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New Edinburgh Essays I published

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Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers ed. by Robert-Louis Abrahamson, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

Published October 2018. £80 (and for around £77 from Amazon).

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Writing Explanatory Notes

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I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a new annotated edition I go straight to the explanatory notes—the salted peanuts of the volume as far as deliciousness and difficulty of stopping are concerned. Unlike salted peanuts, however, they are all different: more like a series of entries in that fascinating publication Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It would seem that we are hard wired as a species to like random information—which might explain, to a puzzled observer like myself, the addictive nature of mobile phones.

When it comes to writing such notes, however, you are immediately aware of a series of problems, and it was to share ideas about this that Prof. Burkhard Niederhoff kindly invited fellow essay-editor Lesley Graham and myself to speak for a morning in June this year at the University of Bochum. This gave us an opportunity to think about our experience in writing notes; what follows are a few notes about what was said, followed by a summary of a recent article and information about a conference on this very subject.

 

General considerations (Lesley Graham)

1. What we annotate. 1. literary, biblical and historical allusions; 2. words that are not immediately understandable; 3. words in a foreign language; 4. proper names; 5. cross-references to themes covered by Stevenson elsewhere; 6. biographical details; 7. facts that can be checked.

2. The imagined reader. Someone a little like ourselves. Not a school child, but not a literary expert either. Not an expert in either essays, history, philosophy, the life of Stevenson or 19th Century philosophy, but someone with a curious mind. Not necessarily a Westerner, but someone with at least a basic knowledge of the Western literary canon. Not a fluent speaker of French or Italian or Scots, or German, nor a reader of Latin, but someone that knows what voilà and al fresco mean. And probably someone who will occasionally like to take some of these notes a little further.
[RD: 1. For the essays in particular, we imagine a range of readers: the notes here, apart from as a way of understanding the text, are going to be read for a wide range of documentary reasons, so, for example, it’s a good idea to provide relevant background biographical information.]

3. Wouldn’t digital annotation be better? Hyperlinks can be detrimental to a profound reading experience; the affect is engaged in different ways when we see an essay as a whole self-standing thing with its own current and internal logic rather than an organic, pulsing jump off point. Our job in the volume is to accompany the reader, without allowing him/her to go off on long detours, in a reflective reading experience, to facilitate the reading of the work, to accompany the reader’s understanding and appreciation of it but doing some of the hard work of establishing context, definition, and allusion but none (or very little) of the joyful, heuristic work.

4. Restraint. There are so many fascinating facts to be found and that may seem highly relevant but when you step back and look at the whole thing again, you realize you have to cull the extraneous material if you want to preserve the joy of discovering the essay for the reader.

5. Some problems found while annotating the essays.
1. Stevenson writes either two or three parish churches: should we supply information where the author is deliberately vague? (in this case, no).
2. Obscure terminology, e.g. travellers, and headers, and rubble, and polished ashlar: should we define terms that Stevenson did not expect his readers to know? (we decided, yes in this case).
3. Avoid self-indulgent additional information, e.g. Turnberry Point: should we mention the Trump golf-course there now? (no; restraint required). Dunfermline, in whose royal towers the king may be still observed (in the ballad) drinking the blood-red wine: in supplying the allusion to the ballad should we add historical information about royal connections of the town (we thought not).
4. And a lord he was (reading a Greek New Testament on the beach of Fair Isle): do we need to identify him? (yes;  Stevenson does so in his letter from Fair Isle).
[RD: Item (iv) is a case of Stevenson’s use of allusions that are known to only a small number of readers or often only by himself. The essay editors in their discussions have called these ‘bald allusions’ and Barry Menikoff, with reference to Kidnapped, has called the phenomenon ‘subtextual meaning’: ‘Stevenson actually defies rather than helps his real readers. He forces them to uncover the allusions for themselves, but nothing is lost if they do not. For the surface prose is sufficient unto itself; the literal meaning of the text can be followed with no difficulty whatever’ (Narrating Scotland, 60; see also 59-60, 91-2, 109). I think it’s clear that the reader of an annotated edition will want to have these allusions explained.]
5. My business lay in the two Anstruthers: do we provide date and Stevenson’s reason for being there? (yes: the essays will be used by those interested in Stevenson’s biography.)
6. Shell House: should we supply more information about this place? (yes: the essay will be used by those interested in local history, so we need to explain the ‘snatches of verse’ and to point out that its location as an ‘outpost’ to Anstruther Wester is the result of a confusion with another shell-decorated house).

