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

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The Stevenson Manuscripts Collection at Harry Ransom Center

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The launch (on 30 June 2015) of a new online resource of manuscript images by the Harry H. Ransom Center (HRC) in the University of Texas at Austin, provides an outstanding resource for scholars and is a welcome policy of access to out-of-copyright materials. Even the HRC, a centre of expertise in this area, has to say ‘manuscripts … believed to be in the public domain’—so complicated and unknowable are the laws of copyright. Hence this new policy of is all the more welcome to those of us who know somewhat less about it all.


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The “Robert Louis Stevenson Collection” contains images and information of all the HRC’s 48 Stevenson and Stevenson-related MSS. By clicking the link Browse all items in the collection, you will see them all listed and with links to images.

Immediately we see another benefit of the new resource: it makes the wealth of resources of the HRC more visible, less easy to miss. If we choose to browse the 12 Works by RLS, we see it contains for the most part interesting MSS of works already published that will be of great interest to our Edition, and previously classed as ‘untraced’. I personally did not know of the location here of any of these MSS before opening the page yesterday and seeing fascinating list of titles and thumbnail images. Nor are any of them listed as located here in Roger Swearingen’s The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson (1980).

The 13 Letters from RLS are all in the Yale Letters, identified as ‘MS Texas’ (unless they have recently changed hands), so all merit to Ernest Mehew for finding this  part of the Collection. Having these items so conveniently available will be of a help if we have to use handwriting to date another MS.

The 23 Miscellaneous items contain many things of interest, including music, an early list of favourite books, University lecture cards, receipts for payments and letters about RLS.

It is amazing that much of this remained both ‘known’ as in some way available and ‘unknown’ because not found by anyone interested in it. And it is not the case that these items were only recently acquired.

The MS of one of Stevenson’s most witty essays ‘The Ideal House’, sold in 1914, and of ‘Virginibus Puerisque’ and ‘On Falling in Love’, sold in 1918 to raise funds for the British Red Cross, were considered ‘untraced’—until yesterday. Yet they were part of the collection of eccentic bibliophile T. Edward Hanley (1893-1969), whose collection was acquired by the University of Texas in 1958 and 1964, and therefore have presumably have been catalogued there for over fifty years. The MS of ‘A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway’,  which no-one has even located in a sale catalogue, was in the John Henry Wrenn collection, purchased by Library as long ago as 1918, so has been here for almost a century.

‘Talk and Talkers’ MS (again, not located in any sale catalogue so far) was transferred to the Ransom Center in 1960 from the University of Texas Rare Book Library. The leaf frm the Notebook draft of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, sold in 1914, was received in the Manuscripts department, again internally transferred, in 1974.

Hats off then to the Harry Ransom Center and the REVEAL team for providing not only an unparalleled resource but also a network of references that has allowed its items to be discovered.



Missing Stevenson articles in London magazine, part 1

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The story so far

In January 2013, Robert-Louis Abrahamson and myself went to the Colindale Newspaper Library to try and identify possible unsigned articles by Robert Louis Stevenson in the weekly magazine London, edited by his friend W. E. Henley. We found a couple of possible candidates from early 1877 but didn’t have time to look through all the issues from 1877 to 1879, the period of the magazine’s short life.

It was only later that the significance of a list of 1878 publications made in the ‘Inland Voyage’ notebook became clear to me: four additional and unnamed ‘articles’ were listed along with payments for episodes of Stevenson’s ‘Arabian Nights’. Shortly after our visit, however, the British Library closed the Colindale Newspaper Library with no access to the collection for a year while it was moved to the new repository at Boston Spa in Yorkshire.


The new British Library Newsroom

Screenshot 2014-11-13 08.01.52Then in October this year, having received an assurance that London was among the journals now available, I stayed with RLA once more for a few days and we went to look at London for 1878.

