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

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The Inland Voyage Notebook

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Yale, GM 664 box 3 folder 851, Inland Voyage Notebook (Notebook 27/A), opp. numb. p. 27; part of ‘The Guager’s Flute’

The ‘Inland Voyage’ Notebook gives an idea of an amazing period of literary activity and inventiveness for RLS: not only does it contain the complete first draft of An Inland Voyage, something new in travel writing, but also notes for what became The New Arabian Nights, stories that appeared immediately as startlingly modern and irreverent, and for Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, another original work with a a distinctive, idiosyncratic voice.

On the last page of the Notebook, among the notes for Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes is the single word ‘Guager’ [sic] as a reminder of the story about the excise officer (gauger) who played ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ on his flute as a warning as he approached his friend’s distillery. This must have stimulated RLS to compose (or recover and rewrite) ‘The Gauger’s Flute’ on another page, which then becomes ‘A Song of the Road’ in Underwoods. In the published version, the place of composition is added at the bottom ‘Forest of Montargis, 1878’, a place near Fontainebleau where RLS stayed in August 1878 before leaving for a journey associated with another outstanding work, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

Lewis (Collected Poems, 397-99) gives information about the four manuscripts and an idea about history of composition, but as for the quotation ‘Over the hills and far away’, the only information he supplies is that it is ‘the refrain of a popular song’.

The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson

Now anyone wanting to find out more about the song and its relation to Stevenson’s poem can consult John Russell’s site The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson (aptly abbreviated as MORLS). Here, he deftly establishes the exact version that RLS would have been mentally referring to as he wrote. In fact, the poem not only quotes the song but is ‘in lockstep’ syllable-by-syllable with the Jacobite version published in James Hogg’s Jacobite Relics of Scotland.

Manuscript puzzle: Notes for Edinburgh Picturesque Notes

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The helpful comments from our readers were so many that I thought it would be interesting to present here cleaned-up versions of the two sets of notes referred to in the previous post. First of all the EPN jottings.

Notes for ‘The Pentland Hills’ and ‘The Parliament Close’ (Edinburgh Picturesque Notes), 1878.

[Yale, GEN MSS 664 box 38 folder 830 (RLS/F, Notebook F/Inland Voyage Notebook),  spread 2, recto page]

[RLS had published seven monthly ‘Notes on Edinburgh’ in the Portfolio, June-Dec 1878 and towards the end of that period wrote three additional essays for the book edition; this notebook seems to be the first notes for an eighth and ninth chapter (which became chapters X and III) with no mention here of the third addition, ‘The Villa Quarters’. There is another draft to ‘The Pentland Hills’ in the 1878 ‘Travels with a Donkey’ notebook in the Huntington Library. These first notes, though apparently just a quick jottings of ideas, are remarkably close to the sequence of the finished essays, showing RLS’s ability to conceive and rapidly sketch out the basic structure of an essay.]

8 Golf[1] . gibbet . Fairmilehead . Curlews. B. Bridge . Gauger . Clerk’s stone,[2]
Comiston[3] . H. Tryst . Peddie[4] . devil . The cottage, the farm. Conventicle . P. Charlie .
The hills . The view . Wind up to the tune of over the hills .

9. Crowded street. Bishops open[5] , signs on pavement[6] . J. K.[7] H of Midlothian . St Giles . Stork[8]
Gaille [?][9] . Robertson & Wilson[10] . P. Ho . Courts . Scott . gray bar[11] . the cellars.[12]

[1] Golf is not mentioned in the the published chapter, but the other notes correspond closely to the finished essay and appear in that order, down to RLS’s note to himself to ‘Wind up [i.e. conclude] to the tune of over the hills’.

[2] The essay refers instead to ‘an upright stone in a field’, known as ‘General Kay’s monument’. There is a landmark in the Cairngorms called Clach a’ Cleirich (the clerk’s stone); perhaps RLS confused the names here.

[3] After the story of the ‘upright stone in a field’ the published essay mentions the ghost of Comiston.

[4] This name is not in the published essay, but from its position in the list it must be associated with the devil of Hunter’s Tryst. The essay says that ‘chosen ministers were summoned out of Edinburgh and prayed by the hour’, so it possibly refers to James Peddie, minister of Bristo Street 1782-1845.

[5] Possibly a note for: ‘when the Bishops were ejected from the Convention in 1688, ‘all fourteen of them gathered together with pale faces and stood in a cloud in the Parliament Close’.

[6] Two memorials set into the roadway or pavement near St. Giles: the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ and ‘J.K.’ commemorating John Knox.

[7] ‘In the Parliament Close, trodden daily underfoot by advocates, two letters and a date mark the resting-place of … John Knox.’

[8] A stork nested on the roof of St. Giles in 1416 – the last record of breeding by the white stork in Britain. Not mentioned in the published essay.

[9] This looks like ‘Jaille’ with the first letter overwritten with ‘G’: perhaps RLS was uncertain about the spelling of jail/gaol.