6. Excluded from Explanatory Notes in the essays.
1. any analysis of the structure of the essay, of its internal logic.
2.the editor’s personal reading, irrelevant in a scholarly edition. This is at once frustrating (I would love to tell you about how I believe ‘An Education of an Engineer’ is really about the difficulty of communication and the risk of miscommunication, but also humbling and affords freedom for follow up studies and analyses.)

7. Lightness (RD). 1. put first the most important and the relevant things; 2. put things in chronological (and other ‘natural’) order; 3. don’t use complicated series of subordinate clauses etc.; 4. give the most probable explanation without too much hedging.

 

Writing definitions (Richard Dury)

1. Place the gloss or definition first.
Scots law the legal system of Scotland: under the 1707 Act etc. [more information]
A medlar the fewer on the three-legged medlar-tree! one rotten fruit the fewer on the gallows tree; medlar: etc. [glosses and commentary on ‘medlar’ and ‘three-legged’].

2. Make the gloss syntactically equivalent to the lemma. Examples: check-string cord etc (not ‘a cord’); doubled … with played by the same actor as. The definition should ideally be able to replace the lemma in the text.

3. Don’t copy-and-paste the OED definition. This is difficult in our edition anyway, where the note starts with a lower case letter if preceded by an elided ‘is’ or ‘means’ (e.g. ‘Scots law [is] the legal system of Scotland’) and OED definitions always start with a capital letter; difficult anyway because you will often be glossing a noun or verb not in the dictionary citation form, so the ‘lemma’ followed by the OED definition would not make a coherent sentence (see previous item). Other reasons for adapting the OED definition or writing your own definition are given in the following points. [LG It may be useful to compare the OED definition with other dictionary definitions]

4. Make OED definition clearer and more concise if necessary. OED definitions will cover many cases, for the Explanatory Notes only the relevant parts should be included. You may also be able to make the formulation less wordy than in the OED: e.g. : check-string a string by which the occupant of a carriage may signal to the driver to stop (OED) / cord inside a carriage, pulled to tell the driver to stop.

5. Look critically at OED definitions and the citations. The OED, like all sublunary things, is not perfect; you may need to write a definition not found there, e.g. the entry for hold the candle does not mention its use (from French) of ‘assist in a love affair’, though Stevenson uses the phrase alluding to this meaning on at least a couple of occasions. In other cases, reading the citations carefully will reveal a meaning not listed. [LG: When the citation is the very sentence you seek to elucidate, give yourself a clap on the back]

6. Look elsewhere for help in defining a word or phrase. 1. Look elsewhere in Stevenson’s works, e.g. a puzzling use of motive may be resolved by finding that he sometimes uses the word to mean ‘motif’ (for this you will need a corpus of Stevenson’s writings; I’ll try and provide this asap). 2. Look in related entries in the OED, e.g. a reference to Henry James and his humorists of ordinary life may be solved by looking at ‘humour’ meaning ‘a particular disposition, inclination, or liking’. 3. Search internet (including using Google Advanced Book Search) so that, instead of the general OED definition, sinnet, for example, can be defined with relevance to its use in the text: ‘braided, rather than twisted, cordage, (here) the typical flat, plaited coconut-fibre cords of the Pacific islands’. 4. Take into account what the reader needs to understand, phenomena possibly assumed as known by the OED, e.g. aspects and connotations of vanished Victorian domestic life such as pass-key and area. 5. Inspect the cognate word in French (see next point).

