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

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Stockfish: a mystery

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14331. Stockfish

Stockfish is dried, unsalted cod.

2. A list of essay titles — with stockfish

Among the Graham Balfour papers in the National Library of Scotland is his transcription of Stevenson’s outline (from late 1876 or early 1877) for a book of essays to be called ‘Life at Twenty Five’. Twelve numbered chapters are followed by a shorter unnumbered list, which may be for a second part of the same volume:

Screenshot 2015-07-08 17.16.27

NLS MS 9900, Notebook 1895; numbered p. 15

At first glance, these seem to be simple pleasures that any young bohemian might enjoy. The deleted ‘Religion’ might be have been a provocative idea about which he had second thoughts, but what on earth can that ‘Stockfish’ be? It is so bizarre that I thought it could be a mistake on Balfour’s part.

3. Notes — with stockfish

Then the other day, among the material made available by the Harry Ransom Center, I saw the following at the top of a page of notes, in a rebound series of leaves from a dismembered notebook, from the same 1876-77 period:

Screenshot 2015-07-08 18.25.17

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, Manuscript Collection MS-4035, Box 1, Folder 5 (‘Notes and Fragments’), p. 1 (top of page).

Stockfish. take posterity on our backs. Act straight for | today, and remember that your theory for posterity will be | wrong. Better a straw fire of popularity than t other thing.

Stockfish again. Something tells me Balfour didn’t make a mistake.

But there was more to come. You see that pencil line at the bottom left of the image above? It goes right down to the bottom of the page (by-passing a series of quotations and translations from Montaigne) and loops around the following:

Screenshot 2015-07-09 08.20.03

One of these vices, which have “je ne sais quoi de | genereux. || stockfish. [with uncrossed -t]

[Added 15 Nov 2015: A reader has commented that the pencil example looks like’shellfish’, but looked at carefully the vertical line following the initial-s (which I take to be an uncrossed ‘t’) is clearly followed by ‘oc’; what looks like double-l, could indeed be that but in the context it must be ‘k’, which usually looks like ‘R’ and sometimes has a more-or-less vertical second part and looks like double-l, as in the word written a few lines above this fragment:

Screenshot 2015-11-15 09.44.10

This, believe it or not, is ‘kinds’. In the ink example, this second part of the ‘k’ has been merged with the vertical line of the ‘f’. ]

The phrase ‘je ne sais quoi de généreux’ is another quotation from Montaigne: Book II. 2 (De Yvrongnerie, / On Drunkenness), in Cotton’s translation (with a bit more context), ‘Now, among the rest, drunkenness seems to me to be a gross and brutish vice. The soul has greater part in the rest, and there are some vices that have something, if a man may so say, of generous in them; there are vices wherein there is a mixture of knowledge, diligence, valor, prudence, dexterity and address; this one is totally corporeal and earthly.’ It is a quote he remembered and reused in ‘The Character of Dogs’ (1883): ‘The canine, like the human, gentleman demands in his misdemeanours Montaigne’s “je ne sais quoi de genereux.” ’

And this too is apparently connected with stockfish.

So at the top of the page we have ethical advice that could easily go in the ‘Life at Twenty Five’ volume. The meaning is not clear, but it could be something like, ‘you should not be conditioned by the idea of posterity: take posterity with you on your back like Æneas carrying his father out of burning Troy ; it’s better to enjoy brief popularity now than to have it after your death when you can’t enjoy it at all.’ (Æneas seems a better fit than Horace’s ‘black care’ which sits behind the rider (Odes III. 1).)

And at the bottom of the page, we have some more ethical advice, here not about the choice of conduct but about judging it: some vices are low and beastly, but others have ‘generous’ aspects (perhaps involving nobility and self respect).

And both of these have something to do with stockfish…

What has ethical advice got to do with stockfish? (By the way, don’t start thinking that I’m going to find the answer to that question.) Perhaps we can get some clues from other uses of the word.

4. Stevenson and stockfish

Stevenson rarely uses the word. In ‘The Wreath of Immortelles’ (1870) he says the talk of fishmongers runs ‘usually on stock-fish and haddocks’. Fair enough. And in Weir of Hermiston (1894), the older Kirstie gives her opinion of Gib the weaver: “He’s maybe no more stockfish than his neeghbours! He rade wi’ the rest o’ them and had a good stomach to the work, by a’ that I hear!” (ch. V ‘Winter on the Moors’, 1. ‘At Hermiston’). Here, ‘stockfish’ clearly means ‘a stiff, unemotional person’ , by analogy with dried cod (and maybe Kirstie means to say ‘stockish’ and says ‘stockfish’ by applying a kind of folk etymology).

Not much help here.