The new Newsroom at the British Library is a pleasant, luminous space, extending down to the left of the first desks in the photograph (right), and looking down, on this long side, over a double-height lower level below. It wasn’t crowded, conditions were ideal, and at the end we made copies on a huge scanner ourselves: 45p each because we had paper copies, but even less if you copy onto a memory stick.


A mistake

By an unfortunate chance, when preparing the trip I’d referred to a file of my calculations based on the supposition that all the ‘Arabian Nights’ payments were in the Notebook list and that the additional articles must be located between August (when RLS had returned from France with Fanny and family) and October (before the start of what became ‘Providence and the Guitar’—not included in the list—in November).

So we started working through this period, turning over the pages, ignoring articles on political, financial and sporting subjects and looking at the others: RLA read the beginning paragraph while I looked at the last one on the page. This seemed a good way to do things with limited time. We then consulted and gave a vote from 0 (definitely not by Stevenson) to 5 (definitely by Stevenson). In this way we spent the morning with no vote going above 1 or 2 (= almost certainly not Stevenson).

Then we had lunch on one of the pleasant British Library terraces overlooking the atrium, and afterwards, still at the table, we looked again at an image of the list of 1878 payments. It was then that the penny dropped: three of these articles are listed before ‘English Admirals’, published in the Cornhill in July 1878, and the fourth immediately after. So the period where we should be looking was June and July and perhaps early August. We returned to the Newsroom and started searching with renewed attention.


What we found

The first thing we found was a letter with the title ‘A Story-teller’ and signed ‘Rue Saint Jacques’, which we knew was Stevenson’s address in Paris at the time. It was in praise of a writer who we didn’t know Stevenson was familiar with, Sheridan Le Fanu. There is no mention of him in the letters or essays, and it is only in a letter of Henley to Colvin about 1885 that we learn that Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly was ‘a book for which R. L. S. had a profound respect’ and was the basis for the idea of the play ‘The Hanging Judge’. The article—not really a letter, as London had no regular correspondence column and this contribution was undoubtedy paid for (for which, see part 2)—also mentions a favourite character named ‘Jekyl’ and another book (Wylder’s Hand) which we know contains a minor character with the same name (and contains a troubling hand reminiscent of the hand of Hyde). An extract is given below.

We also found in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section of short news items a series of notes about Paris and the 1878 Exhibition which are clearly also by Stevenson and are in fact referred to in a letter of Henley in this period.

And that was it: we found some other pieces to which we gave a vote of 3 or 4. One of them was ‘The Ethics of Lying’ which did not seem to me to contain any stylistic clues, but which RLA thought could have set Stevenson thinking about ‘Truth of Intercourse’ written shortly after.

So there are still two ‘articles’ unfound—though we looked through every possible candidate and debated their merits. There was also poem called ‘Choice of a Profession’, the title of an unpublished essay written by Stevenson shortly after. We didn’t think it was by Stevenson, but thought perhaps Henley wrote it as a joke after having heard of Stevenson’s idea to write something. (We had noticed on the previous visit a poem with the title ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, which we thought might be a similar joke or kind of indirect promotion.)


A story-teller

(an extract)
To construct a story, Mr. Editor, is no very commonplace accomplishment. To be able first to construct, and then to tell, a story, is to be a man among ten thousand. Now, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was a man who could build up a fable on the eternal principles: not to irritate the mind for the first volume or so with a mystery which must sooner or later leak out and prove a disappointment, but to raise one picturesque and speaking situation on another, and to satisfy amply, as well as to suspend, the reader’s curiosity. His stories have a profile; he throws a sunset behind a situation with the hand of a master; the oddest things go on in the moonlight; and his old houses are filled with threatening whispers and events. Do you remember the fellow who was shipwrecked with the gold ring? or the butterfly of light that played over Lily Dogger as she lay half asleep in the cupboard off the kitchen? or Wylder’s hand appearing suddenly from the landslip? or the scuffle in the stable lane in Haunted Lives? I will hardily confess, Mr. Editor, and I call on you to confess, that this was a writer who had a mighty sensitive touch for the picturesque. I try all sorts of competitors against him in my mind; I try Wilkie Collins and his dry bones; I try Mr. Payn with his somewhat meagre execution. Again, I look on the other side of the water, and try Gaboriau, and try Féval, and try De Boisgobey, so skilful to begin, so incapable of finishing, his vast machines; and I say, without fear of contradiction, that Le Fanu possesses a sounder scheme of story-making and had better effects in his repertory than any man among the lot.