[10] Robertson & Wilson: Andrew Wilson and George Robertson were condemned to death for smuggling in April 1736. At Wilson’s execution in the Grassmarket, when his body was cut down from the gallows against the wishes of the mob, John Porteous, the Captain of the City Guard, ordered shooting into the crowd and six died. Porteous was convicted of murder, but shortly before his execution he was seized – in ‘The Porteous Riot’ – from the Old Tolbooth, next to St. Giles’ by an angry mob and hurriedly hanged in the Grassmarket. This story is not included in the finished essay.

[11] Perhaps ‘gray bar’ is a note for ‘Here, you may see Scott’s place within the bar, where he wrote many a page of Waverley novels to the drone of judicial proceeding’.

[12] The cellars are described in the last part of the published essay.

Written by rdury

15/09/2012 at 3:13 pm

Today’s manuscript puzzle: The Four Seasons

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The Inland Voyage Notebook

The Beinecke Library has a notebook (Notebook F) including the journal RLS kept on the ‘Inland Voyage’ in September 1876. This he then took up again and used it for a series of notes and drafts that all seem to come from 1878. Two of them are a series of notes in an unusual form for RLS: words or short phrases separated by dots that seem to be placed halfway between each. Both contain some problems of decypherment for which I ask the help of anyone reading this post.

Notes for Edinburgh Picturesque Notes

In the run-up to publication of the Edinburgh essays in books form (December 1878), RLS wrote three new essays and this notebook contains preliminary ideas for two of them, ‘The Pentland Hills’ and ‘The Parliament Close’. Here is the MS followed by a transcription:

8 Golf . gibbet . Fairmilehead . Curlews. B. Bridge . Gauger . Clerk’s stone, Dearsham {?} . H. Tryst . Peddie . devil . The cottage, the farm. Conventicle . P. Charlie . The hills . The view . Wind up to the tune of over the hills .
9. Crowded street, The <d>shops</d> open , signs on pavement . J. K.  H of Midlothian . St Giles . Stook {?} xxxville {?} . Robertson & Wilson . P. Ho . Courts . Scott . young love. the cellars.

Can anyone help with the following points: (i) Dearsham, (ii) Stook xxxville, (iii) the references to ‘Peddie’ and ‘Robertson & Wilson’?

The Four Seasons

A few pages further on are the notes for what looks like an essay on ‘The Four Seasons’ (lacking ‘Autumn’ and ‘Winter’). First, here’s a transcription of the first two sections:

The Four Seasons.
Prologue. The world: what is that {?} ange {?} in {? } the purple sunset; fire, snow, tempests, habitability, ploughs going.
Spring: motto from Morte d’Arthur
The New year . wrong reckoning . Waking in the morning . so with births . Birth of all things . Births . Youth . Memory . Memory in youth and manhood . Youth of the World . Lilacs . smells . birds . Invasion of the town by the country . Love . as regards the body and the soul . Growth ; the leaves, the harvests {?} and the dollars {?} all beginning to sprout in the fields.

The problems here are (i) the decypherent of those three words in the prologue

i.e. “Prologue . The World: what is {?} {?} {?} the purple sunset”; and (ii) a better transcription or an explanation for ‘harvests’ and ‘dollars’ at the end of the notes for ‘Spring’:

Any suggestions will be most gratefuly received.

Talks by the EdRLS Essay Editors

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The Literary 1880s: James, Stevenson and the Literary Essay

As part of the Literary 1880s workshops, the editors of the new EdRLS edition of Stevenson’s essays were invited to present aspects of their work on 23rd March 2012, in the Conference Room of David Hume Tower, in the University of Edinburgh.


James and Beerbohm

First, we heard from two people on other 1880s essay topics. Workshop-organizer Andy Taylor explored the changing position of Henry James in his 1883 essay on Trollope. This enters the 1880s area of debate over Realism, French Naturalism, and the art of fiction to which RLS made important contributions in essays such as “A Note on Realism” and “A Humble Remonstrance”, but the focus here was on James’s shifting attitude to Trollope and his position in the cultural rivalries of Britian and the USA.

Then Sara Lodge talked on Max Beerbohm and “camp aesthetics”, in which she made many points of interest to our exploration of Stevenson’s essays, starting with her thoughts about the essay as a literary genre, identifying it as a performative form associated with the creation of a persona, and so related to the dramatic monologue.

This she saw as developing from the 1820s onwards, citing Lamb and Hazlitt — though my view of Stevenson’s essays is that he revives this tradition after it had disappeared under the oratorical and earnest emphatic style of the mid-Victorian monthly magazines. So in what way was the obvious “performance” of the high-Victorian sages different from that of Lamb, Hazlitt and Stevenson? Perhaps readers of this blog would like to comment.

The essay, Sara continued, is also like a confession — and here she referred to Adam Phillips, who the essay editors had seen speaking on this very subject (the affinities of the essay with the psychoanalytic narrative) at the Literary Essay conference at Queen Mary in London a few months before.

In any case, the essayist keeps a distance between the apparent and the real object of the writing, and this can be seen as either deliberate and artful, or unintended. The same can be said of performing in general: we are always performing, but we don’t realize it most of the time. One form of very self-aware performance, is “camp” behaviour.