7. Be aware that Stevenson often invents new uses of words. The context is of more importance than the OED in determining Stevenson’s ‘nonce’ meanings, e.g. a generic in the following: ‘Boswell’s is, indeed, a very special case, and almost a generic’. After studying the whole context very carefully it seems clear that Stevenson is using ‘a generic’ to mean ‘a case apart, i.e. a genus on its own’, not found in the OED. Stevenson’s nonce-words or -uses are often calques from French: checking in the online Trésor de la lange française is a good strategy in doubtful cases. Check with Google Advanced Book Search to confirm a suspected original use by Stevenson.

8. The OED may only provide negative information (show what is not possible). For example blowing in the key cannot mean ‘thrusting in the key’ as there are no examples of ‘to blow’ as a verb derived from (the etymologically unrelated) noun ‘a blow’ (it means ‘blowing to remove any dust from the key before inserting it’).

 

3. An article on annotation

Matthias Bauer and Angelika Zirke (2017), ‘Explanatory Annotation of Literary Texts and the Reader: Seven Types of Problems’, International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 11.ii (2017): 212-232.

The second part of the article describes a model of layered annotations for digital editions, but the following notes are only on the first part, which examines seven ways that existing annotations  do not take into account readerly needs. The comments there are of interest to both print and digital annotation.

The authors propose not to attempt guidance by an imagined readership but to provide annotations that are of use to a variety of readers and do not think that interpretation should be discarded from annotations altogether. They then analyze a series of actual annotations by asking two questions: (A) What knowledge does the annotation presuppose? (B) What knowledge does it provide? Here are the seven types of annotation problems.

1. Stating the obvious: explaining something that any potential reader will know already or can gather from the text itself.

2. Inconsistent assumptions and unclear functions: where the explanation assumes lack of knowledge in an area but uses unexplained terms from the same area; or provides information which does not have a clear function in understanding the text.

3. Presupposing (expert) knowledge: the assumption of knowledge that is never made explicit, as for example in a quotation from the same author that supplies a wider context (an enriching rather than explanatory annotation), when this is not clearly related to the text being annotated (just introduced by something like ‘Compare’).

4. Sending the reader on the wrong track: for example, using a general definition from the OED that omits important contextual meaning in the text being annotated or meanings supplied by the author’s personal use elsewhere.

5. Delimiting interpretation: giving one definition/explanation where more than one is plausibly present.

6. Offering intuitions without evidence: giving personal reactions (in an essay-like fashion)—the text annotated ‘becomes an occasion to think about one’s experiences and feelings’

7. Missing annotations: a missing annotation tells us either that nothing is to be explained or that explanation is impossible—in the latter case the difficulty should be dealt with in a note anyway.

The second half of the article gives information about digital annotation using the ‘Tübingen Explanatory Annotation System’ (TEASys), using three levels of information and eight categories that classify the content. As NEd is not using digital annotation, this part is less directly relevant to us. But here are the eight categories of annotation content which could well be of interest:

A   linguistic (lexicon, syntax etc.)
B   formal (verse, narrative structure, iconicity etc.)
C   intratextual (motifs, recurring structures etc.)
D   intertextual (relations to other texts)
E   contextual (biography, history, philosophy, theology, etc.)
F   interpretative (synthesis of A–E)
G   textual (variants relevant to the understanding of the text)
H   questions (items that require annotation; comments on research already done relating to an item).

 

A conference on annotation

‘Understanding (through) Annotations’ (15th International Connotations Symposium): July 28 – August 1 2019, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen (Germany).

We invite papers that are concerned with annotations to specific literary texts written in English and address their functions. Papers may also reflect on the speakers’ own  annotation projects, analyse existing annotations, offer suggestions as to a more systematic approach to the practise of annotating texts, and/or discuss historical and theoretical dimensions involved, such as the relation of lemma and context, part and whole, the envisaged reader of annotations, etc.