5. Connotations of stockfish

Across the centuries, the metaphorical connotations of ‘stockfish’ are all negative. Falstaff uses it to berate Prince Hall :

you starveling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bulls-pizzle, you stockfish (1 Henry IV II. 5. 249)

In particular it is used as noun or adjective for a stiff, unimaginative person:

the stockfish-souled reader (B. S. Naylor, Time and Truth Reconciling the Moral and Religious World to Shakespeare (London, 1854), ch. 12, 168.

a sort of stock-fish though earnest expression’ (The Examiner 557 (30 Aug 1818), 555)

mute as a stock-fish (Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (1841) ch. 46)

dead as a stock-fish (George Meredith, Richard Feverel (1859) III. 5)

Faces seen in street and countryside came thronging up before him—red, stock-fish faces; hard, dull faces; prim, dry faces […] How could he know what men who had such faces thought and did?’ (John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga Part III. 3 ‘Irene’)

6. So, what does it mean here?

Assuming that Stevenson is using ‘stockfish’ in this tradition, we can imagine he might be adopting it for a common target of his social criticism in the 1870s: conventional, respectable, ‘stuffed shirts’, people lacking in imagination, flexibility and tolerance.

In the list apparently of essays on simple pleasures (Tobacco, Walking Tours, Wine…), ‘Stockfish’ must be an odd thought for an essay, perhaps one summarizing his thoughts on respectable society.

In the page of notes in the Harry Ransom Center, the annotation ‘stockfish’ seems to be attached to conduct contrasted with the that of respectable society. All I can suggest is that these notes made him think of negative conduct and judgments to be dealt with in the ‘Stockfish’ section or chapter.

Hmm, not very satisfying as explanations. But can anyone think of anything better?



Written by rdury

09/07/2015 at 8:35 pm

The Stevenson Manuscripts Collection at Harry Ransom Center

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Screenshot 2015-07-07 11.58.21

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.


Screenshot 2015-07-07 14.06.50




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.



Black eyes

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Screenshot 2015-07-04 21.14.22

Dunoon, April 1870

Stevenson was in Dunoon, on the outer Firth of Clyde, from 26 April to 3 May 1870 to follow harbour works. In a letter dated 29 April 1870 from the Argyll Hotel, he wrote to his mother,

I have had my fortune told: I am to be very happy and get to be much on the sea: two predictions which my queasy stomach will hardly consider as agreeable with each other.
(Bonham’s Sale 17520, Los Angeles, 19 October 2009, now in the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, St. Helena)

In the same period, probably while still in Dunoon, he began but then abandoned an essay in which he described the fortune-telling in more detail:

All that I could gather may be thus summed up shortly: that I was to visit America, that I was to be very happy, and that I was to be much upon the sea, predictions, which in consideration of an uneasy stomach, I can scarcely think agreeable with one another. […] She suddenly looked at me with an eager glance, and dropped my hand saying, in what were either tones of misery or a very good affectation of them, ‘Black eyes!’ A moment after she was noisily at work again. It is as well to mention that I have not black eyes. (‘A Retrospect’, Yale, GEN MSS 664 28, 668 (B 6173), pp. 5-6)

Screenshot 2015-07-04 18.03.49

‘It is as well to mention that I have not black eyes’, Beinecke B 6173, p. 6.

Bournemouth, August 1887

Stevenson came across this abandoned essay while he was packing up in Bournemouth before going to the USA in August 1887, and he added a note at the bottom of the page:

Screenshot 2015-07-04 18.48.57

written at Dunoon 1870 (?). And very strange | it is : the old pythoness was right : I have been happy, I did | go to America (am even going again—unless—) and I have | been twice and once upon the deep. Moreover I have (and had) black | eyes. R.L.S 1887.

twice and once: several times, often (‘I have been merry twice and once ere now’, 2 Henry IV, V. 3. 39)

 Black eyes?

In April 1870, Stevenson wrote ‘I have not black eyes’, but in August 1887 he wrote ‘I have (and had) black eyes’. How can we explain this?

Maybe his eye-colour darkened between 1870 and 1887 (and he forgot it had once been lighter). But is this likely? Can eye colour change in this way? The blue eyes of babies darken in most cases in the the first year of life and eyes grow paler in old age. But apart from this,

fluctuations in eye color do occur, but they are relatively minor. As a general rule, eye color may be thought of as a highly stable physical characteristic.
(Morgan Worthy, Eye Color: A Key to Human and Animal Behavior (San Jose : ToExcel, 1999), 81)

For me, a better explanation is that Stevenson had very dark brown eyes, and in 1870, inclined to take the prophecy as false, he classified them as ‘not black’; but in 1887, inclined to see the prophecy as true, he classified them as ‘black’.

And is this not a good example of how we place things in categories because we want to see the world in a particular way? In a way deceiving ourselves.

Written by rdury

03/07/2015 at 6:20 pm

Back in London for missing Stevenson articles in London magazine

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The story so far

Those who follow this blog will know of our search for possible unnoticed articles by Stevenson in London magazine—ending up with a closer analysis of a list of 1878 payments for work on London, after which I concluded that I would need to look more closely at the four numbers of 13 July to 3 August 1878. R.-L. Abrahamson and myself had already looked through these numbers, but found nothing that we thought was even possibly by Stevenson, apart from ‘A Story-teller’ and a note on George Eliot (for 13 July), and notes from ‘a correspondent in Paris’ (for 20 July). We suspected that a poem on 13 July (from comments in a letter by Henley) might be by Stevenson, but we were interested in prose. To tell the truth, I was prepared to let it rest there: if whatever was in the 27 July and 3 August numbers had not been distinctive enough to be visible to us before, and there was no guarantee that another trip to London would be accompanied by sudden enlightenment.

