.

The Vailima Library also had a presentation copy of The Essays of Montaigne done into English by John Florio (London: David Nutt, 1892), with an introduction by George Saintbury, in the series ‘The Tudor Translations’ edited by W. E. Henley. It is dedicated: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson / This new fashioning of an / old and famous book is dedicated / by its contrivers’, but Henley’s original idea had been to dedicate it to ‘To the R.L.S. of of Virginibus Puerisque, Memories & Portraits, Across the Plains’ (4 May 1892, B 4633), which would have been quite an accolade to RLS the essayist.

Prepared with the help of the Stevenson Library Db and the Stevenson Allusions Db

Written by rdury

16/11/2013 at 4:51 pm

Scribner’s and Weir: a premature ‘puff’

with one comment

This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.


In my last few days at Princeton I found an interesting little twist to the tangled narrative of Stone & Kimball and Scribner’s and the competition for his late fiction.

So sure were Scribner’s that they were going to get the publication rights of Weir of Hermiston in the United States that their editor, E.L. Burlingame wrote to Sidney Colvin on the 5 September 1895:

Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 05.55.29

Edward L. Burlingame

There is one other great kindness that you could do us in this matter and that I think would be a great factor in the success of the publication. You have mentioned in your letters that both you and Henry James who had read “Weir of Hermiston” thought it beyond comparison the finest thing that Stevenson had done. If you were willing to let us quote you both as holding this opinion, and if you care to express it in words which imply a comparison, to let us quote you as saying that it reaches at least his highest level – I can think of nothing that would so quickly lead to the favorable recognition of our announcement of it.  “The Fables”, the paper of extracts from the “Vailima Letters”, and perhaps the beginning of “St Ives” all preceding it, and two of them being comparatively minor things (of course I do not speak of the “Vailima” book) it is most important for us to prevent in the public mind the idea that this is a small matter, and to make known the truth that it is really the one upon which his ambition was specially centred during his last two or three years.
(1894 November 15 – 1895 September 13; 1894 November 15 – 1895 September 13; Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Box 901; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.)

While the evaluation of the other works as ‘small’ may be questioned (especially by the editor of one of them), the publishers were clearly aiming to make as much of Weir as they possibly could.  Yet by the end of the year (9 December) Charles Scribner has this to communicate to Lemuel Bangs, their London representative:

There is nothing further to record about Stevenson’s story; it has been sold to the Cosmopolis and Stone & Kimball will publish it in this country. Baxter’s contract  with Stone & Kimball knocked us out … but it was a high price to pay for an incomplete story and all things considered perhaps we are well off without it.
(L. W. Bangs; 1893 February-1900 January; Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, Box 972; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.)

As my earlier blog noted, however, this did not diminish Scribner’s eventual pleasure in gaining control of all Stevenson’s work in the U.S..

The Ebb-Tide, 1st ed., 1894, published by Stone & Kimble

The Ebb-Tide, 1st ed., 1894, published by Stone & Kimble

Weir of Hermiston, 1st ed., 1896, published by Charles Scribner's & Sons

Weir of Hermiston, 1st ed., 1896, published by Charles Scribner’s & Sons

Beinecke Library to close for a year

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The Beinecke Library (which easily has the most extensive collection of Stevenson books and manuscripts in the world) has been holding celebrations for its 50th anniversary, ending with a lecture by Umberto Eco on “the library” (which he began by saying that the labyrinthine stacks of Yale’s Sterling Library had inspired the Library in The Name of the Rose. Anyone who has been there can understand this).

However, fifty years (alas!) is a long time and the Library will be closing for a whole year for extensive renovations (indicated as the academic year 2015–16, though exact dates have not yet been released).

The Library service will continue, probably based in the Sterling Library reading room, but as materials will be stored off site, deliveries and perhaps services like photoreproduction will be less rapid than their present excellent standards.

Another result is that the fellowship program will be suspended for a year: applications by this December will be for residence and study from September to December 2014 only; then after skipping a year, the next applications (December 2015) will be for residence and study in the academic year 2016-17.

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Written by rdury

21/10/2013 at 1:12 am

Weir of Hermiston MS in Philadelphia

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This post is contributed by Glenda Norquay, presently working an edition of St. Ives for the Edition.

Free Library of Philadelphia

image: Quondam – a virtual museum of architecture


While in Princeton I took a day’s excursion to The Free Library in Philadelphia to look at the manuscript fragment from Weir of Hermiston that I had uncovered through scrolling through their rather labyrinthine finding aid. The Rare Books collection holds a surprising amount of RLS, as Richard noted in his previous post (Stevenson MSS in Philadelphia). I could, however, only secure a two and a half hour slot in their tiny (two desk) reading room.  The  Free Library building on Vine Street is wonderful: enormously grand and imposing both outside and within, but also clearly a very well-used building, with a range of public reading rooms and plenty of people using them.