Please send an abstract (300 words max.) to the editors of Connotations by October 15, 2018 at symposium2019@connotations.de

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by rdury

27/09/2018 at 1:55 pm

New Edinburgh Amateur Emigrant published

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Robert Louis Stevenson, The Amateur Emigrant ed. by Julia Reid, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

Published May 2018. £80 (and for around £65 from booksellers associated with Amazon).

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Written by rdury

17/06/2018 at 8:36 am

New Edinburgh Weir of Hermiston published

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Robert Louis Stevenson, Weir of Hermiston, ed. by Gillian Hughes, The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017).

Published 5 June 2017. £80 (and for around £62 from booksellers associated with Amazon)

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See also Gill Hughes’s thoughts on working from Stevenson’s manuscripts in the preparation of this volume: Following the author’s hand

Written by rdury

05/01/2018 at 3:40 pm

Following the author’s hand

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A post contributed by Gill Hughes
editor of Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston in the New Edinburgh Edition

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A series of speculations

It is in working on a manuscript that an editor comes closest to the author, and in the case of Weir of Hermiston the manuscript record is unusually rich and full, comprising a wealth of draft material in Stevenson’s own hand as well as a final (though not finished) manuscript dictated by him to his step-daughter and amanuensis, Belle Strong. Following the author’s progress exerts an irresistible charm.

Stevenson himself, that great collaborator, plainly understood the attractions of watching the writer at work, for he invites the reader close to the narrator in the final text of Weir of Hermiston. The narrator’s account of the unpopularity of Frank Innes at Hermiston, for example, proceeds as a series of speculations, a gradual approach to the most plausible explanation.

Firstly the narrator posits that Frank’s technique of depreciation by means of a confidential conspiracy fails because of the admiration felt by the estate folk for both Lord Hermiston and Archie himself. Subsequently he reconsiders, deciding that in Frank’s condescension as displayed to Dand Elliott, ‘we have here perhaps a truer explanation of Frank’s failures’.

The reader is invited to participate in the narrator’s working out of the situation, the gradual evolution of an accurate apprehension.

A succession of drafts.

This process forms a curious parallel to the way in which Stevenson’s draft manuscript revisions operate. A situation envisaged by the author is reiterated and reassessed in a succession of drafts until he is satisfied with his representation and only then does he move forward again in his story. None of the draft material for Weir moves very much past the point at where the final manuscript breaks off, but there are multiple surviving attempts at earlier key passages—at least five, for instance, for the start of the first chapter where Stevenson was getting his narrative underway, and several for subsequent key points in the narrative that required peculiar care.

Chief among these are the interval between the execution of Duncan Jopp and Lord Hermiston’s confrontation of his rebellious son, and the forming of a bond between Archie and the younger Kirstie after their initial sighting of one another in Hermiston kirk. Stevenson’s revisions show how very far he is himself from the leisurely speculations of his narrator. He moves always from the explicit to the implicit, cutting out details that would make any writer of realist fiction proud. His draft description of Archie’s motherless childhood in the house in George Square, for instance, sticks in the memory:

That was a severe and silent house; the tall clocks ticked and struck there, the bell rang for meals; and beyond these periodic sounds, and the clamour of an occasional deep drinking dinner, it was a house in which a pin might be heard dropping from one room to another. […] When my lord was at home, the servants trembled and hasted on noiseless feet, the child kept himself trembling company in the tall rooms, and had but one concern—to avoid his father’s notice. (Morgan MA 1419, f. 17)

The child’s isolation in the tall rooms of a house could not be more vividly portrayed and yet Stevenson ultimately judged it inessential to the novel.

An editor’s experience

In editing Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston one is brought close to a narrator who can seem prolix and provisional, an amiable and indulgent fellow-traveller through the story, but standing close beside him is a most painstaking and most uncomfortably ruthless artist. ‘That’s wonderful!’ I wanted to say to Stevenson of this passage in his draft material and of that. ‘Couldn’t you have left that bit in?’ But he pared back his own imaginative fecundity with an unsparing hand, and here and there in the editorial material I’ve tried to indicate where he has done it.