A (deceptive) letter from Lang changes the picture

Then I was looking through Marysa Demoor’s useful edition of letters from Andrew Lang to Stevenson and my eye was caught by an undated letter from 1877 in which he says, ‘I’ve sent for the new book on Villon’, which probably refers to Longnon’s innovative biographical study, which must have been published in February 1877, as the Academy gives a report of the publication in its ‘Paris Letter’ in the issue of 3 March (95–6). Andrew Lang seems to be indirectly praising Stevenson in this letter when he writes,

‘I wish your C. B. would get a political fellow as good in his way as the author of Balzac’s correspondence and George Eliot’ (Demoor, 42–3).

By ‘C. B.’ he meant the editor of London, Robert Glasgow Brown, who Lang thought was ‘Caldwell Brown’ (Demoor, 6n); by ‘Balzac’s Correspondence’ he is referring to the review article with that title in the second issue of London on 10 February 1877, p. 44. This is an article that R.-L. Abrahamson and myself identified as probably by Stevenson on our first look into London at the old Colindale Newspaper Library back in January 2013. It hasn’t previously been reported here—well, we’ve got to keep something for the album. When I saw Lang’s letter I thought: could he be indirectly praising Stevenson for the article on ‘Balzac’s Correspondence’—and for another on George Eliot too? That decided it: I had to go back to London to investigate this possibility for February 1877, and combine it with a closer look at the issues of the magazine for July and early August 1878.

britishlibrarycourtyard Return to the Newsroom

So it was that on a pleasant morning in June I crossed the British Library forecourt with RLA (who this time had to look at microfilms of Chatto records of Virginibus Puerisque—this will be the first of our essay volumes to appear, in the first half of next year). I went straight to the Newsroom, picked up the five hefty volumes of London and immediately turned to February 1877 and located the article on George Eliot in the issue of February 10, p. 43. Immediate disappointment: Stevenson could not begin an essay in this way:

The cultus of George Eliot is one of the great social facts of the age. Its adherents include nearly the whole of the reading public. For purposes of generalisation they may be classed under three headings—Conformist, Disciples, and Sceptics.

The article then continues with a humorous paragraph on the reception of Eliot by each of these three classes of reader and a final paragraph collecting some epigrams about her and her novels. Such a preliminary announcement of categories followed by a paragraph apiece is, as far as I remember, not to be found in any of Stevenson’s writings. In addition, the article contains no Stevensonsonian language-play (new meaning created by use, unexpected epithets, calques from French), no intelligently concise formulations, no typical use of semicolons etc. It is true that in the fourth paragraph contains the following:

With very, very few exceptions, he [the Sceptic] knows that all of them [‘the gay young fellows it has pleased her to put forward as men’] have a comb concealed among their back-hair.

This reminds us immediately of Stevenson’s ‘Virginibus Puerisque’, published in August 1876:

Even women, who understand men so well for practical purposes, do not know them well enough for the purposes of art. Take even the very best of their male creations, take Tito Melema [in George Eliot’s Romola], for instance, and you will find he has an equivocal air, and every now and again remembers he has a comb at the back of his head.

But the later passage in London must be Henley (who probably wrote the article) cheekily ‘borrowing’ from his friend’s recent essay. With no more internal evidence than this, we cannot take the article as by Stevenson.  Lang letter: red herring.

July—August 1878 again

OK—now for the 1878 volume. Henley, talking about the 13 July number says in a letter to Stevenson:

Don’t tax me with ‘Ce Que Se Dit’. I only brushed it up. In doing so, I’ve made it presentable, but I’ve broken the author’s heart. (Atkinson, 52)

This sounds like Henley not apologising for having changed a poem by Stevenson (the person who might ‘tax’ him about it). Here it is: Screenshot 2015-06-29 18.34.51on the strict Q.T., ‘confidential (quiet)’ (first Advanced Google Books Search hits: 1877; 1877 song by Lydia Thompson; called ‘a crude expression’ in George Moore’s A Mummer’s Wife (1884));
rather! ‘yes! I should think so!’ (OED (1904) calls this ‘vulgar’, the online OED identifies this as ‘Brit. colloq.‘; first OED citation 1836);
ripping! ‘great, excellent, stunning’ (first OED citation 1776).

My guess is that this may have been about Fanny Osbourne with the last line a piece of American slang, that Henley changed to British slang (to make it presentable)—absolutely no proof, except that ‘You feel you’re tripping’ doesn’t fit well into the previous two lines and seems inserted to rhyme with ‘ripping’. Well, it’s perhaps not worth losing any sleep about, whatever the story is behind it.