And then, after a fashion, he could write the things he fancied. He had a capital assortment of types; he had a young lady that was as good as new at the end of a dozen novels; he had an old lady with a temper who possesses all our sympathies from first to last; he was a dead hand with lawyers, clergymen, and horse-jockeys; and for the wicked squire he held a patent that has never been infringed. I am a cordial admirer of Le Fanu’s wicked country gentlemen. His temper is the genuine article; it is temper, and bad temper, too, and imposes on the respect of a timid man like me. And, then, he is never too wicked; he has always the raw material of goodness under his shooting-jacket; he is a true human being, and I do not find I weary of him after he has appeared under a dozen different pseudonyms and at a dozen different ages. All this without prejudice to the charming country houses, in which this luxurious writer makes a point of honour to instal him, and the admirable cigars with which he supplies him from the first page to the last.

Of course, Le Fanu’s writing is just where he sins. A man who could write so well ought simply to be well birched for not having written better. He was hurried, slovenly, unconscientious; positively dishonest to the public and the Smiling Providence who made him. And the man who could make Sir Jekyl Marlow converse so magisterially with his brother Dives, ought to have hidden his head in the nearest conduit whenever he remembered the disgraceful rubbish he suffered to escape his pen at other times. You must not judge Le Fanu from his foot, for it was of a very inferior sort of clay and carelessly prepared.

Written by rdury

14/11/2014 at 6:55 am

Uncertain about gaslights: a notebook fragment

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The Beinecke Stevenson finding aid General Manuscripts 664 (created by Michael Forstrom) records the Yale collection of Stevenson’s notebooks for the first time. Previously, the McKay catalogue had listed the contents of the notebooks as separate items; but now, in ‘GM 664’, these McKay items are grouped together under the individual notebook headings.

Of course, listing the contents of a notebook is rather difficult, if not impossible: they contain many odd notes, sketches, addresses etc. Hence, it is still possible to come across odd unrecorded texts such as the following, found in a notebook that, appropriately as it turns out, I was looking at on 31 October.

This small notebook (GM 664 box 35 folder 833), its green card cover bearing the printed title ‘The Academic Exercise Book’, can be dated pretty accurately as it contains notes from James Lorimer’s lectures on Public Law and James Muirhead’s on Civil Law, which RLS followed between 3 November 1871 and 20 March 1872.

So here is RLS, 21 years old, up in his room at 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, writing this short piece—perhaps feeling sorry for himself, perhaps just wanting to to imitate someone like Edgar Allan Poe, perhaps wanting to work out some ideas on the feeling of doubleness, or to artfully combine sounds and ideas:

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Night after night, up here,[1] this hateful yellow gas looked on while white-faced pain and I played on at our endless game. He has become a personality to me. He cranes over my shoulder with a flaw[2] to see my hand and then advises my adversary with his lurid winks and flickers; and he sways his long fingers, with a loose crying sound, whenever white faced pain takes up a trick. So he shall do, too, when pain takes up the last.

[1] followed by ‘was’, undeleted by oversight. [2] in the sense of ‘sudden flare’ (like ‘a flaw of wind’).

Jekyll 2.0: Embodying the Gothic Text

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At the end of November 2012, I was lucky enough to be part of a team that won a commission through the innovative REACT Books&Print Sandbox call for early 2013. I’ll be working as lead academic partner with Bristol-based creative company, SlingShot, to create a pervasive media experience that draws on the narrative and themes of Stevenson’s gothic masterpiece.