 

Not ‘To Schubert’s Ninth’

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The present contribution has been kindly provided by John F. Russell

Beginning around 1890 Stevenson began compiling lists of contents for Songs of Travel like the following included in a letter to Edward Burlingame:

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Letters 6: 371

One manuscript similar to the eleventh title on that list, To Schubert’s Ninth, is described by George McKay:

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George L. McKay, A Stevenson Library (New Haven: Yale UP, 1961)

The title of what is probably the actual manuscript he describes is slightly different, however:

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Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 29 Folder 681

The underlined word McKay transcribed as “Ninth” lacks the dot over the letter “I” and the first letter is “M” not “N”. The correct transcription is the German word “Muth” (courage) and refers to song number XXII in Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise.

Booth and Mehew also transcribed the word incorrectly in letter 2211. In manuscript, the list for Songs of Travel appears as follows:

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Yale, GEN MSS 664 Box 1 Folder 17 (= Letter 2211)

Enlarged, entry XI appears:

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Shown side by side, the two words in manuscript are almost identical:

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Title XI in the list of contents for Songs of Travel in letter 2211 therefore should read “To Schubert’s Muth” not “To Schubert’s Ninth.” Together the two manuscripts show conclusively that Stevenson’s poem ‘Vagabond’ was written to Schubert’s music for ‘Muth’ (in Winterreise) and not to any melody from Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

On Board the Old Equator

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

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Summary: In this post, John F. Russell argues that the comic song “I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea” was not composed by Fanny Stevenson and Lloyd but by Stevenson himself; he explains some of its allusions, and links it to the music for Thomas Moore’s “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”.

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A storm at sea

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The Equator (From MacCallum, Thomson Murray. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934)

 

Sometime between the 4th and 11th of November, 1889, the schooner Equator, all sails standing, was becalmed in the South Pacific a few hundred miles south of Butaritari. The Stevensons were asleep in their specially fitted stateroom when a sudden squall tore off the schooner’s fore topmast, ripped the sail, tipped the Equator on its side and threw Louis and Fanny against the wall.

No one was hurt and the ship was soon righted, but RLS was so impressed that he wrote two poems and two letters about the event. On approaching Samoa a couple of weeks later, he rather calmly told his mother:

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The next day and fifty miles farther south he recalled the incident with a little more excitement:

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To further commemorate Mrs. Stevenson’s “bearing up wonderfully,” he wrote the poem To My Wife, where the last stanza recalls the storm:
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Songs of Travel XXXIV

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Finally, he satirized the event in some unpublished lyrics used as an entertainment for his shipboard birthday celebration on November 13th. He had already written ‘Tis Years Since He Was Born for fellow passenger Adolf Rick’s birthday on the 12th.

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Huntington Library, Rare Book 45074

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The complete lyrics read:

I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea,
On board of the old Equator.
There never were passengers better than we,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus:
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone pray?
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone?

Of chequers the captain did blow and boast,
On board of the old Equator.
The passengers did him as brown as a roast,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

In Santo Pedro was our delight,
On board of the old Equator.
When bobbery struck us along in the night,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The captain he ran from a fifteen hand,
On board of the old Equator.
I’ll be damned if that old jib-topsail will stand,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The sail was the rotteness’d ever was bent,
On board of the old Equator.
But blamed if it wasn’t the stick that went,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

The captain he turned to the mate, and he laughed,
On board of the old Equator.
I guess you are learning some sailor craft,
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

There’s one thing you know at the least and the last,
On board of the old Equator.
You know how to lose a fore-topmast
On board of the old Equator.

Chorus

Some of these lyrics may benefit from an attempt at explanation.