6 July number

This was a week with ‘an article also’ opposite the payment for the ‘Arabian’ episode but a payment that corresponded only to that episode. I looked again, but could find nothing

27 July number

Subtracting the estimated payment for the ‘Arabian’ episode from the total payment, left me looking for a contribution of about half a column. The ‘Whispering Gallery’ section has three items of news from Paris, one in particular about the Jurors of the Exposition (and Stevenson was nominal secretary to one of them, Fleeming Jenkins). It starts ‘The Exposition has developed inventions undreamt of by the carnal mind of the casual observer. For instance, amongst the Jurors hospitality reigns’ (where ‘carnal mind’ could have a Stevensonian epithet). It goes on to mention that dishes with new names have been invented and gives a menu with items like ‘Potage. Emaillé de Printanier’ and ‘Truits. Patinée à Génèvoise’. This could be the Stevenson contribution—nothing earth-shaking, as you can see.

3 August number

Here, again, I was looking for something of half a column or less. And, again in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section there is a contribution ‘from a letter’ that sounds as if it might be from Stevenson, containing a nonsense rhyme: Screenshot 2015-06-30 18.17.17Here, the French word béquille ‘crutch’ and béquiller ‘walk with crutches’ has clearly touched the poet’s funny nerve (maybe because a homophone béquiller (from bec ‘beak’) is a slang word for ‘eat’) and he creates a calque in English ‘to beckle’ which he repeats and varies in a crazy progression that threatens to extend to infinity.

There is a good chance this is by Stevenson: it is from a letter (the origin of other contributions from Stevenson in this period), it involves play with French, which we often find him doing, the creation through use of a new meaning of ‘fulfilled’  at the end of the third stanza reminds one of Stevenson’s typical word-play, and Stevenson writes similar verse in other letters to Henley in this period (e.g. L2, 259).

That’s it

With that, I had more-or-less accounted for the four annotations of ‘an article also’ on the 1878 list of payments. That list, of course, only goes up to 10 August and it is possible that Stevenson continued contributing short pieces and poems after that. But this I generously leave to another researcher.

Missing Stevenson articles in London magazine, part 2

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Summary: Following Part 1 of this investigation, we here justify the assumption that the list of 1878 payments covers only the first ten episodes of ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’; we calculate a rough rate of payment for articles in London; predict  the location and length of the missing ‘articles’, and give some more extracts from them.

The ‘Inland Voyage’ Notebook

The ‘Inland Voyage’ notebook in the Beinecke Library  contains a page of income for 1878, the first part drawn up in ink in early June 1878 (since the last item written in ink—the opening episode of the ‘Later-Day Arabian Nights’—was published on 8 June), and continued afterwards in pencil:


Inland Voyage Notebook (Beinecke GM 664 3, 851 (B 6452), Notebook ‘RLS/F’), numbered p. 13v

Generously leaving the pencil additions on the right of the page and the totals top right and bottom left to be explained by another researcher, the main list can be transcribed as follows:.

Screenshot 2014-11-09 17.51.08

The first thing to note is that the list does not cover all Stevenson’s publications in 1878, as we can see if we look at the table below of 1878 publications in chronological order, with items on the Notebook list in bold:

Screenshot 2014-11-09 18.02.44

Stevenson’s 1878 publications

The Notebook list is in chronological order, except for Inland Voyage in third place, probably because payment for this book was made before publication. However, the list does not name any titles after ‘English Admirals’; the three unnamed final payments in the Notebook list must be a continuation of the series of payments for ‘New Arabian Nights’.


Can we find evidence for 1878 payments in other documents?

Charles Baxter acted as Stevenson’s banker and investment manager, and kept a record of receipts and payments in his ‘Accounts Current between Robert Louis Stevenson […] and Mitchell and Baxter W.S.’ (these records in the The Harry Ransom Center at the Univesity of Texas). However, it seems clear that a number of payments did not pass through Baxter’s Accounts but were kept by RLS for his current expenses, so this record will not be complete. Additional evidence of payments comes from letters (in this case, Henley’s letters to RLS and to Baxter).

Baxter’s ‘Accounts Current’ for 23 August record a payment of £3 7s ‘Cheque from Mr Sutton [Alfred Sutton, the publisher of London], London’. This does not correspond to any item on the list, suggesting that the the latter ends before 23 August, or the number of London that the payment refers to: assuming this was a payment for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’, and since there was no episode on 24 August, it must have been a late payment for the episode of 17 August or an early payment, on receipt of the MS, for the episode of 31 August. We’ll look at this later when we’ve worked out the probable rate of payment made by London. [Added later: it’s probably for 17 August episode; £3 7s works out as 28 pence per hundred words, a very similar rate to that of the other ‘Arabian’ episodes.]

A letter written by Henley to Baxter dated 12 September 1878 (Yale, B 4555) mentions that it includes two payments of £3 5s and £2, but this does not correspond to any payment on the list and would confirm that the Notebook list covers only part of the year.