(Sara sees the origin of “camp” in a distancing from aestheticism and as being created by Wilde. I feel that, although “camp” as “homosexual codes of signifying behaviour” is very probably modelled on Wilde, it has, however, a wider and non-homosexual meaning, deriving, as Susan Sontag suggests, from “the eighteeth-century pleasure of over-refinement”. Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights can be seen as a camp text, and was written in the 1870s before Wilde appeared on the London scene, and the reported behaviour and the discourse of RLS, Bob and Simpson also have, to me, clear campish aspects.)

Sara then illustrated self-mocking camp “failed seriousness”, the celebration of the absurdity of things, in the early essays of Beerbohm, such as “1880” and “An Infamous Brigade”.


The Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert-Louis Abrahamson opened the session on Stevenson’s essays with an overview of Stevenson’s career as an essayist. He made the point that the 1879-80 journey to California was not an immediate turning point. His essay-writing career falls into two main periods 1874-82 (with one essay in 1873) and 1883-88 (with one final essay in 1894).

His first essays were aesthetic, to fit their destination, the fine-art magazine Portfolio; and a focus on the visual arts also marked his group of essays for Henley’s Magazine of Art in the early 80s. Sidney Colvin steered him away from heavy subjects (the essays on Knox and Savonarola he had planned), seeing him as an irreverent ally in the Darwinian cultural wars. He also introduced him to Leslie Stephen’s Cornhill Magazine, which became his “home” for twenty essays  in the first part of his career, including most of those collected in Virgninibus Puerisque in 1881 and in Familiar Studies in 1882.

The magazine associated with later part of his career was the New York Scribner’s, where he published thirteen essays, including the monthly series published in 1888. These twelve essays have, strangely, never been published together in a sequence before, but will be so in our edition.

Alex Thomson then talked about Memories and Portraits (1887), the collection of essays that he is editing, characterizing it as an “Edinburgh book”, significantly placed in 1894 in volume 1 of the Edinburgh Edition, together with Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes.

The “Memories” of the title can be seen in the context of a Scottish tradition of “reminiscences” (for example, Ramsay’s Reminiscences of Sottish Life and Character) and of commemoration, linked to the desire to preserve the memory of a disappearing culture. The “Talk and Talkers” essays can also be seen in a Scottish Enlightenment tradition of conversation and sociability. “Portraits”, on the other hand, suggests more a London-based tradition of aestheticism (e.g. Pater’s Imaginary Portraits).

Examples were given of the changes between 1871 and 1887 in “An Old Scotch Gardener”, showing how Stevenson mostly deleted, allowing anecdotes to stand on their own without the earlier chatty interpretation.

These essays are self-reflexive (both about memories and the reflecting subject, as RLS admits in the prefatory “Note”), and so have interesting affinities to the romantic lyric poem. They also reveal a subject that is both detached from his culture, attracted to a wider cultural context outside Scotland, distrustful of nostalgia, yet desiring to get back into contact with his own cultural identity (a quandary suggested by the key concept of “the foreigner at home”).

Richard Dury: I talked on style and its important persuasive and relation-creating function in the personal essay. An indication of  its prominence is the way commentators illustrating Stevenson’s style in general have taken most of their quotations from the essays. His was a new voice in the 1870s, a reviver of Montaigne’s scepticism and an essayist who broke with high Victorian seriousness and emphasis.

I then went on to charactize Stevenson’s essay style through six broad characteristics: lightness, enthusiasm, variousness, playfulness, strangeness and “charm” — used merely as tools to understand an elusive and mobile set of features, and as a way to understand why reading these essays is a source of pleasure.

The playful, complex and unexpected linguistic form of Stevenson’s essays can be seen in terms of Stevenson’s own concept of the “knot”: a slight delay in understanding, and also an interweaving of strands. This form is interwoven with an equally fascinating play of thought, both of them working together in the exploration of a world that has no centre or essence, where language is mobile and malleable. The effect of “a lot going on” in form and meaning is to make the reader more aware of text as performance and reading as an event in time. Stevenson’s essays are works of great value in themseves: elusive, fascinating and memorable reading experiences.

Lesley Graham ended the afternoon with an overview of the history of the reception of the essays. Often appreciated above all as a brilliant essayist in his lifetime, in the early years of the twentieth century the essays were quarried for quotations (collected in slim self-help volumes), especially those emphasising on happiness and friendship and the importance of courage to face the struggle of life. These very aphorisms were then used to condemn the essays after the First World War.

In the USA, where the teaching of literature was associated with the teaching of writing, essays were a privileged genre and Stevenson’s  widely used as models. Then, however, there was a turn away from the literary essay in both Britain and the USA, “the death of the essay”, reinforcing Stevenson’s general decline in critical favour.

With perhaps the single exception of Furnas in 1951, critics then continued to mainly criticize and downplay Stevenson’s essays, including Daiches in 1947 and Saposnik in 1974. A significant moment of change comes in 1988, a year which saw the publication of three anthologies of Stevenson’s essays by Treglown, and (in translation) Le Bris and Almansi.