  • There never were passengers better than we

 According to the Equator’s 20 year old novice cook Thomson Murray MacCallum (1869-1957), “Quite a few changes were made in the cabin … for the accommodation of the passengers,” including extra bunks and other conveniences. These changes were necessary because the Equator was a copra trading schooner, not a cruise ship. The Stevensons were its first real passengers and therefore there were none better.

  • In Santo Pedro was our delight,
    On board of the old Equator.
    When bobbery struck us along in the night,    

 The sense of the stanza is that the storm struck at night while they were near Santo Pedro.

San Pedro (Motane, Moho Tani) is an island which RLS visited on the Casco in August of the previous year. In the Marquesas section of In the South Seas he writes, “I was amazed to behold so deep a view behind, and so high a shoulder of blue sea, crowned by the whale-like island of Motane.”

In his letter to his mother, Stevenson said they left Butaritari Island in the Gilberts on November 4th and that the storm occurred after this and before his and fellow passenger Adolf Rick’s birthdays on the 12th and 13th. The storm must then have occurred within a week’s sailing distance, or around 300 miles from Butaritari.

Since San Pedro Island is in the Marquesas thousands of miles away and the storm occurred in the Gilberts, RLS must have been mistaken about the name. According to the British Hydrographic Office‘s The Pacific Islands (1885) there is no island in the Gilberts called Santo (or San) Pedro. Perhaps because this one Spanish name stood out among so many Polynesian ones, he confused it with Peru Island, 378 miles from Butaritari. This may be where the storm actually occurred.

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  • The captain he ran from a fifteen hand,    

 Because it was night, everyone except the watch was probably sleeping when the storm hit. Stevenson says there were 15 men and one woman (Fanny) on the boat. The captain, then, ran from where the men were sleeping to save the ship. If the letter “a” is actually the Scots word for “all,” this may be some small evidence for Stevenson’s authorship.

Celebrating the Storm

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Thomson Murray MacCallum recalled Stevenson’s birthday celebration in his book Adrift in the South Seas (1934):

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Fellow passenger Paul Leonard, also known as Paul Höflich, described the same storm and celebration in Nellie Sanchez’s The Life of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson (1920):
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On the day of the party, Lloyd photographed the participants. Wearing a hat with a band, Fanny sits to the left of Scotch-Irish Captain Edwin Dennis Reid (1865?-1920) in a Tam O’Shanter. RLS stands at the far left.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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Considering that Stevenson had already expressed himself multiple times in poetry and prose regarding the squall, it seems most likely that he also wrote On Board of the Old Equator, especially since he had just written lyrics for Adolf Rick’s birthday. Neither Fanny nor Lloyd ever published any verse.

One particular word in the third stanza of the song reinforces Stevenson’s authorship. In Booth-Mehew letter 2153 from Honolulu around April 2, 1889 to Edward Burlingame, RLS asks him to send 11 novels of Frederick Marryat. Stevenson first mentions Marryat in Booth-Mehew letter 849 (September 1881) and then in letter 1733 (Dec. 23, 1886) where he quotes from Mr. Midshipman Easy. Marryat uses the unusual word “bobbery [hubbub]” in Midshipman Easy and also in two other works Stevenson requested, Peter Simple and Newton Forster.

In a letter to Colvin as recent as the previous January Stevenson wrote:

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EQU11.

He uses the same word again in a letter to Colvin two years later:

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Neither Lloyd nor Fanny appears to use the word in any of their works.

Other Darlings

Both MacCallum and Leonard claimed that On Board of the Old Equator was written by Fanny and Lloyd and at first the words of the chorus appear to favor Fanny.

Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone pray?
Captain, darling, where has your topmast gone?

It seems appropriate only for Fanny to call the captain “darling.” The lyrics never refer to RLS in any way, so she was not addressing him, even though MacCallum and Leonard called it a birthday song.