Baxter’s Accounts also have a payment dated 13 September of £8 8s. ‘in payment of contribution to “Cornhill”’, which although identical to the Cornhill payment for ‘The English Admirals’ on the list must be for ‘Child’s Play’, published in the same magazine that month.

In an earlier letter of Henley to RLS of 20 June 1878 (Atkinson 51), WEH send £4 in sovereigns and owes 7/6 because he ‘can’t post three half-crowns’, even though he has received them (from the publisher to forward to contributors): this must correspond to the £4 payment of item 10 on the Notebook list, corresponding to the ‘Arabian’ episode of 15 June (see below, ‘Payments for the “Latter-Day Arabian Nights’). The list, if this is true, records only actual payments received and could be seen as Stevenson’s way of keeping account of his limited income and expenditure while living with Fanny Osbourne in Paris.


Payments for articles in London

Let’s take ‘A Plea for Gas Lamps’ and its payment of £1 11s 6d or 378 pence, and see how this relates to the number of words (payment by column or column-inch would be proportionate to this). The essay has 1325 words, so this works out as 29 pence per hundred words. ‘Pan’s Pipes’ receives an identical fee, but is slightly longer: 1430 words (it is also longer in columns or column inches). This immediately tells us that any measurement of length was made roughly. The rate here is 26 pence per hundred words. ‘El Dorado’ is paid less, £1 6s or 312 pence, and is in fact shorter at 1166 words, which works out at 27 pence per hundred words.

Screenshot 2014-11-14 08.54.38

Calculated rates of payment for three essays published in London

It looks at this point as if these three contributions are paid by length at about 27 pence per hundred words or 19 pence per column inch, with length roughly measured or rounded up and down by a system we cannot know. We can get a better idea of the rate by looking at the payments for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’.


Payments for the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’

If the payments without any title in the Notebook list all refer to the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ then there are 9 payments for ‘Arabs’. One of them, however, is for £9 so it must be for two episodes. If the list contains all the payments for the first ten episodes, then it goes from 8 June to 10 August, the date when the list was abandoned (soon after Stevenson returned from France), thus leaving 8 episodes unrecorded, including the £3 7s recorded by Baxter on 23 August:

1878 Notebook payments associated with 'Arab' episodes and calculated payemnts. In yellow, presumed payment for two episodes; in orange, payments apparently for 'Arab' and something else and the weeks associated with an 'article also' in the list

Possible assigment of ‘Arab’ episodes to Notebook list payments

If we calculate the rate per hundred words of these episodes, then the £9 covers episodes 3 and 4 very neatly and there is a close approximation of weeks with a higher rate per hundred words (56, 34, 33, 35) and the weeks (if this association of payments and episodes is correct) when the Notebook marks an ‘article also’:

Screenshot 2014-11-11 08.58.32

1878 Notebook payments associated with ‘Arab’ episodes and calculated rates per 100 words. In yellow, presumed payment for two episodes; in orange, payments apparently for ‘Arab’ and something else and the weeks associated with an ‘article also’ in the list

The payment for the first five episodes comes out as 29, 27, 29 and 29 pence per hundred words, which looks very close to the payment for the three essays in London, 29, 26 and 27 pence per hundred words. The second payment has a slightly lower rate—but if this is the £4 which Henley paid on 20 June (Atkinson, 51), then the full payment owed would be £4 7s 6d,  which works out as 29 pence per hundred words for this episode also. Hence, for the calculations of the payments we’ll take 29 pence per hundred words as the standard payment for ‘Arabs’. This will probably not be the actual rate (paid by page or column) but will give us results that are roughly correct.

It should be said that the words have been calculated from the sections published in London (the list of opening and closing words of each episode kindly supplied by Roger Swearingen), as they were reprinted in the 1882 volume New Arabian Nights—it may well be that these sections were slightly longer or shorter in the book version, so for the moment (and I am generously leaving the counting of the words in the London version to another researcher) these must be seen as rough calculations only, though probably not too far from the actual numbers.

Taking then these numbers of words for the episodes in London, we see that payments for episodes 6—9 (13 Jul—3 Aug) are clearly accompanied by payments for additional items. The notebook list, however, suggests the additional items were associated with episodes 5—8 (6 Jul—27 Jul). The first of these, 6 July, is one of the payments of £4. Could it be that this is the payment of £4 made by Henley on 20 June? £4, as we see, covers payment for ‘Arab’ episode six at 29 pence per hundred words (henceforth, I’m afraid: ‘pphw’); in this case—and the reader will here be aware that I am adding a series of possibilities one on the other, a structure which, like a house of cards, has its limits; but who knows, we may arrive at a single convincing hypothesis at the end covering everything satisfactorily—in this case, the 7s 6d that Henley owed Stevenson would be for that ‘article also’, published on the 6 July, and (using the rough rates discovered) just over 300 words long. This would be about 25 lines or a third of a column in length, so a very short piece, probably in the weekly odd items section called ‘Whispering Gallery’.