Humanity 2.0 is an understanding of the human condition that no longer takes the ‘normal human body’ as given. On the one hand, we’re learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature—in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it’s easy to conclude that being ‘human’ is overrated. But on the other hand, we’re also learning more about how to enhance the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature.
—Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, Warwick.

Double exposure of Richard Mansfield as Jekyll and Hyde (1895).The core of our project draws on the fundamental questions of Jekyll and Hyde: What makes us human? Do our minds control our bodies or are we shaped by our urges, compulsions and appetites? Will technology radically transform us into a new organism, ‘Humanity 2.0’? Such questions are nothing new: during the 19th century, the cultural implications of emerging theories of identity and the dominance of science were explored by numerous works of literature. Drawing on this tradition, our project transforms this reading into play, to create a pervasive gaming experience that links individuals’ bio-data with one such text, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886), in order to stimulate participants into considering the condition of their own humanity. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr Jekyll MS at the British Library

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‘Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands’, The British Library, 11 May – 25 Sept 2012.

A new exhibition at the British Library collects manuscripts and other artefacts to explore ‘how the landscapes and places of Britain permeate our great literary works’ and also to reveal ‘the secrets and stories surrounding the works’ creation’.

One of the manuscripts on display is the final manuscript of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on loan from the Morgan Library, New York. As reported in the Observer and in the exhibition blog, the Stevenson manuscript will be open at f. 47 (the beginning of the last chaper “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case”) to illustrate how RLS was making important changes even at a late stage of composition.

Image from the British Library exhibition blog, where the credit line is: Manuscript for Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde © The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. MA 1202. Photography, Graham S. Haber, 2012

As this news story may have created some interest, we here illustrate a few sentences, with their changes, and also compare them with the earlier draft (in the Beinecke Library, not in the exhibition), which RLS clearly had open before him on the table as he wrote this final MS. To make things easier to read, I’ve shown deletions in red and insertions in blue, but secondary changes within these have been shown thus: <deletions>, ^insertions^


Draft: From a very early age, however, I became add in secret the slave of disgraceful pleasures;

MS: From an early age, however, I became in secret the slave of certain appetites [inserted in margin:] And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures;

In the Draft S probably started to write “addicted” and then decided on the sensuous alliteration of “became in secret the slave of disgraceful pleasures”. In the MS, he starts by copying this phrase (which might be taken as allusions to masturbation or homosexuality), but then sacrifices it — crossing it out to add “And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition” etc. — much more elusive and giving an idea of Jekyll excusing himself.


Draft: on the other, as soon as night had fallen and I could shake off my friends, the iron hand of indurated habit plunged me once again into the mire of vices. I will trouble you with these no further than to say that they were at once criminal in the sight of the law and abhorrent in themselves. They cut me off from the sympathy of those whom I otherwise respected; and with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed the those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature.

MS: [boxed deletion in the middle of the page] […] on the other, as soon as night released me from my engagements and <covered> ^hid^ me from the <espial> ^notice^ of my friends, <the iron hand> indurated habit plunged me again into the mire of my vices. I will trouble you with these no further than to say that they were, at that period, no worse than those of many who have lived and died with credit. It was rather the somewhat high aspirations of my life by daylight [substituted text inserted in the margin, see below] than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was; [picks up the draft again:] and with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature.

[inserted in margin:] Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views <of conduct> ^that I had^ set before me I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame, and it was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations

RLS, following the Draft, starts to copy out “the iron hand of indurated habit” (which hints at masturbation, seen at this period as leading to homosexuality), then crosses it out and decides to write the more ambiguous “indurated habit”. In the next sentence (“I will trouble you…”) he leaves the Draft again and instead of saying his vices were “at once criminal in the sight of the law and abhorrent in themselves” (which again hints at homosexuality, more easily punished since August 1885 by the Labouchère Amendment), he writes that they were “no worse than those of many who have lived and died with credit”).

RLS then continues with this new re-writing, picking up the Draft again at the end of the sentence.