After Fanny and Louis had been thrown against the wall, Stevenson asked Murray MacCallum to give a message to the Captain.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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If the Captain was on familiar enough terms with Stevenson to give him his “love,” perhaps Stevenson might also call him “darling” for fun in return. RLS stated his affection for Captain Reid in A Footnote to History (1895):

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However, it may be more accurate to treat the term “darling” as a surname rather than an endearment. Throughout the centuries there has been no lack of Captain Darlings, but one in particular could easily have been familiar both to Stevenson and Reid.

Built in Glasgow, the intriguingly named barque Edinburgh Castle was launched in 1863. The last captain of this 175 ft., 627 ton, three-masted, iron-hulled ship was J.B. Darling. The California Digital Newspaper Collection records it’s presence at San Francisco multiple times after 1872. Of course RLS was in that city in 1880 and 1888, and the Equator itself was built for the San Francisco based Wightman Brothers in 1888 with Reid as its first captain. The Edinburgh Castle and Captain Darling may have come to the attention of Reid and Stevenson by the fact that on January 15th, 1888 it was stranded in the harbor at Warnambool, Australia and wrecked there by a storm.

It should also be noted that by 1888 the boys’ adventure novelist Frank H. Converse (1843-1889) had already written two works with the suspiciously familiar titles Island Treasure and In Southern Seas. The last featured a character called Captain John Darling.

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Golden Argosy. New York, Saturday, June 11, 1887

Golden Argosy. New York, Saturday, June 11, 1887

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In another story by Converse, Darling is described as being in the same business as Captain Reid.

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Finally, in an article about the Equator by MacCallum in Robert Louis Stevenson: Interviews and Recollections (1996), “Captain Darling” is printed as if it were a proper name.

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Young and Old Charmers

Murray MacCallum said On Board of the Old Equator was written to the melody of a popular song and that Lloyd sang it. Paul Leonard said he joined in the singing. However no one ever actually names the tune.

There is no obvious clue to the music in Stevenson’s lyrics, but an examination of the more than 120 manuscript copies of his own compositions, arrangements and favorite tunes provides one match which requires only, as RLS said of Alan’s Air in Catriona, “a little humouring to the notes in question.”

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Princeton University Library, Morris L. Parrish Collection, Box/Series/Folder/Thesis #: Bd MSS 113, 114, Code/Call Number #: C0171 1B

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New lyrics are often supplied to old songs to take advantage of the irony that results from the contrast, and On Board of the Old Equator is no exception. The music among Stevenson’s manuscripts that best fits “I’ll sing you a tale of a tropical sea” is “Believe me”, a transcription of the traditional melody normally associated with Thomas Moore’s very different lyric “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”.

According to the Historic American Engineering Record of the United States National Park Service, the 78 foot, 72 ton schooner Equator entered the South Pacific copra trade in June 1888 under 23 year old Captain Edwin Dennis Reid, so when Stevenson began his journey from Hawaii on June 24, 1889 the boat had been in the water for only a year and hardly deserved to be called “old.”

Reading the lyrics while keeping Captain Reid, the Equator or RLS in mind, it is an appropriately ironic song for a 39th birthday, a damaged new schooner and a very young captain.

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This image of Thomas Moore’s (1779-1852) lyrics was scanned from the 1872 edition of his Poetical Works, which RLS owned, according to the Stevenson’s Library Db. The melody sung with Stevenson’s lyrics can be heard by clicking here.

After its six month Pacific cruise with the Stevensons, the Equator went through many metamorphoses. In 1897 it was converted to a steam tender for work in the Alaskan salmon trade, and then became a tugboat for charting underwater hazards in southeastern Alaska in 1915.

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MacCallum, T.M. Adrift in the South Seas. Los Angeles: Wetzel, 1934

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In 1923 it ran aground and sank off the Washington coast but was refloated. It was converted to diesel in 1940, and in 1956 after 68 years of service it was finally abandoned near the mouth of the Snohomish River at Everett, Washington. In 1967 it was hauled out and in 1980 moved to the Port of Everett in Washington State.

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The endearing young charms of the old Equator clearly have faded away but must still be dear to our memory of Stevenson.