Unfortunately in looking through the 6 July number, RLA and myself had not noted anything that seemed to be by Stevenson. The only item that caught our attention in that number was ‘The Ethics of Lying’, which might have started him thinking about ‘Truth of Intercourse’—but, apart from the un-Stevensonsonian style, this is much longer, about 1800 words in length. Perhaps the short item in question was published on 13 July?


Additional Stevenson contribution to the 13 July number?

There was in fact an item in the 13 July number of London that both RLA and myself thought was almost certainly by Stevenson. It is unfortunately just under 300 words, 272 words to be exact. Anyway, here it is, from the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section of the magazine:

And by the way, what amazing devil (to quote the late Charles Dickens) is it that impels the distinguished lady who wrote “Adam Bede” to write such bitter dulness as “A College Breakfast Party”? Why should this woman of genius in prose imperil her soul by endeavouring to be also a woman of genius in verse? Surely if she be not all-wise herself, she has friends who are wise enough to save her from such a shame? Or is it true that the wicked world must approach her on its bended knees, and that her words are one and all oracular? I am not an enthusiast of hers, but I even am sorry. Her blank verse always reminds me of deals in a timber yard, or bricks stacked up for use at a builder’s; and never a whit of poetry. Before “A College Breakfast Party” even Professor Dowden and Mr. G. H. Lewes, I should think, would “tremble and turn and be changed.” But there’s no accounting for tastes, and no disputing them neither. What to you and me, dear reader of my heart, is only dulness and awkwardness and a mistake, may be to others one of the greatest works of the human mind. It is amazing how desperately a personal interest will modify one’s views! And let us not forget that while we (you and I, that is) are thanking heaven we are not as they are, they—the elect—are thanking heaven (or its equivalent) they are not as we are. And so the world wags on, and bad literature is let look for half a minute like good. (London, 13 July 1878, p. 36)

‘A College Breakfast Party’ had been published in Macmillan’s Magazine for July 1878. The view of George Eliot in this brief London note is similar to that expressed by Stevenson in a letter of December 1877, in which he also uses the phrase ‘woman of genius’:

George Eliot: a high but, may we not add? − a rather dry Lady.[…] Hats off, all the same, you understand: a woman of genius. (Letters 2, 228)

The piece also contains some unexpected phrases that sound Stevensonian: ‘bitter dulness’, ‘I even am sorry’, and ‘let look’ (‘bad literature is let look for half a minute like good’)—the second and third are examples of how Stevenson invents new syntactical combinations that are perfectly understandable but strange at the same time. The third-to-last sentence (‘It is amazing how desperately a personal interest will modify one’s views!’) and the sentence that follows are also reminiscent of the passage in ‘Virginibus Puerisque’ (from 1876) about how everyone believes their own opinions to be true:

The word “facts” is, in some ways, crucial. I have spoken with Jesuits and Plymouth Brethren, mathematicians and poets, dogmatic republicans and dear old gentlemen in bird’s-eye neckcloths; and each understood the word “facts” in an occult sense of his own. Try as I might, I could get no nearer the principle of their division. What was essential to them seemed to me trivial or untrue. We could come to no compromise as to what was, or what was not, important in the life of man. Turn as we pleased, we all stood back to back in a big ring, and saw another quarter of the heavens, with different mountain-tops along the sky-line and different constellations overhead. We had each of us some whimsy in the brain, which we believed more than anything else, and which discoloured all experience to its own shade. How would you have people agree, when one is deaf and the other blind?

The cheekiness of ‘thanking heaven (or its equivalent)’ is also reminiscent of Stevenson’s 1870s essays, as is the slightly crazy nonchalance of ‘Her blank verse always reminds me of deals in a timber yard, or bricks stacked up for use at a builder’s; and never a whit of poetry’.


Adding up possible Stevensonian contributions to the 13 July number

The payment of £5 (1200 pence) for an ‘Arabian’ episode and ‘an article also’ would correspond to 4138 words (at 29 pphw). If it refers to the 13 July number of London, does this payment correspond to Stevenson’s certain and probable contributions to that number? i.e. episode six of the ‘Arabs’, ‘A Story-teller’ (see Part 1 of this report) and this brief notice on George Eliots’s ‘A College Breakfast Party’? Let’s see:

Screenshot 2014-11-23 07.37.55

RLS contributions to London 13 July

We are still 749 words short of the quantity of ‘copy’ that should correspond to the £5 payment. Zut, alors! In our examination of the bound volumes in October, neither RLA nor myself identified anything else clearly by Stevenson in this number, and—alas!—we did not make scans (so inexpensive and so easy to make in the new British Library Newsroom!) which we could now be examining at our leisure. However, there is another clue from a letter by Henley to RLS dated 12 July. Talking about the contents for 13 July number:

Don’t tax me with ‘Ce Que Se Dit’. I only brushed it up. In doing so, I’ve made it presentable, but I’ve broken the author’s heart. (Atkinson, 52)

Atkinson’s footnote to ‘Ce Que Se Dit’ says ‘A three verse unsigned poem in the issue of 13 July’. Judging by Henley’s comment it could have been a poem by RLS that Henley revised without consultation and is now trying to pre-empt criticism by making a joke about it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a scan of this page, nor do we have any idea of the rate of payment for verse: it’s unlikely to be 749 words but perhaps it was paid by the column inch.