The Rare Books collection is housed on the third floor, accessed only by lift, and I had to wait some time (standing under the scrutiny of a video camera) before someone came to answer my call on the bell. The reading room is, as they said, a city block’s walk away from the entrance. The staff however could not have been more welcoming or helpful.

‘Weir’ fragment

I was given space, time, and a magnifying glass with which to study the single sheet fragment, folded into four pages. The pages are stained and creased, once folded into a pocket-sized package. The content is draft of a key episode in the novel : the ending of the chapter entitled ‘A Leaf from Christina’s Psalm-Book’, and details Kirstie’s return from meeting Archie and her mixed feelings of guilt, pleasure – and anxiety when Dand notices her pink stocking.  I will leave it to Weir’s editor, Gill Hughes,  to report on the significance of the pages but it is clearly a useful addition to our understanding of the novel’s composition.

FLP Rare Books Department

Time, of course, flew past in the reading room but just before the Rare Books Department was closed for the day Reference Librarian Joseph Shemtov very kindly took me for a tour of their magnificent William Elkins room. As their website notes:

The bequest of William McIntire Elkins, who died in 1947, brought his entire library, containing major collections of Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens and Americana, as well as miscellaneous literary treasures. With the Elkins bequest came the gift of the room itself with its furnishings, through the generosity of his heirs. The installation of the 62-foot-long paneled Georgian room in the third floor of the Central Library at Logan Square took place over the next two years, and the Rare Book Department opened in 1949.

I was able to see Charles Dickens’ desk, the wonderful collection of books, and even the stuffed raven owned by Dickens that had inspired Edgar Allen Poe.  The Library runs a tour of the room once a day.

Although it can be a challenge to navigate their website, the Free Library is well worth a visit.  I was even able to purchase an Edgar Allan Poe finger-puppet with which to converse in those evenings after the Princeton Reading Room closes.  Have I been here too long…?


Stevenson MSS in Philadelphia

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A few days ago, Glenda Norquay, researching in Princeton for her edition of St. Ives,  came across the Literary MSS finding aid of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and saw that it contains, unexpectedly, sixteen RLS manuscripts. A few of these were catalogued by the Library when Roger Swearingen’s compiled his Prose Works of Robert Louis Stevenson and are found there (the Earraid sketchbook, the fragment of Sophia Scarlet), but this new finding aid (published 2012) reveals a number of items (subsequently acquired or catalogued) that came as a complete surprise:

Autograph manuscript signed (fragment) of Weir of Hermiston. 4 pages

Two copies of Deacon Brodie with corrections in Stevenson’s hand

Corrected proof sheets of Memories and Portraits (‘1 volume’—no information on the number of pages; could this be proofs for the whole volume?)

South Seas material, from “Part V. The Gilberts. XLVIII. Butaritari”, 2 pp.

MS of part of ch XIX of The Wrecker (probably precede the 5 leaves at Princeton), 19 leaves, making this the most important fragment of MS material of this work

Corrected copy of Father Damien

Fragment of Weir of Hermiston, 4 pp.

Autograph manuscript signed (draft) of several verses and revisions, with a sketch, 1 page (“Previously identified as intended for A Child’s Garden of Verses, but unpublished there.”)

A finding aid to finding the finding aid

Archive material may be fully available and exhaustively catalogued, but sometimes the catalogue (or the MS finding aid) is very difficult to find. When Gill Hughes told me about Glenda’s discovery, I went to the home page of the FLP and searched for ‘special collections’, ‘rare books’ and manuscripts’—no joy. Then I tried the green side-tab ‘Explore’, and then the top-tab ‘Find a location’—but for all my exploration, never a thing did I find. So I tried ‘Programs and Services’ (could that cover library departments?) and finally found ‘Rare Books Department’. Hooray! So I clicked on that, clicked on ‘Collections’ and then on ‘Literature – Learn more’ which contained links to… only two finding aids: Dickens and Poe. No mention of Stevenson. I’d reached a dead-end.

Research in these labyrinths his slaves detains…

In the meantime a kind friend sent me the pdf, but I was determined to find the dang thing myself. This is how I did it: I clicked on Ask,  made a desultory stab at Browse or Search FLP Knowledge Base (who knows?), browsed, searched, then found and clicked ‘Rare Books’ (I’d been given a help: Gill had told me the department was called by that name); this took me to Rare Books FAQ, where FAQ-18 is ‘Does the Rare Book Department have any finding aids?’ The brief answer to this has a clickable link which—unlike that decoy Rare Books page with only two finding aids—had the whole list. I’d finally reached the centre of the maze with the champaign luncheon! And there it was: Literary Manuscripts Collection, readable online or downloadable as pdf.