Some time after writing this, on a re-reading he decides that the new hypocritical defence by Jekyll is the right choice but to do it right he needs to scrap the whole passage and start again (with “Many a man would have blazoned…”), moving the style away from a “sinner’s confession” towards an equivocal “full statement of the case” from Jekyll’s point-of-view.

the semicolon

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Stevenson and the semicolon

It was Barry Menikoff who first studied Stevenson’s interest in the semicolon (in his ground-breaking 1984 edition of The Beach of Falesá, pp. 43-46). He remarked on how his use of the semicolon creates uncertainty and ambiguity; how the semicolon juxtaposes and accumulates but does not promise a causal link (especially true when followed by “and”); and how it can also “set up contrast within a sentence”. He also reveals a tendency of compositors to change these semicolons to commas.

Following on from this, in my edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (EUP, 2002), I remarked on how

RLS typically places a semicolon before a conjunction, perhaps to render problematic the link between the two parts of the sentence. Early examples of this are: “No doubt the feat was easy to Mr. Utterson; for he was undemonstrative at the best” […], “And then there is a chimney which is generally smoking; so somebody must live there” […]. The conjunction following the semicolon is frequently “and“: there are no fewer than 203 examples of this in the text. Nabokov seems to have noticed this, as in his teaching copy of the book he rings both semicolon and following “and” in three examples in the first two chapters.

A confession

I had studied Nabokov’s teaching copy of the book in the New York Public Library (Berg Collection, Nabokov 00-21) and in my edition I noted the most significant annotations that I found there. One annotation, however, I did not record—not because I found it insignificant, but because I couldn’t make head or tail of it. The first occurrence of a ringed semicolon followed by ‘and’ is accompanied by a marginal comment:

whose “and”?

What on earth could that mean?

It comes in the last sentence of an early paragraph:

Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages.

An inkling of a solution

Nabokov’s lectures on literature that he gave at Wellesley College and Cornell University in the 1940s and 50s. were reconstructed from notes and typescripts by Fredson Bowers and published in 1980. I had consulted it for the chapter on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but hadn’t read the rest. Now I find that

1. The lecture on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary starts with “I want to draw attention first of all to Flaubert’s use of the word and preceded by a semicolon.” He sees this as “peculiar feature of Flaubert’s style”, used at the end of “an enumeration of actions or states or objects […] to introduce a culminating image, or a vivid detail” (Bowers p. 171).

2. The artistic use of the semicolon was also a feature of Nabokov’s own style. Rereading his father’s work on The Butterflies and Moths of the Russian Empire (1912), he says he was struck at the similarity of the style to his own, including

my father’s predilection for the semicolon (often preceding a conjunction — something one does find in the language of his university tutors: “that scholarly pause,” an echo of unhurried English logic — but at the same time related to Montaigne whom he regarded so highly); and I doubt that the development of these traits under my frequently willful pen was a conscious act. (‘Father’s Butterflies‘, Atlantic Monthly 285.4 (2000)

(‘Doubt’ here seems to be used with the French sense of ‘suspect’.) Here’s a typically Nabokovian reference to outdoors sex from Lolita

Poisonous plants burn his sweetheart’s buttocks, nameless insects sting his; sharp items of the forest floor prick his knees, insects hers; and all around there abides a sustained rustle of potential snakes.

Whose “and”?

Now we know that Nabokov was interested in the stylistic effect of the semicolon followed by the word and, his ringing of this sequence in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is more understandable. But what does that enigmatic annotation mean? Well, you tell me. Could it be “the word and evokes a mysterious second author” (is that possible?).

But perhaps I copied the note wrongly, leaving out a semicolon,  or—a hypothesis that I prefer—perhaps Nabokov’s “and” stands anyway for “semicolon followed by ‘and'”; in this case, the annotation could mean “I wonder who is the originator of this stylistic feature?”, or “Did he get this from Flaubert?” Any ideas?



Written by rdury

22/11/2011 at 7:04 am