And the 20 July number?

RLA and myself identified several connected short items probably by Stevenson in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section about Paris and the 1878 Paris Exhibition in the 20 July number of London. The series of short items begins like this:

Screenshot 2014-11-23 09.00.02

London, 20 July 1878, p. 61

On 7 June 1878, RLS had left Edinburgh for Paris, where he was secretary to Fleeming Jenkins, a member of the Jury for the Paris Exposition. He stayed in Hotel Mirabeau, moving to Hotel du Val de Grace, rue St Jacques in late June/early July. On 11 July he left Paris for Grez.

He must have written these notes just before leaving, as Henley writes to him on 12 July ‘I have received notes and Hansom Cabs. […] Shall print and pay for Whispers. Next week’ (Atkinson, 52). By ‘next week’ he meant the issue of 20 July, when the first part of ‘The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs’ appeared and also these Notes from Paris in the ‘Whispering Gallery’ section. The notes include a section about the good-natured festive crowd on what must be the Avenue de l’Opéra lit by electric lights; as he mentions the singing of the Marseillaise, this must be the celebration of the Republic on 30 June, which was also a popular expression of national pride after the defeat of 1870, with music and singing in the streets until late and much waving of flags (celebrated in a painting by Monet). He describes the hotel chambermaid preparing to go out into the festive streets (the opening comment is by Henley):

Screenshot 2014-11-23 14.37.08

We can see Stevenson’s typical unexpected epithet in ‘the conspicuous morning’; the French way of proclaiming feelings is also commented on in ‘Forest Notes’ (1876)—people recommended Grez for its beauty, adding ‘ “Il y a de l’eau,” […] with an emphasis, as if that settled the question’.

The Notes also contain a description of the first post-Revolutionary 14 July celebrations—officially comemorating the centenary of the death of Rousseau, after the govenment had forbidden any street celebrations for the fall of the Bastille—including a description of the main celebration in the Cirque Myers led by Louis Blanc. This is perhaps not by Stevenson, who would have had to return to Paris from Grez and then send a supplementary note. Excluding this from his contribution also makes sense from the point of view of the payment.

In fact, 3414 words (for the ‘Arab’) and 575 words (Paris Notes without the 14 July event) make 3989 words. Paid at 29 pphw, this number of words would correspond to 1157 pence—practically identical with the 1152 pence paid (£4 16s).


27 July?

This gets a bit embarassing. For 27 July, if our assignment of dates to the Notebook entries is correct, 3852 words (for the ‘Arab’) needs to be complemented by 534 words (‘an article also’) to make the 4386 words that correspond to the 1272 pence (£5 6s) paid. This is assuming that everything is paid at 29 pphw (the extra article would be 574 words if paid at 27 pphw).

Unfortunately, we only noted one item in the 27 July number that we thought could be by Stevenson, a review entitled ‘History of the Indian Mutiny’ (p. 90) and we gave it a vote of two out of five, so practically excluded it, though we know that Stevenson was interested in this episode of history. I have no record of its length, nor (alas!) a scan, which would have been so easy to make…


And 3 August?

Similarly for 3 August the payment of 1080 pence (£4 10s) covers the 3108 words of the ‘Arab’ episode and 744 words (or a bit more if the rate of payment was lower) of the extra ‘article’.

Here, we noted the following as possible candidates: ‘The Humours of “Bradshaw”‘ (pp. 111-12), ‘Bohemia: Emile Augier III. The Dramatist’ (pp. 112-13), ‘Modern Frenchmen’ (pp. 113-14). We gave a vote of two to the first; the same vote to the second (which, however, is the third of a series of articles), and one to the third. We did not make a scan for these pages either.


The assignment of dates to the ‘Latter-Day Arabian Nights’ episodes in the Notebook list finds a good correspondence between payments and the length of the ‘Arab’ episodes and has also helped us to identify three contributions by Stevenson.

The unique copies of London in the British Library contain much of interest: the many poems written by Henley and perhaps by Stevenson; the contributions by Katherine De Mattos and Walter Ferrier (much admired by Stevenson), possible contributions from Bob, as well as Henley’s important input. It deserves a study of its own, to which the present study has made a small and incomplete contribution. (If only we’d made those scans…)


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

RLS, translator

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I am always impressed by those translators who can produce a phrase in the target language that is syntatically different from the source text, but which immediately impresses you as ‘just right’. An example would be the Chinese translator of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman who took Willie Lowman’s very American expresson ‘Yeah. I’ll put it to him straight and simple.’ and turned it into the Chinese phrase ‘I’ll tell him: Open door, see mountain’.

A teacher once told me of an translation class for advanced Italian students in which they were faced with the sentence ‘Did not Our Lord die for us upon the cross?’. After various attempts to translate this with a question, all of which seemed too direct or even querulous in Italian, someone hit upon ‘Anche il nostro Signore è morto per noi sulla croce’ (‘Even Our Lord died for us upon the cross’)—which everyone found ‘just right’.

Stevenson and translation

Stevenson several times complained of unimaginative literal translations. In his copy of the Robert Arnauld’s French translation of Augustine’s Confessions (Yale), which he read in February 1884, he wrote in the margin ‘Arnauld is a common ass, he misses every merit of his author; I speak as a writer by trade’ (L4, 239). In the following month he comments on ‘a dreadful French crib’ of Tacitus, ‘which helps me along and drives me mad’ (L4, 247).

In 1874 he had planned to write an essay on ‘Bohn’s Cribs’, the literal translations of Greek and Latin classics, which no doubt would have developed his ideas on the matter. (The title is in a list of essay titles in Notebook A 265, back sequence p. 11; Beinecke 684 1, 37.) One of the Bohn’s Library translations he owned was Theodore Buckley’s translation of the Iliad, sold at the Safford sale 1926, since untraced. According to the auction catalogue, against Buckley’s ‘fertile and populous Phthia’, Stevenson has added an alternative translation: ‘big-clodded, man-producing Phthia’.

We have also seen in his translations of odd phrases in his edition of Montaigne how he tended to avoid literal choices: for example, he glosses Montaigne’s ‘les corps raboteaux [rough, uneven, bumpy, rugged] se sentent’  (Vol. 3, p. 33)—which Cotton had translated as ‘Rough bodies make themselves felt’—as ‘knotty surfaces are sensible‘. Although here he produced a ‘knotty’ Stevensonian translation, but he was also capable of elegant finesse when translating odd sentences and phrases.

In his copy of Poe’ Works (NYPL, Berg Collection), Stevenson was clearly challenged by Poe’s comment in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (vol. I, p. 421), ‘Je les Ménageais—for this phrase there is no English equivalent’: at the foot of the page he has added ‘I humoured them: Aint’t that good enough English, E. A. P.?’ (Pollin and Greenwood, ELT 37.iii (1994): 327).

Pierre Jean de Béranger

One such example appears in his Enyclopædia Britannica article on the French poet and songwriter, Pierre Jean de Béranger (who would have appealed to Stevenson for his praise of the humble Bohemian life and his condemnation of respectable hypocrisy). When he was making notes from Béranger’s Correspondance he came across this sentence in a letter:

Je suis un bon petit poète, habile ouvrier, travailleur consciencieux, à qui de vieux airs et le coin où je me suis confiné ont porté bonheur, et voilà tout !

and decided to copy it out and translate it at the same time:

Screenshot 2014-10-03 11.59.39

Stevenson’s notes for ‘Béranger’, Beinecke GEN MSS 664 box 25 folder 607-8 (B6013)

I am a good little bit of a poet, a clever craftsman and conscientious <hard l> worker, to whom old airs and <the chimney corner ^to which he has confined himself^>, he says to Chateaubriand.
Corresp. II. 63.
a modest choice of subjects—le coin où je me suis confiné.

Here we can see how he changed his first more literal translation of ‘the chimney corner to which he has confined himself’ to the completely different, but just right, ‘a modest choice of subjects’.

In the Encyclopædia article, he uses this revised version:

‘I am a good little bit of a poet,’ he says himself, ‘clever in the craft, and a conscientious worker, to whom old airs and a modest choice of subjects (le coin où je me suis confiné), have brought some success.’

Although he also includes the French phrase as well, no doubt because of its untranslated connotations of modest domesticity, I find his ‘modest choice of subjects’ a remarkably elegant translation.

Notice that the original contains no equivalents of ‘modest’, ‘choice’ or ‘subjects’. Stevenson has arrived at his translation by translating ‘le coin où je me suis confiné’ (‘the small space I have confined myself to’), as ‘a choice of subjects’, and then added the connotations of the same phrase—’coin’ (‘small, unpretentious space’), and ‘où je me suis confiné’ (‘beyond which I have chosen not to go’)— in the single word, ‘modest’.

This is the sort of translation that could never be made by a translation programme: it combines an understanding of the original with the audacity to leave the original structure behind—a first step in achieving an equivalent formulation of witty concision.


Note also how he skilfully translates ‘un bon petit poète, habile ouvrier, travailleur consciencieux’ as ‘a good little bit of a poet, […] clever in the craft, and conscientious worker’.

Here, Béranger’s ‘habile ouvrier, travailleur consciencieux’ consists of two sequences of adjective and noun—but varied in their order: adjective-noun, noun-adjective. As this is not possible in English, and Stevenson’s original literal choice in his notes (‘a clever craftsman and conscientious worker’) has a dull repetetiveness, he has introduced a compensatory variedness by changing ‘a clever craftsman’ into the adjectival ‘clever in the craft’.

This also produces one of Stevenson’s phrasal inventions that are new but look traditional and idiomatic (‘clever in the craft’) together with a sentence sequence with the ‘breaks and turns’ that give his own prose its distinctive quality.

Written by rdury

03/10/2014 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Beinecke Library, Essays, Translation

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